Bad science masquerading as fact

by Viv on July 3, 2007

It was great to see Mike Clayton in July’s issue of TJ putting the spotlight on Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 rule of communication – this has to be one of the most misquoted pieces of research in the world of L&D.

The common fallacy is that the research is saying that only 7% of the impact of a presentation is down to the words, and that the visual and the vocal represent 55% and 38% of the message respectively. If this was true, presumably we could turn up to a presentation with our headphones on and still get 55% of the message…

The experiment derives these percentages by asking which channel of communication a person will believe if there is a mismatch in messages from two or more channels i.e. they are failing to give congruent messages. Congruence is not the easiest concept to explain, so lots of trainers have decided not to bother. That means that thousands of people go around believing that it is a scientific truth that precisely 7% of the message is down to the words.

HR yearns not to be seen as being too cuddly and fluffy and hence the attraction of using scientific research to back up what is being said. If only trainers were more discerning in reporting the “science bit” accurately.

Are there any other bits of bad science in L&D that get your goat? Add a comment.

Are your firm’s training materials saying what’s easy, rather than what the science actually says? Revise them quietly, I won’t tell…

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