Home > Cognitive Bias > Rhyming for a Reason: Why Rhyming Slogans are More Effective in Communicating Big Ideas

Rhyming for a Reason: Why Rhyming Slogans are More Effective in Communicating Big Ideas

If you’ve been to a college or interacted with a college student, you know how demanding the academic requirements are. Would you believe me if I said, “C’s get diplomas”? Sure. That makes sense, after a minute of thinking… But what if I had said, “C’s get degrees”? Boom. Got it. You’ve probably heard that one before, and there’s a reason why. The second statement communicates the main idea quicker than the first, even though both convey the same message. 

The Rhyme as Reason Effect (also called the Eaton-Rosen Effect) is the phenomenon that occurs when a person believes that a saying is more accurate when it rhymes. By contrast, a saying that means the same thing, but does not rhyme, is judged as less accurate. Like the example above. A second example that you’ve probably heard before is the saying, “What sobriety conceals, alcohol

“A drunk mind speaks a sober heart” — Jean-Jacques Rousseau

reveals.” This is judged as more accurate than, “What sobriety hides, alcohol reveals,” or “What sobriety conceals, alcohol shows,” even though all three statements are saying the exact same thing. So now you may be asking, why does this happen? Is it just because rhyming phrases are more fun to say, or is something else going on? Let’s think about this. 

The first thing to know is that humans have a distinct preference for rhyming. In a study done by Rhodes and Kelley (2003), participants were given nonword-word and word-nonword pairs to study (for example: a nonword-word pair would be PINGLE-SINGLE). Then, during a test, participants were asked to recognize if they had seen the pairs before. The researchers found that participants often “remembered” seeing a rhyming pair that hadn’t been presented to them at all. The experimenters attributed this to one of two things. The first possibility is a familiarity effect, or a preference for things you are more familiar with. And, the second possibility is the fact that rhyming words are processed more fluently (quickly) than non-rhyming words.

One reason for fluency is that the way you process the first word is under similar enough conditions that it prompts (cues) you to think of the second. So, in a situation where the second word doesn’t rhyme (like ‘diplomas’), you’re less likely to remember that word because it won’t be processed in the same way. However, when you have a situation where the second word does rhyme (like ‘degrees’), the two words become linked in memory, which increases the accuracy of your recall. Think back to the example at the beginning and consider which statement comes to mind first. You probably thought of “C’s get degrees” first. This is because ‘C’s’ and ‘diplomas’ don’t rhyme, but ‘C’s’ and ‘degrees’ do. And, when you remember something more easily, you think about it more often and are more likely to believe that it’s true.

This cuing and recognition process is also automatic. In other words, it happens quickly and without much, if any, input from you. By contrast, something that is a controlled process takes time and energy to think through. One example of this is learning to read.

“Let’s start at the very beginning…. When you read you begin with ABC” — ‘Do Re Mi’ from the Sound of Music

When you first learn to read, the process is controlled and slow. You are sounding out letters and words. But, once you get good at it, the process becomes automatic. This means you are able to read an entire blog post like this one quickly and without much effort. Anyways…. The fact that recognizing rhyming words is so automatic means that rhymes are primed (cued) in our memories to be associated with each other more quickly, especially when the rhymes appear one after the other (Niemi, Vauras, & von Wright, 1980) . 

So, how does this rhyming association impact catchy little phrases like “C’s get degrees” or “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?” It’s been demonstrated that people judge rhyming slogans to be more likeable, more memorable, more persuasive, and more trustworthy than non-rhyming slogans (Filkuková & Klempe, 2013). This effect was less noticeable for social advertising, such as human rights issues or environmental activism campaigns, than it was for product advertising, such as ads for Coke or cars. Researchers contribute this to the fact that people often already have an opinion on social issues and would be less likely to be persuaded to change their opinion by a slogan. This explains why we hear slogans and words of wisdom that rhyme and immediately judge them to be more accurate than if we heard the same message without the rhymes.

The implications of the Rhyme as Reason effect reach far and wide. I’ve already touched on the fact that advertising slogans that rhyme are judged as more persuasive than those that don’t. Political slogans work the same way. For instance, does “No taxation without representation” sound familiar? And, we all know plenty of sayings that offer words of wisdom that have been passed down over many, many years, such as: “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” “Birds of a feather, flock together,” and, of course, “C’s get degrees.” In fact, now that you are aware of this effect, don’t be surprised if you start noticing rhyming phrases everywhere. It’s super annoying!

I’ve thrown a lot at you here… how does all this demonstrate that rhyming slogans are more effective in communicating big ideas? Well, since rhyming phrases are processed more fluently, cue other rhymes, and are judged as more likeable than non-rhyming phrases we like to keep them around. Think back to when you were a kid. Did you ever hear the

“Oscar Mayer has a way with B-O-L-O-G-N-A” – 1970’s Oscar Mayer bologna ad

Oscar Mayer Bologna song? (If not, check out the video). It rhymes! Not to mention, Oscar Mayer is still a huge brand name in bologna, 46 years later. 

Rhymes. We hum them, we repeat them, they’re catchy! Rhyming phrases become familiar to us and start to spread to others. Through rhyming slogans we end up with little phrases that communicate big ideas.

So now you know, there’s a reason why we rhyme!

 

 

 

 

 

References

Filkuková, P. & Klempe, S. H. (2013). Rhyme as reason in commercial and social advertising. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 54, 423–431. https://doi.org/10.1111/sjop.12069 

Niemi, P., Vauras, M., & von Wright, J. (1980). Semantic activation due to synonym, antonym, and rhyme production. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 21(2), 103-107. https://doi-org.colby.idm.oclc.org/10.1111/j.1467-9450.1980.tb00347.x

Rhodes, M. G., & Kelley, C. M. (2003). The ring of familiarity: False familiarity due to rhyming primes in item and associative recognition. Journal of Memory and Language, 48(3), 581-595. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0749-596X(02)00534-X

  1. December 3rd, 2019 at 15:59 | #1

    It is interesting that this effect is so prominent because rhyming just seems to be more pleasant but truly the accuracy of a statement can rely on the sound. Additionally, the memory and recognition of rhyming words is enhanced in comparison to words that do not rhyme. I am wondering if this is related to why song lyrics or statements that are sung to a tune are better remembered? Could it have to do with the cadence of the statement?

  2. December 5th, 2019 at 22:39 | #2

    Hey, I find the rhyming as reason effect really intriguing and it makes me start to think more about how I perceive and understand the slogans I encounter on the Internet, news and campus posters. The rhyming ones I definitely remember better but I felt kind of unclear about if I find them as more true.There might be a sequence of first, rhyming slogans are more likely to become popular and seen with higher frequency, second, people use their previous knowledge for judgment and assume what they are more familiar with as the truth. This procedure further enriches people’s previous knowledge and probably will lead to more and more significant and strong rhyming as reason effects.

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