When choice does not equal freedom: A sociocultural analysis of agency in working-class American contexts

Nicole M. Stephens, Stephanie A. Fryberg, Hazel Rose Markus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-41
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Agency
  • Choice
  • Culture and self
  • Decision making
  • Interdependence
  • Norms
  • Social class
  • Socioeconomic status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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