People want options — or at least they think they do. An estimated 16 percent of Americans subscribe to more than one streaming service — like Netflix and Hulu — so their movie choices are never limited. And millions of people use Tinder, the dating app literally designed to give you a seemingly infinite number of potential mates.
In reality, however, there are often too many choices. New research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests there may be a way to deal with the anxiety of this seemingly insurmountable avalanche of choices: Just reject any options that confuse you or make you feel unhappy.
In a series of five small experiments, lead author Hannah Perfecto, who recently earned her Ph.D. in behavioral marketing from the University of California, Berkeley, probed deeper into the science of choice. She found that rejecting bad options feels as good as making a choice you’re confident in.
Take dating. As part of the study, participants were presented with two otherwise normal faces. Some were told to choose the face they thought was more attractive and others were told to reject the face they thought was less attractive. Those who got to say no to the less attractive face were found to be more confident in their choices than those who had to say yes to one of the relatively equal faces.
“[I]f you’ve matched with two people, and they both seem great, you’ll feel better about the decision if you frame it as a choice [of] who you want to meet,” Perfecto tells Inverse. “But if they’re both not so great, and you really want to get yourself out there, then you’d feel better framing it as a rejection (‘Who do I definitely not want to meet?’).” Similarly, when faced with two horrible options, study participants preferred rejecting the slightly worse option than choosing the slightly better one.
Of course, if you have one clearly bad option and only clearly good one, making the obvious choice will still feel great, Perfecto says. But when faced with more impossible decisions, people should feel empowered to frame it as rejecting the thing they don’t want, as opposed to choosing what they do want. “I think it’s useful for people to know about, if you are faced with a lose-lose decision,” she says.
And though Perfecto’s study didn’t allow participants the opportunity to defect, to completely avoid a decision, it’s possible that there are some binary choices — side salad or fries, Team Jacob or Team Edward — shouldn’t be made at all.
During the 2016 presidential election, many Americans said they would vote for Donald Trump because they hated Hillary Clinton, or vice versa. On one TV news show, Perfecto says, someone argued the ballot shouldn’t be designed so that people had to vote for Trump or Clinton. Instead, there should be a third option that would allow voters to reject both candidates.
“And I thought, ‘That’s my whole paper,’” she recalls.
The next time you’re faced with a difficult decision, try framing it as a rejection. And if that doesn’t cut it, consider casting a vote for nope.