When a story is being told in the public domain that could affect the reputation of your brand – anything from a news report to a single tweet – do you always put someone forward to give your side?
Perhaps you don’t think it’s necessary. Perhaps you think that if the story only presents the other side of the the argument, people will be less likely to believe it, or they’ll work out for themselves what your side of the story is.
Evaluating one-sided evidence
In a 1994 study conducted at Stanford University, researchers looked at predictions people made based on one-sided evidence, as well as their level of confidence in those predictions.
They presented a series of legal disputes to participants in the study, which included factual background information, and arguments on both sides of the dispute.
Some participants saw the arguments for only one side, while others saw arguments for both sides. All saw the background information.
There were no new facts or evidence in the arguments – they simply presented opposing takes on the background information.
Participants were then asked to predict the jurors’ decision in each dispute.
The participants who only saw one argument were consistently biased in favour of the argument that they had seen. This was despite being told that they had only seen the argument on one side, and that the jurors had seen the arguments on both sides.
They apparently made little or no compensation for the fact that they were not being given the full story.
In addition to this, all participants were asked to rate the confidence in their decision. Those who had only been given one argument were consistently more confident in their decision than those who had been given both arguments.
What you see is all there is
Daniel Kahneman refers to this phenomenon as “what you see is all there is” (or WYSIATI). When the mind makes decisions or judgements, it tends to rely on things it has observed, and ignore things it hasn’t. That is, it only takes into account “known knowns” and not “know unknowns”.
We prefer to form a coherent, consistent story, regardless of how little information we use to get there. We’re therefore more confident in our judgements based on a small amount of one-sided information than information on both sides.
Meaning for communications
If your opposition is putting across its side of the story and you’re not, the audience is likely to take your opposition’s side, without questioning the fact that they’re only hearing one argument.
What’s more, they’ll have a higher level of confidence in their judgement than if they had heard both sides.
This means that even in the worst possible situation, even when you know you’ve been caught bang to rights, stepping up and saying something is a lot better than saying nothing and allowing the story to be told without you.