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How frequently are people saying ‘please’? Not very often, study finds.

Most parents try to teach their kids to have good manners and be gracious often before they are old enough to read. But in reality, neither kids nor adults are saying “please” very often, a new study reveals. The word was used only 7% of the time when people of all ages made requests, according to researchers at UCLA. The research also suggests that in some cases, you may not actually be engaging in politeness when you say please.

Here’s what’s going on with manners, and why psychologists think saying “no thank you” to saying “please” might be the more polite thing to do.

Given how many people are taught to say please, you would think the word would be a conversational staple. But that’s not what the UCLA team found when they recorded 17 hours of video taken while more than 1,000 participants interacted with their families at home over meals and board games, or spoke to workers and patrons during salon visits or at retail stores, among other activities.

The study authors wrote that, based on previous research, they expected that women would say please much more frequently than men. Instead, they found that men said please about as often as women — in 6% vs. 7% of requests. However, people of any gender used please more often when they were asking men for something. But ultimately, across races, genders, ethnic groups and socioeconomic status, no one was saying the word very often.

Children were just as likely to say please as their parents and other adults. The study found that kids said please 10% of the time when they asked adults for something, while adults used the word in 8% of requests to children and 6% of the time that they asked something of other adults.

“There is not much older data to give us a sense of how the rate [of using ‘please’] might have changed over time, but we suspect that this isn’t really a recent development,” Andrew Chalfoun, co-author of the study and a PhD candidate in sociology at UCLA, tells Yahoo Life. “It goes back further,” he adds, citing similar findings on the use of please by 4-year-olds in a study published in 1984.

In about half of the instances when someone said please, they were “attempts to overcome resistance or willingness” to fulfill a request, explains Chalfoun. “A lot of ‘please’ is definitely used to basically put pressure to comply on the other party.”

For example, in the study, a daughter asked her mother to “please” buy her a dress after the mother had already refused. Chalfoun says this is an example of why he and his colleagues “often think about ‘please’ as [something] we use when we’re making a request that we shouldn’t be making, but we’re going to do it anyway.” In that sense, using the word is more about self-interest than courteousness. “It’s acknowledging … the fact that it’s kind of a problematic thing to be asking,” almost like a partial pre-apology, “but it’s still basically us prioritizing our own needs,” Chalfoun says. “That’s why we don’t think of [‘please’] as a paradigmatic [or standard] politeness token.”

Vanessa Bohns, a professor of social psychology at Cornell University, says that our use of please as a form of pressure to get what we want also has to do with our discomfort with saying no. “​​We know that people find it hard to say no to requests because it is impolite to do so,” she says. “By adding ‘please’ to a request, the asker is essentially reminding the target of those politeness norms. It is essentially saying to the target of the request: ‘Remember your manners.’”

While please is typically considered polite, that’s not always the case. Instead, the study suggests, please is often used as a strategic tool when patience would actually be more polite.

What that underscores, Chalfoun says, is that having a strict code of manners — always say “please” and “thank you”; never say “no” outright, only “no thank you” — doesn’t necessarily result in the most polite behavior.

Whether please is a sign of good manners or a way to pressure someone is “super context-specific,” he says. “It’s not necessarily the most helpful thing to try to get people to follow really strict rules about what’s good behavior and what’s bad behavior. Rather than trying to get kids to follow a code of rules, we should push for thinking about what it means and look at broader principles,” like being patient and mindful of other people, and waiting our turn instead of asking someone to — please — do exactly what we want, exactly when we want it done, says Chalfoun.

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