Influence Summary and Review

by Robert B. Cialdini
Want to know what Robert B. Cialdini’s book Influence is about? Pick up the main ideas from our quick summary.
Did you buy something that you didn’t need again? Maybe a lava lamp that was on discount or two bottles of shampoo instead of just one because the sales clerk talked you into it? Did you donate money to a suspicious stranger just because they accosted you on the street? Or maybe you were persuaded to pay for a whole year gym membership that you didn’t really want?If the answer is yes, then you were the victim of compliance professionals: people who are trained to push the buttons that will make people do certain things and comply with their requests.Well, the good news is that the author of the book, Robert B. Cialdini, knows this phenomenon all too well. He admits that he felt vulnerable and easy to trick and manipulate on many occasions. As a result, he dedicated his entire career to analyzing and questioning the ways in which people comply with other people’s requests. He has conducted numerous experiments on this topic and he managed to gather important data by interviewing compliance professionals and by watching them work. But how is this useful to you? From this book, you will learn about the most effective persuasion techniques employed by compliance professionals and about the six fundamental principles of manipulation. After reading our summary, you will be able to use these techniques to your advantage and to defend yourself from deceit. Throughout Robert B. Cialdini’s book summary we’ll discuss the following ideas:
  • how our brains react to certain stimuli;
  • why you should be suspicious when people offer to make you unbidden favors; and
  • how to make bona fide justice warriors out of sun worshippers.

INFLUENCE CHAPTER #1: Our brains react to certain stimuli that can be used to manipulate us.

Turkey mothers are amazing parents: protective, loving, and nurturing of their offspring. However, if we take a closer look we’ll see that their care and tenderness hangs by a single thread. If the turkey chick makes the distinctive “cheep-cheep” sound, the mother turkey will be loving and care for it. If, however, the chick doesn’t make that sound, the mother will most likely ignore it and even kill it! The “cheep-cheep” sound that turkey cheeks normally make is very persuasive and it can be used against the adult turkey. Scientists used a stuffed polecat, the turkey’s arch-nemesis, to see how the bird responded. They found that if the polecat imitates the aforementioned sound, the turkey will treat the polecat as her chick. For the bird, the “cheep-cheep” sound is a simple shortcut, or brain stimuli, that allows her to identify its chicks quickly and care for them. We like to think that humans are much more clever than the turkey and that we are not as easily manipulated as the mother turkey. In truth, we also respond to certain psychological shortcuts, just like the mother turkey. This is a phenomenon that happens due to necessity: we live in a complex world in which it is almost impossible to analyze and reflect every single detail. Thus, our brains create shortcuts that serve us well for the most part. One great example of a brain shortcut is that we are willing to help someone if they give us a compelling reason. A researcher once conducted an experiment to study this phenomenon. She asked the people that were queueing up in front of her to use a copy machine whether they might let her skip the line and go first. She found that without a reason, most of them were hesitant and only 60 percent complied, but if she gave a reason, even a bad one such as: “Can I skip the line because I’m in a hurry?” – more than 95 percent of people complied with her request. What’s even more fascinating is that even when she gave an absurd reason –  “May I go first because my boss asked me to make copies” over 90 percent of people still complied with her request. Apparently, when it comes to granting a favor, people have a mental shortcut that deems any explanation reasonable! More worryingly, just as researchers were able to trick a turkey into caring for a stuffed polecat, so-called compliance professionals like salesmen, advertisers, and con artists are able to use our brain shortcuts to their own advantage. Most of the time, they will do this to make us buy certain products, to sign up for newsletters and contests, to try out new products, etc. A great example of a brain shortcut is the common misconception that “price always indicates quality”. People tend to assume that expensive products must be more qualitative than cheaper ones. While price does sometimes indicate quality, that isn’t always the case. Many salesmen use this brain shortcut against us. For instance, did you know that when souvenir sellers want to get rid of the unpopular goods, they simply raise the prices instead of lowering them? Since we need to rely on shortcuts when dealing with the complexities of our daily lives, we also need to learn how to defend ourselves against the people who are looking to manipulate and trick us into doing what they want. Throughout the following chapters, we will discuss the six basic psychological principles used as shortcuts that can be used to manipulate us: reciprocation, undersupply, consistency, social proof, liking, and authority.


