07 February 2012

Influence - Cialdini, 1993

Weapons of influence

Fixed-action patterns: the response behavior always happens in the same way. We're interested in the trigger of that response. Most of the time, the trigger is valid, but sometimes it's misleading. This response is triggered because the load of information in our society is too big for our lazy brains, and we need shortcuts.

Give a reason/explanation when asking a favor; it increases its chances of being accepted. "Let me pass you because I'm in a hurry."

Expensive = good. Make the customer think "it's a bargain!". Pretend to discount an item from $100 to $50 while the actual price really is $40.

Contrast principle: When buying a $30k car, a $1k radio does not seem like much. Show a $500 suit first, then a $50 shirt to make the shirt look cheap. Also works the other way: clients won't buy if you first show the cheap item and then the expensive item.


Reciprocity rule: We feel obliged to return favors because society looks down on ingrates. You can increase compliance by providing ... a small favor prior to a request. Benefactor-before-beggar strategy.

Why it works: The reciprocity rule promotes the initiation of trade without fear of loss. It is too socially beneficial for us to want to violate it. It's also hard to reject gifts, even unwanted ones. Since society looks down on ingrates, feeling obliged is disagreeable, and that makes us ready to give a lot to get out of such a disagreeable situation. Examples: political favors, "you don't bite the hand that feeds you".

Concessions: the basis of trade and negotiations. Example: Boy scout in the street sells expensive lottery tickets for $10 apiece. When we tell him no, he asks "what about a $1 lemonade then?". We're likely to say yes because we think he did a concession to us. Add the effect of the contrast principle: $1 is nothing compared to $10.

Commitment and consistency

Once we make a choice (e.g. bet on a horse, or pick one of two lovers), we stubbornly stick to it and back it up ("despite all his flaws, he has lots of qualities").

Why it works: Lazy brains use consistency so that they don't have to re-evaluate a decision all the time. We are under pressure to bring our self-image into line with our past actions. Hence, any request that goes in that direction will be accepted. Example: Phone call and ask people how they're doing. They answer "Great!". They just made a commitment. Continue with "Glad to hear it, because I'm calling in support of a charity for Orphans in Hospitals during Christmas ...".

Foot-in-the-door strategy: sell an undervalued item to transform prospects into customers. When they realize that they are customers of yours, they will come back to buy any item, even overpriced ones, by self-commitment.

Active, public, and effortful commitment is the most effective at changing the self-image. We accept responsibility for a behavior when we think we've chosen to perform it in the absence of strong outside pressures (ie rewards or threats did not justify the participation, yet you participated). Examples: Customers who write the sales contract down themselves are less likely to cancel orders or ask for refunds. Undergrads who choose to endure a fraternity hazing convince themselves it was worth it.

Low-balling: Promise people a reward (e.g. money or fame) if they do something repeatedly (e.g. save energy, take out the trash), and cancel that reward after a while. They are likely to keep doing it because in the meantime, they have built other reasons to support their new image (e.g. "I am the kind of person who saves the planet or helps someone").

Social proof

We find correct what people similar to us find correct (social evidence). Example: canned laughter in TV shows to signal that it's funny, or herd behavior.

Pluralistic ignorance: Lots of people, none of them knowing what's going on, are all looking at each other for clues of what to do. Since they can't find any, nobody does anything because everyone wants to stay poised in public. Even more efficient when people are in unfamiliar contexts (e.g. abroad or in fancy receptions).


Tupperware parties and obligation of friendship: people twice more likely to buy because from a friend than because the item is useful. Door-to-door marketing: simply mentioning "your friend X recommended you to us" is enough: turning the sales person away ... is almost like rejecting the friend.

We like and are more likely to favor good-looking people and people similar to us. We generally believe compliments and those who give them.

Cooperation: when cooperation is required to achieve common goals, and each party has a part of the solution, it can turn enemies into collaborators, and then friends. For example, Bad Cop puts pressure on the interviewee, so that Good Cop looks like he's cooperating with the interviewee, and makes him comply with his requests.

Association: we hate people who bring bad news, and we tend to prefer products who are advertised by good-looking people. The association does not have to be logical, just positive. See also Pavlov's dog. Similarly, when our national team the soccer world cup, we feel associated with their success: "we won!". But when the team loses, "they lost!". We are particularly eager to bask in reflected glory when our image has been recently diminished.


Milgram experiment and its addition: instead of a single authority figure asking to give shocks, have two authority figures giving conflicting orders (shock vs don't shock). The subject tries to see who is the boss of who.

Clothes and titles: an actor disguised as a doctor in a TV ad gives more credibility to the medicine. Security guard uniform doubles the rate of people who give a dime to another person for parking. When jaywalker in business suit, people are more likely to mimic him.

Important things and people are seen as taller. Yet the more a category of people is concerned by a mark of authority (e.g. students by teachers, or males by cars), the more that category underestimates the authority's impact on them.


We are more motivated by not loosing something, than by gaining something of equal value.

Reactance: as we're losing opportunities, we feel like we're losing freedoms. Since we hate losing freedoms, especially those most recently acquired, we'll fight to keep them. We'll also give those freedoms more importance or qualities than before. Example: 2-year-old kids discover they have a body of their own (a form of freedom newly acquired). They'll say no to everything to check their new boundaries. Same with teens realizing they can be independent of their parents: they fight parental authority.

Scarcity works on objects: ban phosphate use and people start finding it more useful. It also works on persons: cf the Romeo and Juliet effect: because their parents forbid it, their love is bigger. It also works on information: tell supermarkets that beef is scarce and that it's rare to know that beef is scarce increases sales by 6x. It also works on rights and ideas: forbid a book to minors and 1) they want to read it more, and 2) more of them think they're going to like it.

Temporal scarcity: examples include "available only this week" or pausing a face-to-face conversation to take a phone call because "he may not call again!". Being put in competition with other people (e.g. auctions) is even more efficient.

Scarcity creates a desire that has little to do with the merit of the commodity. The joy is not in experiencing a scarce commodity, but in possessing it.

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