Flattery: A Free Way to Increase Recall

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We know that flattery, a form of social reward, is a powerful tool. In Flattery Will Get You Somewhere, we saw that complimenting an individual made them feel more positively about the person bestowing the favorable comments, even when they think it’s insincere. Now, research shows that compliments aid memory!

The Japanese researchers who conducted the study found that when subjects were given a task to learn involving motor skills, praise for their performance afterwards resulted in their remembering the task better than control groups who received no praise.

While one might expect that praise would motivate subjects to work harder or strive to perform better, the experiment ruled out that effect. The subjects had no opportunity to practice the task after receiving the compliments, but were later subjected to a surprise test of their remembered skills. The scientists concluded that the “consolidation” phase of memory was enhanced by the praise. (When we initially form memories, to make them more lasting our brains need to stabilize them via both short and long-term processes. This is called “memory consolidation.”)

While this experiment looked at one very limited domain – a learned physical task – it’s intriguing that flattery has an “offline” effect in improving recall totally independent of motivation factors. Educators, trainers, and coaches may be able to use strategic compliments to make their lessons more memorable. And, at the same time, they will be viewed more positively by their students and may be increasing motivation, too.

From a marketing point of view, could a salesperson help a customer remember the key elements of her sales pitch better by closing with favorable comments? It’s an even bigger leap, but what about a speaker? Maybe those keynoters who close by telling the audience how great they have been are on to something! Likely any such effects would work best if they were related to the content, e.g., “I can see with your industry experience and knowledge you really understand the value our product features offer,” vs., “That’s a really nice tie!”

And, by the way, have I mentioned lately how awesome my Neuromarketing readers are? There are lots of people in sales and marketing, but only a fraction of them have the intellectual curiosity and insight to look for a “brainier” approach to their field – thanks for being one of those few!

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