Translator: Carlos Castillo
Reviewer: Mirjana Čutura Imagine you’re on a shopping trip. You’ve been looking
for a luxury line of dinnerware set to add to your kitchen collection. As it turns out,
your local department store has announced a sale on the very set
you’ve been looking for. So you rush to the store
to find a 24-piece set on sale. Eight dinner plates,
all in good condition; eight soup and salad bowls,
all in good condition; and eight dessert plates,
all in good condition. Now, consider for a moment how much you would be willing to pay
for this dinnerware set. Now, imagine an alternate scenario: not having seen this 24-piece luxury set, you rush to the store to find
a 40-piece dinnerware set on sale. Eight dinner plates,
all in good condition; eight soup and salad bowls,
all in good condition; eight dessert plates,
all in good condition; eight cups, two of them are broken; eight saucers, seven of them are broken. Now, consider for a moment how much you would be willing to pay
for this 40-piece dinnerware set. This is the premise of a clever experiment by Christopher Hsee
from the University of Chicago. It’s also the question that I’ve asked
hundreds of students in my classroom. What were their responses? On average, when afforded
the 24-piece luxury set, they were willing
to spend £390 for the set. When afforded the 40-piece dinnerware set, on average, they were willing
to spend a whopping £192 for this dinnerware set. Strictly speaking, these
are an irrational set of numbers. You’ll notice the 40-piece dinnerware set
includes all elements you would get in the 24-piece set,
plus six cups and one saucer. And not only are you not willing to spend
what you will for the 24-piece set, you are only willing to spend roughly half
of what you will for that 24-piece set. What you’re witnessing here is what’s referred to
as the “dilution effect.” The broken items, if you will,
dilute our overall perceived value of that entire set. Turns out, this cognitive quirk
at the checkout counter has important implications
for our ability to be heard and listened to when we speak up. Whether you are speaking up
against a failing strategy, speaking against the grain
of a shared opinion among friends, or speaking truth to power, this takes courage. Often, the points that are raised
are both legitimate but also shared by others. But, sadly, and far too often, we see people speak up
but fail to influence others in the way that they had hoped for. Put another way, their message was sound, but their delivery proved faulty. If we could understand
this cognitive bias, it holds important implications for how we could craft
and mold our messages to have the impact we all desire: to be more influential as a communicator. Let’s exit the aisles
of the shopping center and enter a context in which we practice
almost automatically every day: the judgement of others. Let me introduce you to two individuals. Tim studies 31 hours a week
outside of class. Tom, like Tim, also spends 31 hours
outside of class, studying. He has a brother and two sisters, he visits his grandparents, he once went on a blind date, plays pool every two months. When participants are asked to evaluate the cognitive aptitude
of these individuals or more importantly,
their scholastic achievement, on average, people rate Tim to have a significantly higher GPA
than that of Tom. But why? After all, both of them spend
31 hours a week outside of class. Turns out, in this context,
when we’re presented such information, our minds utilize
two categories of information: diagnostic and non-diagnostic. Diagnostic information
is information of relevance to the evaluation that is being made. Non-diagnostic is information
that is irrelevant or inconsequential to that evaluation. And when both categories
of information are mixed, dilution occurs. The very fact that Tom
has a brother and two sisters or plays pool every two months dilutes the diagnostic information, or more importantly, dilutes the value and weight
of that diagnostic information – namely, that he studies
31 hours a week outside of class. The most robust psychological explanation
for this is one of averaging. In this model, we take in information, and those information
are afforded a weighted score, and our minds do not add
those pieces of information but rather average
those pieces of information. So, when you introduce irrelevant
or even weak arguments, those weak arguments, if you will, reduce the weight
of your overall argument. A few years ago, I landed in Philadelphia
one August evening for a conference. Having just gotten
off a transatlantic flight, I checked into my hotel room,
put my feet up, and decided to distract
my jet lag with some TV. An ad caught my attention. The ad was an ad
for a pharmaceutical drug. Now, if you’re the select few who’ve not had the pleasure
of witnessing these ads, the typical architecture of these ads is you might see a happy couple
prancing through their garden, reveling in the joy
that they got a full night’s sleep with the aid of the sleep drug. Because of FDA regulations,
the last few seconds of this one-minute ad needs to be devoted
to the side effects of that drug. And what you’ll typically hear
is a hurried voiceover that blurts out, “Side effects include
heart attack, stroke, blah, blah, blah, blah …” and will end with something
like “itchy feet.” Guess what itchy feet does
to people’s risk assessment of heart attack and stroke. It dilutes it. Imagine for a moment
an alternate commercial that says, “This drug cures
your sleep problems. Side effects are heart attack and stroke.” Stop. Now, all of a sudden, you’re thinking,
“I don’t mind staying up all night.” (Laughter) Turns out, going to sleep
is important, but so is waking up. (Laughter) Let me give you a sample
from our research. So, this add that I witnessed essentially triggered a research project
with my PhD student Hemant over the next two years. And in one of these studies, we presented participants
an actual print ad that appeared in a magazine. You’ll notice the last line is devoted
to the side effects of this drug. For half of the participants,
we showed the ad in its entirety, which included both major side effects
as well as minor side effects. To the other half of the participants, we showed the same ad
with one small modification. We extracted just four words
out of the sea of text. Specifically, we extracted
the minor side effects. And then both sets
of participants rated that drug. What we find is that individuals
who were exposed to both the major side effects
as well as the minor side effects rated the drug’s overall severity
to be significantly lower than those who were only exposed
to the major side effects. Furthermore, they also showed
greater attraction towards consuming this drug. In a follow-up study, we even find
that individuals are willing to pay more to buy the drug which they were exposed to that had both major side effects
as well as minor side effects compared to just major side effects alone. So, it turns out, pharmaceutical ads, by listing both major side effects
as well as minor side effects, paradoxically, dilute participants’ and potential consumers’
overall risk assessment of that drug. Going beyond shopping expeditions, going beyond the evaluation
of the scholastic aptitude of others and beyond sort of evaluating risk
in our environment, what this body of research tells us is that in the world of communicating
for the purposes of influence, quality trumps quantity. By increasing the number of arguments,
you do not strengthen your case, but rather you actively weaken it. Put another way, you cannot increase
the quality of an argument by simply increasing
the quantity of your argument. The next time you want
to speak up in a meeting, speak in favor of a government legislation
that you’re deeply passionate about, or simply want to help a friend
see the world through a different lens, it’s important to note that the delivery of your message
is every bit as important as its content. Stick to your strong arguments because your arguments don’t add up
in the minds of the receiver – they average out. Thank you. (Applause)