A Talk By Gladwell , The Language Issue And Connection With Arranged Marriage

I recently watched an interesting talk by Malcolm Gladwell on the Pitfalls of Market Research and found it very interesting!

I particularly liked the piece where he talked about an experiment by Tim Wilson at UAV which he called as the Poster Test.

OK, those of you who are too lazy to watch the whole video and understand what I am referring to, jump to 22:50 minutes and watch the part.

For those who are lazy enough to even do that, let me briefly explain the experiment.

Tim Wilson got together a bunch of students and divided into two group. He had few posters to give away. To one group he said: “Pick any poster you want and take it home”. To the second group he said: “Pick any poster you want. Tell me why you want that poster and then take it home”. A couple month later Tim called the students and found that students in the first group (who didn’t have to explain their choice) all liked their posters. While the students in the second group who were asked to explain their choice, now hated the poster! Also, the people in the first group picked a different kind of poster which was abstract impressionist art work, while the second group picked very trivial and less arty poster (that of Kittens hanging on bar)

So, the observation or finding was that when people are forced to talk about their choices and justify/defend them, their preferences change – in a negative way; that is, they gravitate toward the less sophisticated choice. And the insight from the experiment was that it’s actually “Language problem”. It is possible that people in the second group did not have right vocabulary to explain the abstract impressionist poster, even though in their heart they liked it. It would have been easy to come up with a reason to justify why they selected a trivial and less arty poster – for example, they liked Kittens as a kid. So just by adding a condition of having to articulate their choice the preference could be changed. People in the first group did not have this burden of articulating why they chose it.

Now this experiment may not be generic, or it could be too far-fetched to develop any common “wisdom”, but the experiment itself was very thought-provoking.

It immediately made me draw parallels with another domain – which I unfortunately developed a lot of knowledge of – that is Arranged Marriage.

Now, the non-Indian readers may not exactly know what “arranged marriage” is, as opposed to Love marriage. So here are couple of lines. Arranged marriage is alliance sought based on particular parameters such as Horoscope match, Height, Weight, Body Type, Education, Job/Career, Hobbies, Religion/ Caste, Location and many other factors. It is also a form in which lot of discussion and argument and reasoning takes place among two families before arriving at “Yes/No” decision.

Did the last part ring bells (not wedding bells!)? It is the discussion, reasoning part where I could draw parallels with the Poster Test and the Language problem. People engaging in Love Marriage are like Group 1 students. They are rarely required to “explain” their choice – unless it goes against some fundamental belief or expectation set by the larger family. E.g. Religion or Education level etc. But by and large Love Marriage is like Group 1 students – they can just walk away with their choice. People condemned to go for Arranged Marriage (yes, nobody willing goes for Arranged Marriage of the kind I described. It is mainly because they do not have the necessary persona and skills to fall into love) are like Group 2 students. If they find a match suitable they have to explain it to their family members (and often relatives) before they can walk away with “poster of their choice”. And that is where the language problem is often seen. Lot of people don’t know what they are looking for – their ideas are usually shaped by someone else, or based on what is on “generally preferred” list. So they have no idea how to explain why they found a particular match suitable. And as a consequence, some may even lose out on making the right decision – if they take too long to explain. It also impacts the negative choice. When you don’t find an arranged marriage proposal fit, usually you are expected to give some reason and say No. Honestly telling that reason could be brutal! So people sugar-quote things and convey a polite No. Again, the language problem. I would also imagine some really unfortunate instances where you end up saying “Yes” (and regret whole life) because you couldn’t articulate your “No”. Just the necessity of explaining your choice can have such a devastating effect! 😊

Anyways, I think I am drawing unnecessary parallels when there exist none. The tormenting process of Arranged Marriage can create a permanent thinking handicap! But the core idea of “Language problem” is very interesting; and I have talked about it with my friends often in a different way.

For example, can we think without a language? Will I be a different person if I start thinking in different language? Because my ability to “express” effectively in another language could be limited. So it might impact my true choice – of feeling, words and action. I have seen that people who don’t speak a certain language as well appear silent, introvert and thoughtful when they are in group of people speaking that language. Whereas the same person may appear talkative, extrovert, reactive when he is talking in his native language – because he can better express his true feelings, and actions.

Do you agree? Or have I completely messed up the idea while translating my thoughts from my native language to English? In either case, I have made my point! 😊


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