Satisficer or Maximizer?

Reading the “tab panic” thread prompted me to wonder: Are we mostly by nature more Satisficers or Maximizers?

  • I am by nature more Satisficer than Maximizer
  • I am by nature more Maximizer than Satisficer
  • Please never sully this forum again with your foolish over-simplified poll options

0 voters

All I’m going to say about myself is that I just spent some time googling what the best type of discourse poll is to choose.


Haha, yeah, that distinction crossed my mind reading the responses to that thread as well! It’s all too tempting for me to spend way too much time finding the perfect web clipper, or more generally, the perfect system. So clearly I’m a Maximizer.

What’s interesting, though, is that a lot of my maximizing is due to anxiety and avoidance. So I wonder if there are people who are true satisficers at heart, but sometimes maximize for those reasons (not me, pretty sure I’m a maximizer through and through).

Makes me wonder if satisficers (are there any who use beeminder? I kinda doubt it) are just anxiety-free, or if they have a different coping mechanism somehow.

I think I read some research somewhere to the effect that satisficers tend to be happier but maximizers tend to be wealthier.


I am much closer to a satisficer than a maximizer.

You can even see it in how I use Beeminder–more often as a way to balance doing things, rather than to maximize some life project. (It’s not exclusively for balance, but more for balance than for not!)

I don’t think this was a natural tendency. I certainly wasn’t this way when I was younger. I was much more of a maximizer before a decade in engineering design services. I have seen way, way, way more satisficer-driven projects succeed than maximizer-driven projects.


So how did you become one?

Hmm. I don’t think I purposefully did, but I stayed in a career where most of the people around me were satisficers and one where we told our customers over and over again that they’re paying us because we’re good at making hard decisions like “not finding the optimal solution but finding one that’s good enough for what you need”.


i am a satisficer, as compared to my wife who is a maximizer. This is shown through our behavior when we go out to eat at a new restaurant. I look through the menu and find a meal that will I will enjoy and I don’t worry about missing out on the meal that will “be the best”. She takes much more time and always wonders how I make a decision so quickly. I usually say that I know “this won’t be my last meal” so if it’s not delicious I can eat choose something different if we come back to this restaurant.
I do think there is some connection between maximizing and anxiety. I sometimes have trouble making decisions and in those cases I try to make myself leap, if this isn’t a life altering decision. Humans make hundreds of decisions a day and it seems to me that maximizing can cause one to defer the decision to ones detriment.


I may be a bit maximize-y by nature but since the functions I want to maximize tend to include factors like time spent and anxiety, being a satisficer is commonly what maximizes that function! :slight_smile:

It’s like Bounded Rationality in AI/philosophy. Satisficing is the real maximizing.

Put another way: I’m a die hard maximizer, no compromises ever! Optimize literally everything! But taking too much time to decide or suffering anxiety is not optimal so I commonly appear to be satisficing. But it’s all still maximizing and if I find a way to improve I would never dream of saying “nah, I don’t care about improvements, this is good enough.” Instead I’d say “that’s an improvement in one dimension but it has this cost that may not be worth it.”

Related: Philosophy, utility functions, rationality, heartless economists


PS: I think there are multiple relevant xkcds on this…


+1 dreev, although I don’t want to lose the usefulness of the words satisficer and maximizer.

Career-wise, I have been surrounded by clients (and paid to advise them) where they spend a lot of time and money making sure something is very very , and they usually don’t realize that caring about maximizing that thing is both at the expense of other things, and has an intrinsic assumption that the thing happens.

Opportunity cost rules everything around me.

Behavior that looks maximizing but is problematic is not including enough things in the system that’s being maximized. When a classic maximizer looks at a classic satisficer and envies them, that maximizer is probably not thinking “big picture” enough.


That sounds plausible. I recall there is scientific evidence for satisficers being happier. Is there also that sort of evidence for the project success thing?

A hypothesis I don’t know the answer to: I wonder if maximisers are more successful in the projects with the biggest impact? (Steve Jobs, yada yada)

So did you vote “Maximizer”? Or do you not believe that by nature you are one?

I’m a satisficer in that I will start using a thing that is not MAXIMALLY optimal… but I do that for the reasons mentioned above: that it’s a matter of it also being optimal to just make a decision now, with the understanding that I’m also willing to move on from that to something that is more optimal, so… yeah. I’m It’s Complicated, surprising probably no one.

Disagree. Bounded rationality is neither maximizing or satisficing - it’s sort of a middle ground. Yes, the point is to maximize utility in a “big picture” sense, as @adamwolf points out, by including consideration of resources, but that’s not what maximizing is. It’s also not what satisficing is.

Specifically, we’re talking about procedures for choosing one option of a set of multiple options.

I’ll illustrate with @mkalbert’s restaurant example:

Maximizer: there are 40 things on the menu. I’m going to read over each one and choose the best.

Satisficer: I’m going to look through the menu. Once I find one thing that’s good enough, I’ll order it.

