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Not All Online Restaurant Reviews Are Created Equal


As people plan their summer vacations, many depend on travel reviews from sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. New research suggests there is a bias that seems to affect some reviews. Our colleague Steve Inskeep talked about it with NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam.


Hi, Shankar.


INSKEEP: What bias?

VEDANTAM: Well, the bias is whether the reviewer is a local or a tourist. Researchers at Temple University, Arizona State University and the University of Minnesota recently analyzed restaurant reviews on the TripAdvisor site. Now, TripAdvisor allows the researchers to analyze where the reviewer lives as well as the city where the restaurant operates, which tells the researcher whether the review was likely written by someone who lives near the restaurant or someone far away. And the researchers find that when people travel to other cities, they tend to rate restaurants as being better than the locals do.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute, so if I'm in Chicago and review a Chicago restaurant, I'm going to be tough. If I'm from Iowa or New York and I go to Chicago, I'm going to say wow, that was a great steak.

VEDANTAM: That's exactly right, Steve. Now, why is this happening? It's not entirely clear. One possibility is that you're in a different frame of mind when you're traveling. You're more open to novel experiences. Unexpected things happen. Maybe the dish you ordered is not the dish you expected. But instead of seeing it as an inconvenience, you now see it as a novelty. You think all right, maybe they do things differently here in Chicago. It also could be the case that when you're going home to write your review, you're thinking about this restaurant that's far away and you think about the general ambience of the restaurant, the general experience. You forget about the details, like your dish was lukewarm.

INSKEEP: Wow, so if I see a positive review of a restaurant, I should check the address of the person who wrote that review.

VEDANTAM: I think one of the implications here is that if you care about service and the kind of food that you get at a restaurant, you should probably prioritize the reviews written by locals over the reviews written by tourists.

INSKEEP: Shankar, thanks.

VEDANTAM: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.