Professor David Dunning, formerly Executive Officer of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology has written an interesting blog that reminds us of a basic principle of psychology:

    “Things that we can see are more powerful than things that we cannot see.”

He argued that Peyton Manning should be voted the Most Valuable Player of the National Football League in 2011. Why?… because the Indianapolis Colts, who had averaged almost 430 points per season in the past 8 years averaged only 243 points this year and won only 2 games. The difference? Manning was on the sidelines for the whole season with a neck injury.

It becomes clear, when we look at it this way, that Manning was a very valuable quarterback – noted in this case by his absence. But because we focus on players that are on the field rather than those who are not, we might easily miss the fact.

Other examples:

    We notice right away that someone we haven’t seen for a while has grown a beard (“Hey, you’ve got a new beard!”)

    ….but when we see someone who has shaved off a beard we’re less sure

(“Hey, there’s something different about you, but I don’t know what it is”)

    The spice that’s in the food tastes great (“You used a lot of garlic”) or not (“too much paprika!”)

    …but when the food is bland we’re less sure (“something’s missing, but I don’t know what it is.”)

Dunning points out that:

“..the next time you want to test a theory, try not adding the key ingredient you think matters.  Rather, take it out and see what happens.” Often, a negative test is more telling than a positive one.

What’s missing?