How We’re Fooled By Statistics | Summary and Q&A

November 23, 2013
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How We’re Fooled By Statistics


Positive feedback is generally more effective than negative feedback in improving performance, but cultural differences, task dependence, and regression to the mean can influence results.

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Questions & Answers

Q: Why did negative feedback work better for Israeli fighter pilots?

The effectiveness of feedback may vary due to cultural differences or task dependence. Negative feedback may be more critical in certain contexts, such as learning to fly a fighter jet.

Q: How does positive feedback affect performance in different studies?

Studies with teachers and rugby players showed that positive feedback increased task engagement, performance, and even physiological changes, such as higher testosterone levels. Positive feedback has generally been found to be more effective.

Q: What is regression to the mean?

Regression to the mean refers to the statistical tendency for extreme events to move closer to the average over time. In the context of performance, exceptional results are likely to be followed by more average results, regardless of feedback.

Q: How does regression to the mean impact research and perception of feedback?

Regression to the mean can lead to misinterpretation of feedback. When performance improves after negative feedback, it may be due to regression to the mean rather than the feedback itself. Our tendency to see patterns and causality can lead to misplaced belief in the effectiveness of negative feedback over positive feedback.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Israeli fighter pilot training found that negative feedback was more effective in improving performance, while positive feedback often led to a decline in subsequent attempts.

  • Research involving teachers showed that increasing the ratio of positive to negative feedback increased student engagement and task completion.

  • Rugby players who received positive reinforcement and praise after a game performed better in the next game and had higher testosterone levels compared to those who received negative feedback.

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