Home > Cognitive Bias, Language, Memory > Why You Should Take the Time to Rhyme: The Rhyme As Reason Effect

Why You Should Take the Time to Rhyme: The Rhyme As Reason Effect

We’ve all been here…

Think back to your time in elementary school: you are having a running competition with your friends, and you have just won first place. However, your best friend, who got second place, is unhappy with the outcome and blurts out: “First is the worst, second is the best, third is the one with the treasure chest!” Immediately, any feelings of pride or accomplishment from winning the race vanish from your mind, and all you can think about is your friend’s outburst. You even start to believe that she is right… maybe getting second place really is better than getting first place.

 

Why do the presence of rhyming words in a sentence or phrase change our perception of the information received? Is it possible that we are more likely to believe information when it is presented through a rhyming aphorism, or concise statement, rather than when there is no rhyming at all? The Rhyme As Reason Effect seeks to answer this innate yet captivating phenomenon by suggesting: yes, using rhymes in sentences and phrases actually increases their perceived accuracy and trustworthiness when compared to sentences with the same semantic meaning, but without rhyming words.

The classic ‘Humpty Dumpty’ poem is so memorable, in part, because of its rhyming nature.

Examples of the Rhyme as Reason Effect have become so ingrained in our society that we often do not even notice them. Have you ever wondered why children’s books, nursery tunes, and popular phrases often consist of rhymes? Why are statements such as: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away;” “Fake it till you make it;” and “You snooze, you lose!” so universally well-known? Not only are these phrases catchy and concise; they also support the idea that sayings and aphorisms which contain a rhyme or rhymes are remembered more readily and accurately.

 

The suggestion that the presence of rhymes increases trustworthiness in the semantic message or meaning of the aphorism has been tested and proven on both children and adults, which makes the bias applicable to all people, regardless of demographic characteristics such as age, race, gender, and so on. Not only does rhyming increase the aesthetic and phonetic appeal of the sentence or aphorism, however; it also helps in the storage and retrieval aspects of remembering the statement. In other words, a rhyming phrase is usually easier to remember and process! It all starts with an understanding of mnemonics, which are defined as “tools that can be used to improve and assist human memory” (Dove, 2019) . Information that rhymes is more easily encoded due in large part to visual and acoustic encoding. During these processes, each word is broken down into its respective phonemes. The use of rhymes in this encoding aids in understanding the structure and phonetic sound of the words to a deeper extent, which then makes retrieval more efficient!

 

How Have Studies Proven the Rhyme As Reason Effect?

The use of rhymes helps to increase a person’s perceived trustworthiness! In a study titled “Birds of a Feather Flock Conjointly (?): Rhyme as Reason in Aphorisms (McGlone & Tofighbakhsh, 2000), participants rated statements in a rhyming condition as significantly more accurate than similar statements in the non-rhyming condition.

Examples of Rhyming Aphorisms vs. Nonrhyming Aphorisms.

These findings support the idea that phrases and statements that contain rhyming words are perceived as more trustworthy and believable than those that do not contain rhyming parts. Therefore, when participants are made aware of the semantic and poetic characteristics of a phrase, they are less likely to assign one with a higher rating of accuracy over another.

 

Rhyming is contagious, or so it seems. Rapp and Samuel (2002) conducted a study that found that participants who were primed with a rhyming condition produced more rhymes than those that were assigned to the non-rhyme condition.  While most lexical decision tasks are based on semantic meaning and processing, the “A Reason to Rhyme: Phonological and Semantic Influences on Lexical Access” study focused on the interaction between semantic and feature-level characteristics in sentences and aphorisms. Overall, the findings of this study show that participants in the rhyme prime were more likely to produce more rhymes when asked to complete a sentence. This shows that semantic and feature-level qualities are more accessible and easily retrieved when rhyming is included in processing of the word.

 

Shakespeare loves to rhyme; you should too!

Shakespeare was a major fan of rhyming his words. In fact, many attribute the spike in popularity of rhyme  as a direct result of his plays! In his famous work Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare makes eloquent rhymes such that are still recited and acknowledged today: “For never was a story more of woe / than this of Juliet, and her Romeo” and “Good night, good night. Parting is such sweet sorrow / That I shall say good night til it be morrow.” Shakespeare was wise to incorporate rhyming into his works; over 400 years later, they still make regular appearances!

