Why Do People Fall for Testimonials?

48227542 - cropped image of sick man taking medicine against gray backgroundDid you know there are thousands of people who swear they were abducted by aliens? There’s also a vast number of people who believe they lived past lives, who think horses are possessed of a collective wisdom that can guide us in life, and who swear by an enormous compendium of consciousness recorded on a non-physical realm known as the astral plane.

Now what if I told you that there’s not a shred of evidence to prove any of the above – except for testimonials from people who swear that it’s all true. Would you believe it?

Probably not.

But that’s not the case when it comes to supplements and other alternatives. In my many years of research, I have always been baffled by websites where nothing more than a few user testimonials (which could be written by anybody for all we know) are offered as “evidence” and yet the sellers are making a fortune! How could this be?

I finally came across this article appearing on PsychCentral that gave a few very plausible explanations for why people believe a supplement or alternative works even though there’s no solid evidence for it.

It’s called the “vividness effect” which means the vividness of a personal testimony trumps more credible evidence and can actually dissuade people from accepting scientific evidence.

“Society is replete with examples of the vividness effect,” the article states. “To further illustrate this point consider the following scenario. You are deciding whether you should try a dietary supplement that is purported to decrease appetite. After reading the scientific research on the product you conclude that the supplement does not decrease appetite. The next day you mention the supplement to your friend, who suggests the supplement worked great for her.

“Should this anecdote persuade you to purchase the supplement, even though scientific data suggests different? There is a good chance that the friend’s testimony would outweigh the scientific evidence. The vividness effect is widespread and often leads to bad decisions (purchasing worthless drugs, supplements, dietary programs, not vaccinating children, etc.).”

This answered a lot of questions for me.

And it’s yet another reason to avoid making decisions based on testimonials. If we do nothing more than take someone’s word for it, we’re retreating back into the age of the “snake oil salesman” where a purveyor could say whatever he or she wanted about a product without having to prove it. We have the science now to test products and determine what works and what doesn’t – and we owe it to ourselves to use it!

But how is all of this different from witnessing to the faith? Don’t we believe these testimonies without any evidence? No – we have plenty of evidence to prove God intervenes in our lives, from Revelation to the lives of the saints to miraculous healings verified by science.

We have no such evidence to support alien abduction, that people lived past lives, that horses have a wisdom beyond what is to be expected of the equine brain or that many of the supplements and alternative treatments on the market today actually work.

The bottom line is this – if there is nothing more than user testimonials to back up a claim, then there is not enough information to choose that remedy.

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