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Note: These are notes I’ve highlighted in the book, that I can go back to for re-reading. This is not a complete summary of the book.
The book is organized around these six principles, one to a chapter. The principles—consistency, reciprocation, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity—are each discussed in terms of their function in the society and in terms of how their enormous force can be commissioned by a compliance professional who deftly incorporates them into requests for purchases, donations, concessions, votes, assent, etc.
The evidence suggests that the ever-accelerating pace and informational crush of modern life will make this particular form of unthinking compliance more and more prevalent in the future. It will be increasingly important for the society, therefore, to understand the how and why of automatic influence.
Weapons of Influence
- The ethologists tell us that this sort of thing is far from unique to the turkey. They have begun to identify regular, blindly mechanical patterns of action in a wide variety of species.
- This parallel form of human automatic action is aptly demonstrated in an experiment by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer. 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.
- The contrast principle, that affects the way we see the difference between two things that are presented one after another. Simply put, if the second item is fairly different from the first, we will tend to see it as more different than it actually is. So if we lift a light object first and then lift a heavy object, we will estimate the second object to be heavier than if we had lifted it without first trying the light one.
- 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
- Phil began showing a new set of customers potential buys, he would start with a couple of undesirable houses. The company maintained a run-down house or two on its lists at inflated prices. These houses were not intended to be sold to customers but to be shown to them, so that the genuine properties in the company’s inventory would benefit from the comparison.
Reciprocation: The Old Give and Take . . . and Take
- The Rule Enforces Uninvited Debts: the power of the reciprocity rule is such that by first doing us a favor, strange, disliked, or unwelcome others can enhance the chance that we will comply with one of their requests
- Rejection-then-retreat technique. Suppose you want me to agree to a certain request. One way to increase your chances would be first to make a larger request of me, one that I will most likely turn down. Then, after I have refused, you would make the smaller request that you were really interested in all along.
- In combination, the influences of reciprocity and perceptual contrast can present a fearsomely powerful force.
- Responsibility. Those subjects facing the opponent who used the retreating strategy felt most responsible for the final deal. it appeared to these subjects that they had made the opponent change, that they had produced his concessions.
Commitment and Consistency: Hobgoblins of the Mind
- People at the racetrack: Just after placing a bet, they are much more confident of their horse’s chances of winning than they are immediately before laying down that bet
- Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment
- But because it is so typically in our best interests to be consistent, we easily fall into the habit of being automatically so, even in situations where it is not the sensible way to be.
- The theory behind this tactic is that people who have just asserted that they are doing/feeling fine—even as a routine part of a sociable exchange—will consequently find it awkward to appear stingy in the context of their own admittedly favored circumstances
- The tactic of starting with a little request in order to gain eventual compliance with related larger requests has a name: the foot-in-the-door technique
- Public commitments tend to be lasting commitments.
- People 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.
- It appears that commitments are most effective in changing a person’s self-image and future behavior when they are active, public, and effortful.
- We accept inner responsibility for a behavior when we think we have chosen to perform it in the absence of strong outside pressures. A large reward is one such external pressure. It may get us to perform a certain action, but it won’t get us to accept inner responsibility for the act. Consequently, we won’t feel committed to it. The same is true of a strong threat; it may motivate immediate compliance, but it is unlikely to produce long-term commitment.
Social Proof: Truths Are Us
- 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.
- When people are uncertain, they are more likely to use others’ actions to decide how they themselves should act.
- Especially when we view those others as similar to ourselves.
Liking: The Friendly Thief
- We most prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like
- Sales: It consisted of offering people just two things: a fair price and someone they liked to buy from.
- Research has shown that we automatically assign to good-looking individuals such favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence. Furthermore, we make these judgments without being aware that physical attractiveness plays a role in the process.
- Those who wish to be liked in order to increase our compliance can accomplish that purpose by appearing similar to us in any of a wide variety of ways
- 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.
- Conjoint efforts toward common goals steadily bridged the rancorous rift between the groups.
- There is a natural human tendency to dislike a person who brings us unpleasant information, even when that person did not cause the bad news. The simple association with it is enough to stimulate our dislike.
- 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.
- 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
Authority: Directed Deference
- To Milgram’s mind, evidence of a chilling phenomenon emerges repeatedly from his accumulated data: “It is the extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority that constitutes the chief finding of the study.”
- When in a click, whirr mode, we are often as vulnerable to the symbols of authority as to the substance.
- A second kind of authority symbol that can trigger our mechanical compliance is clothing.
- One protective tactic we can use against authority status is to remove its element of surprise.
- Posing two questions to ourselves can help enormously to accomplish this trick. The first is to ask, when we are confronted with what appears to be an authority figure’s influence attempt, “Is this authority truly an 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. Therefore we need to consider their trustworthiness in the situation.
Scarcity: The Rule of the Few
- Scarcity principle—that opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited
- The idea of potential loss plays a large role in human decision making. In fact, 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.
- The intriguing thing about the effects of censoring information is not that audience members want to have the information more than they did before; that seems natural. Rather, it is that they come to believe in the information more, even though they haven’t received it.
- Participants in a consumer-preference study were given a chocolate-chip cookie from a jar and asked to taste and rate its quality. For half of the raters, the jar contained ten cookies; for the other half, it contained just two. As we might expect from the scarcity principle, when the cookie was one of the only two available, it was rated more favorably than when it was one of ten. The cookie in short supply was rated as more desirable to eat in the future, more attractive as a consumer item, and more costly than the identical cookie in abundant supply.
- Do we value more those things that have recently become less available to us, or those things that have always been scarce? In the cookie experiment, the answer was plain. The drop from abundance to scarcity produced a decidedly more positive reaction to the cookies than did constant scarcity.
- 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.
- This pattern offers a valuable lesson for would-be rulers: When it comes to freedoms, it is more dangerous to have given for a while than never to have given at all.
- Not only do we want the same item more when it is scarce, we want it most when we are in competition for it. Advertisers often try to exploit this tendency in us. In their ads, we learn that “popular demand” for an item is so great that we must “hurry to buy,” or we see a crowd pressing against the doors of a store before the start of a sale, or we watch a flock of hands quickly deplete a supermarket shelf of a product.
- Humans and fish alike lose perspective on what they want and begin striking at whatever is being contested.
- Knowing the causes and workings of scarcity pressures may not be sufficient to protect us from them because knowing is a cognitive thing, and cognitive processes are suppressed by our emotional reaction to scarcity