Influence: Science and Practice by Robert B. Cialdini

The last time I read this book was in 2014. Since then, of course, I don’t remember anything, so I decided to reread it. This time I also made some notes, italics are mine.

The author begins the story by describing stereotypes and patterns as a necessity for our thinking.

We exist in a… diverse environment. To behave appropriately in it, we need shortcuts. We should not expect ourselves to be aware of and analyze every aspect of every…situation we encounter. We don’t have the time, energy, or ability to do this

The advantage of such a response is its efficiency; by automatically responding… the individual saves his time, energy, and mental capacity. The disadvantage of reacting in this way is the possibility of making stupid mistakes

Then warns that…

Each such principle can be detected and used as an instrument of automatic influence

…And shows a few examples of such influence.

Reciprocal Exchange Rule

The first “brain exploit” that Cialdini writes about is the reciprocal exchange rule, the essence of which is that.

We are obliged to try to repay in some way for what the other person has provided us

This exchange is not always fair.

The rule of reciprocal exchange can initiate an unequal exchange

Inner discomfort and feelings of shame weigh heavily… We often give back more than we got

And the problem is that this rule is hard-wired into us.

…[It has] such a strong influence that it “took precedence” over the factor that normally influences the decision to comply with a request—over sympathy for the petitioner

Even an unsolicited favor generates an obligation

The rule of reciprocal exchange imposes a debt

It can, for example, force someone to buy a product that wasn’t really needed:

Many people feel obliged to order those products which they have tasted and thus partially consumed

Moreover, a dangerous corollary is drawn from the rule by Cialdini:

The obligation to make concessions to someone who has conceded to us. …“Refusal-then-concession” induces people not only to agree to a demand made, but also to actually comply with that demand and, in addition, to agree to comply with other demands

As a defense against exploit, Chaldini advises:

Respond with service to service; it does not require that tricks be responded to with service

Commitment and Consistency

This “hole in the brain firmware” is one that I notice myself especially often. It consists in the fact that…

Once a certain position is taken, people tend to behave consistently

The urge to be (and appear to be) consistent is a very powerful instrument of social influence, which often makes us act out of self-interest

The author attributes this desire to the fact that…

Consistency is associated with intelligence, strength, logic, rationality, stability, and honesty

Plus, the brain is a tricky and lazy thing, and on automatic…

We can act without thinking too much

Consistency can force us to convince ourselves that past choices that are no longer useful are actually “not so bad.”

[People] convince themselves that they made the right choice, and … their mood improves as a result

Other people’s desire to be consistent can be used for personal gain. In doing so, that desire can be strengthened.

…The reason why written commitments are extremely effective is because they require more effort than verbal ones

A written testimony can be shown to other people. This means that it can be used to persuade those people

People who have gone through great hardship or suffering in order to achieve something tend to value their achievements more than people who have achieved the same thing with minimal effort

This, for example, explains why there are initiation rituals at some universities:

As long as people like what they can only get as a result of struggle, a wide variety of groups will continue to have torturous initiation rituals

The extra effort that people make when they want to be consistent can change the way these people view themselves.

A person who has just agreed that the United States is not perfect can be asked why. They could then be asked to make a list of “the problems of American society” and sign off on it… Knowing that they wrote the ill-fated essay without much coercion, the person was changing his view of themselves

It is not enough to extort commitment from people; you have to get those people to accept responsibility for their actions

Sellers can take advantage of people’s desire to be consistent in making deals.

A seller makes a potential buyer a favorable offer, which the buyer… accepts. Then… before the deal is sealed, the profitable initial terms are cleverly changed

The purpose of the original deal is not profit. The goal is an obligation. The expectation is that this commitment will naturally entail other purchases, larger

As a defense against such “attacks,” Chaldini advises that in situations where you feel that “something is wrong,” ask yourself:

Knowing what I know now, would I have made the same choice then?

…And tell your “attacker” about your observations:

As soon as my stomach informs me that I would be a fool if I yielded to the demand made of me just because it would correspond to some previous observation that I had been tricked into making, I begin to state my understanding to the demander

The Principle of Social Evidence

Humans are social animals. This means that the influence of our environment, society, and the people with whom we interact is very great. A lot of interesting things follow from this—for example, the principle of social proof.

According to this principle, we determine what is right by figuring out what other people think is right

We think our behavior is right in a given situation if we often see other people behaving in a similar way

[We think that] if a lot of people are doing something it’s the right thing to do

It’s especially strong in ambiguous situations when we’re not sure that our actions are appropriate:

When we’re not sure of ourselves, when the situation is ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns supreme, we tend to look to others and assume that what they’re doing is right


We often overlook one important fact. These people may also be watching our reactions

Hence, for example, the hesitancy to help.

When there are several potential helpers on the scene, the personal responsibility of each individual is reduced

In such uncertain cases, people tend to look to others for clues. From the reactions of other witnesses we try to find out if the situation is critical

…All of us prefer to appear confident and cool-headed, we seek this evidence quietly, glancing surreptitiously at those around us. …Everyone seems unperturbed and inactive. As a result… important events are often not given the importance they deserve.

