Saturday, May 14, 2011

Second hand information and decision making

We tend, wisely, to take less account of information that comes to us from a distance than information which is relayed to us from a trusted and reliable first hand source. Unfortunately information from distance sources can get distorted in its travels and by the time it gets to our source may have been distorted dramatically. If we think that this information is coming directly from our first hand source then we may not be alert to the possible distortions in the information.

The distortions are not necessarily because of evil intentions of individuals in the link but the nature of how normal humans relay information. We all tend to make distortions to information for a variety of very sensible reasons:

A good story is always important for communicating information. We tend to take the gist of the message (as we perceive it) and relay only the gist as that is more concise. Because of this we also tend to drop a lot of the details, some of which may have been caveats to the validity of the information.

We tend to make distortions to the information for informativeness (by dropping qualifications) and entertainment value (it happened to us, it happened to a friend of mine etc.).

We make distortions out of self interest. A good story reflects well on us.

We make distortions due to plausibility. If something seems likely to have happened then we may portray it as actually happening.

Of course the more links in the chain that the information travels the more of all these types of distortions are likely to occur.

So to summarise we tend to distrust information that comes to us from a distance but may be fooled into believing erroneous information because it appears to come from a close and trustworthy source. Consider what they original source of the information was, trust facts and distrust projections.

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