In Jonah Berger’s latest book, “Magic Words,” he explores how the specific words and grammar used can directly impact persuasiveness. Drawing from his recent research titled “How Verb Tense Changes Persuasion,” conducted with Grant Packard of York University and Reihane Boghrati of Arizona State University, Berger suggests that even a small change, such as opting for present tense verbs instead of past tense, can increase persuasiveness. The research, which delves into the impact of verb tense on persuasion, reveals some compelling insights.
One key finding is that using the present tense when expressing opinions or experiences makes them appear truer. According to Berger, experiences are subjective, and past tense emphasizes this subjectivity. On the other hand, the present tense makes the experience seem more factual and universal, suggesting that the speaker’s experience can be generalized. This choice of tense enhances the speaker’s certainty and confidence in the claims being made. For instance, saying, “That restaurant is great” is more persuasive than stating, “That restaurant was great.”
Another aspect highlighted in the research is that the present tense conveys objectivity, making the speaker’s experience appear more factual and applicable to a broader audience. It creates a sense of certainty and confidence in the claims made.
A separate study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology supports these findings. Researchers from the University of Toronto discovered that Amazon product reviews written in the present tense were perceived as more helpful than those in the past tense. The effect extended beyond Amazon reviews, with donation proposals framed in the present tense being 10% more likely to receive donations than those in the past or future tense. The present tense was found to be more vivid and immediate, contributing to its persuasive impact.
Berger’s insights provide valuable considerations for communication in various contexts, emphasizing the significance of verb tense in shaping perceptions and enhancing persuasiveness. Whether in written communication or verbal expression, the choice of present tense can contribute to a more compelling and impactful message.