Cambridge, MA — This is the simplest research project you’ll read about all week. But, its results will inspire you to change at least one project you’re working on.

Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer is known for unconventional research. In the 1980s, she dramatically improved the cognitive and physical abilities of a group of men in their 70s by staging an elaborate make-believe weekend and encouraging them to pretend it was 1959.

This study was quite a bit simpler. It just involved standing in line for a copier.

Her thesis: Telling people why you’re making a request will make them more likely to comply.

In the experiment, Langer needed to make photocopies using a library Xerox machine. The goal is to see what needs to be said to the people currently on line to get them to let her cut ahead and use the machine. Langer used three different phrases in the experiment:

  • Request with real reason: Excuse me. I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I am in a rush?
  • Request without any reason: Excuse me. I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?
  • Request without real reason: Excuse me. I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?

It’s probably no surprise that the first one did better than the second. But, would you have guessed that the first and third performed almost the same?

  • Request with real reason: Excuse me. I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I am in a rush? 94% complied
  • Request without any reason: Excuse me. I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine? 60% complied
  • Request without real reason: Excuse me. I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies? 93% complied

In the third scenario, there is no real reason for wanting to cut ahead, but the word “because” is still incredibly powerful in earning compliance. That’s a 33% bump for the addition of one word. Time to start editing…

Posted by: Leigh Householder

 

 

photo credit: Phil Sexton via photopin cc

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for shaping the company’s perspective on the next era of healthcare marketing. Through thought leadership, strategic innovation workshops and new products and capabilities, Leigh focuses on identifying marketing approaches that will fuel that new era and generate significant growth for clients. Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for over 17 years. She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she had several leadership roles at one of our agencies, GSW. There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business. Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes. A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice, Leigh also was recognized as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.