This season marks the 20th rendition of ABC’s The Bachelor. For the next couple months, 28 eager women will vie for the affection of Ben Higgins, a software salesman from Denver, Colorado. They’ll fly all over the globe and take on crazy adventures in hopes of winning his heart and his hand in marriage.
A Recipe For Love?
The premise of the Bachelor is simple. ABC producers audition hundreds of women to select ~25 who they think will be a good match for their bachelor. Then every week, the Bachelor winnows down the group until he proposes to his lady love in the Season Finale. (Or vice versa for the Bachelorette.)
Yet after 13 years and 20 seasons, the success rate is dismal. Only four couples are still together, and most couples break up within months.
Most critics fault the format of the show. Total isolation from the outside world, overly-romantic situations, and the inability to discuss issues that actually matter in the long run (such as religion and how they handle money) lead to couples who would never pair up in real life. Especially when alcohol flows like water.
They have a point. But the problem is deeper.
How The Paradox of Choice Keeps the Bachelor from Finding Love
In every Season Premiere, the Bachelor meets 28 extraordinary young women. Limo after limo pulls up, and woman after woman steps out, each dressed to impress in a slinky evening gown and flawless makeup.
The Bachelor is awed. “There are many girls who are absolutely stunning,” Ben Higgins calls his parents to say before heading into the mansion. And that’s when we know that Bachelor Ben will never find lasting love.
The Research is Clear
Common sense says that people will be happier when they can choose the perfect option from many choices. Research says otherwise.
Time after time, psychology studies have shown that people react negatively when they have too many options. In a famous Columbia University study, researchers set out a sampling booth with 24 different varieties of jams in a busy grocery store. During the tasting, 60% of the customers who came into the store stopped by the booth for a taste. But despite all those opportunities to find their perfect jam, only 3% of those customers actually made a purchase.
Then researchers set up a tasting booth with only six varieties of jam. This was less attractive — only 40% of the grocery store’s customers stopped for a sample. However, 30% of the people who sampled bought jam — 10x more than the customers who tasted 3x more jam!
This paradox holds true across industries and across cultures. No matter if it’s spaghetti sauce, jam, shampoo, or retirement savings, research proves that the more choices people have, the more they delay choosing, make worse choices and choose things that make them less satisfied.
With 28 beautiful women to choose from, poor Bachelor Ben never had a chance. As he sees each additional woman step out of the limo, his mind is reinforcing that he has many, many women to choose from. As a result, even as he winnows down the women to the one he will propose to in the Season Final, he’ll always be wondering if there are better options out there.