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.

The Licensing Effect and the Unhealthy Habit of Vitamin Supplements

The licens­ing effect is the phe­nom­e­non whereby pos­i­tive actions or deci­sions taken now increase neg­a­tive or uneth­i­cal deci­sions taken later. I’ve writ­ten about this pre­vi­ously, before I was aware of a gen­eral effect:

A Tai­wanese study has pro­vided us with a new instance of the licens­ing effect in action, this time with vit­a­min sup­ple­ments. The study found that tak­ing vit­a­min pills or dietary sup­ple­ments for health pro­tec­tion increases unhealthy and risky behav­iour.

After­wards, com­pared with placebo par­tic­i­pants, the par­tic­i­pants who thought they’d taken a vit­a­min pill rated indul­gent but harm­ful activ­i­ties like casual sex and exces­sive drink­ing as more desir­able; healthy activ­i­ties like yoga as less desir­able; and they were more likely to choose a free coupon for a buf­fet meal, as opposed to a free coupon for a healthy organic meal (these asso­ci­a­tions held even after con­trol­ling for par­tic­i­pants’ usual intake of vit­a­min pills). […]

The vitamin-takers also felt more invul­ner­a­ble than the placebo par­tic­i­pants, as revealed by their agree­ment with state­ments like “Noth­ing can harm me”. Fur­ther analy­sis sug­gested that it was these feel­ings of invul­ner­a­bil­ity that medi­ated the asso­ci­a­tion between tak­ing a pos­tu­lated vit­a­min pill and the unhealthy atti­tudes and decisions.

Busi­ness­Week also points out that this loop of benev­o­lent and self-indulgent behav­iour is plainly evi­dent in the shop­ping habits of con­sumers… some­thing that mar­keters know all about.

via @vaughanbell

Apple’s Implementation of the Duration-of-Exposure Effect: Screens at 70˚

Hours after writ­ing about the duration-of-exposure effect (whereby merely touch­ing an unowned object increases our attach­ment to it and how much we value it), a post came into my feed reader point­ing out how Apple Inc. take advan­tage of this effect in their “painstak­ingly cal­i­brated” stores.

Carmine Gallo, pro­vid­ing a glimpse into his upcom­ing book, The Apple Expe­ri­ence, explains how every aspect of an Apple Store is designed to fos­ter “mul­ti­sen­sory own­er­ship expe­ri­ences”. This on the (very spe­cific) tilt of lap­top screens (from another great arti­cle on the topic):

The note­book com­put­ers dis­played on the store’s table­tops and coun­ters are set out, each day, to exactly the same angle. That angle being, pre­cisely, 70 degrees: not as rigid as a table-perpendicular 90 degrees, but open enough — and, also, closed enough — for screens’ con­tent to remain vis­i­ble and invit­ing to would-be typers and tinkerers.

The point […] is to get peo­ple to touch the devices. “The main rea­son note­book com­put­ers screens are slightly angled is to encour­age cus­tomers to adjust the screen to their ideal view­ing angle,” [Gallo] says — “in other words, to touch the computer.”

A tac­tile expe­ri­ence with an Apple prod­uct begets loy­alty to Apple prod­ucts, the think­ing goes — which means that the store exists to imprint a brand impres­sion on vis­i­tors even more than it exists to extract money from them. “The own­er­ship expe­ri­ence is more impor­tant than a sale,” Gallo notes. Which means that the store — and every sin­gle detail cre­at­ing the expe­ri­ence of it — are opti­mized for cus­tomers’ per­sonal indul­gence. Apple wants you to touch stuff, to play with it, to make it your own. Its note­book com­put­ers are tilted at just the right angle to beckon you to their screens — and, more impor­tantly, to their keyboards.

When Apple do it right, they do it perfectly.

via Kot­tke

Increasing Attachment and Valuation Through Touch

The endow­ment effect is old news: the amount that we value an object increases once we take own­er­ship of it. The ‘extended ver­sion’ shows that the impact of the endow­ment effect increases with time: our val­u­a­tion of an object increases more and more as the amount of time that we own it also increases. This is known as the length-of-ownership effect.

A recent study pub­lished in the jour­nal Judge­ment and Deci­sion Mak­ing1 has taken an even deeper look at this effect: study­ing how touch­ing an object increases both our attach­ment to that object and how much we value it… even if we don’t own it (also in pdf). Here are the key find­ings of this ‘pre-ownership expo­sure study’:

  • Touch­ing an object will increase our attach­ment to it and val­u­a­tion of it, whether we own it or not.
  • The longer we touch or han­dle an un-owned object, the greater we will value it and feel attached to it.
  • Sim­ply think­ing about an un-owned object increases our val­u­a­tion of it and how much we feel attached to it.

Related find­ings, cited in this article:

  • If an object is being sold at auc­tion, the amount that we value the object will increase as the length of the auc­tion increases.
  • Own­ing a coupon for an object increases our emo­tional attach­ment to that object.
  • Mak­ing an item the “focus of a com­par­i­son” increases its attrac­tive­ness and the prob­a­bil­ity that it would later be selected. We will also feel more attached to the item and will value it higher.

via @stevesilberman and Life­hacker (sug­gest­ing that this duration-of-exposure effect’ is an expla­na­tion for why we have clut­tered homes.)

1 What, you’re not read­ing Judge­ment and Deci­sion Mak­ing? You should; it’s bimonthly and open access.

Dark Patterns for Marketers, or: Practical Behavioural Economics

Tak­ing a sys­tem­atic approach to imple­ment­ing find­ings from behav­ioural eco­nom­ics into a sales cycle can “unlock sig­nif­i­cant value”, accord­ing to McKinsey’s Ned Welch. To help busi­ness do exactly that, Welch–in what, at times, reads a bit like a ‘dark pat­terns guide for marketers’–has writ­ten an arti­cle look­ing at four prac­ti­cal tech­niques from behav­ioural eco­nom­ics that mar­keters should use to per­suade pur­chasers. The techniques:

  1. Make a product’s cost less painful.
  2. Har­ness the power of a default option.
  3. Don’t over­whelm con­sumers with choice.
  4. Posi­tion your pre­ferred option carefully.

There’s not much new here, but the sum­maries are nice and suc­cinct. From item four, I found this bit of gro­cery store choice archi­tec­ture interesting:

Another way to posi­tion choices relates not to the prod­ucts a com­pany offers but to the way it dis­plays them. Our research sug­gests, for instance, that ice cream shop­pers in gro­cery stores look at the brand first, fla­vor sec­ond, and price last. Orga­niz­ing super­mar­ket aisles accord­ing to way con­sumers pre­fer to buy spe­cific prod­ucts makes cus­tomers both hap­pier and less likely to base their pur­chase deci­sions on price—allowing retail­ers to sell higher-priced, higher-margin prod­ucts. (This explains why aisles are rarely orga­nized by price.) For ther­mostats, by con­trast, peo­ple gen­er­ally start with price, then func­tion, and finally brand. The mer­chan­dise lay­out should there­fore be quite different.

via Nudge

(If you don’t have a McK­in­sey account, you can read the arti­cle here or here (PDF).)