Influence | Robert B. Cialdini

Summary of: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
By: Robert B. Cialdini


Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini takes a close look at the psychological triggers that drive human behavior and decision-making. Cialdini explores six persuasive principles that we often use as shortcuts, such as reciprocation, scarcity, consistency, social proof, liking, and authority. These principles can be manipulated and used against us by compliance professionals like advertisers, salespeople, and con artists, who aim to make us comply with their demands or buy a product. By understanding these fundamental principles, we can become more aware of when we are being influenced and learn how to defend ourselves against manipulation.

The Power of Psychological Shortcuts

Mother turkeys use a simple shortcut to identify their chicks, triggering their maternal instincts when they hear the “cheep-cheep” sound. Humans use similar psychological shortcuts in decision-making but are vulnerable to manipulation by compliance professionals like salesmen and advertisers. The six basic psychological principles we use as shortcuts are reciprocation, scarcity, consistency, social proof, liking, and authority. It’s crucial to identify and defend ourselves against these manipulators and protect ourselves from making decisions that go against our interests.

The Psychology of Persuasion

The first principle of persuasion is the rule of reciprocation. People feel obligated to return favors. Society has labeled those who do not reciprocate favors as moochers and ingrates and we fear being labeled the same. This principle can be seen in long-term country relations such as Ethiopia sending aid to Mexico in 1985 because in 1935, Mexico sent aid to Ethiopia when Italy had invaded it. People are so keen to rid themselves of the burden of reciprocity that they will often perform much larger favors in return for small ones. However, reciprocity can be abused to persuade a person to do something they may not want to do. People can fight back by learning to identify and resist deliberate attempts to abuse reciprocity.

The Power of Rejection-then-Retreat Strategy

The rejection-then-retreat strategy is a powerful persuasion technique that makes people feel obliged to reciprocate concessions. This is because the difference between the initial and subsequent offers is magnified making the latter seem disproportionately cheap, resulting in people feeling they are getting a deal. Labor negotiators and even G. Gordon Liddy in the Watergate scandal have used this technique. However, the opening position must not be too extreme, or it will lead to being seen as a bad-faith negotiator.

The Scarcity Principle

The scarcity principle suggests that the more limited the availability of an opportunity or good is, the more we value it. People are more inclined to buy items that have limited availability, especially when competition is involved. The scarcity principle has two conditions – availability must have decreased recently, and there must be a competitive situation. The principle is often used in sales and auctions to induce a “feeding frenzy” among buyers. To avoid making irrational decisions based on scarcity, we need to consider whether we want an item for its usefulness or just the fear of missing out. The scarcity principle can be a powerful influence on our decision-making, but we can overcome its effects by being mindful of our motivations.

The Forbidden Fruit Effect

When something is forbidden, it becomes more desirable. This phenomenon is known as the Forbidden Fruit Effect, and it applies to information, objects, and even romantic relationships. Research shows that censorship can make information seem more valuable, leading people to overreact and sympathize with ideas they haven’t even heard. Similarly, when something is banned, people become more attached to it and see it as superior. This effect is prevalent in both children and adults and can lead to a deeper attraction to the forbidden thing.

The Power of Commitment

Psychologist Thomas Moriarty’s research indicates that people are more likely to help others when they’ve been asked. Humans have a strong desire for consistency and our actions often align with our commitments. This puts public commitment as the most powerful driver. The Korean War is a great example of how commitment can manipulate self-image. Written commitments have a stronger effect than verbal ones. Commitments, even small ones, can change our perception of ourselves, making us more likely to make larger commitments or purchases.

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