In this compelling talk, Sheena Iyengar eloquently demonstrates how choice is perceived differently – either as liberating or stifling – depending on context and culture. In America, we align ourselves with Coke or Pepsi, while Eastern Europeans don’t even distinguish between the two. They are both “soda.” Iyengar says while we all want the ability to choose how we live and what we buy, when every single thing we do involves complex choices, it is as though we have no choice at all.
Instead of making better choices we become overwhelmed by choice, sometimes even afraid of it. Choice no longer offers opportunities, but imposes constraints. It’s not a marker of liberation, but of suffocation by meaningless minutia. In other words, choice can develop into the very opposite of everything it represents in America, when it is thrust upon those who are insufficiently prepared for it.
Iyengar’s research is made all the more compelling by her studies in diverse cultures around the world, and for a more personal reason. Iyengar is blind. While this impedes her ability to choose for herself, when the choice involves aesthetics, it also frees her from falling prey to visual tools of persuasion.