#15 "...because..."

...it makes you stupid

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Nic Peterson

“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we give a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”

Robert Cialdini, Influence

In his best-selling book Influence, Robert Cialdini shares some research about the word "because". I'm going from memory here, so forgive me if the details are incorrect.

First, a study showed that people are more willing to let you cut in line if you give them a reason like "...because my baby is in the car so I have to hurry"

Makes sense. What is interesting is that when they made up completely random reasons like..." Can I cut in line because I want to?" people were equally likely to do favors even though the reason didn't make any logical sense. In other words:

Cialdini has shown that our monkey mind stops processing things effectively after it hears the word "because". "Because" implies there is a reason, we don't care what the reason is, as long as know there is one.

In some ways, "because" makes us nicer people. So that's neat.

I often wish that Cialdini would have taken it a step further to illustrate how "because" can also make us dumber or, more accurately, less intelligent.

He successfully establishes and proves that people like to have reasons for what they do. In fact, they like to have reasons for everything that happens, and that's a problem.

The Stupidity Of "Because"

As discussed in "In The Classroom" intelligence is the ability to get what you want. Therefore, in order to increase your intelligence, you need to increase your ability to get what you want. In order to increase your ability to get what you want you need tight feedback loops.

"Because" breaks feedback loops

"Because" is often the extension of observation, for example: "I gained weight when I started eating bagels because carbs make you fat."

Everything that comes before the "because" is a valid observation:

"I gained weight when I started eating bagels"

If that is your observation, that is your observation. It is valid, it might be true and it can be useful if you just stop your sentence right there. Everything that comes after the "because" is faulty reasoning creating a broken feedback loop.

"because carbs make you fat."

What was a valid observation and potentially useful data point has just become a false belief from which you will now reason in order to form other beliefs; all future data points are faulty because you had to add that damn "because".

Let's stress test the statement: "I gained weight when I started eating bagels because carbs make you fat."

When you started eating bagels, did you remove an equal amount of calories from another source in your diet? If not,

"I gained weight when I added extra calories"

...is also true and would be a valid observation from the same exact set of circumstances. It's quite possible that adding bagels and removing an equal amount of calories from another source would allow you to eat bagels without gaining weight. As long as you're quick with the "because" you'll never know.

And you will continue to operate from a paradigm and reason from a foundation that is built on an impulsive "because".

One more example:

"My daughter has disordered eating patterns because of the sexuality on these TV shows"

"My daughter has disordered eating patterns."

If you were to stop right here you have a perfectly valid observation and can start working through the issue and getting help. Instead, the brain does this:

"because of the sexuality on these TV shows"

And now you're on a war path, picketing outside the TV station and starting blogs so shame actresses, Instagram users, and television producers.

What if...

stick with me for a minute here...

...What if your daughter watching your extreme dieting 10 years ago is the primary cause of her disordered eating patterns? What if your current relationship with your body and food is a source of her disordered eating patterns? What if your new boyfriend has been verbally or physically abusive to either of you causing this behavior?

Maybe you don't want to think that deeply.
Maybe you don't want to look in the mirror.
Maybe it's just easier to blame others.
Maybe you're just cognitively lazy and need a reason. any reason.
Perhaps many or all of the above.

I'm not going to draw any conclusions because I know my monkey mind will try to hide the truth from me by substituting it with whatever comes after the because. When the truth is hidden, the feedback loop is broken and when the feedback loop is broken we are becoming less intelligent.

Also, I just found out that I can embed a subscribe button directly into this post. Click on it because I want you to.



Fuckin' because.

Nic