Veteran Critics More Persuasive When Uncertain:

Experts are more persuasive when they seem tentative about their conclusions, a study soon to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests. But the opposite is true of novices, who grow more persuasive with increasing certainty.

In one experiment, college students were randomly assigned one of four variations of a restaurant review, praising a local Italian spot. In some versions, the reviewer was described as a famous food critic; in others, he was a technology worker at a local college with a penchant for fast food. Each of the critics expressed positive certainty about the restaurant’s virtues in one variation, and tentative praise in another. Asked to evaluate the restaurant, the students who read the expert’s review liked it much better when he seemed tentative; the opposite was true of the novice.

Zakary L. Tormala, a professor of marketing at Stanford’s business school and one of the paper’s authors, said these and other findings suggested that people do a cognitive double take when reviewers’ expertise is mismatched with their level of certainty. That double take leads to greater involvement in the text, which helps the reviewer’s message get across.

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