“Big Frog/Small Pond?”-University of Michigan Research

I often am intrigued by how people make decisions. Rarely, is it rationally. Whether it is choosing an automobile, a home, a college, or a career, there usually is some latent force that propels individuals to choose-often  without considering even the most basic facts of the options at hand.

This sort of unconscious motivation is not particularly new to any student of psychology/philosophy or even just a curious observer of human nature.

I love it, however, when researchers actually are able to identify the processes by which we humans function and are able to articulate them.

So, I was very pleased to read about University of Michigan doctoral candidate, Kaidi Wu’s research which identified the role of culture in individuals making college/ career decision.

Specifically, Wu’s research noted that Chinese individuals were about twice as likely as European-Americans to choose to be the “little frog in the big pond.” That is, to enroll in a top college, even when their grades were below the average, than European-Americans. Similarly, they prefered to work in a top 10 company, again almost twice as frequently as European-Americans.

Wu emphasizes the importance of cultural values and norms in making a decision, suggesting there is no gold-standard for decision making.

I think a follow up study in which students were asked to articulate their “reasons” for this decision which might help reveal the extent they themselves are aware of the impact that culture makes in decision making.

To read more about the research, please read Jared Wadley’s article from Michigan News.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why is understanding the decision making process important?
  2. Why did Wu choose this sample population?
  3. How large was the sample size-do you think this is a sufficient amount for this research?
  4. What would you choose- to be the big fish in the small pond, or vice-versa? Why do you think you chose this way?
  5. What additional information would you need to be sure it is “cultural appropriateness” and not some other factor contributing to this decision?
  6. How could one study whether or not the individual made the “right” decision for themselves?


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