The most persuasive word in the world

The most persuasive word in the world

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The word because has a special power in the English language. Studies have shown it has a strangely hypnotic effect on us, as we often accept what comes after the word because without really stopping to consider it. Scary! In the most famous study, social psychologist Ellen Langer and her colleagues found they could jump to the front of the queue at the photocopier more often simply by using the word because and then a statement. They tried three different lines.

  • ‘May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?’ (94 per cent success rate)
  • ‘Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?’ (60 per cent success rate)
  • ‘May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?’ (93 per cent success rate)

Let’s be honest, the final because is a very poor reason. But look at the stats. It still had a 93 per cent success rate.

We seem to accept the word because without even listening to the reason, allowing it to become a reason in itself. As Dr Robert Cialdini tells us in his excellent book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, the word because triggers an ‘automatic compliance response’, which means we simply accept what comes next. As he says, ‘It works because it works.’

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