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Irrational assumptions based on perceptions of worth, regardless of factual support

Value attribution, according to Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman, Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior (Doubleday 2008) at 48, is “our tendency to imbue someone or something with certain qualities based on perceived value, rather than on objective data.” It is what compels us to take seriously twaddle from the mighty and ignore wisdom from those we perceive as weak.

Value attribution means general counsel get feted at conferences regardless of their insights or blindness. A well-known law firm basks in value attribution even if the talents of its lawyers in an area of law are sub-par. Graduates of elite schools enjoy the halo effect (See my post of April 13, 2007: “tendency to make specific inferences on the basis of a general impression.”). High billing rates may create the same positive valence of value attribution.

The value that we attribute to someone fundamentally changes how we perceive that person. Studies (cited by the Sway at 56-59) suggest that high fees paid to a law firm may affect our evaluation of how well the firm performed (See my post of April 5, 2007 on this mechanism of cognitive dissonance.). We irrationally credit a firm, lawyer, or position that has exalted status and often irrationally disregard those we feel have not succeeded.

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