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


  1. And yea, that is nice customer service!

  2. The term vagueness denotes a property of concepts (especially predicates). A concept is vague:
    if the concept's extension is unclear;
    if there are objects which one cannot say with certainty whether belong to a group of objects which are identified with this concept or which exhibit characteristics that have this predicate (so-called "border-line cases");
    if the Sorites paradox applies to the concept or predicate.

  3. The Ratchadaphisek area was turned into a business district which continued through the Asok area up north for five kilometers (3 mi). The Sukhumvit area, stretching 15–20 km (9–12 mi), gradually turned into a mixed commercial and residential area. Wireless Road and Chitlom are where some of Bangkok's most expensive land plots exist. Part of the British Embassy on the corner of Wireless and Rama I Roads, nine rai or approximately 14,400 m2 (155,000 sq ft) in area, was sold for USD 92 million or THB 3.24 billion.

  4. A fuselage, a long, thin body, often cylindrical, and usually with tapered or rounded ends to make its shape aerodynamically smooth.


  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 […]