Have you ever received something from a random person on the street like a free sample, a flower, or something else? Did you come across waiters who bring complimentary water or a free dessert? These gestures might seem innocent at first, but they are simple tricks meant to influence your actions and behavior. You see, the rule of reciprocation is the very first psychological principle of persuasion: humans are naturally inclined to return favors. The foundation of all societies was built on this rule, as it enabled our ancestors to share their resources, knowing that this gesture would be reciprocated in the future. Whenever someone gives us a gift or does a nice gesture for us, we feel a psychological burden if we are unable to reciprocate. This is mainly because, as a society, we are disapproving towards those who do not return favors; we label them as ingrates or moochers and we fear being misjudged as such ourselves. How intense is the human desire to return favors, you ask? Well, it can even be observed in the long-term relations between nations. For example, in 1985, the situation in Ethiopia was dire and the country was probably one of the worst-off countries in the world. Ravaged by starvation, poverty, and disease, Ethiopia still sent 5,000 dollars through the Red Cross to aid the earthquake victims of Mexico City. But why would Ethiopia, a country that desperately needed help, send money to another nation? The answer is simple: when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Mexico had sent aid to the country, and this was the perfect opportunity to reciprocate the favor. In fact, the burden of reciprocity is so heavy that people are so keen to get rid of it. So much so that they are often willing to perform larger favors in return for smaller ones. For instance, in 1971 psychologist Dennis Regan performed a study in which a researcher named “Joe” pretended to be a fellow participant. He bought ten-cent Coke for all the other participants as an unbidden favor. Later on, Joe told his fellow participants that he needed a little favor himself. He was trying to sell raffle tickets. Would anyone help him by buying some? On average, the fellow participants who had received the unbidden Coke during the study were extremely willing to help and they each bought 50 cents’ worth of tickets. They were twice as likely to help compared to those who didn’t receive Coke. Furthermore, it appears that the sensation of indebtedness outweighs the level of likeability. Some of the participants admitted that they bought raffle tickets from Joe despite not liking him very much. Obviously, because Joe was the only one whose choices were truly free, the situation was an example of reciprocity principle abuse. By buying Coke for his fellow participants, Joe was actually forcing debt onto them and he was also choosing the reciprocation method. This tactic was also used by the Krishna organization in the 70s, in the United States. Members of the organization would offer flowers to passersby who, due to their need to reciprocate the gift would often make donations to the organization. Their strategy was highly effective. But how can you avoid falling in this reciprocation trap? As we mentioned above, the principle of reciprocity is an essential part of the human psyche than cannot be foregone entirely. Relationships and societies need reciprocity in order to function. But, learning how to identify and resist intentional reciprocity abuses is quite useful. The first thing that you need to do is ask yourself if favors and gifts are genuine or just manipulation attempts. Before donating to a nonprofit organization, analyze the situation and think whether you actually want to help the cause and donate your money. If you only feel the need to give something back after someone handed you a random gift on the street, you shouldn’t do it. And try not to worry about reciprocating gestures or “favors” that are blatant manipulation attempts in disguise. While returning the favor is a nice gesture, being tricked into doing it is not.

INFLUENCE CHAPTER #3: The best negotiation strategy is starting off with a ridiculous request and retreating from there.

