PERSONALITY PROCESSES AND INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES
When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much
of a Good Thing?
Sheena S. Iyengar
Mark R. Lepper
Current psychological theory and research affirm the positive affective and motivational consequences of
having personal choice. These findings have led to the popular notion that the more choice, the
better—that the human ability to manage, and the human desire for, choice is unlimited. Findings from 3
experimental studies starkly challenge this implicit assumption that having more choices is necessarily
more intrinsically motivating than having fewer. These experiments, which were conducted in both field
and laboratory settings, show that people are more likely to purchase gourmet jams or chocolates or to
undertake optional class essay assignments when offered a limited array of 6 choices rather than a more
extensive array of 24 or 30 choices. Moreover, participants actually reported greater subsequent
satisfaction with their selections and wrote better essays when their original set of options had been
limited. Implications for future research are discussed.
Ne quid nimis. (In all things moderation.)
—Publius Terentius Afer (Terence), c. 171 B.C.
It is a common supposition in modern society that the more
choices, the better—that the human ability to manage, and the
human desire for, choice is infinite. From classic economic theo-
ries of free enterprise, to mundane marketing practices that provide
customers with entire aisles devoted to potato chips or soft drinks,
to important life decisions in which people contemplate alternative
career options or multiple investment opportunities, this belief
pervades our institutions, norms, and customs. Ice cream parlors
compete to offer the most flavors; major fast-food chains urge us
to "Have it
Sheena S. Iyengar, Graduate School of Business, Columbia University;
Mark R. Lepper, Department of Psychology, Stanford University.
We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation and assistance of Draeger's
Grocery Store located in Menlo Park, California, for generously offering
their store as a field site for conducting Study 1. Similarly, Study 2 could
not have occurred without the cooperation and support of Claude Steele at
Stanford University who generously allowed his introductory social psy-
chology course to be used as a forum for conducting this field experiment.
Further, we would like to thank the numerous graduate students in the
Department of Psychology at Stanford University and undergraduate re-
search assistants who generously dedicated their time and effort to help
conduct these studies.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Sheena
S. Iyengar, Columbia University, Graduate School of Business, Uris Hall-
Room 714, 3022 Broadway, New York, New York 10027-6902, or to Mark
R. Lepper, Department of Psychology, Jordan Hall-Building 420, Stanford
University, Stanford, California 94305-2130. Electronic mail may be sent