A Summary and Review of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

This summary and review of the book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, was prepared by Alexi Ingraffia while a Marketing student in the College of Business at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana.

Cover via Amazon

Executive Summary

I feel that the reason that this book was written was to answer, “Why is it that a request stated in a certain way will be rejected, while a request that asks for the same favor just stated in a slightly different way will be successful?”

In nature and in people, we all have fixed-action patterns that cause us to go on automatic pilot or click whir as the author tells. The story goes that a mother turkey hears her baby go cheep cheep and she will take care of it. If she hears a polecat go cheep cheep she will take care of it even though it is her natural enemy. Besides the fixed action pattern there is usually a trigger and in this case it is the sound of the baby. In the case of people, it can be that they have an innate desire to be seen as consistent or that they feel they must do something for you since you did something for them or perhaps someone in authority is telling them to do something. We all have our triggers that put the principles of consistency, reciprocation, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity into play without us even realizing it.

We all have automatic behavior patterns that serve us well so that we don’t have to think about every little thing we do, but at the same time they can make us vulnerable to anyone who knows how to use them against us.

The Ten Things Managers Need to Know from Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

1.    What are the 6 weapons of influence? They are 6 automatic responses or short-cuts that we use for saying yes to requests. They can be used to our advantage or used to exploit us.

2.    The principle of reciprocation states that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. For example, if someone buys you lunch, you feel obligated to buy them lunch the next time.

3.    The principle of consistency and commitment states that once we have made a choice or taken a stand we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. An example would be of someone who is in a miserable marriage but won’t divorce because they made a public commitment in their oath “til death do us part”.

4.    The principle of social proof states, one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct. This is just like monkey see, monkey do. If we don’t know proper protocol we look to see what the majority is doing.

5.    The principle of liking states that most people prefer to say yes to the request of someone they know and like. When people feel comfortable they tend be more positive, buy more, and obviously agree to more. So, if you want someone to comply to a request try to get on their good side.

6.    What determines liking? Compliments, cooperation, association, similarity, contact, and physical attractiveness all aid in getting someone to like you. If managers have or can attain some of these qualities to better get along with employees, it will only aid in success for the business.

7.    The principle for authority states that people tend to follow authority figures. We are taught from a very young age to respect our elders. Con artists exploit authority figures all of the time by dressing like them.

8.    The principle of scarcity states that opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited. Anything with a dead line or a limited time offer makes it seem a little more important to us because of its time availability.

9.    How can you use the principles to your advantage? Use the rejection-then –retreat technique for reciprocation in order to get the request you want. For commitment, get your target to write down their commitment to you because it makes them stick to it better. For social proof, let your target know which item is most popular and they’ll likely buy that one. For authority, act as though you are some big hot shot and you may get away with it. For scarcity, use limited time offers to up the value. With the liking principle all one must simply so is dish out complements.

10.    Exploitation-The book talks about going with your gut when faced with possibility of feeling exploited by a commissioner. When something is wrong most people usually know something is up, you just have to make sure that you are attentive when you are in these situations. 

Dr. Robert Cialdini Asw10 (Photo credit: Dave Dugdale)

Full Summary of Influence

The author, Robert B. Cialdini, discusses what makes us do the things we do. Why do we ask a question a certain way and are rejected but tweak the question and ask in a slightly different way and are successful? Why do we respond or react in certain ways?

The book is broken up into “weapons of influence”: reciprocation, commitment, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. The author shows us how these principles are used to exploit unsuspecting people by convincing them to comply, donate, vote, purchase, and etc.

Chapter 1

We all grow up learning and believing that certain situations should be handled certain ways and that certain people should be treated according to how they are viewed. We call this stereotyping but Cialdini, the author, says that we are preprogrammed and use the “click,whirr” formula. This means that, “click” and the appropriate automatic internal tape is activated; “whirr” and out rolls the standard sequence of behaviors. We respond this way because something triggers us to do so; it’s the way the preprogrammed tapes are activated. Cialdini called this aspect of the formula the trigger feature. He says that if you recognize this, you can use it to your advantage by getting people’s internal tapes to play at the wrong time. He demonstrates with a few examples.

