Because is an influential word. According to popular re-renderings of research, the word because can get your copies made faster, get you through airport security without waiting in line, and (sometimes) even get your children to behave.
Because is persuasive (errr) because it's a trigger. When people use the word because, it's typically the lead-in to justify a request that they have just made. With experience, we learn that pattern. Research suggests that we may learn it so well that we accept the word "because" as the reason and may not bother to listen to what comes after it.
For example, in their now classic Xerox study, Langer, Blank, and Chanowitz (1972) explored how the language of requests influences willingness to comply. To do this they observed how well different requests to cut into the line at the copier worked. They found when people ask to cut into the line to make 5 copies, they are successful about 60% of the time, no questions asked. At the baseline, people are generally polite. (For what it's worth, the actual request was also polite: "Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?")
When the requestors add a reasonable justification for cutting into the line ("...because I am in a hurry") the request becomes much more persuasive and compliance shoots up to 94%.
The part of the study that captured people's attention though, is what happens when you add "because...." paired with a meaningless justification: "Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I need to make copies?" Um. Yeah. That would be why you would be waiting to use the Xerox machine.
Despite the circular reason, the compliance rate for the "because I need to make copies" request was a somewhat stunning 93%. Giving an empty reason was just as effective as giving a good one. Based on this, Langer and colleagues suggested that in certain conditions our consideration of the actual reason for a request may be mindless. Others have extrapolated on the finding to suggest that you don't really need to bother with the reason bit. You just need to say "because." Compliance happens.
There are two ways to think about the mindless response that Langer and colleagues describe. First, it might be about the word "because." Alternatively, it could be about the request. Here is the situation: You are waiting in line to make copies. Someone comes up and asks to cut in front of you and make 5 copies. Stated reason or not, asking to cut in line is fairly unusual behavior in a office. In fact, the weirdness of the unusual request makes the situation a little ambiguous. You have been socialized to be polite and (hopefully) to give others the benefit of the doubt. And, critically, the request is small. 5 copies. Will waiting for one person to make 5 more copies change the outcome of your day? Probably not. I suspect you would let them slip ahead.
Now consider another scenario: You are waiting in line to make copies. Someone comes up and asks to cut in line to make 25 copies of a document "because they need to make copies." What do you do?
25 copies isn't a huge job. But its more substantial than 5 copies. After 25 copies you are more likely to run out of paper or jam up the machine. The risk and potential cost is just a little bit higher. High enough to be a tipping point, in fact, for most people in line. When Langer and colleagues ran that condition, the compliance went down substantially. First the good news ‚Äď people still tended to be polite and helpful to a colleague in need. When the request to cut in was offered with a meaningful reason, 42% of the respondents still stepped back and let their colleague cut in ‚Äď even for the larger request. However, there was no difference in compliance between just asking ("Excuse me. I have 25 copies. May I use the Xerox machine?") and the empty reason ("...May I use the Xerox machine because I need to make copies"). In fact, replications of the Xerox study demonstrate that, compared with offering no reason, willingness to comply goes down when the justification for the request is empty (Folkes, 1985.)
So what's going on? When a request is small, the word because triggers a reflexive mental shortcut: The person said "because." If they said "because" THEY must have some reason and if they have a reason ‚Äď even if they can't articulate it well ‚Äď the cost to me is small, so OK, cut in line because whatever it is, it seems important to that person. It's easier to say yes, than to listen carefully to the reason. Under these conditions, any reason will work as long as there is one. Which I know because you said the word because.
However, if the request is large ‚Äď involves potential cost ‚Äď I listen to the justification you give and may actively weigh it against the possible cost of your request. If the reason isn't good, I may comply. But if the reason doesn't make sense, all bets are off.
Applying influence strategies in the decision architecture design works the same way. If you ask me for something relatively painless ‚Äď simple demographic information, perhaps ‚Äď I should be more likely to cooperate if you offer me a reason for doing so. I may not even read your reason ‚Äď as long as it's there. (Do you ever click the links that say "Why we need this info"?) But if you are asking me for something real, your reason better make sense or my momentum will be gone.
So it goes with persuasion tools. They tend to work more reflexively when the situation is ambiguous and cost perceived to be low. But they only work within limits. And, as the replication work shows, they can backfire if you cross the line.
Be mindful chasing compliance with because. Because it has limits.
Langer, E., Blank, A., and Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of ostensibly thoughtful action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 635-642.
Folkes, V.S. (1985). Mindlessness or mindfulness: A partial replication and extension of Langer, Blank and Chanowitz. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48(3), 600-604.
Sign up to get our Newsletter delivered straight to your inbox
HFI may use ‚Äúcookies‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúweb beacons‚ÄĚ to track how Users use the Website. A cookie is a piece of software that a web server can store on Users‚Äô PCs and use to identify Users should they visit the Website again. Users may adjust their web browser software if they do not wish to accept cookies. To withdraw your consent after accepting a cookie, delete the cookie from your computer.
HFI believes that every User should know how it utilizes the information collected from Users. The Website is not directed at children under 13 years of age, and HFI does not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from children under 13 years of age online. Please note that the Website may contain links to other websites. These linked sites may not be operated or controlled by HFI. HFI is not responsible for the privacy practices of these or any other websites, and you access these websites entirely at your own risk. HFI recommends that you review the privacy practices of any other websites that you choose to visit.
