Worth Comparing: “More Than” Statements Are More Persuasive

Quick: which of these two statements do a better job persuading you that there’s an imbalance between what men and women earn in the workplace: Women make 21 percent less than men, or Men make 21 percent more than women. If you picked the second statement, new research is here to back you up. When it comes to making comparisons, “more than” statements are the way to go.

These results come from a series of studies involving hundreds of participants and conducted by psychologists Vera Hoorens and Susanne Bruckmüller. The findings, published in the November 2015 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggest that statements about differences using the formula “A is more than B” are more persuasive than those using the formula “B is less than A.”

For instance, one study asked 60 students at a university in the Netherlands to answer a questionnaire about their views on men and women. The students were instructed to note how much they agreed or disagreed with 20 statements about men and women, such as “men act more ambitiously than women” and “men show more false modesty than women.” Some of the statements used “more than” wording, while others used “less than” wording.

Importantly, the statements were varied as to whether they supported gender stereotypes, as well as whether the attributes were considered positive or negative.

The researchers found that participants were more likely to agree with statements when they used “more than” wording than they did when the statements used “less than” wording.

Another study tested whether “more than” language could influence how likely a person is to believe that a statement is true. Seventy-nine participants were asked to take a “gender differences quiz” where they rated a series of statements about men and women as true or false. The statements were drawn from surveys done by market researchers to make sure that participants weren’t influenced by stereotypes, and referred to everyday activities (such as “listening to the radio [or] owning a pet fish”) as well as general attitudes (such as “willingness to spend money for higher quality”). The surveys indicated that, for these particular behaviors and attitudes, there was no gender difference in real life.

The results show that the “more than” effect holds true even in terms of convincing people of the truth or falseness of a statement. Participants were “more likely to think that the statements were true if they were in the ‘more than’ style…than if they were in the ‘less than’ style,” the researchers said.

This is because statements that use “more than” are easier for us to process mentally than statements using the “less than” format, the researchers explain.

The findings have implications for communicators. “’[M]ore than’ messages are more convincing than ‘less than’ messages,” the researchers note, and people may even be more likely to change their attitudes about a topic when asked to agree with a statement using a “more than” comparison.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Vera Hoorens, University of Leuven
Susanne Bruckmüller, University of Koblenz-Landau

Posted: January 6, 2016
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