If I am trying to sell you one of two cameras which, although different brands, are exactly the same in quality and functionality, and I tell you that professional photographers prefer camera A over camera B, there’s a good chance you will then purchase camera A. And what I said about professionals preferring camera A doesn’t even have to be true, because you’ve already switched off the part of your brain in charge of critical-research thinking.
An actor playing a dentist in a toothpaste commercial will be trusted as an authority on which toothpaste to buy even when you know he’s just an actor. You ignore that fact because it’s not the focus of your thinking in the moment. The focus of your thinking is on making the decision.
It’s difficult for us to make decisions, especially when we are ignorant on the subjects of choice. What do you know about cameras? How much research are you going to have to do in order to make an informed decision? How much time do you have for that? So isn’t it nice when someone has done all the research for you and can simply tell you which option is better? Those people are the experts. Experts range in occupation from Technicians to Pastors.
And it’s great when you can trust the experts; when they’re not BS’rs. But you have to be careful when the expert, or the person in authority, may be using your ignorance and trust as a way to manipulate you.
How can you know?
- Always lean toward the possibility that the expert has an agenda unknown to you.
- Always ask, “Is this true?” and weigh that question against your own common sense. If something doesn’t make sense, it’s probably not true.
- Is what the expert saying leaning toward your own bias on the subject? Are you believing what he is saying simply because you want it to be true? Is it merely an appeal to your own selfish desires?
- Is what the expert saying qualified? Do other experts agree?
- Be prepared to do some of your own research, which, in the age of Google, isn’t too difficult.
Recommended reading: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini