Original question from Quora:

What are some psychological facts that people don’t know?

My Answer:

You will believe my answer because it is so convincing.

I understand you are skeptical and I will convince you anyway. I will convince you because I am right.

Also, I’ve proven this enough times for myself that it is true enough for me. In reality, if it works for you that’s good enough right?

Onward, so a while back I read a book called Influence by Robert Chaldini. One weird fact he mentions is the power of the word because. It works a little something like this.

There once was a test done at a university about the power of reasoning to influence people to do something. The test was designed to determine if it matters what our reason for a particular request is.

The test went something like this:

At the university library, there is often a line of people wanting to use the photo copier. They setup a test to see what would happen if someone asked if they could jump ahead in line to use the copier.

In one test, they would ask something like “Can I use the photo copier?” with no reason attached. Something like 40% of the time it worked, but most of the time it didn’t. They didn’t have a good reason, so of course most people didn’t agree. That makes sense right?

In a variation, they would ask something like “Can I use the photo copier because I’m running late for class?” Something like 85% of the time it worked. They had a good reason, so of course most people agreed. That makes sense right?

In the last variation, they would ask something like “Can I use the photo copier because I need to use the photo copier?” Something like 70% of the time it worked. They didn’t have a good reason. They all needed to use the photo copier. That doesn’t make sense does it?

It does make sense because humans only need a reason, not a good reason. That’s a subtle but important difference.

In fact, reason isn’t very important at all to most of what we do. We attach reasons after the fact for most of our behavior.

For example, Zig Ziglar tells the story about twins who had an alcoholic father. One became an alcoholic and the other never drank a single drop. How did that happen?

One said, “I had no choice. I had an alcoholic father, so of course I would end up becoming an alcoholic like him.”

The other said, “I had no choice, I had an alcoholic father, so there is no way I was going to become an alcoholic like him.”

The difference is in the event post-rationalization. You’ll see this all day long if you are looking. It follows like this:

Something happens -> we make up a reason -> we repeat the reason to ourselves and those around us -> the reason is now truth to us regardless of facts or objectivity

By the way, this is something we all do and it doesn’t matter how intelligent you are, everybody post-rationalizes. It’s as if we are wired to tell stories about the world around us as we perceive it. Perhaps that’s how we make sense of the world and avoid going crazy. I’m not really sure.

So, back to because…

The word because gives people that little bit of rationalization that seems to shortcut the decision making process in most people. Instead of coming up with your own rationale, being spoon fed one saves time and is easy to adopt as true.

Once someone adopts something as true, behavior easily follows.

If you believe in God and that Jesus was the messiah whose death on the cross saved you from your sin, it is easy to go to church every Sunday, pray to God, and serve other people with your life as Jesus did.

Millions of people around the world do this because they adopted the idea as true and the behavior follows.

If you believe there is no God there is no reason to go to church, pray to God, or do anything else that is particularly religious.

Millions of people around the world do this because they adopted the idea as true and the behavior follows.

It makes total sense that an easy rationalization short circuits behavior because we see it all around us. Once something is “rational”, it is easy to just do that thing.

In the context of using because to add rationale to a desired action, the reason only has to be sensible enough to get someone to say “oh okay” for maybe a split second.

I’m guessing that the larger the behavioral change, the more intrinsic the rationalization must be to the persons beliefs. But for small things like photo copies, the because can be almost nonsensical.

That’s just a guess, but from my experience, it tends to work.

Go ahead and try it for yourself because you’ve got nothing to lose.

-Brian

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