The Best Way to Win an Argument? Be Confident -- And Loud

The secret to winning an argument? Be loud. It makes you seem more confident. (Photo: Getty Images)When it comes to winning an argument, simply being right isn't enough. According to a pair of graduate students at Washington State University, the best way to win is by out-shouting your opponent.

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Well, you don't actually have to raise your voice. But using strong words, whether they're written or spoken, projects confidence -- and the more confident you are, the more people tend to assume you're right. Even when you're not.

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Jadrian Wooten and Ben Smith sifted through more than 1 billion tweets predicting the winners and losers of the 2012 baseball playoffs, the 2012 World Series, and the 2013 Super Bowl to see whether there was a connection between confidence, accuracy, and popularity among pundits. They looked at tweets from professionals and celebrities with verified Twitter accounts and amateurs who claimed to be sports experts and, in all cases, being confident brought in more followers than being right.

"In a perfect world, you want to be accurate and confident," Wooten told WSUNews. "If you had to pick, being confident will get you more followers, get you more demand."

Even though the professionals and the amateurs were correct approximately the same number of times, the people who tweeted using strong words like "vanquish," "destroy," and "annihilate" were perceived as being right more often. The Twitter accounts of professionals who were accurate but not outrageously confident increased by just 3.4 percent; those who appeared strong and confident rose by nearly 17 percent. The same held true for amateurs: The Twitter accounts of the most accurate amateur sports analysts increased by 7.3 percent, but the super-confident, in-your-face people saw a nearly 20 percent increase in followers. In general, professionals and celebrities were more likely to appear confident.

"They’re trading away some of their accuracy to be a Jim Cramer,” the loud-mouthed former hedge fund manager who is the host of CNBC's "Mad Money," says Wooten. "‘I might not be right all the time but I can yell louder than this other guy.’”

Why does the public prize appearances over accuracy? Wooten and Smith theorize that followers want to avoid uncertainty, and are drawn toward people who are exciting.

"There is some psychological literature on the idea that people hate uncertainty,” Smith told WSUNews. "The fact that people don’t like uncertainty would suggest that they don’t like the idea of a Nate Silver sort of person standing up there and saying, ‘I’m only 90 percent sure.’” (Nate Silver, who writes for the New York Times, famously -- and accurately -- predicted the election results in all 50 states.)

"I like to think of it like a roulette wheel," Wooten explained. "If you have somebody just placing bets, that person is kind of boring. But if you have someone going, 'Oh, yeah! It’s red!' and they are confident, that’s the person that you are interested in."

Smith and Wooten shared their findings at the annual meeting of the Academy of Economics and Finance in February and publicized in a report released last week. They plan to publish a paper on their method in an open-source journal, they told WSUNews.

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