The Best Time to Give Advice
Advice is a funny thing.
It’s so easy to give advice to others. To point out the best course of action when seeing a situation from an outside perspective. Yet, many times we have been found to ignore our own advice.
Sometimes, we only ask for advice to validate our choices. We even outright reject advice because we feel people don’t understand our situation.
At the end of the day, it’s harder to take advice than give it. A recent study from Duke University wanted to take a deeper look at the subject of how we give and receive advice.
Their study has been published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decisions Processes. Let’s take a look at what they learned.
Give and Take
Christina Rader is a psychologist over at Duke University. Along with two of her colleagues – Jack Soll and Richard Larrick – she wanted to look at how the timing of advice would affect our decisions.
First, let’s address a big question. Just how bad are we at taking other people’s advice? Christina weighs in on the question:
“A large literature shows that people do not take advice particularly well, often overweighting their own opinions or ignoring the advice that they receive.”
The Age Game
To test some theories, they did a couple of simple experiments.
In the first experiment, participants would guess the age of a person in a photograph. If they were withing 3 years of the real age they be given cash. Also, they would receive outside advice about the age of the person.
Half the people would receive advice before seeing the picture. The other half were allowed to see a picture and told to come up with an answer before getting advice. They were then allowed to change their answers based on the outside suggestion.
Where was this advice coming from?
Both groups were told their “advice” was what another survey taker had answered. This was a bit of a fib on the part of the researchers. The number suggested was actually the median age given by a number of separate participants. Not just a single person.
Depending on the timing, there was a difference in confidence levels about the advice. Here’s how people reacted in the two different groups.
People were less likely to take the advice into consideration when it was given it to them before the picture. The people who had a chance to guess the age and then received advice were more confident in it.
The researchers called this the push-away effect. The first group would use the initial advice as an anchoring number. But they would never pick it. They would ultimately guess higher or lower than the advice given to them.
In the other group, a different pattern emerged. If the advice was close to the subject’s original guess, it was generally followed. However, if the age was completely different from their original guess, it was ignored.
Have you ever given advice completely different from a person’s original decision? This seems to parallel real life in that this type of advice will generally be ignored.
The researchers also wanted to know if the order of advice would affect the accuracy of the guesses.
So they ran a similar experiment. This time, however, the advice could horrible.
Instead of the median number of a group of guesses – which would generally be considered good advice – the number suggested could be taken from the extreme high or low guesses. For example, if the average guess was around 40, the test subjects would be given advice of 20 or 60 years of age.
The participants that received advice before being shown the picture once again had the anchoring affect. Their guess would be based in part from the number that was suggested. Even if the number was completely off, it would affect the subjects accuracy. If the advice was good, they would still suffer from the “push-away” effect.
It was found that getting advice after being shown the picture produced more accurate responses. People were less influenced by the bad advice, and also didn’t suffer from the “push-away” effect of the previous group.
In the Real World
The real world is a much different place than what is portrayed in experiments.
Guessing age is one thing, but getting advice on relationships or social situations is far more complex. These types of scenarios don’t deal in simple numbers – such as age – which these experiments were based on.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn something about advice or how we respond to it. Here’s what the researchers had to say about their study:
“Overall, there is one very clear prescription that emerges from this study – both advice sequences are superior to not getting advice at all.”
So generally speaking, advice is a good thing. And the researchers recommend that people looking for advice do so after they’ve had some time to reach their own conclusion. And giving advice after letting a person form an opinion will make them more willing to consider it. Also, this generally leads to better outcomes.
At least according to this study, anyway.