Summary of “Influence the Psychology of Persuasion”: As humans, we often react automatically to certain events, because it takes too much time and effort to think about every action we perform; although most of the time these automatic behaviors have their advantages, sometimes they are abused by knowledgeable people who use them to manipulate others; Influence the Psychology of Persuasion analyses these behaviors and techniques to help protect us from them.
By Robert Cialdini, 1984 (original edition), 1993 (current revised edition), 300 pages.
Chronicle and summary of “Influence the Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini who shares his tips : If you prefer video to text, I have prepared an illustrated video chronicle of the book 🙂:
Robert Cialdini is a social psychology researcher and professor at the University of Arizona. In order to study the psychology of persuasion and research his book, Influence the Psychology of Persuasion, he spent three years incognito with various groups of workers regarded as masters in the art of persuasion: car salesmen, door-to-door canvassers, telemarketing companies, charities, etc. In his published book, which, over time, has become a “must-have” in the personal development field, he describes the results and his personal experiences.
One day, a friend of his, a jeweller who lived in the same state as him, called up to try to try to find the answer to a very strange occurrence: desperate to sell some turquoise jewelry, she had left a message for one of her saleswomen which said “this whole rack, 1/2 price”, then she went off to the shops.
When she came back a few days later, the rack was empty: all the jewelry was gone. Pleased to have got rid of the unwanted stock, she was about to work out how much she had lost when she realized something that amazed her: the saleswoman had made a mistake and read “this whole rack, price x 2”, and all the jewelry was quickly snapped up, at twice the price.
To explain this phenomenon to his friend, Robert Cialdini told her about an ethological experiment that involved female turkeys:
Turkeys make good mothers and provide excellent care for their young. But their maternal behavior seems to be guided by only one thing: the “chirp-chirp” produced by the turkey chicks. If the chick emits a “chirp-chirp”, its mother will care for it, otherwise she will lose interest or even kill it.
Researcher M.W. Fox demonstrated the importance of this fact very clearly with an experiment that involved the turkey’s natural enemy: the skunk. As the skunk approached, the turkey went into a frenzy, screamed and attacked it with its beak and claws. Even a stuffed skunk that was manoeuvered with a string still caused the turkey to attack. Except in one scenario: with a recording of a “chirp-chirp” sound put inside the stuffed skunk. Then the turkey was totally at ease with the skunk, and even took care of it. But as soon as the recording stopped, it attacked it like the natural enemy that it is.
In the animal world, this kind of behavior is by no means unusual: in a significant number of species there are consistent and strictly automatic patterns of behavior.
It is easy to make fun of the automatism of turkeys and other animals, but you overlook two things if you do that. Firstly, pre-set automatic behavior patterns are very effective in the majority of cases. For example, the chirp-chirp of turkeys is an excellent gauge of their health and resilience, so the fact that the turkey only cares for other creatures who also emit this sound makes perfect evolutionary sense: it dedicates more time and resources to the offspring that are most likely to survive. And it’s not often in the wild that they encounter skunks with tape recorders inside of them.
Secondly, it is important to understand that as human we also have our own pre-recorded tapes, which cause us to behave automatically without thought when it triggers a certain impulse.
Ellen Langer, a social psychology researcher, has demonstrated a form of automatic human action by means of a simple experiment, aimed to prove the existence of a well-known human principle, which is that, in order to get something, it is better to give a reason why.
The experiment was as follows: someone walked up to a photocopier in a library and said to the people in line: “Sorry, I only have five pages. Can I just use the machine, because I’m in a hurry?”. 94% of them agreed.
It was completely different with this request: “Sorry, I only have five pages. Can I just use the machine?”. In this instance, only 60% of them agreed.
One would think that the reason for the extra 34% of people to agree was due to the “because I’m in a hurry”. But not at all. The experiment was repeated with this sentence: “Sorry, I only have five pages. Can I use the machine, because I need some photocopies”?
This is not a valid reason, and doesn’t provide those in line with any other information as to why. However, 93% of them agreed. As the “chirp-chirp” of the turkeys triggers an automatic maternal reaction in the turkey, “because” triggered a built-in response from those involved in the experiment, even though they were given no genuine reason for it. Click!
