Is anecdotal evidence more persuasive than statistical evidence?

Recent reviews of communication studies on the persuasiveness of evidence types have concluded that statistical evidence is more persuasive than anecdotal evidence. Cognitive psychological studies on the representativeness heuristic, however, have shown a large impact of anecdotal evidence (individuating information), and a small impact of statistical evidence (base rate information) on judgements. The difference between these conclusions can be explained by the research design of the psychological studies, which was in favour of anecdotal evidence. This article discusses more recent studies in cognitive psychology, and demonstrates that statistical evidence has more impact than the classic cognitive psychological studies suggested. This discussion brings back some consistency in results on the persuasiveness of anecdotal and statistical evidence, and also presents areas for future research.

  • Hornikx, J. (2007). Is anecdotal evidence more persuasive than statistical evidence? A comment on classic cognitive psychological studies. Studies in Communication Sciences, 7 (2), 151-164. [pdf]

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