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Influence: Science and Practice

By Robert B. Cialdini

Weapons of Influence:

  • Be aware of fixed-action patterns brought on by instincts.
  • Compliance is born out of the human (and animal) need to short cut a process with a single stimulus eliciting the fixed-action influence.


  • The most widespread and basic norms of human culture is reciprocation: one should try to repay, in kind, what another has provided. Example: A stranger hands you a flower or a compliment, then asks for a stick of gum. You’ll do it.
  • Compliance is influenced by this.
    • It’s so powerful it can overwhelm a usual negative request
    • Works with even uninvited favors
    • Can spur unequal exchanges
  • An individual can make a request, then a concession. The concession works just as well. Example: individual asks to borrow your car, you say no, and the individual asks for a ride –  you comply.
  • Defense against it: accept offers on good faith and don’t see them as tricks so you’re not “caught” later

Commitment and Consistency:

  • People want to be and look consistent in words, deeds, beliefs, and attitudes.
    • Consistency valued by society
    • Consistency valued because of its affect on daily life
    • Consistency because of a shortcut of modern complexity (you did this once, so do it again)
  • You must secure an initial commitment first. Once you do it once, you’ll do it again.
  • Once you make a commitment, if the initial reason falls out, you’ll come up with other reasons.
  • Defense against it: go with your gut, literally.

Social Proof:

  • People decide what to do based on what other people are doing.
  • Most influential in:
    • Uncertainty
    • Similarity (dress, voice, etc)
  • Defense against it: develop a sensitivity to manufactured social proofing


  • People prefer to say “yes” to individuals they know and like
  • Physical attractiveness matters
  • Similarity – dress the same, act the same
  • Increased familiarity facilitates liking
    • association
    • taking a meal together, etc
  • Defense against it: upon recognizing that we like a requester inordinately well under the circumstances, we should step back from the social interaction and separate the requester from the offer


  • There is evidence of strong pressure for compliance with the requests of an authority
  • There is a tendency to react in an automatic fashion to symbols rather than substance: titles, clothing, and automobiles
  • Defense against it: Question authority. Consider the authority’s trustworthiness.


  • People assign more value to opportunities when they are less available
  • Scarcity works for two reasons:
    • If it’s difficult to attain, it’s got to be more valuable, so a shortcut to it quality
    • As it becomes less accessible, we lose freedoms and we respond to the loss of freedoms by wanting to have more.
  • The terrible twos and teenage years are the worst time for restrictions
  • It works with how information is evaluated: limiting access to a message causes individuals to want it more. LIMITED INFORMATION IS MORE PERSUASIVE
  • Scarcity works best under two conditions:
    • they are heightened in value when newly scarce
    • we are attracted to scare resources if we have to compete
  • Defense against it: be alert to a rush of arousal and take a break to assess.

Instant Influence

  • Life is so complex now, we look for shortcuts.