The same phenomenon is also used to explain the reaction of customers who rushed to buy the turquoise jewelry at twice the price: these customers were well-off holidaymakers – the products were Indian jewelry – who knew nothing about turquoise and who resorted to a well-known principle to guide their purchases: “expensive = good quality”. So, as they wanted good quality, in their eyes, expensive jewelry was much more desirable and valuable.
This may appear to be a reckless thought process by which to make a purchase, but as a general rule, a high price is an indication of high quality, a concept that had worked well in the past. But, unbeknownst to them, based solely on the apparent “price”, they made a sort of gamble. Rather than research all of the relevant points that would have enabled them to determine the value of the jewelry – a laborious process – their instinct automatically associated high quality with high price. Click.
Initially this may seem like a bad combination, but in the long-term this kind of bet may be the best approach in relation to the resources invested/benefits gained.
For example, automatic human behavior is very common, and those who are aware of it can take advantage of the situation to easily get things from others. And there are people who can sense and know how these various processes work in order to benefit from them. Robert Cialdini dissects six main principles beneath the main human automatic processes, and how they are used to manipulate and influence. Follow the guide.
Chapter 2: Reciprocity – or give-and-take
A few years ago, a university professor conducted an experiment: he sent Christmas cards to a bunch of strangers. As a result, he received an avalanche of greeting cards from these strangers. And most of them did not even try to find out who he was. They had received a greeting card, click, so automatically they sent one back.
This small study perfecty illustrates one of the most powerful weapons of influence: reciprocity. The rule is that you must endeavor to pay back the benefits you have received from others. If someone does you a favor, you owe them one in return. It’s taken as the norm that if you have been given something that you are then indebted to someone; hence the double meaning of the word “obligated” in many languages.
This rule is so prevalent that no human society is exempt from it, and researchers believe that it is the result of a gradual evolutionary process that has identified it as primarily for the purpose to help people survive within their environment. This characteristic of humanity has created layers of obligation that allow for the division of labor, the exchange of all sorts of products, services – which allow for specialization – and the development of interdependencies that bring people together as productive entities.
Each one of us knows the rule and is aware of the social consequences for those who do not abide by it: they are called ungrateful, profiteers, selfish, free riders. Because those who take but don’t bother to give back face general disapproval, we are determined to do everything possible so as not to fall into this category. It’s at this point that you can get caught out by individuals who attempt to take advantage of your sense of duty.
Let’s look at an experiment to understand why:
Each person had to evaluate the quality of certain paintings as part of an experiment on “artistic judgement”. They took part along with someone else, who they believed was there to carry out the same challenge as them, but who was in fact the researcher’s assistant, known as Jean. The experiment was carried out in two different ways:
- In one of the breaks, Jean left the room for a few minutes, then came back with two bottles of Coca-Cola, one for him, one for the other person, and said: “I asked if I could have a Coke, they said yes, so I got one for you too”.
- Jean left the room and came back empty-handed.
Then, when they had finished their assesments of the paintings and the researcher had walked out of the room, Jean asked the other participant if they could do something for him: he explained that he had some lottery tickets for sale and that if he sold a lot of them, he would earn $50. Jean asked them if they would buy some 25-cent tickets, “as many you want”.
In which scenario do you think the subjects bought the most tickets? Yes, the first one: those who were offered a bottle of Coke – which they could hardly have refused without offence to Jean – on average bought twice as many tickets as those in scenario 2. At the time, a bottle of Coke cost 10 cents: so, a lottery ticket cost two and a half times the price of a Coke, and the participants in scenario 1 bought, on average, two tickets!
In addition, participants were asked to comment on whether or not they found Jean friendly. Not surprisingly, the researchers found a clear link between people who found Jean friendly and their response when asked to buy some tickets. But only in scenario 2. In scenario 1, it had no impact, as if the act to give could negate any sense of sympathy or antipathy with regard to how we react towards others. In fact, it didn’t matter whether they found him likable or not: Jean had placed an obligation upon them, and they complied with it.
