Project Wonderful

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Because I Said So...

A friend alerted me to this study and I thought it was a great lesson for volunteer recruitment. The jist: people are way more likely to do something if you follow it with "because" and then a reason. If it's a little favor it doesn't even have to be a good reason.
"Behavioral scientist Ellen Langer and her colleagues decided to put the persuasive power of this word to the test. In one study, Langer arranged for a stranger to approach someone waiting in line to use a photocopier and simply ask, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” Faced with this direct request to cut ahead in the line, 60 percent of the people were willing to agree to allow the stranger to go ahead of them. However, when the stranger made the request with a reason (“May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”), almost everyone (94 percent) complied. This kind of boost may not seem very surprising. After all, providing a solid reason for the request justifies asking to jump ahead.

Here’s where the study gets really interesting: Langer tested one more version of the request. This time, the stranger also used the word because but followed it with a completely meaningless reason. Specifically, the stranger said, “May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?” Because you have to make copies? Who doesn’t? You’re certainly not going to use it to sharpen your pencils, are you? Despite the hollowness of the “reason” the stranger provided, it generated nearly the same elevated levels of compliance as when the reason was wholly legitimate (93 percent)...

The requester told a group of participants that she needed to make twenty copies... Besides the longer wait time, anyone who has ever used a copy machine knows the likelihood that the machine will jam seems to rise exponentially with each added page.when the stranger simply made her request without providing a reason or using the word because, only 24 percent complied. And for those who gave a bad reason (“…because I need to make copies”), there was no increase in compliance at all. However, when the larger request was made with a goodreason (“…because I’m in a hurry”), the response rate doubled. Taken together, the results of this study suggest that when the stakes are low, people are more likely to take mental shortcuts. On the other hand, when the stakes are high, people really do take the strength of the requester’s reasoning into consideration when deciding how to respond to the request."

So let's practice:"Would you take a yardsign, because I don't want to deal with them?" Or with a bigger ask, "would you host a house party because Republicans are attacking our access to healthcare?" How will you use "because?"


  1. "Would you quit asking me about yard signs because yard signs are one of the least effective means of voter contact?"