In Surprising the Brain, I wrote about a copywriting technique that replaces an expected word with an unexpected one to grab the listener’s or reader’s attention:
Advertising copywriters have for years used a similar technique to jar the reader out of complacency – once in a while, they substitute an unexpected word in a familiar phrase. For example, instead of “a stitch in time saves nine,” the writer might use the unexpected phrase, “a stitch in time saves money.” The unexpected word at the end of what was thought to be a familiar phrase gets the reader’s attention. I suspect the mechanism by which the brain makes this comparison is different than what the Wellcome researchers found for sequences of events, but the underlying principle isn’t all that different. The brain is constantly predicting and comparing, and providing it with something other than it predicted will cause a reaction.
Now, there’s research that sheds light on one aspect of why this technique works – our brains do, in fact, predict what’s coming next, in some cases functioning like a smart word processor that suggests words you might want as you begin to type: […]