7:03:45 PM

The Art of Choosing: less is more, sometimes

A review in the New York Times on Sheena Iyengar’s book The Art of Choosing caught my attention. The author, a psychologist by profession, has conducted a number of experiments over the years. She is most famous for the jam experiment; the one that showed people are more likely to be interested in more options but less likely to make a decision when faced with more options. The conclusion: less is more, well sometimes.

What she also points out in the book, and what I find more interesting, is the correlation between culture and the concept of choice. For example, in a study that had Japanese and American students take note of all the choices they made throughout the day. The Americans included things like brushing teeth among their choices. Those from Japan didn’t see that as a choice. 

To further the idea, Iyengar did a study on Anglo American children in the US and children with Chinese or Japanese parents who spoke the native language at home. When asked to do something that came across as a request from the child’s parent the Anglo American children were less inclined to do it and didn’t work as vigorously. The children of immigrants worked the hardest when the request came from a parent.

These findings are intriguing. Americans see their every action as a choice and become immediately defensive when it seems like they are losing their ability to chose by being asked to complete something by an authority figure. The Chinese and Japanese people studied, on the other hand, didn’t consider every action a choice and were not put out when they were asked to do something by a parent.

What is it then about the American culture that has its people longing for the ability to choose in every aspect of their lives? And is having a plethora of options in front of them really helping? As far as the jam experiment goes, more options didn’t help them make a purchasing decision. In fact when given more options (24 jam flavors), only 3% of those surveyed made a purchase. With less options (6 jam flavors) 30% decided to purchase the jam.

What is it in the Chinese and Japanese cultures that have the children acting out of a sense of duty, whether it is duty toward a parent or duty to perform a certain socially-mandated task, like brushing their teeth in the morning?

Do we have too many options in front of us? Is it clouding our ability to make good judgments, or any judgment at all?

I'm off to borrow this book from the library. The studies in it sound fascinating.


comments powered by Disqus
about this blog | Bookmark and Share

Search this blog

 Subscribe to Tiger Print newsletter
rss Subscribe to Tiger Print RSS feed

 Recent Posts
Words that still matter
18 Feb 2013
No time for Valentine’s blues
17 Feb 2013
New Adult books and the message of love
1 Feb 2013
Rise of the online bully
13 Jan 2013
What’s your word for 2013?
11 Jan 2013

 MercatorNet blogs
Population issues: Demography is Destiny
Family social policy: Family Edge
US political scene: Sheila Liaugminas
News about bioethics: BioEdge
From the editors: Conniptions

Feb 2013 | Jan 2013 | Dec 2012 | more >>

  From MercatorNet's home page

The law and Martin Luther King Jr
4 Apr 2018
Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. Here is one of his most powerful attacks on lukewarm…

Making the case for a new Olympics model
5 Aug 2016
The burden is just too much for a single city to bear

A vote’s consequences and a voter’s conscience
5 Aug 2016
Thoughtful Americans are caught between a rock and a hard place in the upcoming election

How the West failed in the war on terror in the Middle East
4 Aug 2016
An Australian counter-insurgency expert admits that there is no simple solution

Why the LGBT community should embrace its inner Donald
3 Aug 2016
They have far more in common than you might think

aging, censorship, magazine, celebrity culture, singer, phone, book reviews, England, Mothers, generation gap, TV, death penalty, earrings, school, health, primary school, budget, homosexual marriage, news, presidential election campaign, seasons, christmas, Tiger Print, Eminem, tebow, media, talent show, young adult, eyes, debates, Osama bin Laden, job, protes, layering, funding, sms, 911 Memorial, young professional, youtube, engagement, weight, fads, twitter, literature, cancer, advertising, Planned Parenthood, email, pro-life, Digital communications, book, language, wedding, New York Fashion Week, Millennials, happiness, social experiment, commercials, Harvard, youth, website, business, pants, american idol, packing, Haiti, google, bloggers, human dignity, vacation, parenting, swap, space management, internet, Twitter, color, holiday, neon, corporate attire, posture, Tebow ad, Harry Potter, United States, pop culture, college, politics, music, designers, brother, weight loss, silence, face, women, March for Life, race, google+, technology, uniforms, cheerleaders, australia,