From the Lab: Confidence in Completeness

Yesterday, we saw that a minor blunder—which one would usually expect to have a negative effect—can actually, in some circumstances, have a positive one.

In a recent study, Meyrav Shoham, Sarit Moldovan, and Yale Steinhart demonstrated another way in which negative information about something can actually improve our view of it. In the context of online reviews, they found that a negative review can actually have a positive effect—as long as the review is irrelevant. The reason for this is that an irrelevant negative review leads consumers to feel that their view of the product is more complete, without actually giving consumers a real reason to dislike the product.

In the words of the researchers, “when consumers encounter products with mostly positively valenced reviews, they may turn to the available negatively valenced reviews in order to determine whether the product merits its high ratings. This suggestion derives from research showing that individuals assign considerable weight to negative information, which is often expected to be more diagnostic than positive information. Moreover, consumers tend to feel more certain about their attitudes when considering both positive and negative aspects during the decision process.” Therefore, “when the content of a negatively valenced review is irrelevant and lacks the expected diagnostic value, consumers feel that they have more complete information about the product, while the irrelevance information indicates that the product has no real drawbacks. This leads to improved product evaluations compared to when there are no negatively valenced reviews (and information is perceived as less complete), or when there are relevant negative reviews (because the product is perceived as having real drawbacks).”

Somewhat paradoxically, this means that whenever you’re pitching something, it may actually benefit you to address some of the arguments against your position, as long as these counterarguments are weak compared to your own arguments. This will lead the audience to believe they have seen both sides of the issue and give them more confidence to make a decision. As an added benefit, by presenting these counterarguments yourself, rather than allowing the audience to think of them first, you can more completely influence their view of both sides, and more effectively convince them to side with you.

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