Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion and the Importance of Recognising “Enforced Compliance”

Influ­ence: The Psy­cho­logy of Per­sua­sion is Robert Cialdini’s 1984 book dis­cuss­ing what he calls the six fun­da­ment­al psy­cho­lo­gic­al prin­ciples of com­pli­ance: con­sist­ency, recip­roc­a­tion, social proof, author­ity, lik­ing and scarcity.

The con­clu­sion to Cialdini’s book points out why, in this increas­ingly com­plex world, res­ist­ing attempts at “enforced com­pli­ance” (decep­tion) through these key prin­ciples is as import­ant as recog­nising and respond­ing to truth­ful instances of their imple­ment­a­tion:

Because tech­no­logy can evolve much faster than we can, our nat­ur­al capa­city to pro­cess inform­a­tion is likely to be increas­ingly inad­equate to handle the sur­feit of change, choice, and chal­lenge that is char­ac­ter­ist­ic of mod­ern life. More and more fre­quently, we will find ourselves in the pos­i­tion of the lower animals—with a men­tal appar­at­us that is unequipped to deal thor­oughly with the intric­acy and rich­ness of the out­side envir­on­ment. Unlike the anim­als, whose cog­nit­ive powers have always been rel­at­ively defi­cient, we have cre­ated our own defi­ciency by con­struct­ing a rad­ic­ally more com­plex world. But the con­sequence of our new defi­ciency is the same as that of the anim­als’ long-stand­ing one. When mak­ing a decision, we will less fre­quently enjoy the lux­ury of a fully con­sidered ana­lys­is of the total situ­ation but will revert increas­ingly to a focus on a single, usu­ally reli­able fea­ture of it.

When those single fea­tures are truly reli­able, there is noth­ing inher­ently wrong with the short­cut approach of nar­rowed atten­tion and auto­mat­ic response to a par­tic­u­lar piece of inform­a­tion. The prob­lem comes when some­thing causes the nor­mally trust­worthy cues to coun­sel us poorly, to lead us to erro­neous actions and wrong­headed decisions.