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Vividness Bias: Real or Illusory?

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

On June 29, 2021, Harvard’s PONS posted a blog written by staff entitled, “Negotiators: Resist Vividness Bias in Negotiations.” It defined vividness bias as “…the tendency to overweight the vivid and prestigious attributes of a decision, such as a salary or an employer’s status, and underweight less impressive issues, such as location or rapport with colleagues.” (Id.) (“Blog”)

The post then provides an example of how the New York Mets lost out to the Chicago Cubs on signing Ben Zobrist in 2015 although the Cubs offered less money. Why? Chicago was closer to his home in Nashville, Tennessee and he had a close relationship with the Cubs manager. So- it was not about the money; it was about the location and his relationship to the manager. These were the vivid issues that stood out to him.

But does this vividness bias really exist or is it illusory? A research paper entitled “The Vividness Effect: Elusive or Illusory?” written by Rebecca L. Collins and Shelley E. Taylor of the University of California at Los Angeles published in 24 Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 1-18 (1988) concludes, based on two studies, that it is illusory. They conclude:

…that individuals are not typically influenced by what was believed by social researchers to be an influential biasing factor, the vividness of the presentation of a persuasive message. Beyond this, the present study suggests that social psychologists and marketing researchers are not alone in their misperception of the ordinary person’s susceptibility to vividness effects; naive perceivers share the same beliefs about their fellow person and, to some degree, themselves. (Id. at 17)

People will tend to believe that a vivid presentation will be more persuasive than a mundane one and that others will be more persuaded by such a vivid presentation, much more so than they would be. (Id. at 17).

Both are incorrect assumptions according to this research. In short, the vividness bias appears to have its most impact on a person’s theory about persuasion and not on actually persuading someone. (Id. at 18.)

Where does this fit into negotiations? As a tool not to use in trying to persuade someone to do or not do something. As the PONs blog notes, we should be very careful in weighing options not to give undue weight to one consideration and very little weight to another. The “vividness” of an option should not blind us to the real downsides of that option.

Before we begin this weighing of options, we should first decide what is important in the overall scheme: what is the priority or what do we consider most important? And if we are making this choice by using a comparison with others, we should ensure that we have selected the right group for the comparison; using similar if not identical groups to what we are hoping to gain. (Blog at 2.)

So- the takeaway—beware of glitzy advertisements and fast-talking negotiators! While we think they make a difference, research shows otherwise!

…. Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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