Just as we are naturally inclined to return favors, we feel obliged to make a concession whenever the person that we are negotiating with is making one. This phenomenon is called the rejection-then-retreat. The books’ author, Robert B. Cialdini,  experienced this first-hand when he was approached on the street by a Boy Scout. The boy was trying to sell the author tickets to the annual Boy Scout circus. The author refused to buy the five-dollar circus tickets, after which the Boy Scout asked him whether he would at least consider buying a chocolate bar for a dollar. The author felt obliged to match the boy’s “concession” of “retreating” his circus ticket sale by buying not one, but two chocolate bars. The rejection-then-retreat strategy is an extremely powerful persuasion tool because it evokes our innate desire to reciprocate other people’s concessions. In addition to that, the strategy goes hand-in-hand with the contrast principle according to which when two different items that are presented to you one after the other, you will focus on the differences. Thus, when the boy presented the one-dollar chocolates after the five-dollar tickets, the chocolates seemed extremely cheap. It is fairly easy to put this dynamic to use: when you want to achieve something specific during a negotiation, start by offering something outrageous, that your negotiation partner will refuse. Then, start making concessions until you get to what you really want. Your negotiations partner will be influenced by your concession and feel obliged to make some as well. Labor negotiators often employ this strategy. They start by having an extreme position and then make gradual concessions until they obtain what they actually wanted from the other side. However, researchers have found that this strategy has certain limits. You cannot have an extreme opening position, because if you do, then you might be seen as a bad-faith negotiator, and your partners might not want to reciprocate your subsequent concessions. The rejection-then-retreat strategy is so powerful that it even brought down presidents. In 1972, when the infamous Watergate scandal took place, G. Gordon Liddy managed to convince the CRP (Committee to Re-elect the President) to give him $250,000. He claimed that he will use the money to burglarize the offices of the Democratic National Committee in order for Richard Nixon to get re-elected. Gordon Liddy’s plan was quite outrageous but he managed to get his way by using the rejection-then-retreat strategy. He first suggested a plan for which he needed 1 million dollars and that involved mugging, prostitution, and kidnapping. After the initial plan was, obviously, rejected, he made two more absurd proposals, until he made the CRP feel they had to “give Liddy something” for retreating his first three schemes. Compared to the first plan, for which he needed 1 million dollars, the 250,000 dollar plan wasn’t so bad. Besides, burglary is not that bad when compared to kidnapping. As you probably know, Liddy’s scheme did not go as planned as the burglars were caught. In the end, Richard Nixon was forced to resign.

INFLUENCE CHAPTER #4: When we feel that a certain opportunity becomes scarce, we tend to desire it more.

“Sale ends in 24 hours!” “Last chance to buy!” “For a limited time only!” Advertisers use these slogans for a very good reason - they emphasize the scarcity of an opportunity. According to the scarcity principle, people are much more inclined to buy things when they think that they are hard to obtain. We, humans, are naturally inclined to think that something is more valuable if it is scarce because we simply hate the feeling that we are missing out. One of Cialdini’s students showed in a study performed in 1982 that when shoppers heard that there was a sale on meat that will only last for a limited amount of time, they purchased three times more than they normally would. Interestingly enough, when people were told that the sale was only available for a select few, the scarcity of the offer and the way in which the information was presented made them purchase six times more meat. So when is our decision-making process influenced by scarcity? When the following two conditions are fulfilled: First, if the availability of a certain thing has decreased over time, we tend to want that thing more than we would if its availability had remained steady. This is exactly why, when living conditions deteriorate drastically people are more inclined to take to the streets. The sudden drop has a much bigger impact than consistently low conditions. Second, humans are always thrilled by the idea of competition. Whether in romances, auctions, or real-estate deals, most of us cannot bear the thought of losing the things that we want to a rival. As a result, we often become overzealous when we feel the pressure of competition. This is why, for instance, real estate agents will always tell their potential clients that there are several different bidders interested in purchasing or renting the same house. This information can be true, but it usually isn’t. In fact, humans can be driven into a “feeding frenzy” when they feel that they are in a competitive situation, especially if the goods are scarce. Even the most seasoned negotiators can fall into this trap. That is exactly what happened to an executive at ABC called Barry Diller. The man was considered a very successful mogul of the entertainment industry, but in 1973, he paid a whopping 3.3 million dollars just to show a movie once. The movie was called The Poseidon Adventure and the amount of money that he paid was the highest anyone had ever paid to show a film just once. Diller’s deal lost the network a million dollars. But what made Barry Diller, an experienced mogul pay such an unprecedented amount? The answer is quite simple: Diller was participating in the first-ever open-bid auction for movie rights. The fact that the competitor’s bids were visible to one another had a huge impact on the mogul’s psyche. This competitive auction pushed the buyers into an irrational bidding war. Diller was the victim and his auction competitors were quite relieved when he “won.” Meanwhile, the mogul promised that his network, ABC, never take part in a similar auction ever again. To avoid making decisions due to scarcity, we should always think of the reasons behind our desperate need to have a certain item. Do we want the item because it has an important function for us? Or are we dealing with an irrational wish to have it? Scarcity can oftentimes be used against us, so we need to be wary if the answer is the latter.