This strategy is used with great success by the followers of the Krishna sect in the United States. They developed an extremely efficient strategy to collect money, in a busy area, which required them to offer a “gift” to a passer-by – a book, newspaper, flower – and then ask them for a donation to help the “Association for Khrisna Consciousness”. This strategy worked very well, even though no one wanted the “gift” and they were basically coerced into it. Let’s look at what actually happened, in a typical scenario between a passer-by and a member of the sect, which Robert Cialdini saw at various airports:
A businessman, who had just landed, was in the middle of the crowd and hurried out. The Krishna’s follower moved in front of him and handed him a flower. The man, surprised, took it. Almost immediately, he wanted to give it back, said he didn’t want it. The follower told him that it was a gift from the foundation, that he must accept it, but that a donation for the good works of the foundation would be appreciated.
Once again the man repeated: “I don’t want the flower. Here, take it back.” Again, the follower refused: “It is a gift for you, sir.”
The businessman was then in a state of conflict, which was apparent by the expression on his face. Should he keep the flower, walk away and not give them anything, or should he succumb to the natural instinct that was so ingrained in him? He moved away, appeared to be about to leave, then returned, driven by the strength of his natural instinct. He couldn’t get away, there was no escape. With a wince of resignation, he fumbled in his pocket and pulled out some money, which was graciously accepted.
Now he was free to leave, which he did, his “gift” in hand, until he came across a garbage can – into which he tossed the flower.
So this man was induced to give money for a gift he did not want and instantly threw in the trash. The members of Krisha also knew that these gifts were unwanted: when it wasn’t busy, they would go and look for the flowers in the garbage cans so that they could give them to the next person.
Another way to use the power of the rule of reciprocity to influence or manipulate someone – more subtle and yet stronger – is the technique of rejection-withdrawal. To grasp it, let’s use what happened to Robert Cialdini one day, when he walked along the street, as an example: he was stopped by a young scout, who introduced himself and explained that he had tickets for sale for the scouts’ party which was next week. He asked him if he wanted to buy some, at five dollars each. Cialdini had no inclination to spend his Saturday night at something like that, so he declined. The scout said, “Well, if you don’t want to buy tickets, why don’t you buy one of our giant chocolate bars for just one dollar? Robert Cialdini bought two and left.
Then he realized that something was wrong: 1) he didn’t like chocolate bars, 2) he was usually careful with money and the bars were very expensive, 3) he now had two chocolate bars in his hand, and 4) the child had left with two dollars of his.
What had happened? After he and his team had analyzed the situation – which allowed them to finish the chocolate bars – he realized that the rule of reciprocity had played a part in this too, but in a more subtle way: the scout had made a concession, click Robert Cialdini made one too. The fact that he didn’t like chocolate hadn’t mattered.
The scout, in all probability, hadn’t consciously used this technique, but many people do. And it’s very effective.
How to say no
Solicitors who use the rule of reciprocity are formidable opponents, but it is possible to defend against them. They are similar to a trained jujitsu fighter because they choose to embrace the power of reciprocity: they simply use the energy embodied within rule with an initial offer of a favor or concession. Therefore, the true opposition is the rule itself. In order not to be one of its victims, you have to defeat it.
A wise approach is to accept the initial offers made – as long as they are beneficial – but to accept them only for what they are, not for what they claim to be. When a favor is granted, you are indebted to the party who offers it to you, which is not exploitation but rather respectable participation in a network of mutual obligations that strengthens the bonds and keeps everyone happy. But if the initial favor is only a ploy and you sense that’s the case, your counterpart is no longer an honorable opponent, but rather a profiteer. If you consider the favor received as an attempt to boost trade, for example, the need for reciprocity vanishes.
Chapter 3: Commitment and Consistency – Demons of the Mind.
Two Canadian psychologists have identified some remarkable behavior amongst people who bet on horses: thirty seconds before they place their bet, they are uncertain and lack conviction. Thirty seconds later, they are optimistic and sure of their decision. They are much more confident that their horse will win. But it’s the same horse, the same lane, the same track.
Why such a change of opinion? Yet again, it is another instrument of social leverage whose hidden sources are used to influence our actions: our quasi-obsessive desire to seem to be coherent and rational when it comes to our behavior. As soon as we take a stance or decide on an attitude, we find ourselves subject to strong internal and external pressures that force us to behave in line with our initial stance. Then we respond in a way that justifies our previous decisions.