People don’t help because they don’t know whether it’s an emergency or not and whether they ought to do something about it

You have to convince the bystanders that you need to help… lots of people can help, but only one should be chosen

This principle has another thing in common:

The social proof principle works best when we look at people who are like us… We like people who are like us…

…And it works even in life decisions.

The book, whose protagonist, Werther, commits suicide, had a tremendous impact on readers. It… caused a wave of suicides all over Europe

The principle of social proof is so universal and powerful that it influences man’s most fundamental decision, whether to live or die

To guard against the influence of this principle…

It requires a careful weighing of the pros and cons and making your own decision - but you can’t forget that the behavior of others can in many cases be a source of reliable information

Quite often the crowd is wrong because its members act on the principle of social proof rather than on credible information


In addition to being more influenced by the actions of people who look like us, we generally like outwardly attractive people more.

We automatically attribute positive qualities, such as talent, kindness, honesty, intelligence, to individuals who have pleasing appearances

We are more likely to agree to comply with the requirements of people we know and like

Appearance and demeanor mattered more at the job interview than professional appearance

In fact, attractive defendants were twice as likely to avoid imprisonment as unattractive defendants

Pretty people were more likely to get help when they needed it

Adults attach less importance to aggressive acts if they are committed by beautiful children

Also the opposite:

[We feel] dislike for the person who gives us unpleasant information, even if it has nothing to do with the bad news

And this is how we like to maintain our social media pages because we want to look more attractive:

By showing positive associations and hiding negative ones, we try to get people watching us to treat us more favorably and feel more sympathy for us

This is also where sports fan behavior comes from:

We want to prove our own superiority by letting our neighboring teams win

We also like it when people flatter us. Even when the flattery is obvious ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

For defense, the author recommends:

Taking a defensive stance comes when we begin to feel that we like someone more than we should under the circumstances…when we get the feeling that we’ve suddenly grown to like someone faster or deeper than we should have

Oppressive Power of Authority

Chaldini writes that people tend to “obey authority,” because it used to help them survive. However…

We become influenced not only by authority figures, but also by their symbols

The symbol of authority that can make us mechanically obey is clothing…Regardless of the type of demand, many more people obeyed when the demander was in uniform

As a defense against their influence, the author advises “first to recognize their authority,” and then to ask yourself questions:

Is this authority really an expert in the field? How truthful can he turn out to be?

Scarcity and Contrast

Our purchasing decisions can be influenced not only by the quality of a product, but also by its scarcity. The principle of scarcity speaks to this.

The value of something positive in our eyes increases substantially if it becomes unavailable

A scarce good is different in that if we don’t get hold of it now, we “will never have that chance again,” and “the loss is the worst thing.”

The threat of potential loss has a strong influence on decision making

The possibility of losing something is a stronger motivation than the possibility of acquiring something of equal value

The tactic of “reporting a limited amount,” for example, is one that Bucking likes to use when booking rooms. And the tactic of “setting a deadline” can be seen anywhere.

But we are even more influenced by situations in which goods become scarce before our eyes.

As something becomes less available, the degree of our freedom diminishes; and we hate to lose the freedom that we have

When an item becomes less available to us, our freedom to have it becomes limited, we begin to crave it especially hard. But we seldom realize that it is psychological reactive resistance that underlies this desire; all we know is that the object in question is necessary. To somehow explain to ourselves our desire for an object that is inaccessible, we begin to attribute positive qualities to it

Biscuits were more highly valued by those customers who first encountered their relative abundance and only later their scarcity

Chaldini writes about freedom using the example of two-year-old children. Kurpatov wrote about the same thing in the Red Pill:

At the age of two, a young person begins to become aware of himself as an individual. Two-year-old children no longer view themselves as mere extensions of their environment, but as something distinct and separate

To guard against the influence of scarcity, the author advises remembering that

Pleasure lies not in the experience of a scarce commodity, but in the mastery of it

Whenever we are faced with the pressure of the principle of scarcity, we should ask ourselves the following question: “Why do we need this scarce item?”

We must remember that the thing will function equally well regardless of whether it is a scarce item or whether the number of such items is unlimited

Generalization, Automatism, and Interest

We like to generalize. It gives us a semblance of control over the situation, a sense that “we really understand what’s going on.” However…

…In making a decision about someone or something, we don’t use all the relevant information available. Instead we only take into account one element of the whole that seems to us to be very important

We tend to take into account singular cues when we don’t have the intention, time, energy, or cognitive resources to do an exhaustive analysis of the situation

It helps us to confront patterns and stereotypes with personal interest and involvement in the problem.

[When automatic responding] gets dangerous, …when the problem before us is important to us… we… start fighting the temptation to respond automatically to the one… piece of information that we have at our disposal

The [expert’s] competence… was the main influence on the opinion of those who had no personal interest… and those for whom the question was of personal importance were practically unaffected by the speaker’s status; they were above all impressed by the force of the arguments put forward


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