INFLUENCE CHAPTER #5: Banned things are often extremely desirable.

People have always had a weakness: wanting what they cannot have and there is even an old adage that confirms it. And there is some truth to it. Parents will easily notice this behavior in children who become extremely attracted by the things that they are not allowed to play with. This effect is quite popular in the adult world as well. As a result, censorship is not as effective as people would expect. Because banned information tends to be perceived as more valuable, censorship can often be perceived as a double-edged sword. For instance, in the 70s a study was conducted at the University of North Carolina. For the study, the students were told that a speech against co-ed dorms was to be banned and canceled on campus. As soon as word spread about the banned speech, the student immediately became more sympathetic to the idea even without reading a single word of the speech! Similarly, courtroom research shows that juries are greatly influenced by information that is “censored”. When insurance companies will pay the bill, juries will often award larger damages to plaintiffs. Interestingly enough, when they are warned by the judge that they should ignore whether or not the defendant has insurance, the juries will award even higher damages. The information that is “forbidden” becomes even more relevant and even makes juries overreact. In these circumstances, the juries will react just like a child will about a forbidden toy. The same thing applies to other things, not just information. The events of Dade County, Florida prove just that. When the phosphate laundry detergents were declared illegal, the Dade County residents started hoarding masses of the product and they even smuggled it. This phenomenon happened in part because they were convinced that the detergents containing phosphates were more efficient. This obsession for the banished is referred to as the Romeo and Juliet effect. When the parents of Romeo and Juliet erected walls to hinder the romantic relationship that was developing between their children, they actually managed to deepen their love and fixation with one another. A study performed in Colorado on several couples found that whenever the parents tried to interfere with their children’s feelings of love and to stop their relationship, the children’s desire for marriage became more intense. And when the parents interfered less, the romantic feelings of the children were less intense. The Romeo and Juliet effect, just like the effect of scarcity, stems from the fact that people hate to lose opportunities.

INFLUENCE CHAPTER #6: People want to stay true to their world.

Imagine the following scenario: you are lying on a beautiful beach and enjoying your well-deserved day off. It is really hot outside, so you really want to go for a refreshing swim. But where will you leave your phone and your wallet? Should you ask for the person next to you to keep an eye on them or just hide them? According to Thomas Moriarty who studied this situation, it appears that asking someone to keep an eye on your things is the better option. His results indicated that in general, only 20 percent of people reacted when they noticed someone stealing a radio from a neighboring tower. But 95 percent of people became near-vigilantes and some of them even chased down the thief when the owner of the towel asked them to watch his things beforehand. Why? Because humans have an innate need for consistency - they want their actions to match the things they say. As the study showed, this need can be more powerful than our concern for our own safety. We desire consistency because we want to make our lives easier. If we are consistent with our earlier decisions, we don’t need to reconsider our actions all the time. This type of automation makes it somewhat easier for us to navigate our complex world. But what exactly makes us consistent? The answer is quite simple: our commitment. According to the aforementioned study, once we commit to something with actions or words, we tend to do our best to be consistent with our commitment. And the most powerful driver is public commitment. For instance, when the Korean War ended, Chinese interrogators used this tactic to convince the American war prisoners to collaborate using this tactic. First, they asked them to make minor concessions such as signing harmless statements and writing things like “America is not perfect.” Then, these statements were read out loud across the prison grounds. As a result, the prisoner would be labeled a “collaborator” by his fellow American prisoners. The interesting thing is that when the prisoner started to be considered a collaborator, he would consider himself one as well and would even become more eager to help the Chinese interrogators. Involuntarily, the prisoner aligned his self-image with the things that he was forced to write. Apparently, a written “commitment” was an extremely important part of the process as written words, especially when signed by oneself, tend to be inescapably powerful. A very popular sales technique known as the foot-in-the-door takes advantage of how our self-image is affected by even the smallest commitments. The first goal of salespeople is to convince people to make a tiny purchase. More often than not, this small purchase is not expected to make a profit. Instead, it represents a small commitment that makes the buyer think of himself as a customer. This will make them more friendly towards the seller in the future. So be very careful when someone is trying to convince you to buy something very inexpensive, they might want to turn you into their client in order to sell you something expensive in the future.

