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Health and Wellbeing

10 Jul 2018

The psychology of persuasion

Do you wonder what causes us to say yes to some things and no to others?

Research over the last 60 years in social psychology provides some fascinating insights into how human decision-making occurs.

In the increasingly overloaded lives that we lead, we need short cuts more than ever to guide our decision-making and research by acclaimed author and academic Dr Robert Cialadini has found just six shortcuts that are universally used to help us to do this.

See if you can use some of these on individuals you need to persuade, and look out for them in your daily life – they may be being used on you!

The six principles

  • Reciprocity: This principle states that people, by nature, feel obliged to buy from, or provide favours or discounts to others if they’ve received something from them first.

The theory is that because you have received something from an individual or company you will feel warmly towards them. In essence, human beings do not sit comfortably with being indebted to others and thus feel obliged to return a favour.

  • Scarcity: Is defined as our perception of products becoming more attractive when their perceived availability is limited. So, when you believe something is in short supply, you want it more.
  • Commitment/consistency: Is the idea that human beings have a deep need to be seen as consistent within themselves and in front of others – specifically, with what we’ve done, said and what we’ve bought.

As such, once we have publicly committed to something or someone, then we are much more likely to go through and deliver on that commitment – hence consistency.

From a psychological perspective, this can be explained by the fact that people have established such a commitment as being in line with their self-image.

  • Social proof: Is the idea that you will do what you observe other people doing and is based upon the idea of safety in numbers.

For example, you are much more likely to go to a restaurant that is full then one that is empty. This principle influences us the most when we’re unsure of ourselves or our choice or if the people we are following seem to be similar to us and thus a trustworthy source of information.

  • Authority: Is the idea that people in general have a tendency to obey authority figures. Job titles such Dr, for instance, and uniforms can infuse a sense of authority into people, thus leading someone to accept what a person in authority says without question.
  • Likeability/sympathy: Is the idea that the more you like someone, the more you are likely to be influenced by them.

The basis of liking is often the sharing of something similar with the person you like, as well as on superficial elements like how attractive a person looks.

Examples of the principles

  • Reciprocity: “Free samples”. You are offered beautifully-presented and tasty free samples at the supermarket and find yourself buying a whole box!
  • Scarcity: We are more likely to purchase something if we’re informed that it’s the very last one or that a special deal will soon expire that day. So next time you read “only 2 tickets left” or “offer ends tomorrow” you know the scarcity principle is being used to sell this product.
  • Commitment/consistency: Free trials on a product or gym membership to get you to commit to it after the trial period.
  • Social proof: When you read: “nine out of 10 people recommend ….” you are much more likely to buy this product.
  • Authority: You can see this in commercials that have doctors speaking to the health benefits of a product in ad campaigns.
  • Likeability/sympathy: You may be being persuaded by someone who is using similar language as you, copying your body language or dressing in a way that is aligned to you as a customer, for example Apple store employees, who dressed informally because they represent the typical Apple buyer (relaxed, intelligent, and creative).

Do you have any questions for Rajna or topics you would like her to cover? Please send her an email.


Rajna Bogdanovic

Clinical psychologist

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