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by
Helen Smith

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February 20, 2014 - 3:00 pm

I am reading Brian Portnoy’s new book The Investor’s Paradox: The Power of Simplicity in a World of Overwhelming Choice which focuses on how to help investors choose good money managers and decent stocks.

However, what caught my eye was an experiment done in nursing homes that the author outlines to show evidence of the power of choice:

Researchers set up an experiment with two groups of elderly residents. One group was encouraged to exercise their liberty. Among other empowering directives, an attendant told them “If you are unsatisfied with anything here, you have the influence to change it.” …

Aging individuals who were given enhanced personal responsibility demonstrated much better outcomes in the following months.Those with more control registered a higher degree of mental alertness….Finally– strikingly—they were more likely to live longer. The mortality rate in the eighteen months following the original study was double for the group with less control (30 percent versus 15 percent). Choice and control matter.

The book looks at how to choose investments wisely from so many options but what about politically? I have to wonder what happens to us psychologically as our government and the culture take away more and more personal responsibility from us. Do we look at the options the government or the culture gives us and turn those into more choices to feel better? For example, Facebook now allows one to choose from over 50 gender options. Will these faux “choices” be enough? They will for some.

Sure, you can click on an “option” to show that you are Cis Female but what if you can’t drink a large soda in a New York cafe or choose your own doctor? To those of us who believe in the liberty to choose and in personal responsibility, how will we feel and cope? Do we end up like the nursing home residents who had less autonomy and died earlier? Do we wait while around just hoping that the government will throw us a few crumbs of freedom or do we fight back in every way that we know how to make sure that the power of choice, freedom and liberty continue to be the American way? I hope the latter.

*****

cross-posted from Dr. Helen’s blog

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.

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