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When choice does not equal freedom: A sociocultural analysis of agency in working-class American contexts, Social and Personality Psychology Science


The psychological literature indicates that people prefer to choose for themselves, but this finding largely represents a middle-class American perspective. The three studies reported here test the hypothesis that, given the material and social demands of working-class contexts, a concern for others can be normative and take precedence over individual choice. Study 1 found that, compared to middle-class participants, working-class participants, who reported fewer choices at work, more often accepted a gift from an experimenter than asked to choose for themselves. In Study 2, working-class participants' descriptions of choice included fewer associations with freedom and more associations with negative affect and difficulty than middle-class participants. Finally, Study 3 found that, reflecting greater negative affect toward choice, working-class observers preferred a shirt that a confederate accepted from someone else, rather than chose for herself. Together, these studies reveal that focusing on and attending to others is often normative in working-class contexts.




Nicole Stephens, Stephanie Fryberg, Hazel Rose Markus

Date Published



Stephens, Nicole, Stephanie Fryberg, and Hazel Rose Markus. 2011. When choice does not equal freedom: A sociocultural analysis of agency in working-class American contexts. Social and Personality Psychology Science.(1): 33-41.


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