In most cases, the need for uniformity is a strong motivation because it is valued. So, if you don’t conform it’s usually seen as a defect: the woman who constantly changes her mind is called capricious or bird-brained, whereas the man who allows himself to be easily influenced is a weakling, unable to stand by his decisions. Additionally, someone whose opinions, words and actions do not agree can be considered incoherent, hypocritical or even unbalanced, whereas complete consistency is often coupled to intelligence and strength of character. And it is coherence which is the basis for logic, rationality, stability and honesty.
So, we can understand why if you can appear to be coherent to others and to yourself, it’s an advantage and socially beneficial, but this can lead you to become habitually systematically coherent, even when it’s wrong.
Consistency has a huge advantage: it is a shortcut through the maze of modern life. Once our opinion is made up on an issue – and as Dale Carnegie says in How to Make Friends, we shape most of our convictions without much concern – consistency offers an enjoyable luxury: we don’t have to think about it anymore. We no longer need to expend our mental energy to weigh up both sides of the argument, and we no longer need to make tough decisions.
Now all we have to do, if this question comes up again, is to turn on our “coherence” cassette, click, and then we know what to say, think and do: which is in line with our previous choice. Moreover, as Earl Nightingale says in Lead the Field, there is nothing that humans wouldn’t be prepared to do in order not to have to think.
This way, people can hide behind a wall of coherence to protect themselves from the troublesome effects of thought. Robert Cialdini saw this when he went to an introductory conference on Transcendental Meditation (TM), accompanied by a friend who was an expert in statistics and formal logic, to study the techniques used to persuade people. The two people who presided over the meeting were very serious and claimed that this form of meditation allowed you to achieve everything you could wish for, from simple inner peace to levitation or the ability to move through walls, as you progressed through the various (expensive) stages of the program.
At the end of the presentation, when the Chair asked if anyone had any questions, Robert Cialdini’s friend went for it: calmly, but surely, he tore the lecturers’ arguments to bits. Within two minutes, he identified the illogical, contradictory, unsustainable points. This had a disastrous effect on the presenters: after an embarrassed silence, they attempted to respond, but became confused and finally admitted that the issues raised were of interest and “worthy of further reflection”.
But it wasn’t this that was of most interest: it was in the public’s reaction. Did they turn their backs on the registration forms offered by the lecturers? No, they scrambled to sign up in droves, at a cost of $75 per each. Robert Cialdini didn’t know what to think, and assumed that the audience had misunderstood his friend’s points. However, the opposite effect from what he had imagined actually occurred.
When they left, they were approached by three people who had attended the conference and who had all paid the registration fee. They wanted to know why they had come, which they were happy to explain. Then, in turn, they gave their reasons why: one had just started to act and really wanted to become successful, another suffered from persistent insomnia and hoped that transcendental meditation would help him to relax and sleep easily, and the third, who acted as spokesperson for the group, also had problems with sleep and with his studies, he didn’t have enough time to devote to them and hoped that TM would help him reduce the amount of sleep he needed. The recruiters had also told each one of them that TM could solve all of their problems.
When Robert Cialdini questioned them to check if they had misunderstood his friend’s arguments, he realized they hadn’t: quite the opposite in fact, they had understood them all too well. And this is what pushed them to register immediately. The spokesman said he had come along with no intention to pay anything that night, because he couldn’t really afford it, and he had planned to wait until the next meeting. But when Cialdini’s friend spoke up, he thought it was best that he pay right away, otherwise, once home, he would start to reflect about the whole thing and would never sign up.
It was apparent that the three of them faced some real challenges, and they were determined to find a way to overcome them, whatever the cost. Their dire situation, which until then had seemed hopeless, now had a light at the end of the tunnel, which was a tremendous relief and gave them hope. And now there was a case to be made that the theory on which they based their hopes did not stack up.
