As humans, we use language as a tool for communication. We usually consider our use of and response to communication to be thoughtful and reasonable.
A study by psychologist Ellen Langer may suggest otherwise. Langer’s study consisted of asking a favor of individuals using a photocopier. The request was proposed one of three ways. First, there was the standard request, “Excuse me, I have five pages. Can I use the Xerox machine?” Of this group, 60% conceded and let her use the machine before them. The second question, “Excuse me, I have five pages. Can I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”, prompted a 94% positive response. It appears these individuals were more likely to be thoughtful because she was pressed for time; that is, until you find that her control question, “Excuse me, I have five pages. Can I use the Xerox machine because I need to make some copies?”, got a 93% response rate.
The people in this study were likely to respond positively when provided with a reason, no matter how irrational it was. Perhaps our responses aren’t as reasonable as we had thought. On the topic of psychology, did you know that the Piraha people of the Amazon actively resist the introduction of a number system in their language? In English, we do have numbers, which allows me to point out that today is the 15th already – the month is almost halfway through! Thanks for reading!