Experts More Likely to Make Memory Errors

Experts in any field are considered a reliable source of judgment. Consumers often pay more attention to the opinions of experts about a product. Since experts have more knowledge and feel accountable, it is assumed that they are less likely to make errors of judgment. This study was based on experts recalling, after a short interval, the features of two versions of a video game console. It showed that experts made comparisons between features of two models when, in reality, these were not comparable.

Experts have well-developed knowledge structures that help them in memory-based decisions and tasks. Nevertheless, more detailed knowledge can lead to creation of false memories and wrong judgments. As far as consumers are concerned, the decision-making comparison between the features of two similar products is important. Some features available in both products are directly comparable; they are called aligned features. Some features are available in one of the products only and these are called non-aligned features. Experts are likely to compare non-aligned features. The current study demonstrated the false recall of aligned features that did not appear in the original descriptions and the fallibility of experts.

* Two video game consoles with eight features, four of which were comparable directly and others unique to each model, were hypothetically created. They were presented on a computer screen as options “A” and “B.”
* In the first experiment, 113 participants answered questions regarding their expertise with the video game console and watched features of both options on computer. After 20 minutes, they attempted to recall the features for each option. They then answered a questionnaire testing their level of accountability.
* In the second experiment, 148 participants were split into two groups. The first group was “accountable” as they were made to believe that their answers would have to be elaborated again. The other group was “control,” as they believed that their answers would remain confidential. Both groups evaluated the features of options A and B.
* In the third experiment, four identical features were added to each option described earlier. Fifty-two participants watched and then recalled features of each option, similar to the procedure in the first experiment. The fourth experiment was similar to the third in design, but tested whether making people accountable for a decision altered their tendency to generate false recalls.

* As the expertise level increased, the proportion of false recall or incorrect attributes and sense of accountability increased.
* In the second experiment, individuals had a smaller proportion of false recalls (mean value 1.89 percent) when they thought that they were unaccountable, than when they thought that they were accountable for the decisions (mean value 10.52 percent)
* The third experiment showed that increased expertise significantly decreased the evaluation of an objectively superior option between the two provided in the experiments.
* The fourth experiment showed that feelings of accountability in memory-based product comparison led experts to focus on their decision process.

Next steps/shortcomings
The “expertise” about video games was a subjective judgment of participants about themselves. Video game playing is predominantly a male activity; so males are likely to have more expert knowledge about games. The study design depended on an immediate free-recall task as a measure of memory performance. In reality, consumers might be using cues available for comparison of features of different models.

It is assumed that experts know a lot about a product and are less likely to make errors of judgment while comparing two models. However, this study demonstrated that people with more expertise are likely to make errors. Experts already have multiple representations of product in their memory. They are likely to consider and compare features of two products together, when in reality the features are not comparable. This might produce errors when deciding the superiority of one product over the other. Since experts have more knowledge, there may be ways to alert experts to the risk of errors and teach them techniques to correct them. The findings of this study are very relevant to consumer behavior, as consumer rely on experts’ judgments for selecting a product.

For More Information:
Knowing Too Much: Experts Can Make Errors of Judgment in Product Comparison
By Ravi Mehta; Joandrea Hoegg; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois and University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
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