I belong to a mail list (ex-cult support...if anyone is interesting
subscribing, email firstname.lastname@example.org); this summary on the book
Influence by Robert Cialdini was sent to the list. I've read this book and
not only is it helpful to understand how cults use influence, but it also
demystifies how influence is used in general in everyday. life.
By Robert B. Cialdini, Ph. D.
Rule of Reciprocity
Commitment and Consistency
Robert Cialdini is a Professor of Psychology at Arizona State
University and has spent many years devoted to the scientific
investigation and research of persuasion techniques. His book "
Influence " has become a classic. Within his book Cialdini lists six
basic social and psychological principles that form the foundation
for successful strategies used to achieve influence.
Those six principles are:
Rule of Reciprocity
According to sociologists and anthropologists, one of the most
widespread and basic norms of human culture is embodied in the rule
of reciprocity. This rule requires that one person try to repay what
another person has provided. By obligating the recipient to an act
of repayment in the future--the rule for reciprocation allows one
individual to give something to another with the confidence that it
is not being lost.
This sense of future obligation according to the rule makes possible
the development of various kinds of continuing relationships,
transactions, and exchanges that are beneficial to society.
Consequently, virtually all members of society are trained from
childhood to abide by this rule or suffer serious social disapproval.
The decision to comply with someone's request is frequently based
upon the Rule of Reciprocity . Again, a possible and profitable
tactic to gain probable compliance would be to give something to
someone before asking for a favor in return.
The opportunity to exploit this tactic is due to three
characteristics of the Rule of Reciprocity :
1. The rule is extremely powerful, often overwhelming the
influence of other factors that normally determine compliance with a
2. The rule applies even to uninvited first favors, which
reduces our ability to decide whom we wish to owe and putting the
choice in the hands of others
3. The rule can spur unequal exchanges. That is--to be rid
of the uncomfortable feeling of indebtedness, an individual will
often agree to a request for a substantially larger favor, than the
one he or she first received.
Another way in which the Rule of Reciprocity can increase compliance
involves a simple variation on the basic theme: instead of providing
a favor first that stimulates a returned favor, an individual can
make instead an initial concession--that stimulates a return
One compliance procedure, called the "rejection-then-retreat
technique", or door-in-the-face technique, relies heavily on the
pressure to reciprocate concessions. By starting with an extreme
request that is sure to be rejected, the requester can then
profitably retreat to a smaller request--the one that was desired
all along. This request is likely to now be accepted because it
appears to be a concession. Research indicates, that aside from
increasing the likelihood that a person will say yes to a
request--the rejection-then-retreat technique also increases the
likelihood that the person will carry out the request a will agree
to future requests.
The best defense against manipulation by the use of the Rule of
Reciprocity to gain compliance is not the total rejection of initial
offers by others. But rather, accepting initial favors or
concessions in good faith, while also remaining prepared to see
through them as tricks--should they later be proven so. Once they
are seen in this way, there is no longer a need to feel the
necessity to respond with a favor or concession.
Commitment and Consistency
People have a desire to look consistent through their words,
beliefs, attitudes and deeds and this tendency is supported or fed
from three sources:
1. Good personal consistency is highly valued by society.
2. Consistent conduct provides a beneficial approach to
3. A consistent orientation affords a valuable shortcut
through the complexity of modern existence. That is-- by being
consistent with earlier decisions we can reduce the need to process
all the relevant information in future similar situations. Instead,
one merely needs to recall the earlier decision and respond
The key to using the principles of Commitment and Consistency to
manipulate people is held within the initial commitment. That
is--after making a commitment, taking a stand or position, people
are more willing to agree to requests that are consistent with their
prior commitment. Many compliance professionals will try to induce
others to take an initial position that is consistent with a
behavior they will later request.
Commitments are most effective when they are active, public,
effortful, and viewed as internally motivated and not coerced. Once
a stand is taken, there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that
are stubbornly consistent with the stand. The drive to be and look
consistent constitutes a highly potent tool of social influence,
often causing people to act in ways that are clearly contrary to
their own best interests.
Commitment decisions, even erroneous ones, have a tendency to be
self-perpetuating--they often "grow their own legs." That is--those
involved may add new reasons and justifications to support the
wisdom of commitments they have already made. As a consequence, some
commitments remain in effect long after the conditions that spurred
them have changed. This phenomenon explains the effectiveness of
certain deceptive compliance practices.
To recognize and resist the undue influence of consistency pressures
upon our compliance decisions--we can listen for signals coming from
two places within us--our stomach or "gut reaction" and our heart.
- A bad feeling in the pit of the stomach may appear when we
realize that we are being pushed by commitment and consistency
pressures to agree to requests we know we don't want to perform.
- Our heart may bother us when it is not clear that an
initial commitment was right.
At such points it is meaningful to ask a crucial question, "Knowing
what I know now, if I could go back, would I have made the same
One means used to determine what is correct is to find out what
others believe is correct. People often view a behavior as more
correct in a given situation--to the degree that we see others
This principle of Social Proof can be used to stimulate a person's
compliance with a request by informing him or her that many other
individuals, perhaps some that are role models, are or have observed
this behavior. This tool of influence provides a shortcut for
determining how to behave. But at the same time it can make those
involved with using this social shortcut--vulnerable to the
manipulations of others who seek to exploit such influence through
such things as seminars, group introduction dinners, retreats etc.
Group members may then provide the models for the behavior that each
group plans to produce in its potential new members.
Social proof is most influential under two conditions:
1. Uncertainty--when people are unsure and the situation is
ambiguous they are more likely to observe the behavior of others and
to accept that behavior as correct
2. Similarity--people are more inclined to follow the lead
of others who are similar.