Total panic! Walls need to be built immediately in the face of reason, no matter how delusional they may be. Quick, hide from that thought! Here, take our money. Phew, saved, that was a close thing: no need to think about it anymore. The decision has been made, and from this point on it is simply a matter to let the “coherence” cassette play its tune at each required step: “TM? Of course, I believe it will help me, for sure I want to continue, because I believe in it, as I paid for it”.
The ease that this thoughtless coherence provides me with, will allow me to relax. It is so much more convenient than the relentless anxiety caused by this difficult search.
Note: the pain of unanswered questions and the immense pleasure derived when you find answers, real or imaginary, is the central theme of my recent article “In Praise of Intellectual Masturbation”, which you may also like to read.
By now you probably have a better comprehension of the power of this principle of coherence, but how does it work? What initiates the fateful trigger of the “coherence” tape? The answer in one word: commitment.
If you are pressured to make some kind of commitment – in other words, to take a position on an issue – then the groundwork will already have been prepared and you will feel an automatic obligation to honor that commitment without proper thought or consideration. And it’s fairly easy to get someone to come up with a simple statement that is fairly innocent, and then use that statement to influence them to behave in the way you want them to do so.
Let’s take a look at this experiment to see for ourselves:
A socio-psychologist asked a cross-section of Indiana residents what they would say if they were asked to spend three hours to help raise money for the League Against Cancer.
Most of them believed that just a simple reply was necessary and had no desire to appear selfish in the eyes of the researcher (because, like most humans, they wanted approval from others), and therefore they said that they would help.
This simple approach resulted in eight times the number of volunteers compared to when, a few days later, a volunteer from the organization in question asked them to go out and canvass the neighborhood.
Why does a simple “yes” to what seems to be an insignificant question lead to such different results? Because the person who answers “yes” to this apparently innocuous question will follow this up with what seem to be a series of random actions that cause them to behave differently from if they had answered no, and can even alter their perception of themselves. Let’s examine these steps:
- “If you’re asked to spend three hours to raise money for the Cancer League, would you agree?” -> I don’t want to sound selfish, so I say “yes”.
- I justify this “yes” afterwards, with the explanation that I am a concerned, or responsible, citizen, who would like to find a cure for cancer, etc, and not because I’m someone who desperately seeks the approval of others, to the point that I answer “yes” to something that I would have refused to do if I had been asked directly.
- This causes me to change my opinion of myself, in a more positive and agreeable way which allows me to see myself in a better light.
- When a volunteer from the Cancer League comes to me for help, I can’t say no to them and not
- Destroy this positive image that I have built up of myself.
- Be unreasonable, with all the deep-seated and detailed anxieties mentioned above that are associated with this behavior.
- The result is that I agree to help them, and this acceptance will strengthen the commitment I have made and the image I have formed of myself.
So, it is possible, from small pledges, to manipulate an individual’s self-image. One can change ordinary people into someone who cares about the common good, any consumer into a client, a prisoner of war into a collaborator. And once you have changed this individual into what you want them to be, this new character will naturally respond to the demands and expectations you ask of them.
Note: The fact that this self-image is so easily manipulated, the fact that “It is with lightness that we form our convictions, but it is enough that one threatens to take them away from us for us to take for it a fierce passion” (The Formation of the Mind by James Harvey Robinson, quoted in How to Make Friends), connects with the notion that the ego is an illusory construction that hides our true self, as Mathieu Ricard explains in The Art of Meditation. In his view, meditation is a way to overcome this illusion of our ego to reach our true self, and, as a result, we free ourself from its control.
At any rate, this is where the interest to learn, the culture and the thought that I advocate in In Praise of Intellectual Masturbation comes into play: to allow us to become aware of processes that influence us subconsciously and thus to circumvent or deflect them in order to liberate ourselves from the stranglehold they hold us in.
I believe that this is the only real way to achieve a wider and fuller form of freedom, as it lessens our propensity to act like robots and makes us more thoughtful and totally free to make our own choices and live our own lives.
Moreover, the more effort a commitment requires, the more impact it will have on the person who made it. This is the origin of all the dangerous and painful initiation rites that thrive in all societies, from the African Thongas ritual to academic pledges: which strengthen the perceived value of the group and membership to it. The group must be of interest, because each individual has had to fight tooth and nail to become part of it. Likewise, transcendental meditation is bound to solve problems, when you have paid to practice it.
