top of page

How to change people’s behaviour without them realising

From each set of five words below, make a grammatically-correct four-word sentence. For example, from the list

good cat she very was

you could form the sentence

she was very good

If you are able to, time yourself on the task and see how quickly you can complete the exercise.

1. father sat TV likes my

2. apple the please rules respect

3. the was optimistic flat patient

4. flock sensitively granddad her told

5. tomorrow usually her they see

6. I ready discreetly was not

7. exercised bald dog Sally her

8. cautiously will golf play I

9. grass green the off keep

10. weight hair brown I have

11. here yield in it lives

12. optimistically this have finished I

If you look back at the lists, you will see that half of them contain words loosely associated with politeness: respect, sensitively, discreetly, cautiously, yield, optimistically. As you worked quickly to complete the unscrambling, you probably didn’t notice the connection between these words. But your brain will have.

This test was based on one created by John Bargh and colleagues. Controversially, they found that when they gave their test to volunteers, the volunteers didn’t notice the pattern between the embedded words, but they did act more politely. Other researchers have used other word-unscrambling tasks to change people’s goals as well as their behaviour. If there’s someone whose behaviour you’d like to change in some way, and you think you could get them to complete such a test, you could try your own experiment.


bottom of page