Now, read the following three claims and tell me which you think is more believable.
"Advil kills pain," "coffee prevents depression," or "Hilary promises amnesty?"
Most of you may think that the first claim is the most reliable one. Then, please carefully observe the sequence of the letters in these three claims. You must have noticed that the first letters of the seemingly reliable claim are in alphabetical order.
Nowadays, many brands, news outlets and social media sites are striving to catch your attention, but few people take the time to investigate whether their claims are true or not. A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology has uncovered one of the subtle psychological variables that can influence whether people deem a claim to be true or false: the sequence of the letters.
How the brain organizes information
Based on previous literature, the researchers already knew that the brain attempts to organize information in ways that follow familiar patterns and sequences.
Since the alphabet is one of the most universal and well-known patterns, the researchers suspected that claims with first letters conforming to the alphabet sequence — such as Andrenogel Increases Testosterone — would be perceived as more truthful.
To test this suspicion, the researchers conducted their study.
About the study
In the first experiment, one group of participants read 10 claims that followed the natural alphabetic sequence, such as "Befferil Eases Pain" or "Aspen Moisturizes Skin," and the control group read claims that did not conform to alphabetical order, such as "Vufferil Eases Pain" or "Vaspen Moisturizes Skin."
Then both groups were asked to rate their estimation of the truthfulness of the claims. It turned out that the truthfulness ratings were significantly higher for the claims that followed an alphabetical order, though the participants could not tell the basis of their estimation.
In the second experiment, one group of participants watched a short video clip of the alphabet sung normally while another group saw the clip with the ABC song sung in reverse order. Later, the groups rated the truthfulness of 10 claims.
It turned out that the participants who had heard the alphabet sung in reverse gave higher truthful ratings for claims following the reversed alphabetical sequence — such as "Uccuprin Strengthens Heart.”
These findings suggest that companies may create a claim following an alphabetical order, and thus convince consumers that the claim is true. What’s worse, fake news that is in alphabetical order may feel true, even if they are not.
So, "consumers need to make evaluations based on fact or experimental evidence rather than whether something feels right," said study author Dan King, Ph.D. Remember that the alphabet is just a random sequence we have learned. Don’t let it play tricks on your brain when you need to make judgments.