How Culture Influences Decision-Making

What kid doesn’t hate it when Mom makes them put on a sweater? Apparently, Anglo-American children hate it so much that they perform worse on any task they believe was chosen for them by their mothers. That’s according to research by Sheena S. Iyengar, a professor at the Columbia Business School and author of The Art of Choosing. As explained in a recent TED talk, Iyengar found that a culture’s views on choice affect task performance, decision-making, and happiness. While Asian-American children perform best in mom-chosen tasks, Anglo-American children perform best when they choose their own tasks.


So I guess the key for Anglo moms is to figure out how to make their kid THINK it was their choice. Now , how do I get my 16 year old son to want to prep for the PSAT?


This can't be the argument. They also hate when their mother tells them to go to bed, or brush their teeth, or a million other things. Why focus on the sweater? Although I think the premise obvious, this is scarcely a sophisticated idea of what culture is or how it works.


What about the kids' fathers? Does it matter whether the task was chosen by the mother or the father?


Freakonomics needs to take a course in anthropology before endorsing silly stereotypes.


Again, what about multi-racial multi-cultural kids?

Eric M. Jones

Asian-American--does that include Mongolian-American?
Anglo-American--does that include German-American?

These are weird groupings.

Mom-chosen tasks, Child-chosen tasks...I am baffled how anyone in the real world could properly label these.


It is difficult for someone who has not been brought up in one culture with its attendant social norms and pressure to understand what the issue is. It takes a different perspective to even think in this manner if you have not experienced it. Most Westerners think in a dialectic mode and view things as black and white or good vs. evil ignoring the various shades of gray in between and outside but related to a subject. Asians, on the other hand, look at an issue and relate it to other subjective matters as family or community honor, social acceptance and historical norms.

Eventually, as the world gets all these cross-cultural influences, I think it will merge into something that we are not accustomed to yet. Why is there a raging debate between Coke vs. Pepsi, Apple vs. PC and other similar product competition? It is nothing more than a manifestation of culture clash that shows how people feel about belonging to a certain group or community.



Doesn't seem right. Maybe it's applicable to Asian Americans rather than Asians. It's certainly not applicable to Indians. Indians are used to lack of structure, which is a bad thing in most cases, but is a necessity to get through life. Indian children have to learn to make independent choices quite early. Also, influence tends to be patriarchal, especially for boys.

Also, I can't stomach the sheer fallaciousness of classifying three separate groups - sub-continental people, Indo-Chinese, and Chinese, which are perhaps half of humanity, as one group. E.g., Pakistanis and Japanese cannot be part of the same group; ethnically, linguistically, or culturally.

This really is freakonomics: anything goes. Quality's dropping my friend.


Objecting without reading the source materials is silly.

The talk and book describe an actual test in Japantown, San Francisco, with 7 to 9-year olds, half of whom had immigrant parents from Asia, and the kids spoke the parents' original language in the home. The other group's families were more long-term citizens and native English speakers.

The experiment broke the kids into three groups. The first one did a little art project by their own, the second did the same art project as directed by an authority figure, and the third did the same art project after being told that their mothers had chosen it for them.

The results are as above, and they do make a lot more sense in context.


"What kid doesn't hate it when Mom makes them put on a sweater? Apparently, Anglo-American children hate it so much that they perform worse on any task they believe was chosen for them by their mothers. "

So, let me get this straight: White kids have trouble putting on sweaters?


"Objecting without reading the source materials is silly."

Oh yeah. And lumping together all "Asians" as one group is bona fide science I suppose.

It's not possible to read all the nonsense in the world. Conclusions based on wrong assumptions ("Asians") do not have merit. There's no need to read source materials in such cases. Time has preciousness.

Paul Sherman

So, perhaps i missed something. The Freakonomics presentation sums up someone elses's work and presents. The Freakonomics folks probably did because it's counter to what we would think.

Yet most of the poster critcize the Freakonomics folks for posting the info, AS IF THEY CREATED IT. How shallow.

Thanks to the Freakonomics folks for being willing to make us think outside our comfort zones. As for most
of the commentators, you reveal your real worth - pretty sad.


"Thanks to the Freakonomics folks for being willing to make us think outside our comfort zones."

Yes. Freakonomics frees us from our comfort zones and the tyranny of conventional thought. That is why it is heresy to not agree with Freakonomics.

"Yet most of the poster critcize the Freakonomics folks for posting the info, AS IF THEY CREATED IT."

So the implication is that Freakonomics folks post anything randomly whether they agree with it or not.


I agree with Avirr. Read the source material before commenting!

As an Asian raised in North America and now with children of my own, I found this study very interesting.

Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Freakonomics!


My 2-year-old daughter refuses to allow us to pick out her outfit in the morning, and she also refuses to pick it out herself.

Solution: We asked her if it would be OK for the dog to pick out one of two outfits each morning. She's giddy every time the dog turns to one outfit or the other and complies with the other ensuing morning rituals without complaint.


Children/youth, in general, dislike to be told what to do, and the power structure of the family is what determines whether the mother or the father is the one who affects kids' reaction the most. Of course, there are cultural differences - differences in traditions, beliefs, ways of bringing up - but usually the solution lies in discussing the decision/action with the child and allowing them to participate in the decision-making. I believe that imposing a decision on youth/children can lead to 2 main negative consequences: rebellion or long-term suppression of self-initiative/decision-making powers. On the other hand, including your child in the decision-making process, can lead to him/her being happier and more successful in life :)

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how culture caninfluence communication