Pop quiz time:
How would you persuade kids to drink less soda?
Here’s a surprise: Facts alone are usually a very poor way to persuade people to change their behavior.
This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which says, “Just put it out there! Let people make their own decision!” Yet facts alone are poor persuaders. You can take an idea with the very same principles, apply persuasive methods, and change people’s behavior dramatically more.
For example, researchers from Johns Hopkins studied how to persuade teens to drink less soda. They used signs outside corner shops to test three different approaches:
From the Daily Mail article:
One asked if they knew that the average fizzy drink contained 250 calories, another asked if they knew it was equivalent to ten per cent of their recommended daily intake.
A third asked ‘Did you know that working off a bottle of fizzy drink or fruit juice takes about 50 minutes of running?’
Results showed that providing calorie-related information did cause sales to drop by over a third (40 per cent), but that the physical activity equivalent was most effective, reducing soft drink sales among teens by half.
Instead of just sharing simple facts, they changed the framing — a classic persuasion strategy — and reduced soft drink purchases BY HALF!
What’s fascinating is that if you asked the average person on the street, they would simply say, “Just share the calorie counts. Let people make their own decision.” This is why I call them the unwashed masses.
“But Ramit,” you might say, “that’s paternalism! You’re telling people how to think! We should let people make their own decisions.” We can discuss paternalism later — and in persuasion, I have clear views about ethical persuasion and paternalism — but if your goal is pure behavioral change, know that facts alone are generally unpersuasive.
Btw, what if I asked you to persuade teens to have less sex? Would you…
- “Educate” them on the risks of teen pregnancy? (Educate is always a red flag for pundits who don’t understand persuasion.)
- Show them people who had teen pregnancies and how it affected their lives?
- Show them how teen pregnancy would make you fat and unable to spend time with friends?
The third — the most evocative, visceral effect — might be most persuasive. And in fact, we see that that very approach has been linked to lowering teen birth rates…through MTV’s 16 and Pregnant show.
There are countless examples of highly rigorous, peer-reviewed studies demonstrating time-tested principles of persuasion.
If you read my material, you know that I focus on persuasion and behavioral change. That’s why instead of writing worthless tips about cutting back on lattes, I write about…
- The Psychology of Why You Eat Too Much
- How Do I Stop Being So Damn Lazy?
- Why You Should Be HAPPY to Get a Tax Refund
Why does this matter to you?
Because slowly, email by email, blog post by blog post, I want to help you become masters of persuasion. So you can persuade yourself to change your behavior — to earn more, save more, to find your Dream Job — and to persuade others to live better lives.
Now, I want to ask YOU:
Knowing what you learned about persuasion today, what is ONE area of your life where you can use persuasion to change your behavior? Be specific. Do not just say “I am going to go to the gym more.” Say: “Before, I used to think ___ and it got me ___ results. Today, I learned ___. Now, I am going to change my approach so I get ___ and I am targeting ___ results.”
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