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Rhyme as Reason

You snooze - you lose.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Give a hoot - don’t pollute

I before E except after C

Humans have a thing for rhymes. In fact, rhyming in poetry and songs is so pervasive that when you hear lines that don’t rhyme it can seem a bit off, like something is missing.

But we don’t just prefer how rhyming sounds, it also has an effect on how truthful we find the message. We subconsciously believe that messages that rhyme are more valid, accurate and truthful.

The effect was first studied in1999 by 2 psychologists in Pennsylvania and was published in the paper, ““Birds of a feather flock conjointly (?): rhyme as reason in aphorisms.”

This is the “rhyme as reason effect” (also known as the Keats Heuristic) and may have caused you to make a few suboptimal choices in your life. Because the impulse is irrational, giving more credence to information just because it rhymes can distort your ability to make the best decisions.

Why do we feel that rhyming messages are more likely to be true?

First, they are more easily remembered. I can remember that Winston tastes good like a cigarette should, even though I heard that jingle when I was eight years old.

Studies show that we are at least twice as likely to remember rhyming phrases as non-rhyming ones. Since they are easier to recall, rhymes trigger the availability heuristic to kick in. The availability heuristic is the shortcut where we prioritize information that comes to mind quickly and easily when making decisions.

There is also the fluency heuristic at work - assigning more value to information that is easier to process. Rhyming tends to make digesting information smoother so we give it more value.

What can we do with this knowledge?

Understanding that rhymes have an irrational pull can motivate us to gird ourselves against its influence. Have your rhyming radar in place. Notice when information is delivered to you in a rhyme, then ask yourself if you believe it. If so, why? If you answer, “I don’t know, it just sounds right” you may want to either dig deeper or embrace the uncertainty of not knowing.

On the flip side, you may want to take advantage of this quirk in human decision making and look for ways to craft your own messages so they rhyme. Tell you kids, “Homework done? Have some fun. More to do? Fun when you’re through.” Or you may want to tell your boss, “I don’t need praise, just give me a raise.”

While these examples are silly (and praise may be more valuable than a raise anyway), think about an idea or principle you feel strongly about. If you can make it rhyme you may be able to make it stick.

Remember - the more we understand the irrational impulses of our own brains, the better chance we will have of minimizing their influence.

See you later, crocodile. (doesn’t quite work, does it).

Have a safe and happy holiday!

Think well and be well.

- Steve Haffner

Want to learn more about improving your decision performance?

Click here for my free book, 7 Strategies for Making Better Decisions
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