How to say no
Misguided consistency is the demon of lesser minds.
Although consistency is generally commendable, necessary, there is a stupid and inflexible kind that should be avoided. But because automatic consistency is very useful, as it allows us to achieve sensible behavior in a way that isn’t too strenuous, we can’t decide to simply eliminate it from life.
In fact, rather than adhere to the trigger and conform to past decisions and stances, if we took the time to think long and hard about all our actions, there wouldn’t be enough time to do anything. The only way to resolve the dilemma is to be aware of when consistency can cause us to make some regrettable decisions.
In order to determine this; there are two main types of signals that can alert us to the situation at a given moment:
The pit of your stomach
We feel it when we are forced to agree to something against our better judgment. It’s a very clear signal sent by our brain: “Watch out, you’ve been tricked”. For example, it could be a pretty young woman who rang your doorbell and asked you if anyone reads in your home (you answered “yes”; as you don’t want to seem stupid in front of her); if you think it’s important or very important (“very important of course”); if when you purchase books for your children, are they educational books or comic books (“uh, a little bit of both actually, they need to be educated and have fun too, don’t they?”); and if you would rather buy books which are discounted, or not (“discounted, of course”).
It turns out that the nice, pretty girl at your door is a sales representative for France Loisirs: “Well, that’s great, thanks to France Loisirs, I can offer you a whole range of educational and recreational books for your children, all at a discount compared to the retail price, just look [at the catalog]”. You jumped right in. Now you have to go along with what you have just said; so you take a look at the catalog and the chances are that you agreed to take out a two-year subscription with France Loisirs.
At this point, it’s best to pay attention to your stomach. The best response to people who attempt to use the principle of coherence on you is to explain to them exactly what it is that they have just tried to do. It’s wonderfully effective. You can also use Emerson’s quote; it usually immediately frightens off anyone who tries to manipulate you in this way.
Ask yourself: “As I now know what I know, will I still make the same decision?”
The stomach is not an especially subtle organ, and it may be quiet at times. In this case, if you ask yourself this question when you realize that your perception of the situation is not what it first seemed; you can navigate around the pitfalls associated with misguided coherence.
Here’s an example to illustrate this:
One day, Robert Cialdini stopped at a gas station because it was ten cents cheaper than any other one in the area. But once he had the nozzle in his hand, he noticed that the price shown on the pump was ten cents higher than the price shown at the entrance to the station.
When he pointed out the difference to a pump attendant who happened to walk by; and who turned out to be the owner, he grumbled without much conviction that the price had changed in the last few days and that there hadn’t been time to change the signs.
The author considered what he should do. He told himself: “I really need gas right now”; “this pump is free and I’m in a rush”; “I think I remember that this brand of gas works well for my car”. The important thing here is to figure out if these are genuine reasons or just excuses to justify his stop at the gas station. The crucial question is “Now I know the real price of this gasoline, if I could turn the clock back, would I stop here again?” The answer was no. The initial reasons given are therefore not the reason for his decision; rather, it is a case of retrospective rationale.
Once this was decided, one last question still needed to be answered: “Since I already have the gas nozzle in my hand, doesn’t it make more sense to fill up with this gas rather than go elsewhere and pay the same price? And this is where the owner-operator came to the rescue of Robert Cialdini, from when he spoke to him and Cialdini noticed that he had hesitated, which convinced him that the owner was dishonest. So he left.
The 6 principles of the book Influence the Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini:
- Reciprocity: Give a little something to get something in return.
- Consistency: People want their beliefs to be compatible with their values, which is also a fundamental principle of personal development.
- Social evidence: Also called ‘consensus’… Especially when they are uncertain, people will look at the actions and behavior of others to decide their own.
- Authority: This is the idea that people follow the lead of trusted and capable experts.
- Love: The more you appreciate, respect or love a person; the more you will allow yourself to be persuaded by them.
- Rarity: Something is always more desirable if it is hard to get.
Anyone who seeks to increase this aspect of personal development, which is rooted in emotional intelligence; must familiarize themselves with these 6 principles.
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