Theory-Experimental Seminar

Thomas Graeber

Harvard Business School


webinar – 14:30


For most decisions, we rely on information encountered over the course of days, months or years. We consume this information in various forms, including abstract summaries of multiple data points – statistics – and contextualized anecdotes about individual instances – stories. This paper proposes that we do not always have access to the full wealth of our accumulated information, and that the information type – story versus statistic – is a central determinant of selective memory. In controlled experiments we show that the effect of information on beliefs decays rapidly and exhibits a pronounced story-statistic gap: the average impact of stories on beliefs fades by 33% over the course of a day, but by 73% for statistics. Consistent with a model of similarity and interference in memory, prompting contextual associations with statistics improves recall. A series of mechanism experiments highlights that the lower similarity of stories to interfering information is the key driving force behind the story-statistic gap.

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