[email protected]: “People use words to communicate what they think, feel and believe. But for social psychologists, words can do far more than convey one’s thoughts and emotions. The right combination of words can boost persuasiveness; it can forecast which ads will prompt people to share them and thus go viral. Exposure to the right kinds of words also can spur behavioral changes; word choices can encourage readers to keep perusing long-form content. Words can even predict how well a business could do. At the second annual Behavioral Insights from Text Conference held recently at Wharton, academics from various disciplines came together to share their research on text analysis using natural language processing and related tools. Several of the studies shared a common trait: persuasiveness. Whether it is prompting someone to adopt a pet, click on an online dating profile, share content on social media or keep reading a long blog, choosing the right words can make one more persuasive.
There are two routes people take to persuade, according to David Markowitz, assistant professor of social media data analytics at the University of Oregon. One is the “central route” where people communicate the main purpose of their appeal. This goes to the heart of the message. For example, when a bank customer applies for a home equity loan, he or she can convey to the lender that the funds will be used for a kitchen remodeling. Here, more information is better. “The more words you actually provide in your piece of text, the more likely that persuasion is going to occur,” Markowitz said. The writing style also has an important impact on persuasion. Text that is written more concretely is more persuasive, he added – that is, using words that can be observed by the senses, such as things, places and people, compared to abstract terms such as justice or peace.
The second route of persuasion is “peripheral.” Words that exist on the sidelines of the central message — such as social references like ‘best friend’ or adding descriptions including color or shape — are peripheral, Markowitz said. Such words are added to the main message usually in the belief that it would boost persuasiveness. Instead, his research showed that it could backfire. “These can actually undermine persuasion,” Markowitz said…”