Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The power of "because"

One of the most persuasive words that can be used is “because”. This word can get you to the front of a line when you are in the supermarket, bank or even in the office. The word “because” triggers an automatic compliance response, even when there is no subsequent reason to comply (Cialdini, 2009). “Because” is normally used to justify a request that was just made. Simply telling someone to do something or buy something isn’t as effective as giving them a reason as to why they should do it. For example if someone tells a girl to buy a dress, they would not be as convinced as when someone tells them to buy a dress, because it looks flattering on them. By giving them a reason you open up to them, and tell them something extra. This helps them as a person to generate more contacts and build more relationships. By giving an explanation to someone, they will try to understand you and contemplate as to whether your reasoning is valid. This also helps to get to know someone on a more personal level, making them more willing to do something for you.

Langer, Blank and Chanowitz (1978) explored how the willingness to comply is influenced using requests, such as “because”. They observed how well different requests worked when trying to cut in line when trying to make xerox copies. It was found that when the request “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” was used; it was successful for 60% of the time. At a different time, people requested and said: “Excuse me, I have 5 pages, may I use the Xerox Machine because I am in a rush?”. By using the simple word “because”, the request becomes more persuasive and compliance rose to 94%.

Interestingly, it was also found that if someone requested: “May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”, compliance rates were still high at 93%. This demonstrates the unique motivational influence of the word “because”. Even if the reason is invalid, it adds persuasive power and reinforces the request. Research has also show that when the word “because” is used, individuals accept things and may not even need to listen to what comes after it. Folkes (1985) stated that many different replications of the Xerox studies, and other similar studies demonstrate that willingness to comply is much higher when the “because” justification is used compared with offering no reason.

Several brands also use the word “because” in marketing. For example the advertising slogan for L'Oréal has been “Because you’re worth it” for the last 40 years. Consumers found that the phrase created strong consumer involvement, and satisfaction. More recently L'Oréal Kids came up with a slogan for their kids line, “Because we are worth it too”.

These findings suggest that accompanying statements or requests with a “because” statement, even if the reasoning seems to be fairly simple can be extremely beneficial.

Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Folkes, V. S. (1985). Mindlessness or mindfulness: A partial replication and extension of Langer, Blank, and Chanowitz.

Langer, E. J., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of ostensibly thoughtful action: The role of" placebic" information in interpersonal interaction. Journal of personality and social psychology, 36(6), 635.

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