Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Uncertainty More Convincing

Experts are suppose to provide you clear answers within their expertise field. Since they are supposed to master their art, it is hard to believe that they would doubt about their own concept or strategy.

Nevertheless, it seems that experts are the most convincing while expressing uncertainty. Indeed, Whether it’s a person without established expertise in a given domain expressing very high certainty, or a person with clearly established expertise in a domain expressing low certainty," Tormala said, "the inconsistency is surprising. It draws people in. And as long as the arguments in a message are reasonably strong, being drawn in leads to more persuasion."

Tormala and Karmarkar studied this issue by giving consumers what purported to be customer reviews for a new restaurant. "Restaurant reviews provided a good setting for this research," Tormala said. "Like other consumer topics, they’re subjective, but there also are traditional markers of quality."
He said such attributes as ambience, service, and taste of the food can be described with enough detail to let people understand the reviewer's perspective, but still reach their own conclusions about whether the restaurant would be suited to their tastes.
Participants in one experiment read a favorable review of a new restaurant called "Bianco’s." Across experimental conditions, the main part of the review contained the same core comments about Bianco's, comments the researchers had pre-tested on a sampling of readers to make sure they were strong. In the main study, some participants were told that the reviewer was a renowned food critic who often contributed to a major regional newspaper; others were told that the reviewer was a network administrator at a local community college who kept a personal web journal — and normally ate fast food.
In addition to varying the supposed source of the review, the researchers varied the level of certainty expressed in it. In the high-certainty recommendation, the review was titled "Bianco's — a confident 4 out of 5," and the author expressed certainty about the quality of the food and the restaurant twice in the review (saying, for example, "Having eaten there for dinner, I can confidently give Bianco's a rating of 4 [out of 5] stars"). In the low-certainty recommendation, the title of the review was "Bianco's — a tentative 4 out of 5" and the author expressed uncertainty about these same points (for example, "Having eaten there only once, I don’t have complete confidence in my opinion, but I suppose would give Bianco's a rating of 4 [out of 5] stars").
"We find that when the regular, everyday person is extremely certain, that’s surprising to readers,' Tormala said. 'Conversely, when the expert is not so certain, that's surprising. In both cases, surprise increases readers’ interest in and involvement with the review, which is essentially a persuasive message, and this promotes persuasion. So non-experts get more attention and can have more impact when they express certainty in their messages. Experts, in contrast, get more attention and can have more impact when they express uncertainty."

Maybe uncertainty makes the expert more human, and hence, it makes it more real. It is impossible even for an expert to be right at 100%. As human sciences like business, sociology or communication are not mathematical sciences, there is always a part of unknown, which actually makes it understandable that there is uncertainty.