date Apr 1, 2015
authors Robert B. Cialdini
reading time 14 mins

Influence principles

The principles consistency, reciprocation, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity are increasingly important for the society, therefore, to understand the how and why of automatic influence.

Favor and reason

A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.

Price and buying

Price alone had become a trigger feature for quality; and a dramatic increase in price alone had led to a dramatic increase in sales among the quality-hungry buyers.


There is a strong but sad parallel in the human jungle. We too have exploiters who mimic trigger features for our own brand of automatic responding. Unlike the mostly instinctive response sequences of nonhumans, our automatic tapes usually develop from psychological principles or stereotypes we have learned to accept. Although they vary in their force, some of these principles possess a tremendous ability to direct human action.

Contrast principle

It is much more profitable for salespeople to present the expensive item first, not only because to fail to do so will lose the influence of the contrast principle; to fail to do so will also cause the principle to work actively against them. Presenting an inexpensive product first and following it with an expensive one will cause the expensive item to seem even more costly as a result—hardly a desirable consequence for most sales organizations.


The truly gifted negotiator, then, is one whose initial position is exaggerated enough to allow for a series of reciprocal concessions that will yield a desirable final offer from the opponent, yet is not so outlandish as to be seen as illegitimate from the start.

Declining to avoid influence

Perhaps the answer, then, is to prevent its activation. Perhaps we can avoid a confrontation with the rule by refusing to allow the requester to commission its force against us in the first place. Perhaps by rejecting the requester’s initial favor or concession to us, we can evade the problem. Perhaps; but then, perhaps not. Invariably declining the requester’s initial offer of a favor or sacrifice works better in theory than in practice.

Agreement –> Compliance

be very careful about agreeing to trivial requests. Such an agreement can not only increase our compliance with very similar, much larger requests, it can also make us more willing to perform a variety of larger favors that are only remotely connected to the little one we did earlier.

Committing to writing

Writing was one sort of confirming action that the Chinese urged incessantly upon the men. It was never enough for the prisoners to listen quietly or even to agree verbally with the Chinese line; they were always pushed to write it down as well. So intent were the Chinese on securing a written statement that if a prisoner was not willing to write a desired response freely, he was prevailed upon to copy it.

Pain in acquiring something == perceived higher value

that “persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort.”

Keeping commitments

It appears that commitments are most effective in changing a person’s self-image and future behavior when they are active, public, and effortful.

Bribe or threats have temporary effects

All this has important implications for rearing children. It suggests that we should never heavily bribe or threaten our children to do the things we want them truly to believe in. Such pressures will probably produce temporary compliance with our wishes. However, if we want more than just that, if we want the children to believe in the correctness of what they have done, if we want them to continue to perform the desired behavior when we are not present to apply those outside pressures, then we must somehow arrange for them to accept inner responsibility for the actions we want them to take.

Using personal responsibility with reasoning

The important thing is to use a reason that will initially produce the desired behavior and will, at the same time, allow a child to take personal responsibility for that behavior.

Commitment and then action

These people had been lowballed into a conservation commitment through a promise of newspaper publicity. Once made, that commitment started generating its own support: The homeowners began acquiring new energy habits, began feeling good about their public-spirited efforts, began convincing themselves of the vital need to reduce American dependence on foreign fuel, began appreciating the monetary savings in their utility bills, began feeling proud of their capacity for self-denial, and, most important, began viewing themselves as conservation-minded.


quite contrary to what Emerson seems to have suggested, internal consistency is a hallmark of logic and intellectual strength, while its lack characterizes the intellectually scattered and limited among us. What, then, could a thinker of Emerson’s caliber have meant when he assigned the trait of consistency to the small-minded?

Be wary of tendency to be consistent

Although consistency is generally good, even vital, there is a foolish, rigid variety to be shunned. It is this tendency to be automatically and unthinkingly consistent that Emerson referred to. And it is this tendency that we must be wary of, for it lays us open to the maneuvers of those who want to exploit the mechanical commitment consistency sequence for profit.

Imitators and initiators

“Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.”

Social proof

If they could spread the Word, if they could inform the uninformed, if they could persuade the skeptics, and if, by so doing, they could win new converts, their threatened but treasured beliefs would become truer. The principle of social proof says so: The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct.

When social proof reigns

In general, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct.

Principle of responsibility

The psychologists speculated that, for at least two reasons, a bystander to an emergency would be unlikely to help when there were a number of other bystanders present. The first reason is fairly straightforward. With several potential helpers around, the personal responsibility of each individual is reduced: “Perhaps someone else will give or call for aid, perhaps someone else already has.” So with everyone thinking that someone else will help or has helped, no one does.

What to do for principle for responsibility

Pick out one person and assign the task to that individual. Otherwise, it is too easy for everyone in the crowd to assume that someone else should help, will help, or has helped.

Likeness and bias

They have always included one relatively subtle kind of distortion: We hear only from those who like the product; as a result, we get an understandably biased picture of the amount of social support for it.


We are phenomenal suckers for flattery. Although there are limits to our gullibility especially when we can be sure that the flatterer is trying to manipulate us we tend, as a rule, to believe praise and to like those who provide it, oftentimes when it is clearly false.

