Sheena Iyengar, The Art of Choosing
2010 | Label: Twelve
A smart analysis of how to choose wisely
If you’re an American, you’re obsessed with choice — that much is beyond doubt. America is consistently ranked as one of the nations that most values freedom to choose; tests demonstrate that our children value the ability to choose more than kids in other cultures, and the variety of goods in our supermarkets is significantly higher than in other industrialized countries. We’re a nation of deciders — but is that a good thing?
Turns out that’s a complicated question, one that Sheena Iyengar mines for a provocative blend of hard science and popular culture in The Art of Choosing. Iyengar gathers a plethora of studies that show the desire to make choices is hardwired — in fact, a certain amount of choice can make people less stressed, happier — it may even lengthen their lifespan. That much may be obvious to anyone who’s ever had a boss, but Iyengar also warns that choice can be taken too far. Among other things, she presents her infamous “jam study,” which showed that consumers actually buy more when presented with fewer products to choose from. Moreover, many societies have solved problems the U.S. still faces simply by allowing for slightly less choice. In America, for instance, the so-called quarter-life crisis is on the rise, but in Japan, where identity-seeking college grads are given fewer options, people face less difficulty making the transition to adulthood.
The Art of Choosing is a considered inquiry into decision-making, one that acknowledges the upsides of Americans’ limitless choice while also acknowledging times when less may, in fact, be more. It’s a debate you can have the next time you and a friend are trying to choose from 16 different dinner options.