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.

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  1. Laurie says:

    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?

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  2. scott says:

    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.

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  3. Kirilius says:

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

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  4. A.E. says:

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

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  5. A.E. says:

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

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  6. Eric M. Jones says:

    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.

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  7. Lee says:

    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.

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  8. Rishi says:

    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.

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