INFLUENCE CHAPTER #7: We value things more when we have to work harder to get them.

There is a very interesting phenomenon that can be observed in all environments, from the United States frat houses to African tribes. Members that are being inducted into a group will have to go through a series of initiation rituals that consist of degradation, pain, and even death in more extreme cases. Moreover, whenever efforts are being made to reduce the brutal practice, they are met with incredible resistance. Mostly because when something is hard to attain, people tend to value it more and the groups engaging in strenuous rituals know it all too well. So, if becoming a member of the group is extremely difficult, members will most likely feel much more committed to it. More progressive groups, such as American fraternities have transformed their ancient initiation traditions into useful community service, such as changing hospital bedpans. What the groups want is for the members to participate in the degrading rituals because they make the inner choice. They also want to avoid candidates finding different excuses like, “This was for the good of the community,” which would give them an external justification for their actions. Candidates will have to convince themselves that the efforts are worth it in order T]o make the inner choice. This means that they will have to elevate the way in which they see the group that they want to join. Indeed, researchers have found that such inner choices are more likely to lead to effective and long-lasting inner change compared to external choices made because of external pressure. To generate inner change in people, salespeople, and other compliance professionals can use the lowball trick. A car salesman might convince someone to buy a car by making an astoundingly cheap offer on it. The dealer is fully aware that people will find other personal reasons to buy the car, besides the price, such as a nice color or good mileage. The trick here is that the salesman will retract the initial great offer and give a convincing excuse such as a “bank error” and give a bigger price. Surprisingly, most people will still buy the car because of the internal reasons that they came up with independently. This is yet another side of our innate desire for consistency. To protect yourself from manipulation, you should ask yourself whether you would still buy the car had you known about the true price from the very beginning. If the answer is no, then you should probably walk away.

INFLUENCE CHAPTER #8: People look for social proof whenever they are uncertain.

Have you ever wondered why you always hear laugh tracks in sitcoms? Researchers have found that laugh tracks make people laugh more often and longer, especially at mediocre jokes. This phenomenon takes place due to the principle of social proof, according to which people often look to others’ behavior to decide what the correct course of action is. When it comes to laughing tracks, people can easily be made to laugh at jokes if others find them funny. Church ushers use this dynamic very often by putting a few bills from their own pockets in the collection baskets before the service. This will make people think that everyone else is donating money. To make the customers think that others are buying certain products, companies also use this technique when they advertise products with lines like “fastest-growing” and “best-selling”. When faced with uncertainty, humans often rely on social proof. Consider the famous 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese. The woman, who was living in New York, was stabbed to death right in front of her apartment building. The police found out that despite hearing the young woman’s cries for help, the neighbors didn’t intervene. This sparked outrage as the media reported that the Kitty Genovese’s neighbors were insensitive. It was discovered later on that some of Kitty’s neighbors did intervene by calling the police or yelling out of their window. However, the case is considered a great example of bystander inaction, where if other people are present, most people are less inclined to intervene in an emergency. Psychologists believe that there are two factors that contribute to the bystander effect: First, the personal responsibility of each individual is diminished when many people are involved. Most of them will think that someone else will do something. Second, identifying a real emergency can be quite hard, especially in urban environments. Does the man laying on the sidewalk need medical attention, or is he just a bum who’s had one too many drinks? Are the neighbors fighting or are they watching a thrilling football game? This type of uncertainty makes people seek behavior guidance in other people. When Kitty Genovese was murdered, the neighbors were trying to peek out their windows discreetly, which prevented them from taking action. So let’s say you are in a crowd and something terrible happens. What can you actually do to help? The best course of action in these circumstances is to direct a clear help request to someone else. For example, if you shout “You, in the red shirt, call the police.” This way, the person that you singled out will be obliged to take responsibility and won’t mimic what others are doing. Therefore, they will almost certainly help.

