The Power of Three


As the President lays out his vision during the State of the Union address, keep an ear out for a familiar rhetorical trick – using three examples to make the case for a certain policy. Turns out, ‘threes’ don’t just sound good, they are actually backed by science. A recent New York Times report tells us that according to a new study, “ads, stump speeches and other messages understood to have manipulative intent, three claims will persuade, but four (or more) will trigger skepticism, and reverse an initially positive impression.” So put away the laundry list, because when it comes to being persuasive, less is more.

Just as in sports or news, ‘threes’ constitute a streak. The same theory applies to getting a message across to an audience. As one of the study’s authors says, “You reach maximal streakiness at three events, and we thought maybe there’s a similar thing going on in discourse.” Two is too few, four or more may be too many but three is just right. For more on the study, click here.