AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators



Ed Eval TIG Week: Courtney Howell and Shelly Engelman on Social Psychological Tips for Effective Reporting

Hi! We are Courtney Howell and Shelly Engelman, evaluators at SageFox Consulting Group in Atlanta, GA. We are social psychologists who happen to be education evaluators. As such, we regularly employ our social psychology backgrounds to inform our work.


Image credit: reihayashi via Flickr

Persuasion is part of every aspect of life. This reality is no different for evaluation. Persuasion also plays a role in evaluation reporting, ensuring that clients, users, and funders will engage with your report/proposal in the way you intended, leading to a positive outcome that benefits the program. Recently, we identified three social psychological concepts that can be readily employed to enhance the ability of reports to communicate findings. Here are a few effective techniques that we have adopted in our evaluation reporting practices:

  1. Primacy and Recency Effect: People tend to recall the first and last things in a series best and the middle items worst. A Recency Effect happens when people encounter unsalient, non-controversial, uninteresting, and unfamiliar material. Salient, interesting, controversial material produces a Primacy Effect.Lesson Learned: When composing a report, we want to put the most interesting and familiar things first and the non-controversial, and unfamiliar things last.
  2. Mere Exposure Effect: People tend to develop a preference for things simply because they are familiar with them. Mere Exposure Effect enhances perceptual fluency which is the ease with which new ideas can be processed and internalized. Remember, familiarity breeds liking.
  3. Confirmation Bias: The tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses. In fact, people tend to stick to a position even after the evidence has shown it was false.
    • Lesson Learned: To avoid confirmation bias, call attention to information that may go against expectations by using a visual marker (like an exclamation mark) to point to messages that are inconsistent with the rest of the report. Play devil’s advocate to suggest alternative ways of interpreting the data/findings.
    • Rad Resource: Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government
    • Rad Resource: To further explore the intersectionality of social psychology and evaluation: See Melvin Mark, Stewart Donaldson and Bernadette Campbell’s text on Social Psychology and Evaluation.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Ed Eval TIG Week with our colleagues in the PK12 Educational Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our Ed Eval TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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  • Kaitlyn Osborne · November 15, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    Good afternoon! My name is Kaitlyn Osborne and I am a last semester student at Texas A&M University-Central Texas. My degree will be in Psychology with a minor in Criminal Justice. I would have to agree with you and Lauren regarding the fact that everyone’s attention seems to drift off in the middle of a presentation. I admit, I’m guilty of this myself. When groups in class are giving their presentation and we’re told to write down our opinion on what we found most interesting on each group, I’m unable to recall what happened during the middle unless it catches my attention. Which also goes back to what you state on the mere exposure effect. I’m more likely to pay attention to something if I’ve already had some exposure to it as opposed to something I know nothing about.


  • Lauren Bruce · November 9, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    Thanks for the post. You presented a lot of helpful tools to use in report writing. I really like the first tip: people tend to wonder off in thought when listening to presentations. I like how you suggested that we put interesting facts first because this will help keep your audience interested.


  • Jindra cekan · May 8, 2015 at 4:31 am

    Interesting, many thanks, especially the 3rd tip on confirming biases… Will use immediately in a report on austainability i am writing. Thanks!


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