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Do we prefer honesty or eloquence?

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The finding: People who dodge questions artfully are liked and trusted more than people who respond to questions truthfully but with less polish.

The study: Todd Rogers and Michael Norton showed subjects different videos of a political debate. In the first, one of the candidates answered the question asked. In the second, he dodged it by answering a similar question. In the third, he dodged it by answering a completely different one. When the candidate answered a similar question, subjects failed to notice the switch. They also liked him better if he answered a similar question well than if he answered the actual one less eloquently.

Source: Harvard Business Review, 11/10

From the interview with researchers Todd Rogers and Michael Norton:

Rogers: In our study, subjects found the candidate answering a similar but different question just as trustworthy and likable as when he answered the original question. What’s more, after hearing an artful dodge, subjects had much lower recall of the question asked; in some of our studies, less than half could remember it accurately. If anything, that result is artificially high, since when we asked them to recall the question, we gave them four options, so they had a 25% chance of guessing correctly. But the important finding is that the audience didn’t penalize a speaker who dodged a question well.

Norton: But you had to be good at it, and you couldn’t be obvious. When the candidate answered a completely different question, he was penalized heavily and rated less likable and trustworthy.

Interestingly, people were much better at recalling the actual question in those cases.

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About Eric Barker