The ClientWise Blog


Posted by Chris Holman on Feb 8, 2010 1:57:00 PM

K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Sweetheart!

Really good article in the Boston Globe last week,"Easy = True", that discusses the concept of Cognitive Fluency, a rapidly growing field in the world of psychology.

Cognitive Fluency is an intuitively simple concept about...simplicity...that states that, we prefer things/concepts/explanations that are easy to think about as opposed things that are hard to think about it. (I will refrain from saying "Duh!")

Here's what Adam Alter, Ph.D. says though. He's a psychologist and professor of marketing at the NYU Stern school. "Every purchase you make, every interaction you have, every judgment you have...can be put along a continuum of fluent to disfluent. If you understand how fluency influences judgment, you can understand many, many different kinds of judgments better than we do at the moment.

Some examples of Cognitive Fluency:

  • When presenting a person with a factual statement, manipulations that make the statement easier to mentally process (even something totally non-substantive, e.g. using a cleaner font, using a rhyme or repetition, etc.) can alter a person's judgment of the truth of the statement, along with their evaluation of the intelligence of the statement's author, and their confidence in the author's judgment and abilities,
  • Shares in companies with easy-to-pronounce names significantly perform those with names that are more-difficult-to-pronounce,
  • People who read about an exercise regimen in a hard-to-read font, unwittingly transfer the level of difficulty onto the topic they're reading about.

When you think about it, the rationale for Cognitive Fluency makes complete sense. It's an adaptive shortcut for our brains. It helps us allocate limited mental resources in a world where a lot of things clamor for our attention. Consequently, we must quickly figure out what is worth thinking/worrying about....and what isn't.

In the world of the financial advisor, I can think of many instances where Cognitive Fluency comes into play. A glaring example is in regard to how financial advisors ask for introductions (or referrals). We have observed that financial advisors will frame their questions asking for introductions in a manner that sounds similar to, "Who do you know...blah, blah, blah?)

Cognitive Fluency tells us that our brains prefer concepts that are easy to mentally process. The problem with the "Who do you know..." question is that it compels someone to think about EVERYONE they know, e.g. a mental list of hundreds, or thousands, of names. For many of us, when asked this sort of question...our brain simply shuts down. However, if the questioner is able to greatly simplify or limit the scope of the question, the respondent is more likely to respond in a timely fashion.

Cognitive Fluency is a crucial concept for all professionals where communication of complex subjects is an important skill...advertisers, politicians, marketers...and of course, financial advisors.

Be well.

Happy Laugh-and-Get-Rich Day!

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Topics: Communication