wesley tanaka

A talk about choice by Sheena S. Iyengar

‹ Notes from Cook's Illustrated issue number ninety-seven | Trade is ten times as old as farming ›

A provocative talk about choice, though some of the research sounds pretty hand-wavy:

Seven- to nine-year-old Anglo- and Asian-American children in San Francisco Japantown were divided into three groups.  The first group got to choose which of six piles of anagram puzzles they wanted to do and which markers they wanted to do the puzzles with.  The second group was told that Ms. Smith told them which anagrams to do and which markers to write their answers with.  The third group was told that their anagrams and markers were chosen by their mothers.  The choices given to the second and third groups were actually just the choices made by kids in the first group so that performance was comparable.  Anglo-American kids solved 2.5 more anagrams correctly when they got to choose the anagram puzzles themselves.  Asian-American kids did best when they thought their mothers made the choice for them, second best when they chose for themselves, and least well when it had been chosen by Miss Smith.

It is a mistake to think that everyone thrives under the pressure of choosing alone.

Speaker interviewed people in Eastern Europe.  Offered them a set of seven different sodas.  One participant said, "it's all just soda, it's just one choice".  So she started offering the same set of seven sodas and asking them subjectively about their perception of the choice.  Many people thought of it as just one choice between soda or no soda.  After adding juice and water to the set of choices, people started looking at it as three choices.  The speaker says that there is research showing that people can't tell Pepsi and Coke apart.

She asked some of them, "what words do you associate with choice?"  One replied, "fear."

The value of choice depends on our ability to see differences between the options.  [I wonder if there is a connection between this and luxury brand names].

Claims that choice can make things worse if thrust on people that aren't ready for it. [Not sure how much I agree with this]

Cites research that with ten or more options, people start making worse choices.

Talked about study of American and French parents where life support was removed and infant died.  In France, doctors decide, whereas in the U.S. the final decision is left with the parents.  Even up to a year later, American parents were more likely to express "negative" emotions than French counterparts.  Yet when asked if they would have preferred to turn the choice over to doctors, American parents were extremely in favor of choice.

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by Wesley Tanaka