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We’re much more likely to comply with a request if we’re told why we’re being asked. And the good part is… the reason needn’t always be particularly good! Often, we just like to hear “because.”

In a classic set of studies*, experimenters approached students in a photocopier lineup and asked permission to cut in line. They gave either:

  • No reason for the request,
  • A lame reason (like “because I need to make copies”, or “because I don’t want to wait”), or
  • A better reason (like “because I’m in a hurry”, or “because I feel really sick”)

When the stakes were low (“May I cut in line to make 5 copies?”), even the lamest reason resulted in higher compliance than no reason at all. Simply hearing “because” makes us more likely to agree. We assume there must be a reason, and don’t give it much thought.

When the stakes were higher (“May I cut in line to make 25 copies?”), lame reasons ceased to work. We pay more attention, and actually consider whether the reason is good enough.

 

How can I use this principle to make my website more persuasive?

Always provide a reason for your request. Don’t simply ask customers to act.

When asking for something small (like signing up for an email list), even the slightest reason (e.g. “Because we want to send you emails”) is better than none.

When asking for something bigger, you must provide a stronger rationale. Don’t assume your website’s visitors will understand the value of your proposition. Spell it out for them.

*Larger, 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 Larger, Blank and Chanowitz. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48(3) 600-604.

 

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