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The Science of Persuasion

Robert Cialdini

Click whirr response - all animals have an automatic tape which 'plays' a certain behaviour when stimulated by a trigger. Turkey mother's tape is activated by 'cheep cheep' sound. Doesn't matter what is making it. Turkeys normally flee a polecat, even a stuffed one, but if the stuffed polecat is making a cheep cheep noise, the turkey will mother it.

Cleaner fish work by doing a little dance which triggers passivity in bigger fish which would normally eat them. A saber tooth blenny has copied the dance - when bigger fish immobile, it rips a mouthful of flesh from its side and darts away before the startled victim can recover.

We do the same thing - we stereotype things eg if it's expensive it must be desirable - but we have to, because we don't have time to evaluate every discovery, so we have to take shortcuts.

Contrast principle - 3 buckets - put right hand in one full of cold water, left hand in one full of hot water - then get person to put both hands in bucket of room temp water and watch perplexity - one hand is telling the brain that the water is cold, the other is saying that it's hot, but his eyes can see that both hands are in the same bucket of water. Salesmen use this principle to show you an expensive item first, then a cheaper one later as either an alternative or as an add on.

Reciprocity - 2 people apparently both expt subjects - one goes out and brings back a can coke for himself; in half the expts he also brings one for the other person. Then asks other person to buy raffle tickets - ones who'd been done a favor bought twice as many tickets. Hare Krishnas use same donation-request procedure to stimulate reciprocity response from people who otherwise wouldn't give them anything because they look so weird.

Kids know principle - ask for something big but 'settle' for something smaller. Can use same thing to get people to volunteer. Ask them to do something outlandish which they refuse, then ask for something that seems much less. Not only do you get far higher acceptance, but also get much higher rate of people actually turning up to do what they've promised. Further tests showed that strategy worked because victim felt that they had influenced the final deal, and so felt more responsibility.

So how do you defend yourself against someone using these tactics? It would seem to either have to give in or accept the guilt of violating quite powerful social mores. What you have to do is recognise that it's the rule you need to resist, not the person. If you can see that he is trying to manipulate you.

Two step process to get volunteers to collect money. First made a phone call asking people what they thought they'd do if someone asked them to volunteer. Not wanting to appear uncharitable, most said they would volunteer. Then, a few days alter, when a rep of American Cancer Society did call and ask if they'd volunteer, they got a 700% increase in numbers agreeing.

During Korean War, Chinese did a very subtle brainwash on American prisoners. They started by getting them to make statements that were very slightly anti American such as "America is not perfect" then once they'd agreed with that ask him to give examples of ways not perfect. Then he might be asked to write down a list of all these 'problems with America' and sign his name to it. Although to the American they seemed quite unimportant things, the Chinese would broadcast man reading out the list to other POWs and the man would suddenly seem to be a collaborator. Then, interesting thing, he would shift his opinion of himself to see himself as a collaborator. Very few prisoners managed to avoid this process, and almost every returned POW had shifted his stance on war by time returned to America.

The men used their own behaviour to decide what their character is. So if you can change person's actions they will change their view of themselves to align with what they've done.

There is something magical in getting people to write things down. The Chinese exploited it - even if a prisoner refused to volunteer pro-Communist statements, they would get him to copy them out of a book, which seemed harmless enough. But even though other prisoners knew the guy hadn't made those statements himself, seeing it in his handwriting caused them to think that that was what he believed (and then he felt pressured to shift his beliefs to tally with other's opinion of him).

Amway also used this. When states passed 'cooing off' laws, Amway lost a lot of sales. They found that the easiest way to counter that was to get the customer to fill out the sales agreement himself. People then live up to what they themselves have written down.

Salesmen use this 'start small' principle. One example was a supposed safety campaigner asked people to display a small 3" sign saying DRIVE CAREFULLY. Then 3 weeks later another campaigner came by and asked if they could put up a huge sign in their front yard. If they hadn't already agreed to put up small sign, the overwhelming majority (85%) refused. But the ones who already had a small sign, quite the opposite: 76% agreed. Researchers achieved similar acquiescence by getting people to first sign a petition in favor of "Keep California Beautiful". What happened was that people changed their self-image - they now defined themselves as public-spirited citizens who acted on their civic principles.

It turns out that we take personal responsibility if we feel we have chosen to do something, but don't if we can tell ourselves did it for a big reward or to avoid a punishment. Implications for child rearing - using a heavy bribe or punishment can get temporary compliance but if you want them to keep doing it when outside pressures not there, you have to arrange for them to accept inner responsibility.

Expt on getting people to conserve power. First rang them up and asked them to try. All agreed, but at end month, hadn't saved any more than everyone else. Next step was to ring another group and tell them they'd get names in paper if they saved a target amount. This was very successful: by end of month they'd saved a lot. But then the researchers pulled out the motivation - sent out a letter saying that wouldn't be possible to publish names after all. So what happened? These people actually saved even more power than they had when they thought they were going to get a reward. By taking away the apparent incentive, the participants could see themselves as motivated by civic concern, and so modified behaviour to be consistent with that.

