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Be more convincing with these mind hacks

Suppose you must write a message that you want the recipients to believe. Of course, your message will be true, but that is not necessarily enough for people to believe that it is true. It is entirely legitimate for you to enlist cognitive ease to work in your favor, and studies of truth illusions provide specific suggestions that may help you achieve this goal.

The general principle is that anything you can do to reduce cognitive strain will help, so you should first maximize legibility. Compare these two statements: Adolf Hitler was born in 1892. Adolf Hitler was born in 1887. Both are false (Hitler was born in 1889), but experiments have shown that the first is more likely to be believed.

More advice: if your message is to be printed, use high-quality paper to maximize the contrast between characters and their background. If you use color, you are more likely to be believed if your text is printed in bright blue or red than in middling shades of green, yellow, or pale blue.

If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simpler language will do. My Princeton colleague Danny Oppenheimer refuted a myth prevalent among undergraduates about the vocabulary that professors find most impressive. In an article titled “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly,” he showed that couching familiar ideas in pretentious language is taken as a sign of poor intelligence and low credibility.

In addition to making your message simple, try to make it memorable. Put your ideas in verse if you can; they will be more likely to be taken as truth. Participants in a much cited experiment read dozens of unfamiliar aphorisms, such as: Woes unite foes. Little strokes will tumble great oaks. A fault confessed is half redressed. Other students read some of the same proverbs transformed into non-rhyming versions: Woes unite enemies. Little strokes will tumble great trees. A fault admitted is half redressed. The aphorisms were judged more insightful when they rhymed than when they did not.

Finally, if you quote a source, choose one with a name that is easy to pronounce. Participants in an experiment were asked to evaluate the prospects of fictitious Turkish companies on the basis of reports from two brokerage firms. For each stock, one of the reports came from an easily pronounced name (e.g., Artan) and the other report came from a firm with an unfortunate name (e.g., Taahhut). The reports sometimes disagreed. The best procedure for the observers would have been to average the two reports, but this is not what they did. They gave much more weight to the report from Artan than to the report from Taahhut.

This tidbit is from the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

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