Over at the blog Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong takes a look at a fascinating study by Christopher Bryan on using the power of words to create action:
"Countries around the world have tried many tactics to encourage people to vote, from easier access to polling stations to mandatory registration. But Christopher Bryan from Stanford University has found a startlingly simple weapon for increasing voter turnout – the noun. Through a simple linguistic tweak, he managed to increase the proportion of voters in two groups of Americans by at least 10 percentage points.
During the 2008 presidential election, Bryan recruited 34 Californians who were eligible to vote but hadn’t registered yet. They all completed a survey which, among other questions, asked them either “How important is it to you to be a voter in the upcoming election?” or “How important is it to you to vote in the upcoming election?”
It was the tiniest of tweaks – the noun-focused “voter” versus the verb-focused “vote” – but it was a significant one. Around 88% of the noun group said they were very or extremely interested in registering to vote, compared to just 56% of the verb group.Why is this so?
In two later experiments, Bryan showed that these claims translate into actual votes. The day before the 2008 election, he sent his survey to 133 Californians who were registered to vote but hadn’t yet. After the election was over, Bryan used official state records to work out what his recruits had actually done. The results were clear: 82% of the people who read the “vote” question eventually filled in their ballots, compared to 96% of those who read the “be a voter” question."
"Bryan thinks that the subtle change from “vote” to “be a voter” plays off two psychological quirks. First, when we use predicate nouns to describe ourselves, we see the words as reflections of our essential qualities. This creates a far stronger impression than verbs do – it’s the difference which defining who we are, versus to what we do. As Bryan writes, “People may be more likely to vote when voting is represented as an expression of self – as symbolic of a person’s fundamental character – rather than as simply a behaviour.”(Emphasis mine)
Second, when we use predicate nouns to describe future behaviour (“to be a voter”), we not only reflect on our qualities, but on the qualities of the people we could be. These words offer a vision of a future identity that’s up for grabs. And voting, regardless of whether people do it or not, is generally seen as positive and worthy – it’s something that people feel they should do. “Using noun-based wording to frame socially valued future behaviour allows individuals, by performing the behaviour, to assume the identity of a worthy person,” writes Bryan."
What we learn from this experiment is that people make decisions based on their own concept of identity. This topic keeps recurring in this blog because it's a fundamental aspect of human behavior. (Previous posts here and here)
Identity is the frame through which we view the world and make decisions. Do you listen to metal or are you a Metalhead? Do you like delicious food or are you a Foodie? Do you support local music shows or are you a Local Music Supporter?
There's a huge difference between the two.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.