The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #112 — More nouns = more clicks

picture of someone pressing a button at a smartphoneIf you’ve ever had to name a button on a website, app, or landing page, then you’ve probably had the moment where you’re going back and forth between options.  Do I name the button “Sign up” or “Register”?  Do I use “Donate Now” or “Be a Donor”?

Is there a way to word requests, or buttons that encourages people to take action?

Gregory Walton at Stanford studies connectedness and affiliation between people. In a series of experiments, he tested how different labels affect behavior. We tend to think that preferences and attitudes are stable. People like opera or they don’t. People like to go dancing or they don’t. Walton thought these attitudes and preferences might not be so stable after all. Maybe how people think of themselves—and how that influences their behavior—is more temporary and fluid. And maybe whether they act, or not, can be influenced by labels.

He conducted a series of experiments to test this out. In the first experiment, participants evaluated the preferences of others described with noun labels or with verbs:

“Jennifer is a classical music listener.”

or

“Jennifer listens to classical music a lot.”

He tested a wide variety:

Author

  • X is a Shakespeare reader.
  • X reads Shakespeare a lot.

Beverage

  • X is a coffee drinker.
  • X drinks coffee a lot.

Dessert

  • X is a chocolate eater.
  • X eats chocolate a lot.

Mac/PC

  • X is a PC person.
  • X uses PCs a lot.

Movie

  • X is an Austin Powers buff.
  • X watches Austin Powers a lot.

Music

  • X is a classical music listener.
  • X listens to classical music a lot.

Outdoors

  • X is an indoor person.
  • X spends a lot of time indoors.

Pet

  • X is a dog person.
  • X enjoys dogs a lot.

Pizza

  • X is a Pepe’s pizza eater.
  • X eats Pepe’s pizza a lot.

Sleeping time

  • X is a night person.
  • X stays up late.

Sports

  • X is a baseball fan.
  • X watches baseball a lot.

Walton tried to use statements that are used in conversation, for example, “Beth is a baseball fan,” and “Beth watches a lot of baseball.” He didn’t use “Beth is a baseball watcher,” even though that’s technically a better word match.

He found that when people read nouns to describe other peoples’ attitudes they judged those attitudes to be stronger and more stable than when the attitudes were described with the verbs.

In a second experiment, he used similar sentences and had people describe themselves. People would fill in the blanks, for example:

Dessert

  • I’m a ___ lover. (chocolate . . .)
  • I eat ___ a lot. (chocolate . . .)

Mac/PC

  • I’m a ___ person. (Mac/PC)
  • I use ___ a lot. (Mac/PC)

Outdoors

  • I’m an ___ person. (outdoors/indoors)
  • I spend a lot of time ___. (outdoors/indoors)

After the participants had filled in the blanks, Walton asked them to rate their strengths and preferences. For example, on a scale from one to seven:

  • “How strong is your preference for this topic?”
  • “How likely is it that your preference for this topic will remain the same in the next five years?”
  • “How likely is it that your preference for this topic would remain the same if you were surrounded by friends who did not enjoy what you prefer?”

When the nouns were “regular” (i.e, not made-up words or phrases) then participants evaluated their preferences as being stronger.

To vote? Or to be a voter

Christopher Bryan and Gregory Walton (2011) conducted additional studies to see if this idea of nouns and verbs would affect voting.

They contacted people who were eligible to vote, but hadn’t registered yet (in California in the United States). The participants completed one of two versions of a brief survey.

One group of participants answered a short set of questions that referred to voting with a noun:

“How important is it to you to be a voter in the upcoming election?”

Another group answered similar questions worded with a verb:

“How important is it to you to vote in the upcoming election?”

The researchers’ hypothesis was that using the noun would create more interest among the participants, and that they’d be more likely to register to vote. After completing the survey, the participants were told that to vote they would need to register and they were asked to indicate how interested they were in registering. Participants in the noun group expressed significantly more interest (62.5 percent) in registering to vote than participants in the verb group (38.9 percent).

Bryan and Walton didn’t stop there. They recruited California residents who were registered to vote but hadn’t yet voted by mail. They used the same noun and verb groups the day before or the morning of the election.

They then used official state records to determine whether or not each participant had voted in the election. As they had predicted, participants in the noun condition voted at a significantly higher rate than participants in the verb condition (11 percent higher).

They ran the test again in New Jersey for a different election and, again, the people in the noun group voted more than those in the verb group.

Invoking a group identity — I have a theory about this, too. In How to Get People to Do Stuff, I wrote that everyone has a need to belong. Using a noun invokes group identity. You’re a voter, or you’re a member, or you’re a donor. When you ask people to do something and phrase it as a noun rather than a verb, you’re invoking that sense of belonging to a group and people are much more likely to comply with your request.

Takeaways

  • When naming a button on a form or landing page, consider using a noun, not a verb: “Be a member” or “Be a donor” instead of “Donate now.”
  • When writing a description of a product or service, use nouns instead of verbs. For example, say, “When you’re ready to be an expert, check out our training courses,” rather than “Check out our training courses.”
  • Use common nouns. Don’t make up words just to have a noun.

If you liked this article, and want more info like it, check out my newest book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People.

The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #111 — When People Feel Connected, They Work Harder

Gregory Walton is a professor at Stanford who has studied the important effects of belonging on behavior. In one of his experiments, Walton (2012) found that when college students believed they shared a birthday with another student, they were more motivated to complete a task with that student and performed better on the task than if they were not told about any connection. He found the same effect with four- and five-year-olds.

