To choose or not
- GUIDING FACTOR Sheena Iyengar
Sheena Iyengar's The Art of Choosing examines how culture influences the choices we make
Did you know that your decision to choose a particular brand of product says a lot about you? Nor did I, until I spoke to Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art Of Choosing. A professor in Columbia University, Sheena, an expert on choice has put her thoughts and findings into her book to help us master the art of choosing.
Sheena conducted her first experiment when she was in grad school and what began as curiosity about religion later expanded to include the concept of choice and why people make the choices they do.
When Sheena chanced upon a study that argued that people's identity was a representation of their cultural background she was intrigued, especially since she is Indian-American. "I was interested in human motivation and culture and somehow it seemed that everything had to do with choice."
She slowly discovered that our fundamental lessons like what to eat and wear had to a lot to do with the choices that we made, or were made for us. Sheena has conducted several experiments and written research papers, and this book is an amalgamation of the data she collated from them all.
In 1996, Sheena carried out an experiment on product variety and consequences on the buyer. "It called the `Jam Study' andreceived a lot of media attention," she says.
She set up a tasting booth that displayed six exotically-flavoured jams and another that had 24 flavours. About 60 per cent of the people stopped by the booth that boasted of 24 flavours and only 40 per cent stopped by the booth that had six. But as it turns out, only three per cent of the people purchased jam from the booth that carried 24 flavours where as 30 per cent bought jam from the other booth.
While people were more excited about a larger collection, their decision to buy a product was made simpler by the smaller range. "In 2006 I thought that I should put my ideas into a book. There are a number of things that affect the choices we make," says Sheena. While Americans allow their children to make choices that are as basic as what cereal to eat, Indian parents make choices for their children.
This is a cultural message Americans train their children to think of themselves first while the Indian family teaches the child to take other people into consideration. "It all boils down to a debate of mind versus heart and gut versus reason," she explains.
Sheena, who has been visually-challenged from childhood, says that her principle is "Not whether I can do it, but how do I do it, I don't believe in restricting my dreams."
CATHERINE RHEA ROY