Copy from “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion — Book Notes” by Si Quan Ong

Persuasion vs. Coercion


  • communicators try to convince other people to change their own attitudes/behaviours about an issue through transmission of message with free choice
  • people must change their own attitudes based on arguments or baits from persuasive messages


  • Freedom of choice is removed


Fixed-Action Patterns

  • all of us have it
  • are initiated with trigger features

Why We Have It

  • automatic, fixed-action pattern of response is efficient most of the time
  • though trigger features can cause us to activate it at the wrong time

Weapon of Influence #1: Reciprocity

Rule of reciprocation: we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.

  • there is no human society that does not subscribe to the rule
  • a unique adaptive mechanism of human beings, allowing for division of labour, exchange of diverse forms of goods, exchange of different services and creation of cluster of interdependencies
  • each of us has been taught to live up to the rule, and all of us know the social sanctions and derision applied to anyone who violates it

The rule is overpowering:

  • Even if you dislike someone, you’ll still find the need to reciprocate.

Reciprocal concessions

  • general rule of reciprocity: a person who acts in a certain way towards us is entitled to a similar return action
  • Thus, a consequence of the rule is that an obligation to make a concession to someone who has made a concession to us
  • it happens because of the benefit: it is in the interest of any human group to have its members work together towards the achievement of common goals
  • in many social interactions, participants begin with requirements and demands that are unacceptable to one another.
  • society must arrange to have these initial, incompatible desires set aside for the sake of socially beneficial cooperation.

Rejection-then-retreat Technique

  • Make a larger request of me, one that I will likely turn down
  • Then, after I have refused, make the smaller request that you were really interested in all-along
  • your 2nd request will be viewed as a concession and I will respond with a concession of my own
  • HOWEVER, if the first set of demands are so extreme as to be seen as unreasonable, the tactic fails
  • it also takes advantage of the contrast principle: the smaller request looks even smaller by comparison with the larger one.
  • it works because the subject (who the tactic is being used on) feels that they successfully influenced you to do less.

Weapon of Influence #2: Commitment & Consistency

  • we have a nearly obsessive desire to be consistent with what we have already done

Why consistency:

  • valuable and adaptive
  • person whose belief, words and deeds don’t match are considered indecisive, confused and two-faced.
  • a high degree of consistency is normally associated with personal and intellectual strength
  • consistency offers a shortcut through life; it allows us a convenient, relatively effortless and efficient method for dealing with complex daily environments that make severe demands on our mental energies and capacities
  • the 2nd attraction to consistency is that we can avoid harsh consequences of hard, cognitive work

What produces the automatic tape of consistency?

  • commitment
  • if i can get you to make a commitment, i have set the stage for your automatic and ill-considered consistency with that earlier commitment

Foot-in-the-door technique:

  • start with a small request then gain eventual compliance over larger requests.
  • Small commitments can manipulate a person’s self-image

Commitment conditions:

  • you look at a person’s actions to decide what kind of a person he is
  • the person himself actually also uses the same evidence to decide what he is like
  • his behaviour tells him about himself; it is a primary source of information about his beliefs, attitudes and self-perception


  • an exploitative individual can offer us an inducement for making the choice, then after the decision has been made, remove that inducement, because he knows that the commitment we have made will stand on its 2 legs.

Weapon of Influence #3: Social Proof

  • one way we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct
  • we view a behaviour as more correct in a given situation to the degree we see others performing it
  • it works well because as a rule, we make fewer mistakes by acting in accordance with social evidence than contrary to it.

Optimal Condition for Social Proof: Pluralistic Ignorance

  • in the process of examining the reactions of other people to resolve our uncertainty, we are likely to overlook a subtle but important fact — those ppl are probably examining the social evidence as well
  • in an ambiguous situation, the tendency for everyone to be looking to see what everyone else is doing is a phenomenon called pluralistic ignorance

Bystander Effect

  • failure of entire group of bystanders to aid victims in agonizing need of help

Why Bystander Effect occurs:

  • Diffusion of Responsibility — personal responsibility of each individual is reduced when more and more people are around

Optimal Condition for Social Proof: Similarity

  • we are more inclined to follow the lead of an individual who is similar to us

Weapon of Influence #4: Liking

  • We most prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like.

Compliance professionals just need to get us to like them. How?

Factor 1: Physical Attractiveness

  • there is a click, whirr response to attractive people
  • the response falls into a category called Halo Effect
  • Halo Effect: one positive characteristic of a person dominates the way that person is viewed by others
  • we automatically assign to good-looking individuals favourable traits such as kindness, talent, honesty and intelligence.
  • we make these judgments without being aware that physical attractiveness plays a role in the process

Factor 2: Similarity

  • we like people who are similar to us
  • we are more likely to help people who dress like us
  • People can manipulate similarity by claiming that they have backgrounds and interests similar to us.

Factor 3: Compliments

  • You like people who like you
  • we are suckers for flattery, even if it is fake

Factor 4: Contact and Cooperation

  • we like things that are familiar to us

Factor 5: Conditioning and Association

  • people blame the weathermen when the weather turns bad; people kill the messenger (in ancient times) when they brought bad news
  • a natural human tendency to dislike a person who brings us unpleasant information, even when that person did not cause the bad news
  • compliance professionals try to connect themselves with the things we like in order to try to create positive associations

Weapon of Influence #5: Authority

  • a multilayered and widely accepted system of authority has an advantage: allows the development of sophisticated structures for resource production, trade, defence, expansion and social control that would otherwise be impossible
  • we are also trained from young to learn that obedience to proper authority is right and disobedience is wrong.
  • authority can also be due to religious instruction, for e.g the first book of the Bible describes how failure to obey the ultimate authority produced the loss of paradise for Adam, Eve and the rest of the human race.
  • conforming to dictates of authority had early advantages. When we were young, these people (for e.g teachers, parents) knew more than we did and we found that taking their advice proved beneficial.

There are factors that can convey authority, which affects us.

Factor 1: Titles

  • people can adopt the label without putting in effort and receive a kind of automatic deference

Factor 2: Clothes

  • cloak of authority is fakable

Factor 3: Trappings/Expensive Items

  • e.g jewelry, cars

Weapon of Influence #6: Scarcity

  • opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited
  • people are also more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value

Scarcity Works Because:

  1. Familiar: we have a mental shortcut that tells us that things that are difficult to possess are typically better than those that are easy to possess.
  1. as opportunities are less available, we lose freedoms (due to psychological reactance theory)

Psychological Reactance Theory:

  • whenever free choice is limited or threatened, the need to retain our freedoms make us desire them significantly more than previously.

Scarcity Applies To Information:

  • we find a piece of information more persuasive if we think we can’t get it elsewhere

Limited Number Tactic:

  • customer is informed that a certain product is in short supply that cannot be guaranteed to last long.
  • sometimes limited number is true, sometimes it is false
  • the intent is always to convince customers of an item’s scarcity and then increase its immediate value in their eyes

Deadline Tactic:

  • some official time limit is placed on the customer’s opportunity to get what the compliance professional is offering
  • sometimes used in face-to-face selling, customers are often told unless they make an immediate decision to buy, they will have to purchase the item at a higher price or they will be unable to purchase at all.

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