Like fingerprints, our decisions make us more unique individuals.


BLACKSBURG, Virginia – The typical American makes over 35,000 choices per day, studies have shown. These choices range from trivial decisions about what foods to eat to more serious issues such as vaccinations. Although these choices can sometimes cause stress, a recent study suggests that they help us become more unique and independent.

“America is called the republic of choice. Just go to the supermarket – there is a mind-boggling variety of cookies,” says Shilpa Madan, assistant professor of marketing at Pamplin College of Business, in a statement. “Just thinking about making choices makes people more independent and more self-interested. It makes people more individualistic.

To have influence, Madan emphasizes that these decisions do not need to be deep.

“The actual choices might be trivial. Maybe you woke up this morning and chose to eat cereal for breakfast instead of eggs. You chose to like a few posts on Instagram but ignore several others. That simple feeling of choice, that you’re in the driver’s seat, makes people feel independent and important,” she says. “They say we make choices that shape our environment, but most of us don’t realize how much our choices shape us.

“This self-focus is not necessarily bad. In fact, it can have a range of positive consequences for the individual,” she adds. “When people see themselves as independent, they are less likely to tolerate harassment or discrimination, more willing to have their voices heard, and more willing to negotiate better terms for themselves.”

However, this can have adverse effects on the health of the general population. Madan says the more independent and self-interested people become, the harder it is for society to be more cohesive and “take collective action.” This has been demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. More and more individuals, over time, refused masks and opted against vaccinations.

“The challenges facing the world right now – the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, discrimination, prejudice and inequality – require collective action, need people to work together for the greater good” , she notes. “As researchers, we try to find interventions for specific contexts where we can mitigate this negative effect of choice on collective well-being. What kinds of interventions can we create to get people to wear a mask, get vaccinated, or take care of the environment? »

As our options continue to expand, further investigation is needed in order to maintain individualism without sacrificing the common good.

Until then, Madan reaffirms the importance of making thoughtful and conscientious decisions. We must make wise judgments for ourselves, but with society in mind as well. “Virginia Tech’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I may serve), talk about it,” she said. “Make choices that are not only selfish, but good for those around you.”

The study is published in PNAS.


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