How does adding one word to a question completely change what the answer will be? Listen to hear how Professor Ellen Langer changed the way we think about human behaviour.
In this week’s episode of Anecdotally Speaking, Mark demonstrates how to present research and data using a story structure, and how it can be highly engaging and memorable.
He shares the story of renowned psychology professor and mindfulness theorist, Ellen Langer, and her research experiment into human behaviour. The story provides an insight into how small changes in language can result in a completely different outcome.
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For your storybank
Tags: change management, research, clarity, persuasion
This story starts at 01:50
Ellen Langer, a psychologist and professor at Harvard University, conducted some research in 1977 and published it in 1978. At the time, she was the head of the psychology department at the university.
She and some colleagues conducted a really simple but profound experiment that changed the way we think about human behaviour.
The experiment took place on campus next to a photocopier. Essentially, the researcher would wait until somebody lined up to use the photocopier and then then try and cut in.
There were three interventions that the researcher used to cut the line. The first was, “Excuse me, I have five pages, may I use the Xerox machine?” When this was used, about 60% of people would say yes.
In the second version, the researcher would give a reason, “Excuse me, I have five pages, may I use the Xerox machine because I am in a rush?” 94% of people would say yes. Langer and her researchers assumed this would happen, based on their knowledge of human behaviour.
The final way they would cut the line was by using a placebo excuse, “Excuse me, I have five pages, may I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?” Even with no new information being given, 93% of people said yes.
Langer found that when you add the word ‘because’ and provide a reason, you dramatically increase how people comply.
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