The Power of Three

/ February 24, 2017/ In Between

Everything comes in threes. We keep hearing that so much so that we believe it. It seems that every process reduces itself to three parts.

The power of three might have been as old as time as exemplified by the ancient pyramids of Egypt, the Holy Trinity of Christianity, the principles of geometry, the musical chord, the three branches of government, and even writing has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Children learn things in threes — A,B,C; 1,2,3; Three Blind Mice, Three Musketeers, Three Stooges, and Huey, Louie and Dewey. But hey, we also got to know the Fab Four: John, Paul, George, and Ringo while growing up!

In a world so bilateral like ours — where chaos vs. order, good vs. evil, male and female, day and night, etc. exist ・a third-party seems to offer a middle ground, if not balance in case of a draw. Think of a stable triangle or how we measure a cube (length, width, height). The inclusion of the third element has provided something solid and complete. It became so common in almost all life aspect that it had changed our perception and how we think. Nowadays, we’re used to say “www dot” as an address. Also, in any game, you need to get an odd number to break a tie.

But how come “three is a charm” is positive and “everything comes in threes” is negative? Is this something like an old wives tales? Is there an element of truth in it?

Think about our past experiences, we had met things that happen in threes. Most likely, it happened to anyone you know, too. However, it only happens because the concept has been ingrained in us already. In fact, a marketing study stated that the brain finds it relatively easy to grasp three things at the same time. For example the elements, colors and fonts of a marketing material. Move these to four elements a bit and the brain gets confused about where to look and what to do.

That is why in ads, taglines, speeches, and other messages intended to persuade, three claims will drive action, but four (or more) will trigger skepticism or negative impression. So whether the concept of three is real or imagined, it is still an idea which has an iota of truth in it.

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