Cognitive biases: Falling for false expertise …

People don’t naturally know who they should listen to.

Worse yet, in a majority of instances when a reliable expert is identified, people end up following somebody else’s advice.

That’s what Univ. of Utah’s management professor Bryan Bonner concludes.



Bonner observes that rather than identifying advisers with actual competence, people habitually fall for spurious “proxies of expertise”.


What are these proxies of expertise?

1) Familiarity … we tend to trust people we know and follow their advice to affirm the relationship (i.e. give them a reason to like us).  Conversely, we tend to be suspicious of people we don’t know know very well.

2) Extroversion … we tend to listen to the people who talk the most and talk the loudest.  Quiet introverts usually get ignored unless they are prompted to chime in … and even then, they don’t exude confidence.

3) Projection … we tend to assume that somebody who is good at one thing are good at many things … that expertise naturally “ports” to other domains … even ones that are largely unrelated.

4) Physical cues …  studies repeatedly show that tall, good-looking people are more likely to be rated higher than deserved on cognitive attributes … silly, but recurringly true.


So, what to do?

First, recognize that these cognitive biases exist …

Then, always “trust but verify”.

Don’t take glib talking points as gospel.  Dive into the facts & numbers.

Consider credentials and personal agendas.

Ask yourself: “If I heard this from somebody else would I believe it?”.

Above all, accept responsibility: it’s up to you to decide who to believe.


Follow on Twitter @KenHoma

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