Decisions, decisions—they’re a pain, but they come bundled up in the very makeup of our brain.
“The ability to choose well is arguably the most powerful tool for controlling our environment,” writes Iyengar (Psychology/Columbia Univ.). Not only are we born with the ability to choose, but also born with an apparent need to do so; nothing frustrates us as much as having no say in a matter. But there’s a cross-cultural rub in that, as the author notes. Examining the results of a questionnaire concerning the amount of freedom of choice desired on the job, Iyengar determined that there were cultural and ethnic preferences for less choice versus more choice. “Asian participants,” she writes, “whether from Asia or the United States, scored higher when they thought their day-to-day tasks were determined primarily by their managers, while greater personal choice had no effect in some areas and even a moderately negative one in others.” The inferences that can be drawn are, naturally, of the powder-keg variety, but the larger point is that there are differences among us in the choices we make and even the way in which we choose. Drawing on her own family experience, for example, Iyengar writes of her Indian immigrant parents and their arranged marriage, a datum that bewilders many Americans but that seems to serve millions of people very well indeed. Throughout, the author explores decision-making as an art, noting that it is possible to improve on our skills by asking the right questions.
A lucid work of popular science written by an accomplished practitioner—deserving of a place alongside Malcolm Gladwell, Po Bronson and other interpreters of why and how we do what we do.