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The ‘But You Are Free’ Effect

When you ask someone to do something, be sure to include the statement that they are free to choose to do it or not.  Adding this phrase doubles the likelihood they will do it.

A detailed analysis of more than 22K subjects in 42 separate psychology studies demonstrates this startling result. The simple act of telling people they don’t have to do something makes it much more likely they will. In the studies, subjects donated more money to charity, agreed more readily to participate in a survey, and gave more to someone asking for a bus fare home.

This ‘But You Are Free‘ effect is based on the fact humans become more closed-minded when their choices are reduced by others. Explicitly giving people the right to say no reaffirms our freedom to choose. In psychological terms, the appearance of choice increases compliance to a request.

The exact phrase used is not critical; “but obviously do not feel obliged” works just as well as “but you are free.”  While significantly stronger when done in person, this effect even works in print or in email.  As a result, marketers should consider including these phrases in the call-to-action portions of campaigns.

You should follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ but you are free not to.

This blog was originally posted on Manage By Walking Around on March 10, 2013.

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  • Very interesting Jonathan.  This study was done on 'people' right?  I am going to see if it works on 12 YO boys - 'You should rinse the dishes, but feel free not to'.  I have a feeling I know what will happen 😆


  • Jonathan,

    Thank you for great sharing.

    I think that you have to explain what you want them to do and explain you choose "Yes" option,  then give an option for "No".  This is very crucial communication method which is respecting others opinions!...

    • The best I can tell by reading the research papers is that you don't have to give a "No" option.  This may be more polite but not required from a research perspective.

      • No!  🙂

        I believe opposite!

        Everyone should have a right to say "No"... Is it too democratic in business life?

        Maybe managers can follow up not giving "No" option, but leaders definitely will look who is going to say "No" and why?