Sunday, July 5, 2020

Influence- The Psychology of Persuasion - A Book Review

Influence- The Psychology of Persuasion 

by Robert B. Cialdini

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton

Cialdini is a psychologist who has studied what it takes to persuade people to do act. When I consulted with parents and teachers about child behavior, I asked about commercials they remembered, which was often a fun exercise. Then I asked about influence— most admit remembering ads when in a store or buying something on impulse. My point is, businesses know they that a 30 or 60-second commercial can influence human behavior. 

If you are trying to sell a product or service, protest for change, or win converts to your cause, Cialdini’s principles backed by fascinating research might be helpful.

The numbers refer to the chapters in the book, Influence.

1. The Contrast Principle.

When we have two experiences—one after another—the first one influences the second. Meet a mean person first and the next person will seem kinder even if they are neutral. Meet a kind and welcoming person first and the next person will seem cool and unfriendly if they are just a bit reserved. 

The first person we meet influences our perception of the second person.

2. Reciprocation is the “give and take” principle

Most people have a built-in feeling of obligation. If you get a favor, you are expected to repay the favor. If someone buys you a drink, you are wired to repay the drink. If a salesperson offers a book or a meal, they are trying to get you to buy a product. Churches evangelize by inviting people to free meals and concerts. Politicians offer to make your life better if you vote for them.

3 Commitment and Consistency

People like to think they are consistent even when they are not. And people like others to be consistent too. Getting a commitment from people builds loyalty and helps people act consistently with their commitment. Commitment is crucial to long-term relationships like marriage. Nations expect others to honor their commitment to treaties. Companies offer free content in exchange for an email. Amazon offers a free “wishlist,” which can help build customer loyalty. Churches ask for your name and address on a visitor card—they hope you will come back. Nonprofit organizations assume you are committed when you send a gift and expect you to be consistent and give more so they send mail and make calls. And the better churches will show consistent commitment by sending pastoral staff to visit you or call you. If you voted for someone, you are apt to remain loyal to re-elect that person even if they do not fulfill their promises because you want to be consistent in terms of your original act of voting. Politicians know that- “they activate the base” and hope voters will give them more time to do what they promise to do.

4 Social Proof

Social proof has been called herd mentality. Salespeople know people want to know what others are doing or buying. Bestseller lists work this way. My best selling books are Creating Surveys and Applied Statistics—hard to believe right?

Cialdini reminds us of the effectiveness of canned laughter, which helps audiences laugh and think something is funny.

5 Liking

We generally like to do things with other people we like. So, favorite sports figures, singers, and movie stars help sell just about anything. Celebrities sell! Here’s what affects liking:

1. Physical attractiveness- people assume good looks are linked to humor, trust, and honesty

2. Similarity- we like people who share similar interests, opinions, hobbies, backgrounds and so forth.

3. Compliments- praise is rewarding- no surprise-we like people who offer praise

4. Contact and cooperation- we feel connected to people when working toward a common goal

5. Conditioning and association- associating an attractive model with a product creates a favorable impression

6 Authority

Most people are socialized into respecting people who are in authority like parents and teachers, which carries over into adulthood. People in authority can influence other people's behavior to vote, buy, change, and improve. This is why American's say presidents have a 'bully pulpit." American presidents have a power position to influence millions of people in the US and even other parts of the world.

7 Scarcity

Creating an impression of scarcity motivates people to act. In 2020, people rushed out to stock up on toilet rolls and hand sanitizer our of fear there would not be enough. Salespeople advertise “while supplies last” or “available to the first 100 customers.” Some Christian churches told people there were only a few days left (we are living in the last days) to get right with God before it would be too late.


As I mentioned above, Cialdini’s book on Influence and the Psychology of Persuasion is applicable to a wide range of activities when people are trying to influence others.

If you tend to be an easy target for influence, Cialdini helps you recognize what is happening. Identifying the triggers causing our automatic sequences can help us resist unhealthy or unwise choices.

If you are wanting to persuade people to act in a prosocial way, understanding what triggers behavior might help you create a better society. At least, I hope you learn a bit more about human behavior. 

My chart of Cialdini's points:

Of course, I would be delighted if you followed me and bought my books. But this review is free without obligation. 

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Articles: Academia Geoff W Sutton      ResearchGate Geoffrey W Sutton 

Video of Robert Cialdini talking about the Power of Persuasion

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