Not Having an Opinion Gives You Better Judgment

Thanks to the work of Phillip Tetlock and others, we now know that most “experts” are not really experts. The most common explanation for this is that all people tend to stay anchored to previously formed opinions and fail to adapt their views to changing situations. A recent study by researchers at Hebrew University provides support for a related explanation. Even when people don’t have a strong opinion, the knowledge they have floating around biases how they weigh the opinions of others, and thus they fail to take full advantage of the information contained in those opinions.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments in which subjects were given some background information about caloric content and then asked to predict how many calories were in certain foods. In the first experiment, the “full-view” participants were told the name of the food and asked to make an estimate. They were then shown the estimates of five other people and given an opportunity to revise their estimate. Participants in the “blindfolded” condition were shown a letter instead of the name of a food (e.g. “O” as opposed to “orange”). In addition, they were only asked to give an estimate after viewing the other five estimates. Those in the “blindfolded” condition ending up making estimates that were more accurate.

The results of a follow up experiment were even more telling. In the second experiment subjects in the “full-view” condition were not asked to give an initial estimate. That meant the only difference between the two groups was that one group knew the name of the food and the other didn’t. Even under these conditions the subjects in the “blindfolded” condition gave estimates that were significantly more accurate than the estimates of the “full-view” subjects who knew the name of the food. It appears that a subject’s knowledge about the food in question led to them to weigh the five sample estimates in a biased manner.

The truly scary thing about these results is that in both experiments the “blindfolded” group was less confident in their estimates even though they were more accurate. That’s not the say the Herman Cain governing philosophy of “I don’t need to know anything because my foreign policy people will advise me on U-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan” is the way to go. But the study does support the notion that it’s best to listen to opinions with the most open mind possible before forming an opinion yourself. ———————————————————————————————————————————————-
Yaniv, I., & Choshen-Hillel, S. (2011). Exploiting the Wisdom of Others to Make Better Decisions: Suspending Judgment Reduces Egocentrism and Increases Accuracy Journal of Behavioral Decision Making DOI: 10.1002/bdm.740

3 Responses to Not Having an Opinion Gives You Better Judgment

  1. Pingback: Not Having an Opinion Gives You Better Judgment « Only Yes

  2. Pingback: Not Having an Opinion Gives You Better Judgment | Evidence-Based Management Blog

  3. rightlyknightly says:

    Exactly why I’m agnostic.

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