Bounded rationality: in this context it doesn’t make sense to spend more than a few minutes choosing an option. So I’ll use those few minutes to first come up with a way of deciding and then decide. I know this restaurant is known for X, I’m kinda craving Y, and I’ve heard good things about Z, so I’ll restrict my choices to the 10 things that are close to X, Y, or Z. I don’t have time to choose the absolute best, so I’ll narrow further to a few that seem like they’d be good enough, and then I’ll pick the best of those few.

Or, put another way:

Maximizing means your goal is to choose the best option at all costs.

BR means your goal is to choose the best option given limited resources, and you will therefore use heuristics as shortcuts at the cost of possibly missing the best option.

Satisficing means you don’t care about choosing the best option. That’s not even a consideration. You just want to choose an option that’s good enough. It’s a completely different way of thinking.

I see satisficing as lazy and myopic. It’s being complacent. A satisficer isn’t willing to spend another minute looking at multiple “good enough” options. That might save time now, but could cost you later on if you end up needing to switch, or if another minute of looking would have revealed an option that would have been significantly better.

Sure, you could think of satisficing as a specific extreme BR strategy to be used in unusual situations with very limited resources (I hold a gun to your head - choose one NOW).

Also see:

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The interesting thing is, that you might not be able to pay all costs. And since we can’t escape the myriad contexts in which we act, literally everything is dependent on everything which makes the distinction moot again IMHO, when talking about ourselves. It might make - theoretically - sense to label a subset of decisions in this or that way, but the rest of your life cannot be boxed out like this.

Sooner or later not budgeting your time and attention will come and bite you in the ass. And not only that: It will prevent a maximizing strategy altogether. Not taking this into account in every decision you make, will lead to less and less actually maximized decision making.

I see maximizing as lazy and myopic. It’s almost tragic, really.

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Yeah, you can rarely ever actually maximize 100% due to real-life constraints on time and information. You’re right, you always have to budget your time and attention. But you can sometimes come close to maximizing.

In real life you’re almost always engaging in some form of bounded rationality. It’s just a question of how bounded to make it.



Because discussions with purported “maximizers” tend to develop as this one does. First “maximizer all the way, others are dumb for not doing it”, then “yes, maximizing is not really possible you can’t escape your reality…”. Meanwhile purported “satisficers” tend to know all this, too and in comparison have learned to cope with the scarcity that is called life. Maximizers can’t understand this, or rather: Their memories about this fact seem to be rather short. This has to be pointed out in every context, again and again and again and again… that’s why it’s so tragic, lazy and myopic: They have “outsourced” the labor needed (they force the environment to point this out) to stay mindful of the scarce time and attention we have, because they can’t or don’t want to see this. And this behavior gets repeated over and over and over again. Lazy, myopic, tragic.

EDIT: Reading this again made me realize, that it sounds much more aggressive than how I’d like to come of. It almost sounds like I have some personal agenda against maximizers or something like that. This is not my intention. I tried to use hyperbole to bind the question in the context of humans with lifes to the problem of scarcity in the most obvious way. But what I said about the distinction losing its meaning still holds true, too: When we have to pick and choose what to maximize and how far and what we are willing to sacrifice for that, then the categorization becomes situational, meaning a decision might be a maximized one, but not the human making it. So I am not against maximizers, because no human is a maximizer in this sense. I tend to view maximized decisions with scepsis, though.


I can see how mine could come off as more aggressive than I would have liked as well. Sorry. :frowning:

So it’s not actually maximizing that you’re criticizing, it’s arguing for maximizing?

As I see it there are three options when making a decision:

  1. Satisfice by default. Just choose something good enough.
  2. Engage in some type of bounded rationality. Look at your resources, decide how much time to put into the decision, come up with a procedure, and follow it.
  3. Try to maximize as best you can in the real world.

3 is my tendency, and it obviously causes a lot of problems. I don’t think I said others were dumb for not doing it - in fact I said it was my own anxiety triggering it. If anything I am the “dumb” one for over-maximizing lol.

With choice 2 there are people who tend to err on the side of perfectionism or analysis paralysis, spending too much time choosing, and people who tend to err or the side of impulsivity, just going with something without spending enough time choosing. I think this is typically what people mean when they talk about satisficers vs maximizers.

It’s choice 1 - generally satisficing by default, without thinking about it or determining whether you could possibly benefit from putting some time into decision-making - that I think is myopic because it might save energy now but cause problems later.

So - extremes are more likely to cause problems. Bounded rationality is helpful. The take-away for me here is to remember to bound my rationality and stick to the bind!

I still can’t decide on what web clipper to use and what note-taking app to use :frowning:


(responding to Adam and Daniel)

I think you both already see this distinction, but: I wonder if you might both turn out to be talking about “System 2”, while the satisficer/maximiser distinction that’s been identified out there in the world in scientific work is about “System 1”? I think you are discussing ideas you have adopted rather than your personality types (isn’t it great to be human and able to do that?). In my poll I was referring to personality types rather than adopted behaviour when I wrote “by nature”.

