In language, persuasion, sparks


In a wonderfully elegant experiment involving queuing to use a photocopier, Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer showed the persuasive power of giving reasons. Requests to push in and use the photocopier first were twice as successful when the requester gave a reason using the word “because”. In certain circumstances, this worked even when the reason was, “because I have to make photocopies” (unlike the other people queuing for the photocopier, presumably).

We often believe that our reasons for wanting something must be obvious to the audience. So obvious that we feel we do not need to state them. Langer’s research suggests that we would do better to give our reasons clearly, and do so using the word “because”.

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