How a Photocopier Revealed a Magic Word With the Power to Persuade

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You’d never think it: the humble photocopier at the heart of one of the most celebrated social influence experiments in history. But it’s true. If you’ve not heard of this research, you’re in for a treat. We’ll reveal the single word that has the power to persuade friends and colleagues.

A healthy slice of most business success is down to an organisation’s ability to sell. And, although not as important as listening and rapport, persuasion is part and parcel of the sales process. 

So, let’s dip our toes in the fascinating world of social influence. More specifically, we’ll look at the famous ‘Copy Machine Experiment’ conducted by social psychologist Robert Cialdini

Let’s break down the experiment and its results to show the underlying principles of persuasion and how they can be harnessed in everyday life. And I promise I’ll reveal the magic word at the end.

The Copy Machine Experiment: An Overview

The Copy Machine Experiment is an essential piece of social influence and compliance research. In English? It’s looking at how we can encourage people to do what we want. Conducted in the 1970s by Robert Cialdini and his colleagues, this study sought to investigate the power and effectiveness of different compliance techniques.

The Experiment’s Design and Execution

The study involved participants waiting in line to use a copy machine at a university. An experimenter would approach someone in the queue and request to cut in line using one of three phrases:

  • Request without a reason: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the photocopier?”
  • Request with a reason: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the photocopier because I’m in a rush?”
  • Request with a seemingly valid reason but no real justification: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the photocopier because I need to make copies?”

The objective was to gauge how the person in the queue responded to the experimenter’s request and observe whether providing a reason, valid or otherwise, had any impact on compliance rates.

The Power of ‘Because’: Understanding the Results

The results of the Copy Machine Experiment were striking:

  • In the request without a reason condition, 60% of participants allowed the experimenter to cut in line.
  • In the request with a reason condition, 94% of participants complied.
  • In the request with a seemingly valid reason but no real justification condition, 93% of participants complied.

The findings suggest that providing a reason, regardless of its validity, significantly increases the likelihood of compliance. The word “because” seems to possess an inherent persuasive power, which can be utilised effectively in various contexts.

Practical Applications: Harnessing the Power of Persuasion

The Copy Machine Experiment offers valuable insights into how the persuasive power of the word “because” can be harnessed in different aspects of our lives. Here are a few practical applications to consider:

Marketing and Sales

The use of “because” can significantly improve marketing and sales pitches. For instance, providing a reason for a promotion or a discount can encourage customers to make a purchase. Even if the justification is not particularly strong, the mere presence of a reason can be enough to sway potential buyers.

Workplace Communication

When seeking approval for a project, proposal, or decision, offering a reason can increase the chances of gaining support from colleagues and supervisors. Similarly, when providing feedback or constructive criticism, framing it with a justification can make it more palatable and actionable.

Personal Relationships

In personal relationships, whether with friends, family, or romantic partners, using “because” can be an effective way to communicate your needs, set boundaries, or resolve conflicts. By providing a reason for your requests or actions, you demonstrate a sense of thoughtfulness and consideration, which can enhance the quality of your relationships.


The Copy Machine Experiment, conducted by Robert Cialdini and his team, has had a lasting impact on our understanding of our power to persuade and comply. The study demonstrated that the simple word “because” can significantly increase the chances of gaining compliance, regardless of whether the reason provided is particularly strong.

This powerful insight can be applied to various aspects of our lives, from marketing and sales to workplace communication and personal relationships. By harnessing the persuasive potential of “because”, we can communicate more effectively, achieve our goals, and foster stronger connections with those around us.