INFLUENCE CHAPTER #9: Our life choices are greatly influenced by people who are similar to us.

As we mentioned above, when people are in crowded spaces, they look to one another for behavior guidance. And when the people that we observe are similar to us, this tendency becomes even stronger. This explains why teenagers are so easily influenced by the fashion choices and opinions of their peers. Our natural tendency to mimic what others are doing also produces a rather grim statistic: when the media covers a suicide, there’s a dramatic increase in the number of people who die in car-crashes and airplanes over the following days. You might find this phenomenon baffling at first glance. But what could be the cause? In general, after learning about suicide in the paper or hearing about it on the news, some people feel the urge to emulate the behavior of the person who committed suicide. Surprisingly, some of them will decide to take their own lives but to make it appear accidental, and some of them will do it while driving a car and in some extreme cases even while flying. Hence, an increase in unexplained accidents can be noticed. Unfortunately, the people who commit suicide in this way are not people who would have done it anyway. Researchers have found that there around 58 deaths that result from each front-page suicide story. In other words, for each suicide that is excessively discussed on the news, 58 random people will perish. This phenomenon is referred to as the Werther effect and it gets its name from an eighteenth-century book that led to a wave of suicides in Europe. After reading the book, numerous people committed suicide in an attempt to emulate the experience of the protagonist. On average, people who were similar to the protagonist or to the person whose suicide was publicized are much more inclined to mimic his behavior. As such, when young people learn about another young person who committed suicide, they are much more inclined to do the same, while older people are more likely to mimic the behavior of seniors. In a less tragic setting, marketers also use this strategy when advertising a product. We’ve all seen at least a few advertisements in which “regular people on the street” are being interviewed. Most of these advertisements are fake and they target “ordinary people” who make up the largest potential market for pretty much any product. People are naturally inclined to value an endorsement that comes from a person who is similar to themselves. To avoid falling for this marketing scheme, stay alert and make conscious decisions. Be wary about social proof as it can be detected quite easily. And when you do spot this type of strategies, try to avoid the company and its products in the future in order to make them understand that trying to manipulate the audience is not the right choice.

INFLUENCE CHAPTER #10: It’s easier to empathize and comply with the people that we like.

Let’s take a moment to analyze the strategy behind Tupperware parties. If you ever went to one, you must have noticed the skill with which these companies use the power of compliance tricks. The concept is masterfully crafted. From social proof, where every purchase strengthens the idea that everyone is buying the product to reciprocity, where everyone present gets some kind of gift before the actual buying takes place, everything is carefully organized. But the company’s greatest and most surprising trick is that they do not invite the guests themselves. Instead, everyone gets their invites from someone that they like: a friend. Why is the friend trick so powerful? Well, as a rule, we’re more receptive toward people we like. And in addition to using our existing friendships to their advantage, Tupperware compliance professionals also know how to make people like them more. On the one hand, they are fully aware that people love flattery and they love to associate with similar people. As such, salespeople will often make compliments and try to find common ground: “Say, that’s a nice blouse, I really like green as well!” Whether we like someone or not can also depend on another factor - whether we are attracted to them physically or not. When we are attracted by someone we tend to see them as kind, honest, and smart. This phenomenon is known as the halo effect and it even applies to the presidential elections. Yet another especially powerful factor in getting to like a person is seeing them as being on the same team or cooperating for some shared goal. To employ this factor to greater effect, specialists use the infamous good cop/bad cop interrogation method. After a suspect is treated badly by the bad cop, the good cop jumps in and treats him nicely. The suspect will see the good cop as a trusted confidant and become more likely to cooperate and confess. Last but not least, the things we associate with other people contribute to their likability. For instance, weathermen have received death threats for giving bad news. When they predicted poor weather accurately, they became associated with the information. On the other hand, if we watch someone talk while we eat something delicious, we will probably associate that person with the feeling of pleasure elicited by food. To protect yourself from this type of manipulation, try to ask yourself whether you took a liking to someone suddenly. If you did, you might be manipulated and you should reassess the situation.

