Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

For nearly three years, author Robert Cialdini did research about what practices encouraged people to say “yes.” He studied salespeople, direct marketers, TV advertisers, charity fund-raisers, public relations specialists and corporate recruiters. Surprisingly, he learned that the highest achievers spent more time crafting what they did and said before making a request. The best persuaders become the best through pre-suasion, the process of arranging for recipients to be receptive to a message before they encounter it.

It should be noted that no persuasive practice is ever foolproof. This summary will outline many strategies that improve the likelihood of agreement.

Part 1: The Front-Loading of Attention

There are moments in time when an individual is particularly receptive to a communicator’s message.

Cialdini used to go around at parties and offer to read people’s palms. Most of the time, he was simply saying broad statements such as “you are stubborn” or “you are unhappy about something,” but the guests always believed him. This is because, when deciding whether a possibility is correct, people typically look for confirmations of the idea rather than disconfirmations.

Frequently the factor most likely to determine a person’s choice in a situation is not the one that counsels most wisely, it is the one that has been elevated in attention at the time of the decision. A marketer can greatly increase the chances of finding survey participants if they first asked people if they considered themselves helpful. A scientist can increases the willingness to try an unfamiliar product if they begin by asking if they consider themselves adventurous.

They will agree, and then feel like they need to act in a way that is consistent with that description of themselves.

We also have the human tendency to think that whatever we focus on is the most important thing. Typically this is the case, but we can sometimes be convinced that something is important merely because we have been led by some irrelevant factor to give it our attention.

For example, if a certain news story catches our eye, we may believe it is important and influential, but that certainly isn’t always the case. It can also work in terms of persuasion. Naomi Mandel and Eric Johnson, two marketing professors, found that viewers of an online furniture store placed elevated levels to comfort if there were fluffy clouds in the background of the web page. In contrast, when the background was an image of pennies, viewers gave price more importance.

There is a great impact of bringing selective information to attention. Because of this, strategies that channel temporary attention can be effective as pre-suasion devices.

We also assign causality to factors that have our attention. And presumed causality can be a big deal for creating influence.

This is why police can get innocent people to confess to committing a murder. If you get them to focus their attention on it long enough, they will believe in the cause. It’s also why CEOs in America make more than double what the next person in command makes – because they are visually prominent and psychologically salient. They are assigned an exaggerated causal role.

Channeled attention can make recipients more open to a message pre-suasively before they process it. To channel attention, some strategies are more effective than others.

Sexual and violent stimuli capture out attentions because they are linked to our survival. In terms of advertising, though, people are dramatically more likely to pay attention to and be influenced by stimuli that fit the goal they have for the situation. Sexual stimuli wouldn’t help sell laundry detergent, but it would help with items people frequently buy for sexually related purposes, such as perfume or makeup.

Like everything else discussed in this summary, the precursor is crucial. One study showed an advertisement for San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art. One advertisement stressed the popularity of the museum (“Visited by over a million people each year”) and the other emphasised the uniqueness (“Stand out from the crowd.”)

The first ad was well received by people that had just watched a violent movie – because the threatened people wanted to join the crowd. The distinction ad was well received by people that had just watched a romantic movie – because they wanted to stand out.

Putting people in a specific state of mind will alter the way they perceive a message. In fact, there’s actually a part of Pavlov’s experiment that rarely gets mentioned. As many people know, Pavlov was able to train a set of dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell by presenting the dogs with food each time the bell rang.

When the dogs associated the bell with the food, they salivated – even when food wasn’t presented. However, when the dogs went to a new location or had new stimuli introduced to the room, the experiment no longer worked. This is because their attention was focused on the new environment instead of the food. Pavlov called it the investigatory reflex.

Once you have someone’s attention, you need to hold it there. Information about the self is a powerful attention magnet. When information has been tailored specifically to one person, they are more likely to pay attention to it.

There is a behaviour social scientists call the next-in-line effect. When people know they are about to speak, they can’t focus on what is happening in front of them – they are too busy rehearsing in their head. And after they spoke, they are focusing on reviewing what they just said.

A lack of closure also causes us to retain our retention. There was an experiment that showed participants different television programs, including commercials. The ones with the greatest recall for the commercials were the ads that the researchers stopped five to six seconds before their natural endings. This is because the mind feels a desire to get back and finish it, so it thinks about it more.

This is why mysteries are so interesting to us. We feel a pull to get closure of the situation – we feel like we need to get to the conclusion or solution before our mind will rest. One good format to capture an audience’s attention is to pose the mystery, deepen the mystery, hone in on the proper explanation by considering alternative explanations, provide a clue to the proper explanation, and then resolve the mystery.