Tandem Bicycle

In another experiment with Walton, David Cwir (2011) had people who were part of the experiment jog in place in pairs, raising their heart. Participants who felt they were socially connected to their running partner (for example, were told they had the same birthday) had an increase in their heart rate as the other person’s heart rate increased from jogging. They also rated the other person as being more connected to them than people who were not told they had the same birthday.

Cwir and Walton concluded that it’s easy for people to take on the goals, motivations, emotions, and even physical reactions of people whom they feel even minimally connected to.

The social facilitation effect — When people think they’re working together, they work better and longer, and enjoy it more. Research on the “social facilitation effect” goes all the way back to 1920. Floyd Allport (1920) conducted a series of experiments with male college students. In some situations, students worked on word association or writing tasks in a room alone; in other situations, they worked in a group, although all the work was done individually. Allport controlled carefully for things like light and noise.

Here’s what he found:

  • People working in a group came up with ideas faster (from 66% to up to 93% faster) than people working alone.
  • People working in a group came up with more ideas than people working alone.
  • Most individuals did better in the group settings, but a few people who were, in Allport’s words, “nervous and excitable,” showed no difference or a slight decrease when they were with the group.

Priyanka Carr and Gregory Walton (2014) did a more recent series of experiments where they implied that people were working together, when actually everyone was working alone.

In the psychologically together group, participants were told that the study investigated how people work on puzzles together and that they and the other participants would each work on a puzzle called the “map puzzle.” Participants in this together group were told that, after working on the puzzle for several minutes, they would either be asked to write a tip for another person working on the puzzle, or they would receive a tip from another participant also working on the map puzzle. The experimenter explained the puzzle, told the participant to take as much or as little time as they wanted on the puzzle, and then left the room.

A few minutes later the experimenter came back and gave the participant a tip that said, “Here’s a tip one of the other participants here today wrote for you to help you as you work on the puzzle.” The tip was actually from the experimenter, but was presented as though it was from another participant. It had a “To” line with the participant’s first name, and a “From” line with the supposed first name of another participant.

In the psychologically separate group, the experimenter told participants that the research investigated how people work on puzzles and that they would work on a puzzle called the “map puzzle.” The instructions implied that the other participants in the study were working on the same puzzle but no mention was made of working together.

Participants in this separate group were told that, after working on the puzzle for several minutes, they would either be asked to write a tip for or would receive a tip from the experimenter about the puzzle. When they received a tip it said, “Here’s a tip we wrote for you to help you as you work on the puzzle” and it was presented as being from the experimenter. Instead of “To” and “From,” there was a “For” line with the participant’s first name. Otherwise the instructions were the same as for the psychologically together group.

The participants in the together group worked longer on the puzzle, rated the puzzle as being more enjoyable, performed better, and were more likely to choose to work on a related task one to two weeks later than those in the separate group.

Takeaways:

  • When you want your target audience to feel connected to your brand or product, point out anything that you share in common with them.
  • When you’re designing in a team, make sure to point out things that the team members have in common, even if they seem small and superficial.

Here’s the research references:

Allport, Floyd Henry. 1920. “The Influence of the Group Upon Association and Thought.” Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3: 159-182.

Carr, P. B. and Gregory Walton. (2014). Cues of working together fuel intrinsic motivation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 169-184.

Cwir, D., P.B. Carr, Gregory Walton, and S.J. Spencer. 2011. “Your heart makes my heart move: Cues of social connectedness cause shared emotions and physiological states among strangers.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 661-664.

Walton, Gregory M., Geoffrey Cohen, David Cwir, and Steven Spencer. 2012. “Mere belonging: The power of social connections.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(3): 513–32. DOI: 10.1037/a0025731
If you liked this article, and want more info like it, check out my newest book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People.

365 Ways to Persuade And Motivate: #5 Point Out How People Are Connected

picture of a man jogging in placeWhen people feel connected to each other then they are more motivated to work together. Even pointing out how people are connected in small ways affects behavior.

Gregory Walton is a professor at Stanford who has studied the effects of belonging on behavior. In one of his experiments, Walton found that when college students believed they shared a birthday with another student, they were more motivated to complete a task with that student and performed better on the task. He found the same effect with four and five year olds.

In another study Walton put two people in a room. One was a study participant and the other was part of the experiment. Walton told the participant that they had the same birthday as the other person in the room. When the other person  jogged in place and raised his or her heart rate the participant’s heart rate went up too, even though he or she was not jogging in place, as long as Walton had established a connection (i.e., the same birthday). Walton concluded that it’s easy for people to take on the goals, motivations, emotions, and even physical reactions of people whom they feel even minimally connected to.

In other research Walton found that when people feel they are working with others as a team to reach a goal, they are more motivated to achieve the goal, even without any extrinsic reward, than if they are working alone. They work harder and longer at the task, become more absorbed and perform better.

You can persuade people to work harder and to work together if you have them interact with other people and point out to them two things: that they are connected to the other people and how they are connected.

What do you think? Have you found this to be true?

Here’s a reference for the Gregory Walton studies:

Walton, Gregory M., Geoffrey Cohen, David Cwir, and Steven Spencer. 2012. “Mere belonging: The power of social connections.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 102(3): 513–32. doi: 10.1037/a0025731.

To learn more check out our 1 day seminar on The Science of Persuasion.