So, which will be more effective: a list of reasons you tell yourself, or a list of reasons which someone else tells you? Are you more likely to be persuaded by your own ideas or the ideas of another.

Studies have shown that when confronting a person who engages in addictive behaviors, self-persuasion (making up your own argument) works better than “direct persuasion”, telling someone what to do. So if you get a room full smokers and tell them what a disgusting habit it is so to smoke, they are less likely to listen than if you ask a room full of smokers to give a list of reasons why someone would want to quit smoking.

This makes some intuitive sense, particularly with addictive behaviors with a low degree of social acceptance. When I tell you smoking is bad, it may sound like I am saying you are bad. In such a circumstance, the smokers actually seek to defend their behavior.

This still leaves open a number of questions. For instance, when it comes to smoking, the smoker has already heard a million arguments as to why they should quit smoking. And so, the smoker already has learned arguments to use.

Another question is whether self-generated arguments only work with addictive behaviors.

To test this idea, some researchers in a Dutch city investigated tipping behavior among restaurant goers. At the end of a meal, the wait staff handed out questionnaires on “consumer satisfaction” created by a university. There were a number of generic restaurant question.

The second part of the questionnaire differed. Some ended with a request that consumer write down reasons for giving a tip: why is tipping a good idea? A second version included some reasons to give a tip (direct persuasion). A third group included nothing about tipping.

It turned out that asking the consumer to generate reasons to tip resulted in higher tips.

A second study asked university students to respond after reading one of two fact sets. Both groups were asked to imagine being a restaurant, receiving adequate but not spectacular service. In one scenario, they were provided two good reasons to tip. In the other scenario, they were asked to come with their own reasons to tip.

There was one further element: they were also asked to rate how much tipping mattered to them: is tipping an important aspect of how you see yourself?

For those students who cared a great deal about tipping, self-persuasion had a substantial effect. But for the students who were less interested, their tipping decision was not that different depending upon whether their rationale was self-generated or provided in the fact set.

So why does this work:

It has been demonstrated that that this technique (self-persuasion) relies on the principle of commitment and consistency. [citation] This C&C principle uses the human desire to appear consistent in attitude and behavior. After committing, people are more likely to act in lien with the statement provided earlier. [citations] The persuasion power of this technique can be explained by the theory of cognitive dissonance [citation], which states that saying or doing something that runs counter to peoples’ own beliefs evokes an uncomfortable feeling when people are aware of the dissonance. Individuals try to reduce this dissonance by bringing disparate cognitions into greater harmony.

Bernritter, S.F., van Ooijen, I. and Müller, B.C.N. (2017), “Self-persuasion as marketing technique: the role of consumers’ involvement”, European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 51 No. 5/6, pp. 1075-1090; 1084.