Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Power to Persuade - Simplicity

“Easy to swallow, easy to follow” is the brain’s heuristic for influence. This is one reason why the world’s great orators have always spoken in threes. Julius Caesar’s “veni, vidi, vici,” for example. Or Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address: “we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.”

This device, known as the tricolon, is among a number of rhetorical secrets first identified by the speakers of the ancient world, classical orators such as Cicero, Demosthenes and Socrates (who themselves form a tricolon). Its magic lies in its efficiency: a third word not only gives confirmation and completes a point, it is also economical, constituting the earliest stage at which a possible connection, implied by the first two words, may be substantiated. More than three, and you risk going on and on. Fewer than three, and your argument lands prematurely.

The bottom line couldn’t be any clearer: the shorter, sharper, simpler the message—tricolon again—the more amenable we are to its content. Imagine I were to hand you a recipe for Japanese rolls—and that it was printed in this typeface (Times New Roman, 12 point). Next, imagine I were to ask you to estimate how long it would take you to prepare the recipe. And then, how inclined you were to do so.

Question: Do you think you would rate the dish as being easier to cook if it were printed in this typeface (Brush, 12 point)? Or do you think that the typeface would make little difference to your judgment? Psychologists Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor put exactly this question to a group of college students in 2008. And guess what? The fussier the typeface, the more difficult the students judged the recipe. And what’s more, the less likely they were to attempt it. Even though the recipes were exactly the same in both cases, the students walked into a classic cognitive ambush: they confused the facility with which they took in information with the resources required to comply with it. Result? The group gave Brush the brush-off.

Source of Information : Scientific American Mind March-April 2010

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