Some recommendations on how to reduce susceptibility to contrived
social proofs would include a greater sensitivity to clearly
counterfeit evidence. That is--what others are doing and their
behavior should not form a sole basis for decision-making.
People prefer to say yes to individuals they know and like. This
simple rule helps to understand how Liking can create influence and
how compliance professionals may emphasize certain factors and/or
attributes to increase their overall attractiveness and subsequent
effectiveness. Compliance practitioners may regularly use several
Physical attractiveness--is one feature of a person that often may
help to create some influence. Although it has long been suspected
that physical beauty provides an advantage in social interaction,
research indicates that this advantage may be greater than once
supposed. Physical attractiveness seems to engender a "halo" effect
that extends to favorable impressions of other traits such as
talent, kindness, and intelligence. As a result, attractive people
are more persuasive both in terms of getting what they request and
in changing others' attitudes.
Similarity--is a second factor that influences both Liking and
compliance. That is--we like people who are like us and are more
willing to say yes to their requests, often without much critical
Praise--is another factor that produces Liking , though this can
sometimes backfire when they are crudely transparent. But generally
compliments most often enhance liking and can be used as a means to
Increased familiarity--through repeated contact with a person or
thing is yet another factor that normally facilitates Liking . But
this holds true principally when that contact takes place under
positive rather than negative circumstances. One positive
circumstance that may works well is mutual and successful
A final factor linked to Liking is often association. By associating
with products or positive things--those who seek influence
frequently share in a halo effect by association. Other individuals
as well appear to recognize the positive effect of simply
associating themselves with favorable events and distancing
themselves from unfavorable ones.
A potentially effective response that reduces vulnerability to the
undue influence of Liking upon decision-making requires a
recognition of how Liking and its attending factors may impact our
impression of someone making requests and soliciting important
decisions. That is-- recognizing how someone making requests may do
inordinately well under certain circumstances--should cause us to
step back from some social interaction and objectively separate the
requester from his or her offer or request. We should make
decisions, commitments and offer compliance based upon the actual
merits of the offer or request.
In the seminal studies and research conducted by Milgram regarding
obedience there is evidence of the strong pressure within our
society for compliance when requested by an authority figure. The
strength of this tendency to obey legitimate authorities is derived
from the systematic socialization practices designed to instill in
society the perception that such obedience constitutes correct
conduct. Additionally, it is also frequently adaptive to obey the
dictates of genuine authorities because such individuals usually
possess high levels of knowledge, wisdom, and power. For these
reasons, deference to authorities can occur in a mindless fashion as
a kind of decision-making shortcut. When reacting to authority in an
automatic fashion there is a tendency to often do so in response to
the mere symbols of authority rather than to its substance.
Three types of symbols have been demonstrated through research as
effective in this regard:
In separate studies investigating the influence of these
symbols--individuals that possessed one or another of these symbols,
even without other legitimizing credentials, were accorded more
deference or obedience by those they encountered. Moreover, in each
instance, those individuals who deferred and/or obeyed these
individuals underestimated the effect of authority pressures upon
Asking two questions can attain a meaningful defense against the
detrimental effects of undue influence gained through authority.
1. Is this authority truly an expert?
2. How truthful can we expect this expert to be?
The first question directs our attention away from symbols and
toward actual evidence for authority status. The second advises us
to consider not just the expert's knowledge in the situation, but
also his or her trustworthiness. With regard to this second
consideration, we should be alert to the trust-enhancing tactic in
which a communicator may first provide some mildly negative
information about himself or herself. This can be seen as a strategy
to create the perception of honesty--making subsequent information
seem more credible to those listening.
According to the Principle of Scarcity --people assign more value to
opportunities when they are less available. The use of this
principle for profit can be seen in such high-pressure sales
techniques as only a "limited number" now available and a "deadline"
set for an offer. Such tactics attempt to persuade people that
number and/or time restrict access to what is offered. The scarcity
principle holds true for two reasons:
1. Things difficult to attain are typically more valuable.
And the availability of an item or experience can serve as a
shortcut clue or cue to its quality.
2. When something becomes less accessible, the freedom to
have it may be lost.
According to psychological reactance theory, people respond to the
loss of freedom by wanting to have it more. This includes the
freedom to have certain goods and services. As a motivator,
psychological reactance is present throughout the great majority of
a person's life span. However, it is especially evident at a pair of
ages: "the terrible twos" and the teenage years. Both of these
periods are characterized by an emerging sense of individuality,
which brings to prominence such issues as control, individual
rights, and freedoms. People at these ages are especially sensitive
In addition to its effect on the valuation of commodities, the
Principle of Scarcity also applies to the way that information is
evaluated. Research indicates that the act of limiting access to a
message may cause individuals to want it more and to become
increasingly favorable to it. The latter of these findings, that
limited information is more persuasive--seems the most interesting.
In the case of censorship, this effect occurs even when the message
has not been received. When a message has been received, it is more
effective if it is perceived to consist of some type of exclusive
The scarcity principle is more likely to hold true under two
1. Scarce items are heightened in value when they are newly
scarce. That is things have higher value when they have become
recently restricted--more than those than those things that were
restricted all along have.
2. People are most attracted to scarce resources when they
compete with others for them.
It is difficult to prepare ourselves cognitively against scarcity
pressures because they have an emotional quality that makes thinking
difficult. In defense, we might attempt to be alert regarding the
sudden rush of emotions in situations involving scarcity. Perhaps
this awareness may allow us to remain calm and take steps to assess
the merits of an opportunity in terms of why we really want and
This is based upon the summary notes within the book-- Influence .
By Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. (Quill, NY, 1984 (Revised 1993)
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