INFLUENCE CHAPTER #11: People tend to obey authorities and comply with them without question.

From birth, humans are taught to respect authority, be it a doctor, a teacher, or a police officer. Unfortunately, this inclination to comply with authority without questioning it is so ingrained and powerful that we obey what we perceive as authority figures without questioning it. Stanley Milgram, a renowned psychologist conducted a study in the 1960s. For the study, an authority figure would tell volunteers to administer potentially lethal electric shocks to others. Most volunteers would do as they were told without questioning it and even though no one was hurt, the results were quite surprising. Or consider the very amusing example of the nurse who got things a little mixed up because she did not question authority. The doctor left her written instructions on how to administer the treatment for a person suffering from ache in his right ear. The note said: “Administer the medicine in R ear.” The nurse proceeded to administer the treatment in the patient’s anus. Neither she nor the patient asked themselves why the doctor would prescribe such an absurd treatment because they saw him as a figure of authority. This is a typical case of authority negating independent thinking. And without having reliable evidence to prove another person’s authority, we will be tempted to estimate it by searching for symbols of authority. For instance, titles can greatly influence our perception of someone and they are considered powerful devices. When we are in the company of, say, a professor, we automatically become more respectful and more accepting towards their opinions. Furthermore, studies have shown that when we see someone as an authority figure, we also perceive them as physically taller! When trying to determine authority, props and clothes can also powerful authority symbols. In Stanley Milgram’s experiment, the authority figure wore a white lab coat and carried a clipboard around. It was the authority figure’s white lab coat and clipboard that convinced participants they should obey them and “torture” their fellow test subjects. And con artists exploit the power of these symbols to their full extent by donning uniforms, suits and even priest’s robes if need be. Of course, as a general rule, we should respect and listen to real authority figures such as physicians or judges. But how can distinguish between real authority figures and fake ones and avoid people who take advantage of our deeply ingrained tendency to obey authority? Well, for starters we need to be aware of how the power of authority works and what a huge impact it can have on our psyche. To recognize quickly whether an authority figure is legitimate or not we should ask ourselves the following questions: First, could this person pretend to be an authority figure or do we know for sure that they are one? Did we see any valid credentials for the current situation? For instance, actor Robert Young rose to fame between 1969 and 1976 while playing the titular doctor in the TV show Marcus Welby, M.D. He also worked in publicity where he was the face of Sanka-Coffee. The ads were very successful because many people actually believed that Robert Young was a real doctor. For many, the actor was an authority figure, when in reality, he just played one in a TV show. Here, just by analyzing Young’s credentials, people could have learned that he was a false authority. Secondly, whenever we are confronted with a questionable authority figure, we should ask ourselves what level of honesty should we expect from them in the current circumstances. Do they want to help us? For instance, a waiter might be an authority figure when it comes to recommending wines, but he will also have something to gain from recommending a very expensive one. So there we have it, these are the most common methods that experts use to influence us. Being familiar with these six fundamental principles of persuasion – scarcity, reciprocation, consistency, liking, social proof, and authority – will hopefully help you avoid unpleasant situations in the future.


What is the key message of Robert B. Cialdini’s book Influence: Oftentimes, we humans like to use predictable shortcuts that make it easier to find a solution. Advertisers and other compliance professionals, salespeople, and con-artists take advantage of our pre-programmed reactions with their own personal interests in mind, not ours. More specifically, they use the principles of scarcity, reciprocation, consistency, liking, social proof, and authority to manipulate us. Since we cannot avoid these shortcuts completely, as most of them can be quite useful, we need to find ways to defend ourselves from any potential manipulation attempt.