In Praise of Vagueness

Recent-ish paper on a favorite subject: vagueness.  The authors show that in certain contexts, like weight loss, it is better to know less than more. The fuzzier the information was, the more weight people lost. People with more precise information gained weight.

Is the eternal quest for precise information always worthwhile? Our research suggests that, at times, vagueness has its merits. Previous research has demonstrated that people prefer precise information over vague information because it gives them a sense of security and makes their environments more predictable. However, we show that the fuzzy boundaries afforded by vague information can actually help individuals perform better than can precise information. We document these findings across two laboratory studies and one quasi–field study that involved different performance-related contexts (mental acuity, physical strength, and weight loss). We argue that the malleability of vague information allows people to interpret it in the manner they desire, so that they can generate positive response expectancies and, thereby, perform better. The rigidity of precise information discourages desirable interpretations. Hence, on certain occasions, precise information is not as helpful as vague information in boosting performance.

In Praise of Vagueness via WSJ Ideas

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Comments

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] explores how messages influence social perception of food security. (NOTE: This article may be a little vague, inspired by Paul Kedrosky’s Infectious Greed — a great blog) Food security is a very [...]