What Counts as a Choice? Americans Are More Likely Than Others to Construe Actions as Choices
Abstract (Via Sagepub)
People everywhere select among multiple alternatives, but are they always making choices? In five studies, we found that people in U.S. American contexts, where the disjoint model of agency is prevalent, are more likely than those in Indian contexts to construe their own and other individuals’ behaviors as choices, to construe ongoing behaviors and behaviors recalled from memory as choices, to construe naturally occurring and experimentally controlled behaviors as choices, to construe mundane and important actions as choices, and to construe personal and interpersonal actions as choices. Indians showed a greater tendency to construe actions as choices when these actions involved responding to other people than when they did not. These findings show that whether people construe actions as choices is significantly shaped by sociocultural systems of meanings and practices. Together, they suggest that the positive consequences associated with maximizing the availability of personal choice may not be universal and instead may be limited to North American contexts.
Findings (via Sagepub)
These results also have important policy implications. For example, policymakers cannot assume that providing people with more options will systematically promote positive consequences in all contexts. If people do not construe their behavior as choices, then the provision of more options (e.g., in health care, schools, and retirement plans) may fail to lead to optimal choice (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). Although social psychologists have long documented that different people construe the same situation differently (Ross & Nisbett, 1991), the present research extends this conclusion by demonstrating that people’s construals of their actions are systematically conditioned by their experience with the ideas and practices—the models of agency—of particular sociocultural contexts. The habitual construal of behavior in terms of culturally significant categories of actions is a subtle but powerful mechanism by which cultural contexts shape people’s ongoing psychological experience (Cohen, 2001; Cohen & Gunz, 2002; Cohen, Hoshino-Browne, & Leung, 2007).