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Why Are Easy Decisions So Hard?

In essence, my basic decision-making flaw is that I tend to treat easy consumer decisions (toothpaste, floss, shampoo, laundry detergent, etc.) as if they were really difficult. Although I know that every floss will work well enough, I still can’t help but contemplate the pros and cons of waxed versus unwaxed, spearmint versus wintermint. It’s an embarrassing waste of time, and yet it happens to me all the time.

The problem, of course, is that the modern marketplace is a conspiracy to confuse, to trick the mind into believing that our most banal choices are actually extremely significant. Companies spend a fortune trying to convince us that only their toothpaste will clean our teeth, or that only their detergent will remove the stains from our clothes, or that every other cereal tastes like cardboard. And then there is the surreal abundance of the store shelf. Do we really need 13 different varieties of Cheerios? Why does the average drug store contain 55 floss alternatives and more than 350 kinds of toothpaste? While all these products are designed to cater to particular consumer niches, they end up duping the brain into believing that picking a floss is a high-stakes game, since it’s so damn hard. And so we get mired in decision-making quicksand.

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See also: Too many toothpaste choices.

Still curious? Jonah Lehrer is the author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist.