Software Nerd

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Influence - by Cialdini

A pretty young girl stops man on a sidewalk. She has a sheaf of papers, and wants to ask him a few questions about food and drink. The man exaggerates about how much he goes out to restaurants etc.. The girl then makes her pitch for a dine-out card. The card makes sense if he does go out as much as he claims. The man is embarrassed. He might even buy, to avoid admitting he exaggerated. If he does, he has been "influenced" by something other than rationality.

Cialdini's book, "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" recounts various methods used to influence people (e.g. by the use of similarity, or by the use of authority figures). Cialdini presents a wide range of examples. He explains why the Chinese had such "great" results with American POWs, with the minimal use of violence. He analyses the good-cop/bad-cop routine. He summarizes many sociology experiments. Using all these examples, he classifies the "influences" into major categories, and provides suggestions about how to deal with them.

Unlike some other authors, Cialdini does not take a cynical attitude. He does not use the various experiments (e.g. the famous Milgram electric shock experiment) to bold a thesis about the irrationality of man. He simply makes the case that people can and do act irrationally at times, and that others take advantage of this. He postulates that many of the irrational habits have their roots in useful habits (e.g. authority figures are often right), and that mostly we need to simply be aware of the potential traps, and have some pre-planned ways to deal with them.

Not an earth-shattering book if one has read similar ones (say, about sales-techniques). If one has not, then this is a good place to start.



  • Tenure says he's adding this book to his list, and I say, "Likewise." Thanks for pointing it out, I rely on reading recommendations from my favorite O'ists. :)

    By Blogger James Newport, at 12:56 AM  

  • Thanks James... I appreciate the comment.

    By Blogger softwareNerd, at 10:54 AM  

  • Does Cialdini define "influence"?

    The definition that I have learned to use as a long-term student of history is this: Influence is the act of giving an idea to an individual who wants that information in order to help him achieve a value he has set for himself.

    An example is a master sculptor who teaches a particular technique for creating life-like sculptures to a young sculptor--who then eagerly absorbs and applies the technique to his own work. Historians will look at the scuptures of the two artists and say that the master sculptor influenced the next generation.

    The master's other students, however, weren't influenced. They wanted to do post-modernist piles of scrap-iron. They ignored his technique. They were not influenced by the master.

    My question then is what is the difference between "influence" as Cialdini uses the term psychologically and the cultural concept defined above.

    By Blogger Burgess Laughlin, at 7:33 PM  

  • "Does Cialdini define "influence"?"

    It was a library book, that I've returned; but, from memory I think he would describe it something like this: persuading others to do what we want (i.e. a very broad scope, covering presentation of information, rational argument, and also any type of irrational approach, like an appeal to emotions).

    The subject matter of the book is the types influence people use other than presentation of information and rational argument.

    So, for instance, if a car-maker is selling a sports car and shows a picture of the car, and describes how quickly it accelerates, Cialdini does not concern himself with that. However, if the picture of the car has a pretty woman next to it, implying association, Cialdini tries to explain why that approach works and how to counter it.

    By Blogger softwareNerd, at 4:13 AM  

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