Book Notes - Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion31 Mar 2020
I finished Robert Cialdini's Influence a couple months ago.
The book is one of the most often cited when it comes to biases and our psychological tendencies that work against us. It's also heavily cited in Rationality: From AI to Zombie, another book I've read and have yet to write about.
(If you're interested in that general idea, be sure to check my post on Charlie Munger's list of psychological tendencies.)
More precisely, the book is about the big principles that "compliance professionals" (marketers, salesmen and negotiators of all ilks) exploit in order to influence us towards their preferred outcome.
Cialdini identifies six such principles, which he describes in turn:
- Social proof
Cialdini asserts that we humans come with a large store of evolved automatic responses. A very simple example is that we are prone to grant favors, when such favors are requested with a reason, the quality of the reason notwithstanding! Just adding "because I really need it" or "because I'm in a hurry" after your requests apparently increases the chances they will be granted.
Another such automatic response is that we tend to treat cost as a heuristic for quality. Hence sometimes increasing the cost of a product makes it sell better.
There are good reasons for these heuristics to exist. They are often pretty useful, or at least were useful in the ancestral environment. Cialdini explains for each principle why it is/was advantageous, how it is now being used against us, and how to avoid falling for it.
I took a few note while reading, but I wasn't quite sure what to do with them.
One reason I take notes is that I'm not usually too great at remembering things I have read. Making notes makes it easy to come back to a topic. But more than just offloading the info to my hard drive, I also want to remember. It happens too often that I've read a book, want to tell someone about it, and nothing but uninteresting platitudes about the book come to mind.
This book, in particular, seemed well suited for being remembered. After all, if you're getting the feeling that someone is trying to get advantage of you, you'd like to remembert the standard set of technique likely to be used against you, wouldn't you?
So what I did it was boil down the content of the book to a set of very short aphorism-like sentences. This probably won't make much sense to people who haven't read the book, and possibly to people other than myself.
The plan is to re-read this once in a while, so as to imprint some of the ideas. Anki could be a useful tool for this too.
It's rude to refuse a gift.
It's rude to refuse repaying favor.
Small favors can lead to big favors.
Starting from a realistic first ask, the asker can back down to a smaller favor, and you would be tempted to "reciprocate the concession".
Reciprocate exploitation with exploitation.
Nobody likes (being) hypocrites.
Commitment can be weaponized, especially when small and progressive.
Writing produces powerful commitment, doubly so if public.
... even if the beliefs written down are not truly-held beliefs!
We feel committed to things we've put effort into, or have suffered for (the sunk cost fallacy).
The commitment is great if someone has made an "inner choice". Incentives can be detrimental, the reasons for the choice must allow the subject to take personal responsibility (e.g. morals).
Throwing a lowball: adding and then removing incentive to produce inner choice.
Own your inconsistencies, trust your gut signals.
3. Social Proof
Examples: canned laughter, seeding the tip jar.
The bystander effect: pluralistic ignorance.
Fight it by tasking a specific person with a specific task.
We imitate people similar to us.
We prefer granting requests from people we know and like.
- e.g. Tupperware parties, local Amnesty volunteers
- Endorsements are often enough.
Salesmen want us to like them.
The message infects the messenger.
Guilt by association.
Association to glamour, aesthetics, or even meals.
Association/dissociation: When things are good it's "we", when things are bad, it's "they".
Stronger for people with low self-esteem, or whose self-esteem was recently injured.
Fight by explicitly dissociating "the product" from outside associations.
Works even with just the apparence of authority (attire, titles)
... or association to authority.
Clothing matters: uniforms or business suits. They work even in unrelated domains.
The principal agent problem
Small concessions to truth can help conceal a broader deception strategy.
Fight by verying credentials and wondering about their relevance.
The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.
— G. K. Chesterton
- Psychological reactance: we hate losing our freedoms, including our freedom of choice.
- Ask for a commitment to buy commitment when the product is at its scarcest.
- The deadline technique: now or never.
We assign positive quality to that which we desire because we can't (or risk not) have it.
- Banned information: we desire it more, but also trust it more.
- Combo: when knowledge of scarcity is itself scarce.
New scarcity is more powerful than pre-existing scarcity.
- Revolutions often occurs when prosperity is followed by short sharp reversal.
- For this reasons, parents should apply consistent rules to their children.
- Even more potent when caused by social demand (i.e. social proof).
e.g. auctions, love triangles
False desires: the joy is not in experiencing a scarce commodity but in possessing it.
Bonus: Perceptual Contrast
Showing expensive items first to make cheaper alternative look cheap, period.
... or showing crappy items first to make the more expensive items look worth their cost.
Negotiating cheaper addons after a big sale.
Leading with a bad news.