Cognitive biases: Falling for false expertise …

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

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

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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.

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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.

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Follow on Twitter @KenHoma

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