In Other Words

Jessica Love observes a new study proving how much wording matters, even “boring tweaks, geeky English-major type tweaks we’d never suspect can make a difference”:

[R]esearchers presented hundreds of participants with a riddle like the following: A woman was traveling for the weekend. She was checking her ticket, boarding, and placing her luggage above her seat. The pilot did not show up, yet she and the other passengers were arriving at their destination without a delay. How?

Some people read the riddle with imperfect verbs (as in the example above), while others read it with perfect verbs (A woman traveled for the weekend. She checked her ticket, boarded, and placed her luggage above her seat…)

Amazingly, about 60 percent of participants who received the imperfect version identified the correct solution—that the woman was traveling by train or bus—while only about 40 percent who received the perfect version succeeded. In other words, the riddle was easier when the verb’s aspect encouraged you to focus on a part of the problem (the actions undertaken by a traveler) that was relevant to its solution (the mode of travel).