Stuck in the Middle: the Effect of Number of Alternatives on Adaptation to Outcomes

Karim Kassam, Harvard University
Carey Morewedge, Carnegie Mellon University
Daniel Gilbert, Harvard University
Rationalization helps maintain well-being by convincing us that whatever happened was for the best, but its effectiveness depends on the number of alternatives to a given outcome. When there is a very small number of alternatives, it is relatively straightforward to compare options in a way that makes the experienced outcome seem best. When there is a very large number of alternatives, comparison becomes inappropriate and rationalization can proceed through other means. When there is a moderate number of alternatives, comparison is tempting but difficult, and rationalization falters. Three experiments demonstrate this non-linear relationship between number of alternatives and happiness.
[ to cite ]:
Karim Kassam, Carey Morewedge, and Daniel Gilbert (2008) ,"Stuck in the Middle: the Effect of Number of Alternatives on Adaptation to Outcomes", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 35, eds. Angela Y. Lee and Dilip Soman, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 201-204.