In her bookÂ The Art of Choosing, psychologist Sheena Iyengarâ€”the experimenter who conducted the original studies leading to theÂ paradox of choice theoryâ€”looks at the cultural differences in the definition and acceptance of choice.
Take a mundane question: Do you choose to brush your teeth in the morning? Or do you just do it? Can a habit or custom be a choice? When Iyengar asked Japanese and American college students in Kyoto to record all the choices they made in a day, the Americans included things like brushing their teeth and hitting the snooze button. The Japanese didn’t consider those actions to be choices. The two groups lived similar lives. But they defined them differently.
In a review of the book, Iyengar is quoted as saying “the optimal amount of choice lies somewhere in between infinity and very little, and that optimum depends on context and culture”. I’ve posted before on how we may beÂ overestimating the paradox of choice theory.
via Mind Hacks
Attempting to discover the most effective way to offer advice, researchers identified four separate types of advice:
- Advice for is a recommendation to pick a particular option.
- Advice against is a recommendation to avoid a particular option.
- Information supplies a piece of information that the decision maker might not know about.
- Decision support suggests how to go about making the choice, but does not make a specific recommendation.
Their study showed that information advice was the most valuable to those making decisions, for a number of reasons:
For one thing, when someone makes a recommendation for or against a particular option, a decision maker may feel like they have lost a bit of their independence in making a choice. Recommendations about how to go about making the choice may also make a decision maker feel a loss of independence. When the advice comes in the form of information, though, the decision maker still feels like they have some autonomy.
Second, information helps people to make future decisions in the same domain. New pieces of information often make people aware of dimensions of a decision that they had never considered before. A recommendation for or against a particular option is useful for the specific decision that you are making at a given time, but that advice may not be as helpful in the future.
Finally, getting information makes people feel more confident in the decision they ultimately make. The information provides reasons for or against a particular option. There is a lot of evidence that people feel better about decisions when they are able to give a reason for making the choice. Information provides a good justification for a choice.
In an attempt to discover whether there were genuine personality traits that separate the lucky from the unlucky, Richard Wiseman studied 400 people over a number of years and discovered that there are indeed behavioural differences between the lucky and lucklessâ€”and that we can ‘learn’ these traits to improve our luck.
Wiseman states that the lucky “generate good fortune via four basic principles”:
- Creating and noticing chance opportunities.
- Making lucky decisions by listening to their intuition.
- Creating self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations.
- Adopting a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.
And by realising this and following three simple techniques, you can improve your luck:
- Follow your intuition and respect hunches in decision making.
- Introduce variety into your life.
- See the positive side of misfortune: imagine how things could be worse.
Of the people that followed this advice, 80% identified improvements to their luck and overall happiness.
Research aimed at discovering how ‘Eureka moments’ are triggered and how these moments of clarity and insight differ from typical methodical reasoning has found that not only are epiphanies more likely when we’re daydreaming, but our state of mind before we tackle a problem is also crucial.
They materialize without warning, often through an unconscious shift in mental perspective that can abruptly alter how we perceive a problem. [â€¦] In fact, our brain may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering and we’ve actually lost track of our thoughts, a new brain-scanning study suggests. “Solving a problem with insight is fundamentally different from solving a problem analytically”.
[â€¦] Even before we are presented with a problem, our state of mind can affect whether or not we will likely resort to insightful thinking. People in a positive mood were more likely to experience an insight.
Another finding that fascinated me was that by monitoring the brain waves of the participants, researchers could predict who would solve a problem through insight up to eight seconds before the answer actually materialised consciously.
One lesson to remember from the research:Â the wandering, daydreaming mind is a crucial and important mental state where our brains are unusually active.
In order to avoid cognitive dissonance youÂ have a number of choices. Primarily: selective exposure and/orÂ confirmation bias. Researchers from a number of US universities are now attempting to quantify these phenomena, looking atÂ how we seek validation as opposed to correctness.
The researchers found that people are about twice as likely to select information that supports their own point of view (67 percent) as to consider an opposing idea (33 percent). Certain individuals, those with close-minded personalities, are even more reluctant to expose themselves to differing perspectives [â€¦]Â They will opt for the information that corresponds to their views nearly 75 percent of the time.
The researchers also found, not surprisingly, that people are more resistant to new points of view when their own ideas are associated with political, religious or ethical values.
[â€¦] Perhaps more surprisingly, people who have little confidence in their own beliefs are less likely to expose themselves to contrary views than people who are very confident in their own ideas.
As an author of the study (pdf) suggests, maybe those who fall victim to selective exposure and the confirmation bias do so because the new information “might prevent them from living the lives they’re living”. Sounds almost like an evolutionary response to prevent dissonance.