People Tend To Follow The Advice Of Experts Over Their Own Common Sense

from the rational-behavior dept

Just as yet another new startup is launching, designed to give individuals "expert" decision making advice, reader ChurchHatesTucker points us to a new study that notes that people all too often stop thinking after being given "expert" advice -- even if that advice is bad. While the folks behind the study use this as another crack to make fun of economists who believe in rational behavior, I'm not sure they're right. What's more likely is that individuals are still acting rationally. It's just that they believe that the "experts" really do have more information/knowledge/wisdom about a certain topic -- and thus they trust it over their own info. That's still quite rational. The real question should be just how often the "experts" give really bad advice. The problem with the study in question was that the expert was giving bad advice that he wouldn't normally give, making much of the actual experiment kind of meaningless. This sort of thing really is only a problem if the experts frequently give bad advice.

Still, this probably isn't too surprising. We've seen over time that people tend to rely on any sort of "expert" input, even if it's from a computer (such as driving off a cliff thanks to GPS or believing a financial model that suggests the likelihood of massive subprime mortgage defaults is almost non-existent). It's not so much about going against common sense. It's just that we tend to believe the "authority" over common sense, because we know we don't have all the info that we need in many cases -- so, we assume (often reasonably) that the authority or expert is better prepared to direct us than our own common sense.

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  • identicon
    The Visible Dentist, 31 Mar 2009 @ 11:29pm

    Silence the bleating of sheep

    Indeed that is the problem - accepting symbols of authority for truth. On many levels you're witnessing the symptoms of mass epidemic dependency. Take me for example; thinking they were your site's links, I inadvertantly clicked on some of the Google ads in this blog. I hope you can accept my apology. John

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2009 @ 12:03am

    I would hope your libel post is a april fools joke

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Joe, 1 Apr 2009 @ 12:07am

    shades of Milgram

    Is this really that far apart from the Milgram experiments? In that case, the researcher was measuring the people's trust/ obedience to authority figures to the point where it crossed their sense of ethics and right and wrong.

    Interestingly, afterwards, while upset, most were happy to have taken part in the experiment as it pointed out to them how trusting they were of authority.

    The point is, everyone says 'oh, i would never do that', but as has been pointed out by Milgram, Zimbardo and just about every war in history, we are very poor judges of our own character and what we are willing to do to tow the line. periment

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  • identicon
    Ramon Casha, 1 Apr 2009 @ 12:54am

    How to recognise the experts

    The problem, in many cases, is that people will take people's claims to expertise at face value. They might lack self-esteem, or maybe are trained to believe what they're told. This certainly makes it easy for door-to-door salespersons, religious leaders and politicians, but makes people more vulnerable. They even believe televangelists!! People need a dose of skepticism.

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  • identicon
    NullOp, 1 Apr 2009 @ 5:46am


    Thinking should never be put on hold for any reason. A classic thought is the old saw about getting a second opinion from another doctor. This example should tell the patient something about medical advise in general.

    Personally, I consider the real expert to be the sum of all experts. There is no one person with all the answers in every situation. Therefore, it is always best to get multiple expert opinions and never stop thinking/learning.

    Good things to remember in all cases is that experts are only real people in disguise and the definition of an expert is someone who knows one more fact than you!

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  • icon
    Jim Gaudet (profile), 1 Apr 2009 @ 6:32am

    WE are just all Lazy...

    That's the problem. Why think about it when I can just ask someone else?

    Let's just slow down...

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2009 @ 6:39am

    If experts give bad advise, then they probably are not really experts.

    Listening to someone who really knows a topic is a good idea, but that doesn't mean they are always right. We know what we know when we know it, not before. There is no way getting around it.

    Was subprime loaning a bad idea? It sure wasn't when the market was going up. Who knew guys would jump into the drivers seat and fly planes into buildings? Who knew that terrorists would hang out at a local gas station, shoot the driver and then drive it into the nearest school? Well, the last one has not happened, but it could but we are not locking that one down.

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  • identicon
    Felix Pleșoianu, 1 Apr 2009 @ 7:33am

    People trust experts over their own common sense? Tell that to a webdesigner. Oh wait, I a webdesigner, and I wish customers would listen to my expert advice from time to time. Maybe it's because I don't invoke my presumed authority. I give rational arguments. And you know how many people have trouble with reason, let alone common sense. Or are they the same thing?

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    • identicon
      R. Miles, 1 Apr 2009 @ 8:08am



      I laughed at this. Been there many times.

      I think I know where the breakdown is:
      You: "Putting a user interface there will skew the page, may not be browser compatible, and will disrupt user readability."

      Customer: "Your point? [site] does it, and it looks good. I want it."

      You: "Okay, you're the customer."

      [weeks later]

      Customer: "Hey! Why didn't you tell me this thing was going to cause problems! Our customers are complaining!"