HFI is based, and this website is hosted, in the United States of America. If User is from the European Union or other regions of the world with laws governing data collection and use that may differ from U.S. law and User is registering an account on the Website, visiting the Website, purchasing products or services from HFI or the Website, or otherwise using the Website, please note that any personally identifiable information that User provides to HFI will be transferred to the United States. Any such personally identifiable information provided will be processed and stored in the United States by HFI or a service provider acting on its behalf. By providing your personally identifiable information, User hereby specifically and expressly consents to such transfer and processing and the uses and disclosures set forth herein.
In the course of its business, HFI may perform expert reviews, usability testing, and other consulting work where personal privacy is a concern. HFI believes in the importance of protecting personal information, and may use measures to provide this protection, including, but not limited to, using consent forms for participants or ‚Äúdummy‚ÄĚ test data.
HFI may use personally identifiable information collected through the Website for the specific purposes for which the information was collected, to process purchases and sales of products or services offered via the Website if any, to contact Users regarding products and services offered by HFI, its parent, subsidiary and other related companies in order to otherwise to enhance Users‚Äô experience with HFI. HFI may also use information collected through the Website for research regarding the effectiveness of the Website and the business planning, marketing, advertising and sales efforts of HFI. HFI does not sell any User information under any circumstances.
HFI may disclose personally identifiable information collected from Users to its parent, subsidiary and other related companies to use the information for the purposes outlined above, as necessary to provide the services offered by HFI and to provide the Website itself, and for the specific purposes for which the information was collected. HFI may disclose personally identifiable information at the request of law enforcement or governmental agencies or in response to subpoenas, court orders or other legal process, to establish, protect or exercise HFI‚Äôs legal or other rights or to defend against a legal claim or as otherwise required or allowed by law. HFI may disclose personally identifiable information in order to protect the rights, property or safety of a User or any other person. HFI may disclose personally identifiable information to investigate or prevent a violation by User of any contractual or other relationship with HFI or the perpetration of any illegal or harmful activity. HFI may also disclose aggregate, anonymous data based on information collected from Users to investors and potential partners. Finally, HFI may disclose or transfer personally identifiable information collected from Users in connection with or in contemplation of a sale of its assets or business or a merger, consolidation or other reorganization of its business.
If a User includes such User‚Äôs personally identifiable information as part of the User posting to the Website, such information may be made available to any parties using the Website. HFI does not edit or otherwise remove such information from User information before it is posted on the Website. If a User does not wish to have such User‚Äôs personally identifiable information made available in this manner, such User must remove any such information before posting. HFI is not liable for any damages caused or incurred due to personally identifiable information made available in the foregoing manners. For example, a User posts on an HFI-administered forum would be considered Personal Information as provided by User and subject to the terms of this section.
Information about Users that is maintained on HFI‚Äôs systems or those of its service providers is protected using industry standard security measures. However, no security measures are perfect or impenetrable, and HFI cannot guarantee that the information submitted to, maintained on or transmitted from its systems will be completely secure. HFI is not responsible for the circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures relating to the Website by any Users or third parties.
Human Factors International, Inc.
PO Box 2020
1680 highway 1, STE 3600
Fairfield IA 52556
HFI reserves the right to cancel any course up to 14 (fourteen) days prior to the first day of the course. Registrants will be promptly notified and will receive a full refund or be transferred to the equivalent class of their choice within a 12-month period. HFI is not responsible for travel expenses or any costs that may be incurred as a result of cancellations.
$100 processing fee if cancelling within two weeks of course start date.
4 Pack + Exam registration: Rs. 10,000 per participant processing fee (to be paid by the participant) if cancelling or transferring the course (4 Pack-CUA/CXA) registration before three weeks from the course start date. No refund or carry forward of the course fees if cancelling or transferring the course registration within three weeks before the course start date.
Individual Modules: Rs. 3,000 per participant ‚Äėper module‚Äô processing fee (to be paid by the participant) if cancelling or transferring the course (any Individual HFI course) registration before three weeks from the course start date. No refund or carry forward of the course fees if cancelling or transferring the course registration within three weeks before the course start date.
Exam: Rs. 3,000 per participant processing fee (to be paid by the participant) if cancelling or transferring the pre agreed CUA/CXA exam date before three weeks from the examination date. No refund or carry forward of the exam fees if requesting/cancelling or transferring the CUA/CXA exam within three weeks before the examination date.
There will be no audio or video recording allowed in class. Students who have any disability that might affect their performance in this class are encouraged to speak with the instructor at the beginning of the class.
The course and training materials and all other handouts provided by HFI during the course are published, copyrighted works proprietary and owned exclusively by HFI. The course participant does not acquire title nor ownership rights in any of these materials. Further the course participant agrees not to reproduce, modify, and/or convert to electronic format (i.e., softcopy) any of the materials received from or provided by HFI. The materials provided in the class are for the sole use of the class participant. HFI does not provide the materials in electronic format to the participants in public or onsite courses.