The New York Times has a review of a new book called ‘The Art of Choosing’, by psychologist Sheena Iyengar, that tackles the psychology of choice and decision-making. I’ve not read the book myself but the review is very positive and like all good book reviews, it is full of interesting snippets and is worth reading in itself.
I didn’t recognise the author at first but she has done some fantastic work and is responsible for the classic experiment where a stall selling many varieties of jam had more people stop to look but sold little, where a stall with only a few varieties had fewer browsers but when they did stop they were much more likely to buy something.
This is among the many curiosities of decision-making (e.g. we say we want more options but we are consistently happier with our choice when we have only a limited selection) but the book seems to go further and discusses cultural differences in how we make and even define choices:
Take a mundane question: Do you choose to brush your teeth in the morning? Or do you just do it? Can a habit or custom be a choice? When Iyengar asked Japanese and American college students in Kyoto to record all the choices they made in a day, the Americans included things like brushing their teeth and hitting the snooze button. The Japanese didn‚Äôt consider those actions to be choices. The two groups lived similar lives. But they defined them differently.