Why We're Swayed by Bad Advice

Why do we pay dubious advice any mind?

By Alexander Blum, published May 1, 2018 - last reviewed on July 2, 2018

Even useless tips can influence our thinking. Psychologist Thomas Schultze-Gerlach at the University of Goettingen found that students' estimates of distances were biased by pointers that were presented to them as unreliable. Why do we pay dubious advice any mind?  

"If another person makes a suggestion, we more or less automatically begin to ask ourselves whether there might be something to it. Since we mostly generate reasons supporting the advice, a process known as "positive hypothesis testing," we are likely to adjust our beliefs somewhat in the direction of the suggestion—even if we know the best option would be to ignore it. Such advice is less likely to affect categorical, yes-no choices, unless we are very uncertain about what we want. But I would expect our findings to apply to recommendations we receive for quantitative questions, such as how much we should put aside each month for retirement savings."