Number of time exposed to it in the past

The answer lies partially in the unconscious way that familiarity affects liking. Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.

Combined mission made the groups more valuable

It was the cooperation required to achieve these goals that finally allowed the rival group members to experience one another as reasonable fellows, valued helpers, and friends. And when success resulted from the mutual efforts, it became especially difficult to maintain feelings of hostility toward those who had been teammates in the triumph.


As distinguished author Isaac Asimov put it in describing our reactions to the contests we view, “All things being equal, you root for your own sex, your own culture, your own locality…and what you want to prove is that you are better than the other person. Whomever you root for represents you; and when he wins, you win.”

When self is at stake

The self is at stake. That is why hometown crowds are so adoring and, more tellingly, so grateful toward those regularly responsible for home-team victories. That is also why the same crowds are often ferocious in their treatment of players, coaches, and officials implicated in athletic failures.

Association principle

So we want our affiliated sports teams to win to prove our own superiority. But to whom are we trying to prove it? Ourselves, certainly; but to everyone else, too. According to the association principle, if we can surround ourselves with success that we are connected with in even a superficial way (for example, place of residence), our public prestige will rise.

Success of association

This finding tells me that it is not when we have a strong feeling of recognized personal accomplishment that we will seek to bask in reflected glory. Instead, it will be when prestige (both public and private) is low that we will be intent upon using the successes of associated others to help restore image.

False sense of achievement

Just what kind of people are they? Unless I miss my guess, they are not merely great sports aficionados; they are individuals with a hidden personality flaw a poor self-concept. Deep inside is a sense of low personal worth that directs them to seek prestige not from the generation or promotion of their own attainments, but from the generation or promotion of their associations with others of attainment. There are several varieties of this species that bloom throughout our culture. The persistent name-dropper is a classic example.

On using attire for influence

It is noteworthy that the two types of authority apparel shown by the above research to be influential the guard uniform and business suit are combined deftly by confidence men in a fraud called the bank-examiner scheme.


Suppose, though, we are confronted with an authority we determine is a relevant expert. Before submitting to authority influence, it would be wise to ask a second simple question: “How truthful can we expect the expert to be here?” Authorities, even the best informed, may not present their information honestly to us.

Losing » Gaining

people seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value. For instance, homeowners told how much money they could lose from inadequate insulation are more likely to insulate their homes than those told how much money they could save.

Rarity principle

Thus a stamp carrying a three-eyed likeness of George Washington is anatomically incorrect, aesthetically unappealing, and yet highly sought after. There is instructive irony here: Imperfections that would otherwise make for rubbish make for prized possessions when they bring along an abiding scarcity.

Difficult to attain things are more precious

because we know that the things that are difficult to possess are typically better than those that are easy to possess, we can often use an item’s availability to help us quickly and correctly decide on its quality.


wise parent provides highly consistent information.

Traditional parents

Not surprisingly, again, imposing traditional parental authority at these times is often counterproductive; the teenager will sneak, scheme, and fight to resist such attempts at control.

Freedom curtailed

This sort of response is typical of individuals who have lost an established freedom and is crucial to an understanding of how psychological reactance and scarcity work on us. When our freedom to have something is limited, the item becomes less available, and we experience an increased desire for it. However, we rarely recognize that psychological reactance has caused us to want the item more; all we know is that we want it. Still, we need to make sense of our desire for the item, so we begin to assign it positive qualities to justify the desire.


Almost invariably, our response to the banning of information is a greater desire to receive that information and a more favorable attitude toward it than before the ban… We react to information restriction there, as usual, by valuing the banned information more than ever.

Revolutions or sudden change

we are most likely to find revolutions where a period of improving economic and social conditions is followed by a short, sharp reversal in those conditions. Thus it is not the traditionally most downtrodden people who have come to see their deprivation as part of the natural order of things who are especially liable to revolt.


Thus it is not the traditionally most downtrodden people who have come to see their deprivation as part of the natural order of things who are especially liable to revolt. Instead, revolutionaries are more likely to be those who have been given at least some taste of a better life. When the economic and social improvements they have experienced and come to expect suddenly become less available, they desire them more than ever and often rise up violently to secure them.

Freedom once given

Freedoms once granted will not be relinquished without a fight. The lesson applies as well to the politics of family as country. The parent who grants privileges or enforces rules erratically invites rebelliousness by unwittingly establishing freedoms for the child.

Source of rebellious kids

parents who enforce discipline inconsistently produce generally rebellious children.

Scarce objects

But very often we don’t want a thing purely for the sake of owning it. We want it, instead, for its utility value; we want to eat it or drink it or touch it or hear it or drive it or otherwise use it. In such cases it is vital to remember that scarce things do not taste or feel or sound or ride or work any better because of their limited availability.

Humongous information

The year of his death (1873) is important because he is reputed to have been the last man to know everything there was to know in the world. Today, the notion that one of us could be aware of all known facts is only laughable. After eons of slow accumulation, human knowledge has snowballed into an era of momentum-fed, multiplicative, monstrous expansion. We now live in a world where most of the information is less than fifteen years old.