An experiment done by Harvard social psychologist, Ellen Langer, proves that people are more successful at getting favors done for them when they provide a reason rather than without one. She demonstrated this unsurprising fact by asking a small favor of people waiting in line to use a library copying machine: Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush? 94% let her skip ahead. Compare this success rate to the results when she made the request only: Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine? This time only 60% complied with her. Now when you see the first part of this study, you automatically assume that the reason of the decreased percentage between questions was because of the difference in the additional information but the rest of the study proves otherwise. This time instead of using a real reason for compliance, Langler’s third type of request used the word “because” and then, adding nothing new, merely restated the obvious: Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies? The result was nearly all (93%) agreed, even though no real reason was given and no new information was added to justify their compliance. Langer proved our automatic response and that the trigger factor here was simply the word, “because”. Click, whirr! Chapters 2-7 are the actual “weapons of influence” that show the click, whirr formula in use and how trigger features can be used to our benefit and what to pay attention to in order to avoid being the victim of them.

Chapter 2

    In chapter two Cialdini describes the first and one of the most potent weapons of influence around us as being the rule for reciprocation. The rule states that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. A small scale example of this rule is from a university professor a few years ago who implemented a Christmas card experiment. He sent the Christmas cards to a sample of perfect strangers. He said that he expected some reaction but was not expecting what he got in return-holiday cards addressed to him came pouring back from people who had never met nor heard of him. They received his holiday greeting card, click, and, whirr, they automatically sent one in return.

It’s human nature that we feel obligated to return a favor even when a favor is placed upon us that we didn’t ask for. This “power” is one of the reasons reciprocation can be used so effectively as a device for gaining another’s compliance. Cialdini states, “The rule possesses awesome strength, often producing a “yes” response to a request that, except for an existing feeling of indebtedness, would have surely been refused.” Dr. Dennis Regan of Cornell University performed experiments to test this “power”. The first was the impact of the reciprocity rule on compliance. Regan set up a scenario where his assistant, Joe, was posing as a rater of some paintings as part of an experiment on “art appreciation”. Another person was in on the experiment as an unsuspecting guinea pig. They had a two minute break and Joe came back to the room with two cokes for him and the subject in one scenario and came back empty handed in the other. Joe then asked each subject to do him a favor by purchasing some raffle tickets from him so that he could win a new car and if he sold the most tickets he could win a fifty dollar prize. The major finding of the study was that Joe was more successful in selling his raffle tickets to the subjects who had received his earlier favor. This feeling that they owed him something apparently caused them to buy twice as many tickets as those who had not been given the prior favor.

Regan was also interested in how liking for a person affects the tendency to comply with that person’s request. He came to know that for those who owed Joe a favor from the coke that was given to them, it didn’t matter whether they liked him or not because they felt they had an obligation to repay him, and they did. Those who disliked Joe, in that condition, bought just as many tickets as those who did like Joe. The reciprocation rule was so strong that it overwhelmed the liking for the requestor, a factor that would normally affect the decision to comply.

The reciprocation rule also enforces uninvited debts. For example, a certain religious group solicits donations in airports by forcing a flower upon unsuspecting people, either by pressing it in their hands or quickly pinning it on their shirt. When the people say they don’t want it the religious group insists that they keep it as a gift and then ask for a donation. The unsuspecting people now feel obligated to give some amount of money to the group because of the “gift” that was put upon them.

The reciprocity rule can also trigger unfair exchanges that allow it to be exploited for profit. The rule demands that one sort of action be reciprocated with a similar sort of action. A favor is met with another favor; it is not to be met with neglect, and certainly not with attack. For example, some girls do not let guys buy them drinks in a bar because they don’t want there to be tension of obligated sexual favors.

Reciprocal concessions are the second way to implement the reciprocity rule to get someone to comply with a request. It’s called rejection-then-retreat technique. Suppose you want someone to agree to a certain request, one way to do this is to first make them a larger request that they will likely turn down. Once they turn down the request, you make the smaller one, the one you originally wanted them to comply with in the first place. The way to say no to the reciprocation weapon of influence is to try to recognize who is initiating the favor and what their intentions are.

