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More Is Not Always Better: Intuitions About Effective Public Policy Can Lead to Unintended Consequences


Ellen Peters, Department of Psychology, The Ohio State University, 1835 Neil Ave., Columbus, OH, 43206. Tel: (614) 688-4377 [e-mail:].


Public policy decisions often appear based on an assumption that providing more options, more information, and greater decision-making autonomy to consumers will produce better outcomes. We examine reasons why this “more-is-better” approach exists based on the psychological literature. Although better outcomes can result from informed consumer choice, we argue that more options, information, and autonomy can also lead to unintended negative consequences. We use mostly health-related policies and guidelines from the United States and elsewhere as exemplars. We consider various psychological mechanisms that cause these unintended consequences including cognitive overload, affect, and anticipated regret, information salience and availability, and trust in governments as authoritative information providers. We also point toward potential solutions based on psychological research that may reduce the negative unintended consequences of a “more-is-better” approach.