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Don't Forget to Think

Photo by J. Skilling

Advertising exists to tell you about a product, which can be as simple as "Brand X soap cleans your dishes" or "Restaurant Y serves food." Of course, when there's competition in the market the ads you see need to be a little more descriptive in order to set products apart. For example, a restaurant may serve a reasonably tasty, unhealthy hamburger in under a minute, but why would you choose theirs over another? Because they said so.

According to Dr. Julie Sedivy as you can't really tell the difference between a strong and weak arguments:

A pivotal study by Ellen Langer and colleagues provides one of the earliest demonstrations [regarding the ease of persuasion]. In this experiment, students in a university library were approached by an under-cover experimenter who asked to jump ahead of them in the photocopying line and make a few copies. Sometimes, the experimenter would justify the request by saying "May I use the Xerox machine, because I'm in a rush?" But other times, no explanation was offered. Not surprisingly, students were more reluctant to grant the favor when the experimenter didn't bother to justify the request. But the justification didn't actually have to provide a good reason-it just needed to sound like one. So, students complied just as readily when the experimenter gave a "placebo" explanation that was utterly without content: "May I use the Xerox machine because I need to make some copies?" Apparently, just decorating the sentence with the word because was enough to sway the students.

Basically, if you're not prepared to think—and you often are not when you're watching television or reading a magazine—you'll pretty much accept any suggestion if it is offered to you. Since you're being so passive, you may not even realize it's happening.

What can you do? Think. When your parents used to tell you "because I said so" you probably weren't ready to accept that answer. Don't do it subconsciously when watching an ad. Think about what the ad is saying. Play devil's advocate and consider the negative aspect of the products that definitely aren't being shown to you. It only takes a few seconds to consider that the chalupa you're seeing may or may not contain actual meat. Keep your brain active when you're looking at ads and you'll be better off.

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