The Social Psychology of Veganism – Decision Paralysis

Decision paralysis occurs when there is simply too much choice. People become overloaded, and, thus, make no decision at all (Heath and Heath 2010). Less choice is actually better than more choice (Swartz 2004). Consider one experiment in which one in-store display provided samples of a few jams, while another displayed many jams. When customers had too many jams to pick from, they were less likely to purchase. It was too hard to come to a decision.

What is more, the availability of alternatives means that those decisions that are made tend to be less satisfying due to the tendency to look back on “what could have been.” It’s hard to fully appreciate that strawberry jam when the blueberry, huckleberry, and blackberry jams are still hanging over one’s shoulder.

This information is particularly damning for how Nonhuman Animal rights is typically framed.  In an article I published in Food, Culture & Society, I argue that professionalized Nonhuman Animal rights groups offer way too much choice. At any given time, for example, PETA, Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, and Farm Sanctuary are offering ten or more campaigns for audiences to support. The reason they do this is probably to increase their fundraising, but it likely overloads their audiences to the point of inaction. Could the movement be more successful if it focused on veganism, the choice with the biggest impact?

Even on a smaller scale, vegan activists can prevent decision paralysis by practicing minimalism in tabling. Rather than loading up the display area with a litany of books, pamphlets, and fliers, keep it simple.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Condense available campaign choices
  • Condense available outreach material
  • Minimalize vegan recipe and product recommendations


C. Heath and D. Heath.  2010.  Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.  New York, NY:  Broadway Books.

Shwartz.  2004.  The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.  Harper Perennial.

Wrenn, C. 2013. “A Critique of Single-Issue Campaigning and the Importance of Comprehensive Abolitionist Vegan Advocacy.”  Food, Culture & Society 16 (4): 251-668.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.