More than three-quarters of a good thing is too much
You really can have too much of a good thing‚ psychologists have found.
After asking 8‚000 people how much they would like to maximise aspects of life such as pleasure‚ intelligence or personal freedom‚ lead researcher Matthew Hornsey said: “They wanted about 75% of a good thing.”
Hornsey‚ from the University of Queensland in Australia‚ said people’s sense of perfection was surprisingly modest. “They wanted to have positive qualities‚ such as health and happiness‚ but not to the exclusion of other darker experiences.”
On average‚ the subjects in two studies said they wanted to live until they were 90 — only slightly higher than the current average‚ but substantially higher than South Africa’s life expectancy of 61 for men and 67 for women.
Even when participants imagined that they could take a magic pill guaranteeing eternal youth‚ their ideal life expectancy increased to only 120. When people were invited to choose their ideal IQ‚ the median score was about 130 — a score that would classify someone as smart‚ but not a genius.
In one study reported ion the journal Psychological Science‚ Hornsey and colleagues analysed data from 2‚392 people in Australia‚ Chile‚ China‚ Hong Kong‚ India‚ Japan‚ Peru‚ Russia‚ and the US.
Participants indicated their ideal levels of health‚ individual freedom‚ happiness‚ pleasure and self-esteem. They also evaluated ideal levels of societal characteristics‚ such as morality‚ equality of opportunity‚ technological advancement and national security.
In general‚ participants rated their ideal levels of individual characteristics at 70-80%‚ although many more chose to maximise health than happiness.
A second study with 5‚650 participants in 27 countries produced a similar pattern of results. In both studies‚ the researchers found no cross-cultural differences in ideal levels of societal characteristics.
“This principle of maximisation is threaded through many prominent philosophical and economic theories‚” said Hornsey. “But our data suggest that people have much more complex‚ blended notions of perfection‚ ones that embrace both light and dark.”