Monday, December 6, 2010

The West's Non-Conformist Instinct

From The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar:
Consider the results of a study by Geoffrey Leonardelli and Marilyn Brewer that asked participants to estimate the number of dots on a series of video screens, supposedly as a measure of their unconscious perceptual style. Afterward, they were told that the majority of people (75 to 80 percent) tend to habitually overestimate the number of dots on the screen, while the remaining 20 to 25 percent of people were instead habitual underestimators.
Regardless of their answers, half of the participants were randmly told they underestimated the true number of dots and the other half were told they had overestimated the true number. At no point were they told the broader implications of being a dot underestimator or overestimator; all they knew was whether they were naturally part of a majority or a minority group. Nonetheless, those who were told they were among the majority suffered a significant blow to their self-esteem. It seems that being lumped in with a crowd, no matter what the crowd stands for, can be harmful.
I would bet that the reactions would be reversed if this study was done in Asia.

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