On The Psychology Of Persuasion

I recently finished reading Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion – by Robert B. Cialdini.

Robert best summarizes the premise of his book: “Although there are thousands of different tactics that compliance practitioners employ to produce yes, the majority fall within six basic categories. Each of these categories is governed by a fundamental psychological principle that directs human behavior and, in so doing, gives the tactics their power. The book is organized around these six principles, one to a chapter. The principles—consistency, reciprocation, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity—are each discussed in terms of their function in the society and in terms of how their enormous force can be commissioned by a compliance professional who deftly incorporates them into requests for purchases, donations, concessions, votes, assent, etc.”

Below are key excerpts from this book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “The impressive aspect of the rule for reciprocation and the sense of obligation that goes with it is its pervasiveness in human culture. It is so widespread that after intensive study, sociologists such as Alvin Gouldner can report that there is no human society that does not subscribe to the rule. And within each society it seems pervasive also; it permeates exchanges of every kind.”

2- “The reciprocation rule brings about mutual concession in two ways. The first is obvious. It pressures the recipient of an already made concession to respond in kind. The second, while not so obvious, is pivotally important. Just as in the case of favors, gifts. or aid, the obligation to reciprocate a concession encourages the creation of socially desirable arrangements by ensuring that anyone seeking to start such an arrangement will not be exploited.”

3- “Certainly, then, good personal consistency is highly valued in our culture. And well it should be. It provides us with a reasonable and gainful orientation to the world. Most of the time we will be better off if our approach to things is well laced with consistency. Without it our lives would be difficult, erratic, and disjointed. But because it is so typically in our best interests to be consistent, we easily fall into the habit of being automatically so, even in situations where it is not the sensible way to be. When it occurs unthinkingly, consistency can be disastrous.”

4- “Once an active commitment is made, then, self-image is squeezed from both sides by consistency pressures. From the inside, there is a pressure to bring self-image into line with action. From the outside, there is a sneakier pressure—a tendency to adjust this image according to the way others perceive us.”

5- “The tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it normally works quite well. As a rule, we will make fewer mistakes by acting in accord with social evidence than contrary to it. Usually, when a lot of people are doing something, it is the right tiling to do. This feature of the principle of social proof is simultaneously its major strength and its major weakness. Like the other weapons of influence, it provides a convenient shortcut for determining how to behave but, at the same time, makes one who use the shortcut vulnerable to the attacks of profiteers who lie in wait along its path.”

6- “These results suggest an important qualification of the principle of social proof. We will use the actions of others to decide on proper behavior for ourselves, especially when we view those others as similar to ourselves.”

7- “Few people would be surprised to learn that, as a rule, we most prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like. What might be startling to note, however, is that this simple rule is used in hundreds of ways by total strangers to get us to comply with their requests.”

8- “Compliance professionals are forever attempting to establish that we and they are working for the same goals, that we must “pull together” for mutual benefit, that they are, in essence, our teammates.”

9- “This paradox is, of course, the same one that attends all I major weapons of influence. In this instance, once we realize that obedience to authority is mostly rewarding, it is easy to allow ourselves the convenience of automatic obedience. The simultaneous blessing and bane of such blind obedience is its mechanical character. We don’t have to think; therefore, we don’t. Although such mindless obedience leads us to appropriate action in the great majority of cases, there will be conspicuous exceptions—because we are reacting rather than thinking.”

10- “The evidence, then, is clear. Compliance practitioners’ reliance on scarcity as a weapon of influence is frequent, wide-ranging, systematic, and diverse…The first is familiar. Like the other weapons of influence, the scarcity principle trades on our weakness for shortcuts. The weakness is, as before, an enlightened one. In this case, because we know that the things that are difficult to possess are typically better than those that are easy to possess, we can often use an item’s availability to help us quickly and correctly decide on its quality. Thus, one reason for the potency of the scarcity principle is that, by following it, we are usually and efficiently right.In addition, there is a unique, secondary source of power within the scarcity principle: As opportunities become less available, we lose freedoms; and we hate to lose the freedoms we already have.”

11- “Very often in making a decision about someone or something, we don’t use all the relevant available information; we use, instead, only a single, highly representative piece of the total. And an isolated piece of information, even though it normally counsels us correctly, can lead us to clearly stupid mistakes—mistakes that, when exploited by clever others, leave us looking silly or worse.”

12- “We are likely to use these lone cues when we don’t have the inclination, time, energy, or cognitive resources to undertake a complete analysis of the situation. Where we are rushed, stressed. uncertain, indifferent, distracted, or fatigued, we tend to focus on less of the information available to us. When making decisions under these circumstances, we often revert to the rather primitive but necessary single-piece-of-good-evidence approach. All this leads to a jarring insight: With the sophisticated mental apparatus we have used to build world eminence as a species, we have created an environment so complex, fast-paced, and information-laden that we must increasingly deal with it in the fashion of the animals we g ago transcended.”


Omar Halabieh

The Psychology of Persuasion



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