Maximizers and satisficers

Feb 5, 2012

Maximizers try to figure out the very best of all the options available to them.  This can be exhausting if, for instance, you're choosing a new computer, especially a PC. There are just too many different options to choose from.  Even choosing one of the many types of coffee at Starbucks is a major decision-making effort.

A satisficer, on the other hand, chooses something that he considers good enough. It doesn’t have to be the best possible choice.

Here’s a great way to distinguish a maximizer from a satisficer. You’re listening to the radio and find a station playing a song you like. Do you stay with that station and enjoy the song, or do you continue to search other stations because there might be another song on that you like more? The maximizer has the urge to keep looking.

Maximizers often make objectively good choices as the result of their efforts seeking lots of information before deciding. But compared to satisficers, they're less likely to enjoy the results of their decision. In fact people who are at the extreme of maximizer scales are prone to depression. Satisficers are usually happier and more satisfied with their lives.

You may be thinking, "doesn't it make sense to be a maximizer for some things in life, and a satisficer for others"?  Absolutely.  The last car I bought was an inexpensive Toyota Scion.  I liked the look and knew it would last.  I didn't spend a lot of time choosing.  (OK, I did test drive a mini cooper).  But when it came to buying a particular piece of scientific equipment, I spent a lot of time finding out about the pros and cons of different brands.  In the end, I still didn't have enough information to make a perfect decision -- we almost never do. If you have the flexibility to look for the best option in some situations and a good option in others, you're probably not extreme in either direction.  Extreme maximizers try to maximize even when the stakes are low.  It's just the way they are.