Adam’s thought about maximisers not including enough things in the optimisation I guess is true in world of critical thought that sits on top of System 2, but it could also be reinterpreted as a testable hypothesis about System 1 psychology (and/or machine learning), which I guess is more about things like how people create ideas, make choices with imperfect information, respond quickly, etc.: are maximisers that way because they tend to focus on one thing rather than many, or for some other reason? I’m hopeful that’s the sort of question we might find a decent explanatory answer for in my lifetime!

Daniel’s mention of AI reminds me: Whenever I hear the word “optimize” in recent years, the dichotomy that comes to mind is not maximising vs. satisficing, but optimising vs., in machine learning terms, regularisation (“stability of generalisation”). Optimisers (I’m talking about people) often seem to me to neglect the other side of that dichotomy. I suppose I’m thinking of optimisers of a more everyday variety than Daniel though :wink: “Regularised” is a 50 dollar word and you might say I just mean “safe” – but the concept does show that there’s more depth to the concept of stability than mere safety or stasis. In social / legal / political problems for example – which do connect with everyday life – “stability” doesn’t seem far from “regularisation”. I guess that’s also true with things like getting through life, self-improvement, etc.

Unfortunately it seems difficult to test the real importance of this prejudice of mine, because this kind of stability does involve unusual situations and events.

Bringing my self indulgent ramble just about back on topic: I suspect this optimise/regularise axis has more to do with ideas than with personality, since I’ve never noticed psychologists talk about personality factors that resemble it. But perhaps it is connected in some way with the well-known personality factors that psychologists do talk about such as openness, and also with getting things done?

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So… are you a maximiser? (geniune question – see first half of my previous post)

On the other side of the same coin: maybe the maximizer personality trait makes it even just a little bit easier to find some kinds of new knowledge (in other words: progress)? Unreasonable man and all that? It doesn’t have to be all knowledge, or even most: if any knowledge is easier to come by that way, having a few people for whom it does work that way is likely an enormous benefit to humankind. If so, if a maximiser wastes, in their own judgement, most of their life on what turn out to be unimportant obsessions, perhaps that’s not so important overall.

Progress is certainly none of lazy, myopic, or tragic.

I suppose this argument could apply (perhaps correctly) to almost any personality characteristic – “it takes all sorts” – but for what it’s worth, I have a hunch it might apply more so to this one.

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(Answering all things backwards, because why not? It’s good enough for me.)

Let’s say this is the case: Since nobody is living in a vacuum, we have to take into account the burden of said obsessive individuals on others who may try to find new knowledge, too. So it might just be that maximizers might be better to find some kinds of knowledge to the detriment of the efforts of non-maximizers, who would without the outsourced coping labor put on them be even more prolific in finding new knowledge in this specific domain. In short: We can make a lot of if statements. :wink:

Let me also say, that it’ll take empirical studies to confirm any of those if-cascades. Let me further say, that it’ll take more than empirical studies, too (meaning the theoretical framework seems to oversimplify without a lot of benefits). There is a lot of work to do.

Which brings me to your question:

System 1 and System 2 are referring to Daniel Kahneman, I presume. So the next question is: Does this distinction actually relate to System 1? I mean, it seems plausible, but how to test for this? And furthermore: How to self-asses this? And is it really actually helpful to relate it only to one system? Maybe there is a System1-Version and a System2-Version of satisficing and maximizing? And if so is there only one distinction at play here?

But as I’ve tried to point out before: Satisficing and Maximizing are strategies that are applied situationally. People might tend to use one over the other and we might say then that they “are” a Satisficer. But then again in our self-assesments we need to be mindful that maximizing is satisficing - somewhere else. Which means we can transpose any maximizer into a satisficer and vice versa if we pick the right context. In this way we can accumulate a lot of complexity and uncertainty. Which brings me to my next point. When it comes to self-assesment, the distinction seems to me a not so worthwhile oversimplification. It might work in psychological studies where there is an external observer, who is looking at a defined situation, though the interesting question is how to carry the findings over into a more complex real-world context (for all the reasons stated above).

In short: I reject the premise that I am either/or.

Next thing:

No worries! I have enjoyed thinking about this. :slight_smile:

Yeah. I regret stating it so strongly. Hyperbolic statements help me sometimes to inject some energy into the discussion, but I hope you won’t take it too seriously.

That’s a good, clear way of putting it. Funnily enough Option 1 seems the most intriguing to me.

That’s (Trigger Warning for sexual violence)->)the dice man approach! If you haven’t read it:

The Dice Man , a 1971 novel by career English professor George Cockcroft (writing under the pen name, “Luke Rhinehart”)[1] tells the story of a psychiatrist who makes daily decisions based on the casting of a die.

But anyways: I said my piece about the distinction not being super useful for real life humans three times now (as per the DRY-Principle I should give my criticism a name… but I can’t think of one :laughing:). I won’t repeat it here again.

So true.

I have changed last year to evernote premium (after 10 years of absence) and REALLY love it (again).

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