The Rule of 3

We have received many questions about the rule of three, especially the reasons why we use three instead of two and four. Our answer is that three is more memorable than two or four, easier to process, and there is a certain feeling of acceptance when ideas are delivered in threes. It increases retention and memorability and we see this technique in books, speeches, advertising, in many of the Lītigāre PowerPoints on our site and for our clients. The rule of three is everywhere, it is in management styles, marketing, market research and the list goes on and on. The rule of three is the best linguistic structure for the dramatic pause and is helpful in juxtaposition. As great as this answer is, it does not explain the psychological and really biological reasons for why this process is so effective.

The rule of three’s validity occurs because of this single fact; we learn through pattern recognition. It is at the foundation for neurological development and mapping pathways in our brains. Since we were infants we have been taught to compare and contrast, group information, and have been inundated with patterns of three in our stories and in school. What are the three most important “R’s” in school? Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic! Even though only one word actually starts with the letter ‘r’ we hold this lexicon as a cultural fact, unquestionable, and an educational necessity for success. There are three’s everywhere in our lives; we all know:

1.      The Three Little Pigs

2.      The Three Musketeers

3.      The Three Stooges – aka – Larry, Curley, and Mo 

It is also in many of our cultural idioms, for example:

A.     Father, Son, and Holly-Ghost

B.     Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

C.     The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

D.     Truth, Justice, and the American Way

E.      Executive, Judicial, Legislative

F.      Government by the People, for the People, of the People

There are also visual cues:

  • Traffic lights
  • Tri Colored Flags
  • Three Pronged Plugs (we moved to the three prongs because it is safer)

These cultural influences have structured our brains. When we experience information that is incongruent with existing neurological pathways it literally feels uncomfortable because we have to biologically adjust, meaning build new neural pathways to accept the information. Just think about the last time you were learning something new like playing a musical instrument, learning chess, or experiencing the exhaustion of law school. We literally have to build new pathways through dendrite growth, and that is exhausting. When we deliver new information in chunks of three, we piggy back on existing pathways sparing our audience mental exhaustion.

Three is a great number for the hippocampus, the gateway from short to long term memory. Research indicates that the hippocampi can handle approximately 7 to 10 separate bits of information for 20 to 30 seconds at best, which is why we either repeat or write down numbers to remember. The information has to be shifted to long term memory or dumped.

In conclusion, the three pattern is an important process for conveying information. It guides the mental models, the system we use to understand cause and effect, of the jury.