Schwexperiment #1: Does alliteration have magical powers?
At Schwa HQ, hardly a day goes by without someone talking about the rhyme-as-reason effect. In a nutshell: if a statement rhymes, you’re more likely to think it’s true. (Think: A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play.)
But is the phenomenon limited to rhyme? We had a sneaky suspicion the effect of alliteration might be the same. It was the perfect subject to kick off our Schwexperiments series – where we use a little scientific method to find out new things about language.
We needed to find three statements that satisfied these criteria:
1. One had to have a rhyme, one alliteration, and the other neither
2. They all had to have the same meaning
3. They all had to be potentially true, potentially false
4. They couldn’t be distractingly weird
We ended up with these three:
Control: The moon turns you crazy
Rhyme: The moon turns you into a loon
Alliteration: The moon makes you mad
Then we set up a research project on Google Surveys, putting each sentence in front of a different group of 100 people and asking them to say how true it was on a scale from 1 – 5 (where 1 meant completely untrue and 5 meant completely true).
So, what effect does alliteration have? Here’s what happened:
Take a look at the columns on the right. Those are the people who rated the statement either neutral or true. You can see that there’s no significant difference between the results for the control statement (blue) and the alliterative one (orange).
But look at the grey column (with the star above it). That’s the rhyming statement, and significantly more people said it was true compared to the control.
Take a moment to think about that for a moment. By rhyming ‘moon’ and ‘loon’, we’ve made a statement about 18% more believable. Absolute madness.
Of course, this is just one study with one set of sentences. Any number of things might affect how believable a statement is (no amount of rhyme is going to make me believe a single word Donald Trump says).
But still. Madness. It’s no wonder we’re obsessed with rhyme as reason.