In emotionally trying times, people are more likely to make important decisions based on compelling personal anecdotes rather than trusting provable cold facts. Researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington say that finding is especially significant amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The researchers said the phenomenon, formally known as anecdotal bias, can lead stressed-out people to believe individual stories and distrust fact-based information, especially if it occurs during an unprecedented situation, like a pandemic. Their study, a meta-analysis of anecdotal bias, was published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.
People can be especially dismissive of facts if they have a relatable anecdote involving themselves or someone close to them when the issue is health-related or life-threatening. The analysis found this bias can ultimately compromise their ability to make good decisions.
The authors cited the stockpiling of toilet paper in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of how feelings of vulnerability can make people discard objective facts in favor of anecdotal, emotionally based information.
Anecdotal bias, the study noted, also tends to be very personal. People tend to make less rational, more emotionally based choices for themselves. But they are typically more fact-based and logical when making decisions on behalf of others.
Researchers say the findings could help businesses and organizations make better decisions during times of high anxiety.
For individuals, it can be a reminder to step back, take a deep breath and balance facts against fears during a difficult time.