All of us think we are good decision makers. It is so much of being an American; this idea of free choice, but are seven flavors of soda really a choice? Iyengar challenges our preconceptions of the absoluteness of individual choice, at the same time as she shows us it is as much art as science.

Why you should listen:

We all think we’re good at making choices; many of us even enjoy making them. Sheena Iyengar looks deeply at choosing and has discovered many surprising things about it. For instance, her famous “jam study,” done while she was a grad student, quantified a counterintuitive truth about decision making — that when we’re presented with too many choices, like 24 varieties of jam, we tend not to choose anything at all. (This and subsequent, equally ingenious experiments have provided rich material for Malcolm Gladwell and other pop chroniclers of business and the human psyche.)

Who is she:

Iyengar’s research has been informing business and consumer-goods marketing since the 1990s. But she and her team at the Columbia Business School throw a much broader net. Her analysis touches, for example, on the medical decision making that might lead up to choosing physician-assisted suicide, on the drawbacks of providing too many choices and options in social-welfare programs, and on the cultural and geographical underpinning of choice. Her book The Art of Choosing shares her research in an accessible and charming story that draws examples from her own life.


  1. What lesson did she take from the incident of no sugar for green tea? Do we have a duty to protect others from culturally incorrect choices?
  1. In reality many choices are between things that are not much different. Can you give n example of an incident in your own life where this took place?
  1. Her research shows that when we give people more than __#____ options, they make poorer choices.
  1. Choice can literally be life or death as in her story of the ventilator. In your own life would you prefer that choice to be made by you or your physician? Explain your answer.
  1. As a psychologist what would you say to a client who felt paralyzed by the multiplicity of choice in life?
  1. She tells the story of nail polish color and labeling. Can you think of an example of picking something by name rather than some other characteristic in your own life?

The art of choosing with Sheena Iyengar


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