Decision-Making: Not Just for Humans

Sheena S. Iyengar is the inaugural S. T. Lee Professor of Business in the Management Division of the Columbia Business School. She has earned an Innovation in the Teaching Curriculum award for teaching Leadership Development at Columbia. One of the world's experts on choice, Professor Iyengar received a dual degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992, consisting of a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School of Business and a B.A. in psychology with a minor in English from the College of Arts and Sciences. In 1997 she completed her Ph.D. in social psychology from Stanford University. Her dissertation, entitled "Choice and Its Discontents," received the prestigious Best Dissertation Award for 1998 from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. Her first book, "The Art of Choosing," was recently published and is an exploration of the mysteries of choice in everyday life.
  • Transcript


Question: Are all animals capable of making choices, or just those with a higher cognitive ability?

Sheena Iyengar:  What we share with animals is a desire for choice.  It’s a desire to have control over our life and a desire to live and use choice as a way in which we can facilitate our ability to live and that is something we really were born with.  You know, whether it be humans or animals. So even humans–before we can speak or we can understand a baby’s cognition–they’re already showing us signs that they want choice.  You know, you take a little infant and you turn on the music mobile on their crib and you find that if you give them a music mobile which turns on automatically versus a music mobile in which–if by chance their little legs or their little hands accidentally touches it–turns on they’re so much more excited if by chance it turns on because they touched it, so that desire for control over their environment is… really appears from very early on and if you look at children’s first words, “no, yes.”  My child’s first word was "more," but and it’s all about, “I want.”  “I’m going to tell you what I want and what I don’t want.”  It’s about my desire to express my preferences.  And that is really innate.  Now to what…?  How we teach people to make choices and the things they’re going to make choices over–that is culturally learned.