What is happening when a large number of people ignore someone in peril? When we are unsure of ourselves; when the situation is unclear or uncertain, we look to others to figure out what is the correct thing to do. They of course are doing the same thing, while at same time trying to look cool and unfazed. So everyone gets idea that all others think everything's ok. You're more likely to be helped by a single bystander than by many. So what you have to do if you are a victim is a) make it clear that you need help b) single out one individual and ask him to call ambulance or whatever.

In the early 1800's people hired themselves out to opera houses as claquers - paid to applaud the performance, with a graduated scale of fees depending on what reactions required.

We are suckers for flattery (Actor McLean Stevenson once said his wife tricked him into marraige "She said she liked me") Positive comments produced as much liking for the flatterer wn they were untrue as when they were true.

In an election booth people will pick a candidate simply because his name seems familiar In one contraversial Ohio election a little-fancied guy won after he changed his name shortly before the poll to the same as a prominent local family.

Our attitude to something is determined by how often we've been exposed to it. The more frequently a person's face flashed on screen, the more those subjects came to like him when they subsequently met.

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LA Times Review

Mitt Romney on the stump, singles at the bar, car salesmen on the lot: All sorts of people are practicing the art of persuasion, with varying degrees of success.

We like to think that we make our own decisions, that we're in control. But we're all open to persuasion by others, says Robert Cialdini, professor emeritus of psychology at Arizona State University and author of "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion."

Humans have been testing their own trial-and-error persuasion techniques forever, Cialdini says. Now, for better or worse, the professionals are moving in. Or, as he puts it, "the art of persuasion has turned into a science."

Through experiments and real-world observations, researchers have unlocked some of the mysteries of persuasion: what works, what doesn't work and why so many of us end up with candidates, dates and cars that we never really wanted.

People who learn these secrets can keep themselves from getting duped, Cialdini says. With practice, they can even reach the ultimate goal: getting others to do their bidding.

Strategic persuasion can pay huge dividends, adds Steve Martin (not the guy you're thinking of, but Cialdini's colleague and the British director of the consulting company Cialdini founded, For example, the British government recently asked him for advice to encourage delinquent taxpayers to pay up. Martin suggested a simple tactic: Instead of threatening people with fines, the government should send out a letter saying that the great majority of Brits pay their taxes on time.

That kind of peer pressure works. "So far, they've collected about $1 billion more than they would have otherwise," Martin says.

Cialdini's own research has identified six "weapons of persuasion" that can bring people to your side. Read and learn:

A rare find: Job seekers should do more than make the case that they're right for a job; according to Cialdini, they should present themselves as a unique fit. As he explains, nobody wants to miss out on a scarce opportunity. The allure of scarcity explains why people line up at Best Buy at 4:30 a.m. on Black Friday and why inside info is valued more than common knowledge.

Count on payback: "Reciprocity is a part of every society," Cialdini says. A classic experiment from the 1970s found that people bought twice as many raffle tickets from a stranger if he first gave them a can of Coke — proof that even tiny favors can work to your advantage. Likewise, your buddy is more likely to help you move that couch if you've ever given him a ride to the airport.

Be likable: A tough assignment for some, that's for sure. But Cialdini's research has found that a little easygoing pleasantness can be just as persuasive as talent or actual ability. Perhaps unfairly, looks count too: A study of Canadian elections, for example, found that attractive candidates received more votes than their less-blessed opponents,, even though voters claimed they didn't care about appearances.

Society's seal of approval: Your friend is more likely to try something — recycle, eat at the new tapas place, watch "Glee" — if you mention that lots of other people are doing it. That's why his letter to Brit taxpayers was a billion-dollar success, Martin says. People may not want to follow the herd, Cialdini adds, but they do assume that other people make choices for a reason.

Play the consistency card: People will go to great lengths to avoid seeming flaky or wishy-washy. As Cialdini explains in his book, car salesmen exploit this trait by making fantastic "lowball" offers to potential customers. Once a customer decides to buy a car, he's unlikely to want to flake out on the deal even if the price mysteriously balloons — Oops! There was a mistake! — before he gets the keys. Or, for a less slimy example, you're more likely to get that raise or a promotion if you remind your boss that she has a long history of treating her employees well. (Surely she wouldn't want to change her tune now.)

Speak from authority: Your suggestions will go a lot further if people think you're pulling them from somewhere other than thin air. Martin has an example: In a recent study, a real estate company significantly increased home sales when the receptionist took a moment to inform potential customers of each agent's credentials and experience. "The statements were true," Martin says, "they didn't cost anything — and they worked."

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