Chapter 3  

Chapter three lectures on the second weapon of influence- consistency and commitment. Why is so powerful a motive? Society recognizes consistency as being valued and adaptive. Cialdini says, “A high degree of consistency is normally associated with personal and intellectual strength. It is at the heart of logic, rationality, stability, and honesty.” Because it is typically in our best interest to be consistent things can get very habitual for us, even when it isn’t the sensible way to be. Blind consistency, however, allows for shortcuts through life. We don’t have to think about pros and cons of everything, we simply just do it because it was consistent with an earlier decision. Mindless/automatic consistency also helps to ease the mind by knowing that once the final decision is made that everything will be okay for a little while because there is no more worrying about what decision to make anymore. Exploiters, however, will use this automatic reaction to their requests for our compliance. How do they exploit us? They know what the click is that will, in turn, make us whirr. The click is commitment because once a stand is taken there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that are stubbornly consistent with the stand.

    A good example of this in the book is when a toy store runs ads of the hottest new toy right before Christmas and demand spikes. The kids ask their parents for the toy for Christmas and when the parents go to the store to get the toy it is in “short supply”. The parents pick out another toy for the kids but because the parents made a commitment to their children, they go buy the toy after Christmas when the store, miraculously, has plenty in stock. This is no coincidence; the toy store knows the power of commitment and uses this as a strategy to boost sales after Christmas.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” This means that consistency, even though it’s good, can become automatic and its force can be used to exploit you. How do you avoid exploitation? The same way you do in reciprocation; you will get a feeling that the person who is trying to get you to comply isn’t being genuine. When you get that gut feeling, think about the commitment principle and apply it to your situation. Train yourself to be attentive and you will be able to avoid these types of scenarios completely.

Chapter 4

Walter Lippman said, “Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.” That quote directly correlates with the principle of social proof which states that, one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct. There are many studies of social proof. Canned laughter is a perfect example of this because we laugh when we hear it on television even though we know it isn’t real. A night club that had a particularly long line had social proof that the club would be worthwhile.  Kids who were deathly afraid of dogs would overcome their fear if they saw other kids playing with the dogs, even if it was just a video. The closer in age of the kids on the video to the fearful child, the greater the impact was. The same sort of exposure process was done to unsociable children. They were shown a 23 minute video of 11 scenes where an isolated child slowly became more active with others until it finally was able to join in with other kids. The children who watched the video, just once, became very sociable. This shows how powerful a force social proof is if it can alter a socially awkward child’s way of thinking towards interacting with others.

    Cialdinin states, “When we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct.” Miss Genovese was stabbed to death while 38 people witnessed it. No one did anything because everyone was thinking that someone else had probably reported it already. Everyone around, however, was looking for social proof on what to do. So, if you ever need help in the midst of a group, make sure you call someone out directly and don’t just yell help in hopes of someone doing so because they’re all thinking someone else already has.

    When a suicide makes the front page of a paper, the social proof can be frightening. Research shows that the number of people who die in commercial air-lines increases by 1000% and automobile accidents spike. This happens because some people feel that when bad things happen that they should just end everything too. People become paranoid and start making safety mistakes in their jobs. This causes failures in cars, planes, boats, etc. and a rise in deaths. When an airplane pilot calls it quits they will make sure that it looked like an accident so that their loved ones can get insurance money and possibly save the family from embarrassment. This is called the Werther-Effect, rates of suicide increase in a surrounding the geographical areas where a front page suicide was highly publicized. This unsettling act of social proof shows us that people decide how they should act based on how some other troubled person has acted. Research found that, on average, 58 more people kill themselves in the two months after a front-page suicide. The wider the publicity of the suicide, the more people that kill themselves.

Chapter 5

    Clarence Darrow said, “The main work of a trail attorney is to make a jury like his client.” It is unsurprising to many that most people prefer to say yes to the request of someone they know and like which brings us to the principle of liking. How would a Tupperware party fit into this principle? It is the “quintessential American compliance setting”. Reciprocity-you get prizes for games played at the beginning of the party and everyone gets a prize. Commitment-everyone is urged to talk about how much they love their Tupperware they currently own. Social proof-once the buying begins it makes you feel that the product is good and you need more. Finally, liking-your friend asked you to have the party and if your friends buy they know you will get more hostess favors.

