ESL Video Quiz: The Art of Choosing

Quiz by: ChezTeresaESL
Quiz #: 26982
(ESL Category: listening) TED Talk: Sheena Iyengar

0:18 Today, I'm going to take you around the
world in 18 minutes. My base of operations is
in the U.S., but let's start at the other end
of the map, in Kyoto, Japan, where I was living
with a Japanese family while I was doing part
of my dissertational research 15 years ago. I
knew even then that I would encounter cultural
differences and misunderstandings, but they
popped up when I least expected it.

0:44 On my first day, I went to a
restaurant, and I ordered a cup of green tea
with sugar. After a pause, the waiter
said, "One does not put sugar in green tea." "I
know," I said. "I'm aware of this custom. But I
really like my tea sweet." In response, he gave
me an even more courteous version of the same
explanation."One does not put sugar in green
tea." "I understand," I said, "that the
Japanese do not put sugar in their green
tea, but I'd like to put some sugar in my green
tea." (Laughter) Surprised by my
insistence, the waiter took up the issue with
the manager. Pretty soon, a lengthy discussion
ensued, and finally the manager came over to me
and said, "I am very sorry. We do not have
sugar." (Laughter) Well, since I couldn't have
my tea the way I wanted it, I ordered a cup of
coffee, which the waiter brought over
promptly. Resting on the saucer were two
packets of sugar.

1:49 My failure to procure myself a cup of
sweet, green tea was not due to a simple
misunderstanding. This was due to a fundamental
difference in our ideas about choice. From my
American perspective, when a paying customer
makes a reasonable request based on her
preferences, she has every right to have that
request met. The American way, to quote Burger
King, is to "have it your way," because, as
Starbucks says, "happiness is in your
choices." (Laughter) But from the Japanese
perspective, it's their duty to protect those
who don't know any better -- (Laughter) in this
case, the ignorant gaijin -- from making the
wrong choice. Let's face it: the way I wanted
my tea was inappropriate according to cultural
standards,and they were doing their best to
help me save face.

2:42 Americans tend to believe that they've
reached some sort of pinnacle in the way they
practice choice. They think that choice, as
seen through the American lens best fulfills an
innate and universal desire for choice in all
humans. Unfortunately, these beliefs are based
on assumptions that don't always hold true in
many countries, in many cultures. At times they
don't even hold true at America's own
borders. I'd like to discuss some of these
assumptions and the problems associated with
them. As I do so, I hope you'll start
thinking about some of your own assumptions and
how they were shaped by your backgrounds.

3:21 First assumption: if a choice affects
you, then you should be the one to make
it. This is the only way to ensure that your
preferences and interests will be most fully
accounted for. It is essential for success. In
America, the primary locus of choice is the
individual. People must choose for themselves,
sometimes sticking to their guns, regardless of
what other people want or recommend. It's
called "being true to yourself." But do all
individuals benefit from taking such an
approach to choice? Mark Lepper and I did a
series of studies in which we sought the answer
to this very question. In one study, which we
ran in Japantown, San Francisco, we brought
seven- to nine-year-old Anglo- and Asian-
American children into the laboratory, and we
divided them up into three groups.

4:13 The first group came in, and they were
greeted by Miss Smith, who showed them six big
piles of anagram puzzles. The kids got to
choose which pile of anagrams they would like
to do, and they even got to choose which
marker they would write their answers
with. When the second group of children came
in,they were brought to the same room, shown
the same anagrams, but this time Miss Smith
told them which anagrams to do and which
markers to write their answers with. Now when
the third group came in,they were told that
their anagrams and their markers had been
chosen by their mothers. (Laughter) In
reality, the kids who were told what to
do, whether by Miss Smith or their
mothers, were actually given the very same
activity, which their counterparts in the first
group had freely chosen.

5:01 With this procedure, we were able to
ensure that the kids across the three
groups all did the same activity, making it
easier for us to compare performance. Such
small differences in the way we administered
the activity yielded striking differences in
how well they performed. Anglo-Americans, they
did two and a half times more anagrams when
they got to choose them, as compared to when it
was chosen for them by Miss Smith or their
mothers. It didn't matter who did the
choosing, if the task was dictated by
another, their performance suffered. In fact,
some of the kids were visibly embarrassed when
they were told that their mothers had been
consulted. (Laughter) One girl named Mary
said, "You asked my mother?"

5:51 In contrast, Asian-American
children performed best when they
believed their mothers had made the
choice, second best when they chose for
themselves, and least well when it had been
chosen by Miss Smith. A girl named Natsumi even
approached Miss Smith as she was leaving the
room and tugged on her skirt and asked, "Could
you please tell my mommy I did it just like she
said?" The first-generation children were
strongly influenced by their immigrant
parents' approach to choice. For them, choice
was not just a way of defining and
asserting their individuality, but a way to
create community and harmony by deferring to
the choices of people whom they trusted and
respected. If they had a concept of being true
to one's self, then that self, most
likely, [was] composed, not of an
individual, but of a collective. Success was
just as much about pleasing key figures as it
was about satisfying one's own preferences. Or,
you could say that the individual's preferences
were shaped by the preferences of specific

7:02 The assumption then that we do best when
the individual self chooses only holds when
that self is clearly divided from others. When,
in contrast, two or more individuals see their
choices and their outcomes as intimately
connected, then they may amplify one another's
success by turning choosing into a collective
act. To insist that they choose
independently might actually compromise both
their performance and their relationships. Yet
that is exactly what the American paradigm
demands. It leaves little room for
interdependence or an acknowledgment of
individual fallibility. It requires that
everyone treat choice as a private and self-
defining act. People that have grown up in such
a paradigm might find it motivating, but it is
a mistake to assume that everyone thrives under
the pressure of choosing alone.

Link to the original talk in its entirety:
art_of_choosing?language=en The entire talk is
24 minutes long.

yield: to produce or provide;
dictate: made necessary; to say with authority;
assert: to demand that other people accept or
defer: to allow someone else to decide or
collective: involving all members of a group;
anagram: a word made by changing the order of
the letters in another word;
yield: to produce or provide;
dictate: made necessary; to say with authority;
assert: to demand that other people accept or
defer: to allow someone else to decide or
collective: involving all members of a group;

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