Psychological influences on decision making D1

This is a live blog from the CIPD ACE conference 2016 so please excuse any typos!

Dr Chia-Jung Tsay is not just a psychologist but also a highly trained concert pianist. She started off with a thought experiment – if you had to guess who won a music competition to win yourself £100, would you want to be given the audio only, video only or both? She showed us examples of each. Of course, you would want both. She is going to speak about her psychological research and how it is applicable in recruitment decision making, entrepreneurship and development.
The impact of visual information is her key area of interest. She looks at what cognition and emotion
Dr Tsay introduced us to the McGurk effect. We saw footage of a man saying “ba” repeatedly. She then change the image to the same man clearly saying “fa” but did not change the audio. Weirdly, I very clearly “heard” a change in what he was saying – but when it was pointed out that it was the same sound, I could hear that too. Your brain interprets what it sees and hears and when they don’t agree, it makes a call on what it thinks is more likely based on the visual cues. You can see the film here on YouTube.
Snap judgements are really crucial. You make really pervasive decisions from small snippets of information. Research has shown that facial cues contribute massively to our decision making. Dr Tsay showed us a clever video of a model face which went from neutral to very trustworthy to very untrustworthy to illustrate the point.
She talked about an experiment based on the first thought experiment above. She assigned groups to audio only, video only and both. The people who had the silent video were very frustrated as they couldn’t hear the music. However, they went on to be the group who most accurately predicted who won. You might expect that with both video and sound we would be more able to predict the winner – but actually they didn’t. It was slightly better than sound only and only just above a random choice.
Is it because the group were novices? They ran the experiment with experts – classically trained musicians. Again, the group with the silent videos performed best. It’s shocking how quickly we make thee assumptions – the expert judges of the original competition had 5 hours of footage to make a decision. The groups in the research had several seconds but even with a show of hands in the room based on a few seconds, the majority still managed to pick the eventual winner.
She then showed us some footage of speakers making business pitches and said they repeated the same research process: showing groups audio only, video only and both together. In this situation, experienced venture capitalists made decisions about which business proposition in which invest their money. The groups then had to guess from what they had seen or heard who had “won”. The results duplicated the music example above. The content was not critical – the best performing group were the ones with the video only. In other words they couldn’t hear the actual content – completely counter-intuitively, of course.
The researchers ran another experiment with groups of musicians. Again, participants had to guess which group won a competition. Some had footage of the whole group whilst others had just the leader. The group with the leader only performed just as well as those who could see the whole group.
We’re dedicated to our existing recruitment processes that rely on content. However, there are these automatic processes which occur in our brains because we are human, which mean that we over emphasise the importance of sound and content in our decision making. In other words, we are more likely to make recruitment decisions on how candidates say things rather than what they actually say.
How else can we use this information to leverage the power of visuals? Can we improve, for example, engagement? Dr Tsay looked at the food industry. There is visual transparency in the industry whether it is at Krispy Kreme where the doughnuts go past on a conveyor belt or the open kitchen model in a Michelin starred restaurant. They added iPads in various catering circumstances so sometimes customers could see chefs, sometimes the other way round and sometimes both could see each other. Customers who could see the chefs preparing the food valued it more and were prepared to pay extra. The chefs experienced greater job satisfaction because they could see their customers enjoying the food. The chefs asked to keep the iPads at the end of the experiment saying it gave them pride and meaning in their work. The power of visuals created value for both parties.
Dr Tsay then showed us how UCL are using visual interviews with prospective students and how much they are able to improve their decision making. To have had an 80% reduction in staff time spent interviewing. She went on to speak about some other scientific research and how it could be applicable to HR circumstances.

To sum up my thoughts from this session: you will be operating with completely unconscious biases – not just in terms of any particular characteristics of candidates or people in general, but based on entrenched “human” aspects of how your brain works, such as the primacy of the visual information you receive over all other types. If you understand these biases, you can use them to improve work – like in the chefs and iPad example. If you don’t know what those biases are, you can’t overcome them! I’d definitely recommend checking out Dr Tsay’s research.