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Sheena S. Iyengar is the inaugural S. T. Lee Professor of Business in the Management Division of the Columbia Business School. She has earned an Innovation in the Teaching Curriculum[…]

Most of the time, when we’re confronted by an abundance of choices, it’s because we’re novices and don’t know how to differentiate between them.

Question: Americans today have an abundance of choices. Is rnthat a good thing?

Sheena Iyengar:  Well certainly notrn having any choice–having your entire life dictated by others...  You rnknow, like, none of us would choose–no matter where we are in the rnworld–would choose to you know become a member of Orwell’s "Nineteen rnEighty-Four" world, but how much choice is really the question.  I mean rnwe know that some choice makes you better off than no choice.  Now do wern get better off if we go from a lot of choice versus a few choices?  Andrn there I think the answer is much, much, much more complicated.  If you rntruly have expertise–and expertise can be say a chess master who has rnreally mastered something or an artist or a musician of some sort you rnknow if you give a jazz musician... Once the jazz musician learns all rnthe fundamentals they can keep track of a lot of choices in an instant. rn A chess master can keep track of more choices than the number of stars rnin the galaxy within an instant, but these are people that have truly rnlearned and mastered the choices that they have and how to deal with rnthose choices over a very, very long period of training, so essentially rnwhat they’re really doing is ruling out all the irrelevant choices and rnonly zeroing in on the most relevant, useful choices at the moment. So rnmost of the time when we are confronted by more, rather than a few, rnchoices we’re often novices and so we don’t really know how to rndifferentiate these various options.  We also don’t always know what we rnwant. And in those cases it can actually make us worse off because it’s rnactually easier to figure out what you want and to figure out how the rnoptions differ if you have about a handful of them than if you have a rnhundred of them.