The world is full of shady self-help gurus and workplace seminars telling us how we can turn our lives around just by using the right words ("Don't say the cheese is 'spoiled' -- say it's 'aged'!"), as if language is a form of magic that can alter reality.
But here's the thing: The human brain is an odd, glitchy machine that is influenced in all sorts of weird ways you never thought of. This is why politicians and salespeople can trick you into going along with them, just by toying with the words they use. Science is just now catching up to them, and has found that ...
#6. Repeating Your Opinion Makes People Believe It, No Matter How Stupid It Is
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This is one that, sadly, you could have guessed if you follow politics or talk radio: Say it enough, and people will believe it. For example, how many of you think Al Gore claims to have invented the Internet? He said no such thing -- but pundits and comedians repeated it enough that it became truth. It's the same reason anti-vaccination zealots stick to their guns, even while they cause diseases to spread like wildfire. They "heard" vaccines were dangerous, and that's literally all it takes -- hearing it over and over. Even if the source is a total stranger and/or an idiot.
Why It Works:
It's just the way human social behavior works -- if a message is repeated enough times, others will begin to accept it as a commonly held belief in the group. In fact, studies have found that if just one person repeats the same opinion three times, it has a whopping 90 percent chance of converting three different people in the group to have the same opinion. Holy shit, that's how both politics and conspiracy theories work, isn't it?
And Internet forums!
Researchers at the University of Michigan have come to call the phenomenon memory distortion, and it's basically a brain glitch where the interplay of repetition and assumption makes us form our beliefs around whatever opinion is the most familiar to us.
But what makes it so treacherous is the fact that all it takes to sway people's beliefs is one crazy person. Hell, it doesn't even work all that well with multiple people: A study on the phenomenon exposed one group to an opinion repeated by three different people, another to that same opinion repeated by one person multiple times. Incredibly, the group subjected to one single guy repeating the opinion was three times more susceptible to changing their own opinions than the others. Even when we actively register that it's just one person spouting bullshit, we're still likely to believe it.
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"If you look past the tinfoil hat, rambling incoherence, and trench coat covered in pigeon crap, he actually makes a lot of sense."
In other words, people who are obsessive or dickish enough to keep repeating a wrong idea have a natural advantage in human society, and probably always have. Yeah, that whole "Hitler" thing is starting to make a lot more sense, right?
#5. Imitating People Makes Them Give You Things
If you work in a profession where tips make up a significant portion of your income, it's crucial that your customers see you as a pleasant enough person to, well, tip. It's good luck, then, that it's entirely possible to use a simple "repeated words" trick to sway people in your favor, to the point where they're way more likely to give you money.
All you need to do is repeat the last few words they said (well, that, and generally behave in a not-kicking-them-in-the-junk-because-they-asked-for-more-bread-sticks manner, but we're hoping that kind of goes without saying). And it's actually part of a broader set of techniques that every politician and con artist knows: You can bring people to your side -- and get them to do things for you -- just by imitating them.
Much of France was ruled by parrots until 1589, when peasants learned how to stick their fingers in their ears.
Why It Works:
It comes up in study after study -- the power of mimicry in social situations. Humans are social animals, and we all have a switch that flips in our brain that says, "This person is like me, therefore I should help them." In one study, they found that customers were more likely to buy from salespeople who repeated phrases they used, or their mannerisms. That's right, it doesn't even have to be verbal -- in another experiment cited in the link above, if the researcher mimicked the posture and body language of the subject, the subject was three times as likely to help him pick up a box of pens he'd dropped.
So in the Dutch study mentioned above that explored the relationship between mimicry and generous tips, they first went into a restaurant and calculated an average tip, then told the server to repeat what half of her customers said after ordering, exactly as they said it. With the other half, she would simply say what servers normally say ("We'll get that right out!" or something to that effect). The tips from mimicked customers were a whopping 68 percent more generous than those from the non-mimicked ones. Regardless of factors like the accuracy of the order and wait time, just hearing their words repeated back to them put them in a more positive, giving state of mind.
"Liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa, coming right up!"
Of course, there's presumably a limit to how much you should mimic a person. You can test it by following people around the office, parroting their every sentence, and log how much time passes before they finally turn around and stab you.
#4. Resist Temptation by Saying "Don't" Instead of "Can't"
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One reason why successful dieting is borderline impossible is because there is a complicated psychology behind cravings that science barely understands. For example, one study found that, bizarrely, you can screw up somebody's diet just by telling them obesity is a disease.
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"And you, my friend, are my Ebola virus."
So for example, when you have a friend who's dieting, you can usually judge how successful they'll be based on a single word. When shown a doughnut or a deep-fried stick of butter, do they say, "I can't eat that?"
If so, they're probably screwed. What they should have said was "I don't eat that."
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"WELL LA-DEE-DA, MR. PICKY!"
Two letters, but all the difference in the world.
Why It Works:
Researchers did a study where participants were asked to respond with either statement when asked to consider whether they would like an unhealthy snack. They then reported how empowered they felt after and, in the true test, were offered a chocolate bar or a granola bar on the way out the door. Sure enough, 64 percent of the I-don'ts went with the granola bar, while only 39 percent of the I-can'ts took it.
"Good choice ... yup ... no regrets."
It makes sense -- "don't" suggests that the desired item being spoken of is simply never part of the speaker's life; it's something they have actively eliminated themselves, a decision they arrived at personally. "I can't" means there's some external reason barring the speaker from what they truly want, and if this condition (i.e., a temporary diet) didn't exist, they'd be neck deep in chocolate-coated fried chicken. In other words, one phrase is empowering, while the other "inherently signifies deprivation."
These results were repeated in experiments dealing with exercise, too -- it's just easier to resist impulses when you frame it in your mind as "I'm choosing to do this" versus "My Nazi of a doctor is making me." Unless said doctor has a gun to your head, you're eventually going to rebel and do what you "really" want.
And if he does have a gun to your head, you're hallucinating and need to see a real (non-Nazi) doctor.
And somehow, that's only the second-weirdest food entry on this list ...