Learnings Mental Models

Braess’s Paradox: Unraveling the Counterintuitive Nature of Decision Making


Braess’s Paradox is a mental model that challenges our intuition about decision making by demonstrating that adding more resources or options can lead to worse outcomes. This counterintuitive phenomenon has implications in various domains, from personal life decisions to business strategies and public policy-making. Understanding the psychological underpinnings and prevalence of Braess’s Paradox can help individuals and organizations avoid making irrational decisions that go against their best interests.

Defining Braess’s Paradox

Braess’s Paradox refers to the observation that in certain network systems, such as transportation networks or supply chains, adding extra resources or alternative routes can result in decreased overall system performance. This paradox contradicts the common belief that more options always lead to better outcomes.

Relevance in Decision-Making Processes

Braess’s Paradox is highly relevant to decision-making processes as it challenges our intuitive understanding of cause and effect. It highlights the importance of considering system dynamics and unintended consequences when making decisions that involve resource allocation, route planning, or network optimization. By understanding this paradox, individuals and organizations can avoid making choices that inadvertently lead to negative outcomes.

Anchored in Human Psychology

Braess’s Paradox finds its roots in various psychological factors. One key factor is the tendency to optimize individual gains without considering the collective impact. People often make decisions based on self-interest or local optimization, neglecting the complex interactions and feedback loops present in interconnected systems. Additionally, the confirmation bias and overconfidence can lead decision-makers to overlook potential negative consequences when adding more options or resources.

Examples of Braess’s Paradox

Personal Life Decisions: Imagine a person trying to minimize their commute time by taking a shortcut through residential streets. However, many others have the same idea, resulting in increased congestion for everyone. By individually optimizing their routes, they collectively create a worse traffic situation for themselves and others.

Business Scenarios: In supply chain management, a company may decide to add more suppliers to increase flexibility and reduce costs. However, this can lead to increased coordination efforts, longer lead times, and higher overall costs due to the complexities introduced by additional partners in the network.

Public Policy-Making: When a city decides to build more roads to alleviate traffic congestion, it may inadvertently attract more drivers, leading to increased traffic and even worse congestion than before. The additional roads create a false sense of capacity and encourage more people to use private vehicles, exacerbating the problem.

Mental Biases and Psychological Underpinnings

Confirmation bias plays a role in Braess’s Paradox by causing decision-makers to focus on information that supports their preconceived notions of adding more options or resources leading to better outcomes. Overconfidence can also contribute, as individuals believe they can accurately predict and control the complex interactions in a system.

Identifying and Avoiding Braess’s Paradox

Consider System Dynamics: Take a holistic view of the decision-making context and consider the potential interactions and feedback loops between different elements. Evaluate the impact of adding options or resources on the overall system performance rather than focusing solely on individual gains.

Utilize Simulation and Modeling: Employ simulation and modeling tools to assess the potential outcomes of decision options. These tools can help simulate the complex interactions and identify potential unintended consequences before implementing a decision.

Embrace System Thinking: Develop a mindset that appreciates the interconnectedness of elements within a system. Consider the long-term effects and unintended consequences of adding more resources or options, taking into account the perspectives of other stakeholders.

Seek Diverse Perspectives: Encourage diverse viewpoints and input from multiple stakeholders when making decisions that involve resource allocation or system optimization. This helps to uncover potential blind spots and challenges inherent biases.


Braess’s Paradox serves as a reminder that decision-making is a complex process that requires careful consideration of system dynamics and unintended consequences. By understanding the psychological biases and factors that contribute to this paradox, individuals and organizations can make more informed decisions. Applying system thinking, utilizing simulation tools, and seeking diverse perspectives are effective strategies to avoid falling into the trap of Braess’s Paradox. Awareness and active avoidance of this mental trap can lead to better outcomes and improved decision-making in various domains of life.


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