Do Paradoxes Prompt Better Attention and Recall? Implications for Publishing and Disseminating Academic Research

Yellowlees Douglas


In today’s noisy media environment, researchers and the public alike find themselves inundated with information. Yet studies that find their way into high impact-factor journals and into the mainstream media often share a common feature—findings that contain some elements of a paradox. Moreover, paradoxes create surprise in the most seasoned experts, and surprise turns out to be a powerful driver of curiosity, interest, and recall. This study measured the effects of paradoxes on readers’ comprehension of three versions of a news story representing academic research, containing explicit, implicit, and no paradox conditions. After reading, 98 undergraduate students enrolled in a business communication course responded to a question measuring their comprehension of one of the three versions of the passage both immediately after reading and after 3-5 days’ recall, without re-exposure to the passage. Immediately after reading, 95% of readers of the paradox-explicit passage correctly grasped the gist of the study, compared with 14% of readers of the paradox-implicit version and only 4% of readers of the no-paradox version. Moreover, 3-5 days later, 55% of paradox-explicit readers correctly identified the meaning of the study, compared with only 7% of paradox-implicit readers. These findings may demonstrate the effects of incongruity, controversy, and surprise on curiosity and recall. In addition to shedding light on an understudied but powerful phenomenon, these findings offer potentially valuable implications for the reporting of research outcomes to academic journals and to the public via media outlets.

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International Journal of Business Administration
ISSN 1923-4007(Print) ISSN 1923-4015(Online)


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