April 29: The dilution effect

A cognitive phenomenon where nonessential details weaken an argument. 

Source: Niro Sivanathan
Published: May 2019

The dilution effect

Do you have trouble convincing others of your ideas? You may be experiencing the dilution effect, a cognitive phenomenon where nonessential details weaken an argument. 

Our brains process information into two categories: diagnostic and non-diagnostic. Diagnostic information is relevant to an evaluation, while non-diagnostic information contains only superfluous or insignificant details. 

For example, if making a judgment about whether Sophia is a good manager:

Diagnostic info:

  • Sophia clearly communicates expectations for members of her team.

Non-diagnostic info: 

  • Sophia has one child

  • Sophia has a corner office

  • Sophia likes watching nature documentaries

When both forms of information are presented together, the dilution effect occurs. The non-diagnostic details water down the diagnostic information and your message loses potency.

To be more persuasive, stick to your strongest and most relevant information.

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