Subject: Cognitive Fluency – Easy = True
Event: “Easy = True” article published in The Boston Globe, 2010
Thinking is hard work, which is why so few people do it. –Henry Ford
On this day in 2010, an article was published in The Boston Globe entitled “Easy = True.” Written by journalist Drake Bennet, the article was about an emergent hot topic in psychology called cognitive fluency. Cognitive fluency is a concept that relates to the ease at which we are able to think about something. It seems obvious, but cognitive fluency reminds us that we don’t like thinking too hard and that the human species has a definite preference for things that are easy to think about. These are the things we pay more attention to and the things that we remember better. As a result, when we are presented with information, the easier it is for us to process, the more valid we perceive it — for example, if it is written in a clear font, if it rhymes, or if it is repeated.
We have a clear, instinctive bias for things that are familiar to us, which makes sense when you think about the way that our brains evolved. Familiar things presented less of a threat, while unfamiliar things required scrutiny, which could be the difference between survival and being poisoned by a plant or eaten by a predator.
One excellent illustration of cognitive fluency comes from the research of psychologist Matthew McGlone. He presented subjects with unfamiliar aphorisms, half of which were written in rhyming form, such as “Woes unite foes.” The other half of the aphorisms were written in non-rhyming forms, such as “Woes unite enemies.” Not only did people find the rhyming aphorisms more pleasing to the ear, but they also rated them as more accurate than their non-rhyming equivalents. McGlone calls his discovery “the rhyme-as-reason effect.” Most of us would intuitively realize that a rhyming slogan was more catchy and easy to remember, but how many of us would guess that the rhyming phrases would also be perceived as more inherently true?
Whether we are delivering or receiving persuasive messages, cognitive fluency has important implications. As stated by psychologist Adam Alter,
Every purchase you make, every interaction you have, every judgment you make can be put along a continuum from fluent to disfluent. If you can understand how fluency influences judgment, you can understand many, many, many different kinds of judgments better than we do at the moment. (1)
Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason: What is cognitive fluency, and how can knowing about it make you more persuasive?
Challenge – Parallel Proverbs: The key ingredients for cooking up a more persuasive, more digestible message are repetition, clarity, and simplicity. Rhyme and alliteration — which involve repetition of sounds — are two of the most common methods of repetition, but a more sophisticated method of repetition is parallelism, which involves the repetition of structure, such as Caesar’s famous declaration, “I came, I saw, I conquered,” which follows the repeated pattern pronoun verb, pronoun verb, pronoun verb. Identify a proverb or aphorism that contains both wisdom parallelism. Explain why you think the proverb is both well written and well reasoned.