    Going along with the liking principle, research shows that we automatically assign favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence to good-looking people. We make these judgments, most of the time, being unaware that attractiveness plays a role in the process. Good-looking doesn’t necessarily mean good but we somehow see it that way and it is present in our legal system. Research shows that attractive men receive significantly lighter sentences. It is very noticeable, in society today, that pretty people have huge social advantages. Teachers even expect cuter kids to be more intelligent than those who aren’t as cute.

    “We tend as a rule to believe praise and to like those who provide it oftentimes when it is clearly false. In fact positive comments produced just as much liking for the flatterer when they were untrue as when they were true.” That is true but we must also look at the other end of the spectrum when you are continually exposed to someone who is unpleasant. That constant negative condition leads to less liking. It’s human nature for a person not to like someone because of the unpleasant nature of their news and that’s why advertisers try to connect themselves or their products with things that we like.

    Research shows that we assume that we have some of the same personality traits as our friends. You like things/people that are most like you so it only makes since that people naturally root for their own sex, culture, and locality. Whoever you root for represents you, so when that contestant that you voted for on American Idol goes through to the next round, you win!

    Make sure you recognize those who try to use the liking principle against you and make you do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Car salesmen are bad about that so be aware and make sure you’re complying to requests at your own free will.

Chapter 6

    The principle of authority states that when a person in a position of authority tells you to do something, most of the time you do it. We were brought up to respect and obey our elders so we all have some deep-rooted notion to “just do” when an authority tells us to, without any other considerations. A doctor had prescribed R EAR drops to a patient with a sever ear infection. Neither the nurse nor the patient questioned the doctor and the drops were injected into the patient’s rear! The doctor wrote R EAR for Right Ear but it didn’t matter because the authority had spoken.

    Sometimes you only have to appear as though you are an authority to get people to do what you want. Those types of people are called con-artists and can exploit you by having fake titles, clothing, and other authoritative accessories. Some people who are an actual authority try to cover it up when they don’t need to be in that position because that title can make others act differently around you. A professor hid his title because he noticed people would sensor themselves around him and he didn’t like that.

When others see you as an authority they automatically add 2.5 inches on you because authority figures are thought of as tall. Clothing deals a lot with authority; showing less skin makes you seem more legitimate. Wearing glasses makes you seem more intelligent and the color navy makes you seem more business-like.

It’s obviously pretty easy for someone to act like an authority to get one over on you, but the more aware you are of these people, the less likely you are to get exploited.

Chapter 7

    “The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.”-G.K. Chesterson. The principle of scarcity states that opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited. A good example of this is when you’re in the middle of talking to someone and they just cut you off because their phone started ringing. That call could’ve been really important because it was scarce, it didn’t matter how rude they thought they were in their mind. Another example would be that homeowner who are told that they could lose money by not installing proper insulation were more likely to do so rather than those who were told they would save money by installing proper insulation in their house. Retail uses a limited tactic to get you to buy. They only put out so much merchandise so it makes you feel you need to buy it right then and there.


    We’ve gotten so accustomed to our short-cuts in life that we tend to only see one piece of available information. With the hectic schedules of our day to day lives we need those short-cuts, however, and when someone tries to use them against us we should be aware of what they’re doing and know how to retaliate.

The Video Lounge

This video gives a little background on Robert Cialdini and allows him to briefly touch on the 6 weapons of influence and their meaning. A few ads will play throughout to help better explain a particular concept Dr. Cialdini is speaking on.

Personal Insights

I think that Robert B. Cialdini is one of the most brilliant people around because he took everyday concepts that we normally overlook and showed us how they were being used to exploit us and how we can prevent it. He broke down the reasons we are influenced into 6 principles of reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. Once you read how he explains we are influenced it makes you more aware of the power of these principles. Using them as short-cuts for everyday life is efficient but it made me realize that I should be more attentive to all other available external information when I find myself in those influential situations so that I am able to defend myself properly.

  • If I were the author of the book, I would have done these three things differently:

1.    If I were the author of this book I would definitely put more reader’s reports in it. The reports were real life scenarios sent as letters to the author. The examples in that the author gave were good but it always helps when there’s something you can actually relate to.

