The Art of Choosing. Sheena Iyengar presents a revolutionary book on the most fundamental and mundane aspect of human survival making choices. The Art of Choosing is ground breaking in that Iyengar deconstructs and analyzes the complex relations

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A Social Psychological Approach to the Art of Choosing

        Sheena Iyengar presents a revolutionary book on the most fundamental and mundane aspect of human survival – making choices. The Art of Choosing is ground breaking in that Iyengar deconstructs and analyzes the complex relationship between choice, freedom, and culture. The concepts Iyengar presents in her literature make strong connections to social psychology through the use of cognitive dissonance, priming and the value of choice, and cultural influences – both individualist and collectivist. Iyengar gives strength to her argument when drawing in the results and observations of her many studies with Americans, as well as other ethnic groups across the globe. Iyengar allows the reader to view choice through a cultural lens, which one is not able to do without becoming aware of the motives and reasoning behind choice. Iyengar enlightens the reader to the notion that by being able to choose, we all have a responsibility to open ourselves to a wider array of what choice can do and what it can represent. Choice should not be a paralyzing moral relativism because it teaches us when and how to act. If we are able to realize the full potential of choice, we are able to see the hope and freedom that choice offers, but does not always deliver.


        In Chapter three on page 97, ‘Song of Myself,’ Iyengar makes reference to the theory of cognitive dissonance,“ This unpleasant experience of being caught between two contradictory forces is known as cognitive dissonance, and it can lead to anxiety, guilt, and embarrassment.” (Iyengar 2010; 97) From what has been covered in the course text, Essential Social Psychology, the theory of cognitive dissonance is applicable to the process of making choices. The cognitive dissonance theory can be defined: “when people behave in a way that is inconsistent with their existing attitude, they experience discomfort. To eliminate this discomfort, it is necessary to adjust one’s attitude in line with one’s behaviour.” (Crisp & Turner 2010; 381) People often feel bad when they perform a behaviour that is inconsistent with their attitude – this can be seen as internal imbalance. People will look for ways to try to explain the dissonance and if nothing is available, they will resort to the only means left to resolve the discrepancy, and that is to change their attitude so that it matches their behaviour.  This theory argues that behaviours cause attitudes as opposed to the reverse.

Iyengar acknowledges that in order to make successful decisions, dissonance must be resolved or eliminated. This can also affect the choices we make because consistency is not always possible and as members of a social group, we want to avoid being viewed as inconsistent. The need to remain consistent makes choosing even more difficult when it is already a complex process. Iyengar makes this connection on page 98, “the need to avoid cognitive dissonance and create a consistent story about who we are can lead people to internalize values an attitudes that they initially adopted for other reasons.” (I, p 98) We create identity and self-esteem through how we are perceived by ourselves and by others. The need to be viewed positively by others and society can be detrimental because we often change our attitudes due to external influences, which in turn affects our whole identity. From Professor Keane’s lecture on November 1st, we learned that our sense of self comes from the groups with which we take membership – also called the social identity theory.  There is one powerful benefit that is derived from group membership; self-esteem. In order to maintain and emphasize these benefits, we maximize favourable in-group comparisons and put forth great efforts to fit in and be accepted by the group. (Keane; Nov. 1) However, the issue of maintaining consistency remains, “Cognitive dissonance is very complex because ‘the world is an ever-changing place, and in being too consistent we risk becoming inflexible and out of touch.’” (I, p. 99) Ultimately, it is almost impossible to avoid cognitive dissonance because we are trying to maintain this goal of consistency, while pleasing others, and ourselves under the pressure of social influence and group membership.

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        In Chapter five on page 167, “I, Robot?” Iyengar describes how the concept of priming affects how we make choices. Priming is defined by Crisp & Turner as “activating a specific attitude, for example a stereotype, can exert an influence on people’s subsequent behaviour.” (C&T, p. 388) In both the text and lecture, priming is associated with a key factor of the attitude-behaviour relationship; attitude accessibility - a person’s private or public self-awareness. It can be thought of as the extent to which private or public attitudes are more or less accessible. It is ...

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