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The Psychology of Persuasion

By Robert B. Cialdini
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Influence by Robert B. Cialdini

Influence (1984) explains in detail the fundamental principles of persuasion. How do you get people to say yes? How do other people get you to say yes? How are you manipulated by sleek salesmen, clever marketing folks and sneaky confidence tricksters? These blinks will help you understand the psychology behind their techniques, enabling you to unleash your own persuasive powers, while also defending against their tactics of manipulation.

Key idea 1 of 12

Our brain loves shortcuts, and they can be used to manipulate us.

Turkey mothers are wonderful parents: loving, protective and nurturing of their young.

However, look a little more closely and you’ll see that this tenderness hangs by a single thread. If a chick emits the distinctive “cheep-cheep” sound, the mother will care for it lovingly. But if the chick does not, the mother will ignore or even kill it!

The “cheep-cheep” sound is so persuasive that even a replica of the turkey’s arch-nemesis, the polecat, will elicit tender care from the mother turkey as long as it cheeps loudly.

For the mother turkey, the sound is a simple shortcut that allows her to quickly and, in most cases, reliably identify its chicks, triggering its maternal instincts.

We humans like to think of ourselves as clever, which is why the mother turkey’s shortcut can seem quite foolish to us.

But the fact is that we use very similar psychological shortcuts as well.

This is due to simple necessity: the world is a complex place where it’s impossible for us to reflect upon the details of every decision we make. Thus, we use quick shortcuts, and most of the time they serve us well.

One example of such a shortcut is that we’re much more willing to do people a favor if they provide us with a reason – any reason.

In an experiment to study this phenomenon, a researcher asked people queueing up to use a copy machine whether she could skip the line. She found that if she gave a reason – “May I skip the line because I’m in a rush?” – 94 percent of people complied with her request.

If she gave no reason, only 60 percent complied.

But, fascinatingly, if she gave a nonsensical reason –  “May I skip the line because I need to make copies” – 93 percent still complied. Apparently, people have a mental shortcut that deems any reason at all sufficient to grant a favor!

More worryingly, just as scientists can trick a turkey into mothering a stuffed polecat, so-called compliance professionals like advertisers, salesmen and con artists can fool us into using our shortcuts against our own interests. They usually do this to get us to comply with their demands, for example, to buy a product.

One example is the commonly abused “price indicates quality” shortcut. People usually assume expensive items are of higher quality than cheap ones, and while this shortcut is often at least partially accurate, a wily salesman might well use it against us. For example, did you know that souvenir shops often sell unpopular goods by raising rather than lowering their prices?

Since dealing with the complexities of life means having to rely on shortcuts, we must identify and defend ourselves against the manipulators who would trick us into wrongly using those shortcuts, lest we end up looking as foolish as the poor mother turkey.

The following blinks will introduce you to six basic psychological principles that we use as shortcuts, and which can be exploited for persuasion: reciprocation, scarcity, consistency, social proof, liking and authority.

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