      You: *furious*

      Next time, try using Change Request Forms and ensure they sign them. Absolutely WONDERFUL ways to prevent such things.

      Then, you can charge more for "emergency" corrections.

      Otherwise, you're not an expert in their eyes.

      Sad, but true.

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  • identicon
    Weird Harold, 1 Apr 2009 @ 7:34am

    Hence why blogs like this are so successful.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2009 @ 8:09am

    It only makes sense

    When you go to a doctor you trust his advise. You might get a second opinion, but you aren't going to spend a ton of time trying to figure out if he is wrong. Especially if the advise is "You need surgery NOW"

    Same goes for lawyers. "I'm sorry but you don't have any chance of winning this in court, accept settlement" or "I'm sure we can win, lets fight this suit" you are most likely going to do it.

    An expert is someone who you pay to know more than you about something specific and give you advice. If an expert gives bad advice regularly they will not be considered an expert anymore (lawyers disbarred, medical licenses revoked). I say there is nothing wrong with trusting the advise of experts, just be careful who you choose as your expert.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2009 @ 8:19am

    Best example of this is what to do about the current economy.

    One Nobel Prize economist says what we are doing is right. Another Nobel Prize winner says it is exactly wrong. They both can't be right.

    Again, it goes back to we know what we know when we know it. If you are driving down a road and your GPS tells you to go over a cliff, maybe there was a bridge when the GPS map was loaded in, but not now. Prudence would seem to tell you to trust what you know right now.

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  • identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, 1 Apr 2009 @ 4:05pm

    Expert advice

    Right on, Michael! I was listening to "Dr. Laura" today (in my own defense, my wife had the station tuned in, and it took a few minutes to convince her to change it).
    She had a case that was IDENTICAL to a situation involving my daughter some time ago, and, without delving into it deeply enough to understand the circumstances (again, IDENTICAL to the advice my daughter got!) she gave the standard Dr. Laura answer - the wife stays home and takes care of the child, the husband works and supports the family.
    My daughter took that advice at first, and it almost destroyed her - then she came to her senses, and now she is doing GREAT, but she is still hostile to "expert" advice.

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  • identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, 1 Apr 2009 @ 4:19pm

    Libel for bloggers

    It would be good to have guides for bloggers, but this isn't it.
    First, it starts with:
    "Precisely what, then, requires libel review? It is best to begin with a simplified definition of libel. A defamatory statement is a statement that is factual in character about
    an identifiable entity or living individual that, if believed, would influence the reader’s or hearer’s opinion of the entity or individual, either by reflecting badly on the person’s character, or by harming the person’s reputation or diminishing the esteem, respect, or good will that he, she or it enjoys in a relevant community."
    OOPS! The phrase "factual in character" seems to say facts are libelous - they can be, but only in very special circumstances. Here, we seem to be saying "not libelous is libelous" - nonsense!

    It then uses the example of the Bush brothers "evading" military service, and says "truth is a defense" - PEOPLE! "evading" is NOT the same as "avoiding" - the statement would be libelous!

    The organization seems to want to do the right thing. I could rewrite their pages for them, if they can't find someone capable of doing so.

    Ask them if they want my help (free, of course, since it is a public service).

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  • identicon
    Dentist Marketing Solutions, 12 Aug 2010 @ 12:48pm

    It sounds just like the observations made when psychologists performed the Milgram experiment.

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  • identicon
    Dentist Marketing Solutions, 12 Aug 2010 @ 12:50pm

    It sounds just like the observations made when psychologists performed the Milgram experiment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    dantos Franklin, 21 Mar 2016 @ 11:06pm

    the fact that matter is that

    Don’t get me wrong-not all nonprofit experts offer bad advice. The headline does say “some” experts. But at a time when the topic of mobile giving is largely unknown to most in the nonprofit space, the number of experts touting their own personal use of their phone and social media as “knowledge” is troublesome and highly problematic for me.

    Let me put this more plainly. Because you have a mobile phone and use social media does not make you an expert in either realm.

    And yet one such expert continues to offer up questionable advice and last week this “expert” did not disappoint when they listed “9 Fundraising tools to watch in 2015”.

    I won’t name the expert in question and I won’t point to the tools by name because at the end of the day this person’s name doesn’t matter and the tools are just tools for fundraising. They didn’t name themselves as ones to watch although the publicity is good for them.

    When I got the experts email listing the tools to watch in 2015 I immediately looked at them with a colleague and looked at two key criteria:

    1. Do they help nonprofits with the Google mobile search SEO challenge which all nonprofits are facing in less than a week, and

    2. Where does the donated money go? For each tool to watch the money goes first to the tool and then to the cause.

    I see both the above issues as very large, very pervasive and potentially very negative for all nonprofits.

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