“If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Another famous example of the use of the Rhyme as Reason Effect in a judicial circumstance is found in the murder trial of OJ Simpson in 1995. When referring to a pair of gloves, one of which was found at the murder scene and the other in Simpson’s home, the defendant’s lawyer stated: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” (Deutsch, 2014). The lawyer could have easily said, “because the glove does not fit, it does not belong to O.J. Simpson, and thus he is innocent” but his use of a rhyme created a memorable statement that stuck with the jury for the remainder of the trial. Many people who followed the case consider this claim to be a turning point in the Simpson trial (which the defense ended up winning) because of its unforgettable and catchy cadence and rhythm. This shows that the Rhyme as Reason Effect has just as much influence on adults as it does on children!

 

So what does all this information on the Rhyme as Reason Effect mean? Because rhyming occurs on a daily basis, it is important to be aware of our cognitive biases towards sentences and aphorisms that include rhyming words. Rhymes are also used as a marketing tool, often to encourage consumers to buy a product in a commercial or advertisement. Many musicians and lyricists use rhymes in their songs to catch the attention of the listeners. Even business and political campaigns capitalize on the Rhyme As Reason Effect to gain a following (Filkuková & Klempe, 2013)! Being conscious of this effect will provide you with the appropriate tools to navigate modern society successfully and efficiently. On that note, I leave you with a final farewell …

References:

Anon. “JoyReactor – Funny Pictures.” / funny pictures & best jokes: comics, images, video, humor, gif animation – i lol’d. JoyReactor.com, March 30, 2010. http://joyreactor.com/post/858196.

“The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect: Why Rhyming Makes Your Message More Persuasive.” Effectiviology. Effectiviology.com. https://effectiviology.com/rhyme-as-reason/.

“BIZARROCoM So Far We’ve Got a Rhyme but No Reason 30-15 Happy Birthday Dad WI CARsweLL NI: Birthday Meme on ME.ME.” me.me. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://me.me/i/bizarro-com-so-far-weve-got-a-rhyme-but-no-reason-12725752.

Dove, Laurie L. “Why Do Rhymes Help People Remember Things?” HowStuffWorks Science. HowStuffWorks, May 31, 2019. https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/why-do-rhymes-help-people-remember-things.htm.

Rapp, D. N., & Samuel, A. G. (2002). A reason to rhyme: Phonological and semantic influences on lexical access. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition28(3), 564–571. doi: 10.1037//0278-7393.28.3.564

McGlone, Matthew S., and Jessica Tofighbakhsh. “Birds of a Feather Flock Conjointly (?): Rhyme as Reason in Aphorisms.” Psychological Science11, no. 5 (September 2000): 424–28. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9280.00282.

Deutsch, Linda. “OJ Simpson Trial: ‘If It Doesn’t Fit, You Must Acquit.’” NBC Southern California. NBC Southern California, June 11, 2014. https://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/OJ-Simpson-20-Years-Later-Glove-Fit-Darden-Dunne-Murder-Trial-of-the-Century-262534821.html.

Watch, Gavin. “If The Gloves Don’t Fit You Must Acquit.” If The Gloves Don’t Fit You Must Acquit, January 1, 1970. http://snarfcity89.blogspot.com/2012/03/if-gloves-dont-fit-you-must-acquit.html.

Filkuková, P., & Klempe, S. H. (2013). Rhyme as reason in commercial and social advertising. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology54(5), 423–431. doi: 10.1111/sjop.12069

“Original Pop Culture t-Shirts, Posters, Gifts, and More.” “See Ya Later Alligator, In A While Crocodile. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://www.teepublic.com/.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. jdcipo20
    December 6th, 2019 at 13:50 | #1

    Wow this is super interesting. I was thinking this phenomena probably has something to do with the way rhyming information is pattern recognized and encoded. We can instantly assign the rhyming phrase meaning – albeit not super deep meaning – because the words rhyme, and the catchiness of the phrase allows us to keep replaying it or informally ‘rehearsing’ it in working memory for much longer than we would with normal statements. I wonder how much music can effect people with this phenomenon; immediately the lines “George Bush don’t care about black people, 2017 and Donald Trump is the sequel” (- Logic) came to mind when I read this, and those are obviously some strong words which have stuck with me for some time even though I don’t regularly listen to that song.

  2. December 16th, 2019 at 20:33 | #2

    Hi Kathryn! I had no idea that this phenomenon existed and it was super interesting to read. What makes this interesting to me is that usually semantic information is something that is only processed on a surface level, and doesn’t usually use deep processing, and the fact that the rhyming of words makes it seem more veridical is crazy! This post was really cool and I liked the way that you connected it to how business can use it in their advertising to their advantage. In class we studied how language is processed in small subunits and I am wondering if this has anything to do with the effect shown, and how rhymes overall could be processed differently than a regular sentence.

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