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The Art of Choosing: 11/18/12
The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar is about how people make choices and what influences them — culture, psychology, number of choices available, and so forth.
The book opens with Iygenar asking for advice on nail polish. She's blind and has to rely on the color sense of others and their ability to describe why one shade is better than another. Frankly, I figure, why bother with nail polish, but I'm not the author. It is in the abstract an interesting exploration of how one can make an informed decision based on very little or potentially biased information.
Iygenar's best known study on choice involves jam. The gist of the study comes down to this observation — fewer choices result in happier decision makers. This is a study I can relate too — although not with jam. I know my family's favorite flavors, and mine, and that's what I pick. But moving venues to a new restaurant — especially those where all the choices are written in itty-bitty script on a chalkboard and I have to stand in line and make a quick choice. I HATE that. My mind goes completely blank unless I'm very familiar with the place. I usually just end up not ordering!
Another study looked at culture on performance. Kids were told to make anagrams and they could either pick the pen color of their choice or they were told their mother had picked blue for them. On average, Asian children did better when told their mother had picked the pen for them, while Caucasian kids did better without the "added embarrassment" of parental involvement.
Looking at my own two kids, I'm fairly certain both would do better if told I had picked a pen. We're a pretty close knit family and they are in a Chinese language immersion program at school. I don't know if the Chinese culture is rubbing off on how they look at parental involvement, but I know my daughter (for certain) would be like the kid who told the teacher she wanted her mother to know she used the blue pen. My son, who is a little older, might go the other way but I suspect he'd see the pen choice as normal since so many of his friends parents would have done the same thing.