Stop for a second…why are you reading this?
If your response to my question surprised or spurred you to think about the answer to that question, congratulations, you’re probably human, and you’ve just experienced the powerful effect of questioning.
Most marketers and content creators aren’t new to the concept of using questions to engage people, but a new study spanning over 40 years of research, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, reveals exactly what’s going on in the brain when you ask a question, and just how powerful it can be in changing our behavior. The study also reveals that not all questions are created equal.
These are important findings for marketers and content creators looking to maximize engagement techniques.
The question-behavior effect is a phenomenon studied by psychologists in which simply asking about performing a certain behavior influences whether or not that person will perform the behavior in the future. The influence of this effect is so great that it’s been shown to last over six months after the question was asked.
Good question. Because of the complexity of language and the ways in which it is connected to many different levels of processing in the brain, from basic sensory responses all the way up to complicated reasoning, there are likely a number of key processes that take place.
According to the study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, there are four psychological processes that can explain the effect: attitudes, consistency, fluency, and motivation.
These mediating processes that take place when a question is asked hint at the complexity of the question-behavior phenomenon and some of the ways we should and shouldn’t go about employing questions in a creative strategy.
Another recent study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology points to exactly when and how asking a question can be most effective in changing a behavior.
Don’t you think $730 is worth it for a life insurance plan?
This question doesn’t establish personal relevance and seems impractical (there’s a significant financial barrier). It activates negative attitudes toward financial expense, and the question doesn’t make action easy because it doesn’t reference a behavioral intention.
Let’s make the intended action clear:
Would you spend $730 on a life insurance plan?
Let’s improve the connection to norms about staying healthy:
Would you spend $730 to protect your health?
Let’s improve the motivation to act by making the action more practical and less negative financially:
Would you spend $2 a day to protect your health?
Let’s make it personally relevant:
Across the country, 2,000 people just like you will die of a heart attack tomorrow. Would you spend $2 a day to protect your health?
Understanding the specific mechanisms at work in our brain when a question is asked can help us determine the right time, place, and ways to go about using questions as a successful engagement technique in our content marketing strategies.
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