2.    The book is over 300 hundred pages and could’ve been summed up in about 20.  A lot of the topics were just overkill and I had to drudge through a lot. The values learned from the principles were very valuable if you could get through all of the clutter.

3.    I would’ve taken out the “How to Say No” sections in each chapter because they were just redundant. Being able to say no to commissioners was the same for all principles, that being you need to recognize and be aware of the people requesting favors from you and use your gut to determine their intentions.

  • Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:

1.    I never thought about how I was actually influenced to do certain things. Cialdini said that these principles were automatic responses for us to cut through the everyday hassles and I now realize it in hindsight. It made me question if there were other preprogrammed things in my life that I should pay more attention to.

2.    Now that I’m aware of the exploitation that can occur from those taking advantage of our short-cuts (6 principles), it makes me wonder about the intentions of some whom I have complied with. I will, most likely, over think a favor from now on.

3.    If changing the way you ask a question completely changes another person’s attitude toward their response I will always consider “influencing” a strategic tactic. I never gave it much thought before but when I thought of the word influence and what it meant, I immediately thought of bribery and that was it. My thought process of the word has been completely wiped out and transformed into something I now consider an art form. I strongly believe that there should be a business elective dedicated to the teachings of persuasion and influence rather than personal selling.

  • I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:

1.    Because I work in sales this book will definitely come in handy. The rejection-then-retreat technique was a good sales tactic for me to learn. It states that to increase your chances for someone to agree to a certain request, offer them a larger request, one that they will most likely turn down. After they refuse, make the smaller request that you were initially interested in all along and most of the time they will comply with it.

2.    I believe that because I can now acknowledge influential principles it will help me to advance in my field of marketing. Most marketing careers are based on getting a motion out of others and if I know what makes them tick then I will be one step above the rest.

3.    If I become a manager of some sort, I plan to teach my staff how they can apply these principles to their life. I believe the more people who know about the power of the influences will aid in the decrease of exploitation.

Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:

    There have been nothing but rave reviews for this book; I even searched for negative comments but nothing was published that I could find. Every review was in sync with one another about how strongly they felt that this book is a must read. If you plan to go into sales or have a degree in marketing, all critics felt that it would be in your best interest to read this book especially if you want to get ahead and stay ahead in the ever-changing business world. George Abler, executive partner with Garnter Executive Programs, says that he was able to continually relate the principles and examples to experiences in his life (Ambler, 2012).

    All review also concurred that they wouldn’t have expected anything less from Dr.Robert Cialdini, judging by his first two books: Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive and Influence. They all admit to have been in a situation of influence where the advice of Dr. Cialdini would’ve been nice to have at the time. The principles taught are considered necessary, by most of the critics, to have in everyday life, not just for business aspects. They all thoroughly enjoyed the book, as did I, and would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to collectively advance or better themselves.


Ambler, G. (2012, September 5). Book Review: Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion. George Ambler – Leading in Turbulent Times. Retrieved April 15, 2013, from http://www.georgeambler.com/book-review-influence-the-psychology-of-persuasion/

Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence – Communication Skills Training from MindTools.com. (n.d.). Mind Tools – Management Training, Leadership Training and Career Training. Retrieved April 15, 2013, from http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/six-principles-influence.htm

Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: the psychology of persuasion (Rev. ed. ; 1st Collins business essentials ed.). New York: Collins.

Reeves, J. (2009, June 29). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion Book Review. Kaizen Marketing, Inc.. Retrieved April 15, 2013, from influence-the-psychology-of-persuasion-book-review

Rieck, D. (n.d.). Influence and Persuasion: How to Trigger the “Yes” Response. Direct Creative. Retrieved April 15, 2013, from http://www.directcreative.com/influence-and-persuasion-how-to-trigger-the-yes-response.html

Stephens, R. (2012, August 20). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion Book Review | Ryan Stephens Marketing. Ryan Stephens Marketing: Bulding Intimate Business Relationships. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from http://ryanstephensmarketing.com/blog/influence-the-psychology-of-persuasion-book-review/


Contact Info

To contact the author of this article, “A Summary and Review of Influence by Alexi Ingraffia,” please email alexi.ingraffia@selu.edu or lexi.ingraffia09@gmail.com.


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