Decision-making is an unavoidable feature of our lives. However, researchers have found that some of us are better at it than others. Psychologists have grouped people into two distinctive categories: maximizers and satisficers.
In this post, we look at the meaning behind the terms ‘maximizer’ and ‘satisficer’. And help you to explore which term best describes your approach to decision making.
What does the concept mean?
To put it simply, maximizers are individuals who are constantly striving to make the best decision that derives the maximum benefit. Whereas satisficers spend less time over a decision and are content with an option that is ‘good enough’.
Maximizers vs. Satisficers: Which one are you?
Let’s take a look at these categories in more detail and go through some examples to help you to determine which camp you fit into.
Imagine the scenario, you need to buy a new car and believe you have found the perfect model in your local garage. However, despite this, you know there are several other garages to visit in the area. You, therefore, decide to visit all of these before making your decision. Sound familiar? A maximizer finds it difficult to commit to a decision until they have explored all of the other available options first.
Maximizers are most likely to experience ‘FOBO’ the term coined by US venture capitalist Patrick McGinnis. FOBO stands for the ‘fear of better options’, a feeling that maximizers are all too familiar with. When faced with many options in front of them, a maximizer will deliberate over the selection and often experience a feeling of remorse after making a decision.
Maximizers are prone to regret their decisions and contemplate what could have been rather than being satisfied with their choice.
Satisficers have a lot easier time making decisions than maximizers. They have a clear set of criteria beforehand and make a decision based on this. Referring back to the example above, a satisficer would have purchased the first car that met their criteria. They would not have felt the need to look around the other garages.
The US Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert A. Simon came up with the concept of ‘satisficers’ in 1956. He created the term by combining the words ‘satisfying’ and ‘sufficing’.
Simon explained that humans need only ‘very simple perceptual and choice mechanisms to satisfy [their] several needs’ and in first considering what they seek to achieve from a certain choice, it is easier to reach a satisfying decision.
Satisficers, therefore, approach a decision with an awareness of their needs and requirements. In doing so, they can select an option that suits and satisfies them.
How can your decision-making ability impact your life?
So, does being a maximizer or a satisficer impact your overall life experiences and satisfaction? Unsurprisingly, the way you approach decisions can significantly impact how you feel about them.
This concept has been explored by numerous researchers. They have used the maximizers versus satisficers theory to explore how such a state determines an individual’s life satisfaction and attainment.
Bruine de Bruin et al (2007), for example, explored the connection between socioeconomic status, cognitive ability, and decision-making style. The research found that those with a stronger impulse to maximize their decisions actually obtained worse life outcomes.
A satisficer’s ability to enjoy their decision also comes from the fact that it is based on their own criteria and needs. Whereas, as Starry Peng (2013) points out, maximizers are more likely to base their choice on external choices such as social status, reputation, or reviews.
The preoccupation with selecting the ‘best’ possible choice, therefore, can often mean that maximizers fail to consider their own needs and desires.
Constantly deliberating over the available options doesn’t necessarily mean that you are satisfied with your overall choice. Yang and Chiou (2010), looked into the decision-making processes of those looking at online dating sites.
Their study found that the availability of more search options leads to worse choices as it reduced an individual’s cognitive resources, making it harder for them to ignore irrelevant information and screen out unsuitable options.
Embracing what is ‘good enough’
Of course, there is the possibility that individuals can show characteristics of both maximizers and satisficers. Some people love to trawl the internet, investigating the pros and cons of a certain product, and feel satisfied that they have chosen the best, fully researched option.
The situation isn’t clear-cut. However, according to psychologist Barry Schwartz, we have a lot to gain from taking the satisficers’ approach to life.
Schwartz recognizes that freedom of choice can bring autonomy and liberation to people. However, when we’re faced with too much choice, this can lead to reduced happiness and increased anxiety.
In Schwartz’s research, he increasingly found that when faced with an exhaustive amount of options, individuals question their decisions and blame themselves if the option they chose isn’t perfection.
Referring to this concept as ‘The Paradox of Choice’, Schwartz encourages us to settle for what is ‘good enough’ rather than always striving for the perfect option.
The terms ‘maximizers’ and ‘satisficers’ help us to gain insight into our own decision-making processes. In a world where choices can seem endless, recognizing that many decisions we make are ‘good enough’ can go a long way in reducing anxiety and increasing our overall life satisfaction.
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