According to a new research study

1. Abstract:

The appearance of being scientific can increase persuasiveness. Even trivial cues can create such an appearance of a scientific basis. In our studies, including simple elements, such as graphs (Studies 1–2) or a chemical formula (Study 3), increased belief in a medication’s efficacy. This appears to be due to the association of such elements with science, rather than increased comprehensibility, use of visuals, or recall. Belief in science moderates the persuasive effect of graphs, such that people who have a greater belief in science are more affected by the presence of graphs (Study 2). Overall, the studies contribute to past research by demonstrating that even trivial elements can increase public persuasion despite their not truly indicating scientific expertise or objective support.

Some considerations:

  • is this applicable to ads in other fields, such as investing? The use of graphs is of course already widespread, but are there any other opportunities to increase the perceived science behind some services and products?
  • is this generalizable from ads to executive decision-making, aka slide presentations? Maybe not, because execs are more suspicious of the data being used in presentations and may be more immune towards this tendency. But unconsciously, it could still be at work.
  • maybe the key point for execs is not so much the trivial use of graphs and other scientific elements used as a facade, but the use of research results in and of themselves. So, quoting supporting research results in a presentation, memo or project summary may improve its persuasiveness even in a corporate context. If that is so, remember not to trust research results by default, but doubt them.
  1.  Tal, A., & Wansink, B. (2014). Blinded with science: Trivial graphs and formulas increase ad persuasiveness and belief in product efficacy. Public Understanding of Science, 1–9. doi:10.1177/0963662514549688 (link)

About the Author:

Julien Le Nestour
Applied behavioral scientist & international consultant — I am using the results and latest advances from the behavioral sciences—specifically behavioral economics—to help companies solve strategic issues. I am working with both start-ups and Fortune 500 groups, and across industries, though I have specific domain knowledge in banking, asset management, B2B and consumer IT, SAAS and e-commerce industries.

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