Sunday, March 7, 2010

Review of "Influence, the psychology of persuasion"

In his book, "Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion", Cialdini exposes 6 principles of the human behavior and how ill-intentioned exploiters can turn them into "weapons of influence" to obtain our compliance. They are based on 6 automatic behavior patterns that are deeply rooted into our subconscious and triggered by a specific condition or action.
It's easy when reading the book to recognize most of these patterns. Their exploitation by the advertising industry has become so mainstream that most of us has already spotted them in some way. But the book shed some light as why they are still so powerful, even when somebody has gained awareness of them.
They are shortcuts that allow us to take quick decisions as how to behave without having to spend to much brain power, to choose or act without hours of conscious pondering and appraising. Cialdini argues that this subconscious process of decision making will become more and more important as the complexity of modern life increases and we are faced to an explosion of variables and choices.
What is really interesting is how Cialdini justifies the usefulness of each of these patterns for humans, as a specie.
Reciprocation for instance is the rule that makes us compelled to return a favor, even a spontaneous one. Anthropologists claim that this behavior gave humans an evolutionary advantage by removing inhibitions against transactions, that must begin by one person providing a resource to somebody else, thus allowing trading and resulting in the society as we know it.
Commitment and consistency is another rule that makes us act in a consistent way with whatever early decision we made, even if it clearly proves itself being a bad one later on. Consistency is again an adaptive behavior that works well in most of the cases by avoiding us to constantly reassess a situation that could possibly lead to immobility. It is a praised value associated with strong will and mental stability whereas the opposite trait is seen as undesirable.
The others rules are Social Proof, Liking, Authority and Scarcity. Cialdini explains them in great details in his book, how they work, why they are useful, how we can avoid them being exploited against us. The examples used in this book are a bit outdated but the theory remains as valid as ever.