The Best Time to Ask for Advice

If you need to make an important decision, it’s often good to ask other people for advice.

Not only can the advice be helpful, but asking for advice is often seen as a sign of respect, trust, or even intelligence.


Perhaps a more interesting question is not if you should ask for advice (it’s usually a good idea) but instead when in the process you should ask for it.


So you need to make a decision

Would it be better to ask other people for advice first, then consider the information yourself and make an evaluation?

If you already have some good advice going in, perhaps it will help you to notice certain things and make a better decision.




Would it be better to consider the information yourself and make an evaluation first, then ask other people for advice?

If you already came to a conclusion for yourself, will you still consider other people’s advice as much as you should?


Researchers recently tested this question with a series of studies focusing on a how a process called “anchoring and adjustment” influences decisions.




Anchoring and adjustment

When you evaluate the information relevant to a decision, there is usually a starting point.

It might be the set price of a product, the opening bid in a negotiation, or some sort of known condition (such as the possible maximum or minimum).

This starting point is the anchor.


Once you know the anchor, subsequent evaluations are made relative to that anchor.

For example, when you are shopping for something, you might first notice the set price of the item.

If it’s on sale, you compare the sale price to the normal price. If a similar product is priced much higher or lower, you might compare to that as well.

The final evaluation is an adjustment that begins with the anchor, but then changes (even if only slightly) based on further input.


Is advice more useful as an anchor or as an adjustment?

The researchers tested this question with a simple task where people viewed photographs of faces, and then had to guess the age of each person.


The key difference was that some people got advice (what other people had guessed) first, then viewed the picture and guessed the age.

This was compared to others who viewed the picture and guessed the age first, then got advice before they reached a final decision.


The basic result was that getting advice first is almost always worse.

Bad advice hurt the accuracy of guesses by more, and good advice helped less.

The most accurate decision-makers were the ones that made their own guesses first, then had the opportunity to consider advice from others.


Of course these findings may be limited to specific types of decisions or advice…but it’s easy to imagine how the same basic processes might be influential in many situations. After all, different forms of anchoring and adjustment are practically everywhere.



Image credits:, David Blaikie

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