Friday, 19 March 2010

How to give advice

Information, information, information. That's the message from one of the first studies to look at people's preferences for different forms of advice. Reeshad Dalal and Silvia Bonaccio presented hundreds of students with fictional decision-making scenarios, such as choosing which job to apply for. The students were offered various permutations of advice and asked to say how satisfied they'd be if a friend had given them that advice. The different kinds of advice were: which option to go for; which option not to go for; info on how to make the decision (e.g. use a points allocation system); information on one or more of the options; and sympathy about the difficulty of making a decision. Whilst all forms of advice were positively received, the students' consistent preference was for information about one or more of the options.

A second study spiced things up by introducing more varied decision-making scenarios: where to locate a new store; how to lay off excess staff; and how to invest some inheritance. A fresh batch of students were presented with the new scenarios and this time they were to imagine they'd solicited the advice from an expert, rather than a friend, to see if this made any difference to their responses. Information again came out as the most preferred form of advice. However, this time round, specific advice on which option to go for was also particularly well received, especially in the investment scenario.

The researchers said past research on advice giving has tended to focus purely on advice in the form of 'I recommend option X', so this study makes a novel contribution. 'Across the situational and dispositional variables we examined, decision-makers appeared to want their advisors to provide information about the alternatives,' the researchers said. Advice that says 'go for option X' can also be well-received but only in specific circumstances, such as when advice has been explicitly solicited from an expert.

When it comes to lessons for real life, Dalal and Bonaccio said more research was needed to see how their results generalise, but in the meantime they advised: 'Individuals who are advising decision-makers should at the very least be careful to provide information along with their recommendations.'

ResearchBlogging.orgDalal, R., & Bonaccio, S. (2010). What types of advice do decision-makers prefer? Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2009.11.007

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Related Digest item: 'We're more likely to listen to expensive advice'.

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