We define the Path of Least Resistance as the behavior that is most easily done in a given environment. It is the behavior that has the fewest number of obstacles ahead of it.

The Path of Least Resistance shows that we are all lazy, because it takes effort to think and make a decision. Obstacles create friction, and the Path of Least Resistance is the route with the lowest amount of friction.

What causes friction?

1. Making a decision.

2. Complexity and number of options.

As choices become more complex, we become less likely to make any choice at all. We pick the Path of Least Resistance.

Here’s a well-known experiment that illustrates this point: in this study, consumers at a grocery store were either presented with 6 jam choices or 24 jam choices. While more people approached the jam stand when there were 24 jams to choose from, more people bought jams when there were only 6 varieties to choose from. When buyers had to choose between 6 choices, purchase rates were 30%. When buyers had to choose between 24 choices, purchase rates were 3%. (3).  

Why did this happen?
Picking your favorite jam out of 6 is a relatively simple choice. However, when more options are added, the decision is more complex, resulting in many people opting out of making a choice altogether.

Let’s look at a more serious topic: saving for retirement. One of the reasons we are so bad at saving enough lies in the fact that it’s a complex process. There are many steps to the process and they’re not easy.  

  • How do we calculate how much we’ll need in retirement?  

  • What type of account should we use?

  • Once we pick the type of account, where do we sign up for one?

  • Once we sign up for the account, we then need to allocate our money.  

Research shows that the more funds we have to choose from, the less likely we are to participate in a savings program. One report showed that employees with 5 funds in their plan have a predicted participation rate of 72%, while those with 35 funds in the plan has a predicted participation rate of 67.5%(4).

Think of some examples your everyday life that give too much choice

Irrationally yours

(3) Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. R. (2000). When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(6), 995-1006. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.79.6.995

(4) Iyengar, S. S., & Kamenica, E. (2010). Choice proliferation, simplicity seeking, and asset allocation. Journal of Public Economics, 94(7), 530-539. doi:10.1016/j.jpubeco.2010.03.006