I read "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" in 1985.
I listened to the discussion on Sunday.
From FT Alphaville:
Robert Cialdini on how persuasion works in business and politics (transcript)
Alphachat is available on Acast, iTunes and Stitcher.
Joining me this week was Robert Cialdini, a psychologist who pioneered the systematic study of persuasion with his book Influence, published in 1984. He has just published a sequel, Pre-Suasion.
In our chat, we discuss the outburst of recent commentary on persuasion in a “post-fact” world, why our decisions don’t belong exclusively to us, how attention is best captured and kept, and the ethics of persuasion tactics. But perhaps the timeliest part of our conversation came at the end — the use of persuasion in politics, why incumbents have such a powerful advantage, and a look at the tactics of persuasion deployed by Donald Trump and Barack Obama. (Cialdini was part of a team of behavioural scientists that advised President Barack Obama as a candidate, and has included numerous passages in his books about persuasion in politics.)
Click here for a full transcript, edited only slightly for clarity, and below I’ve pasted the excerpts from our chat that concerned politics, which I suspect will be of most interest.
Robert Cialdini There’s a great book title by a couple of social psychologists, Elliot Aronson and Carol Tavris, it’s called Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me. So that’s the common human response to the idea of a mistake. You don’t want to admit that you have been in error, you want to stay true to the ideas or the thinking that brought you to an initial choice.
Somebody once asked me, not long ago actually: “How does this [principle of consistency] apply to people who voted for Donald Trump, for example, in the face of the various sorts of missteps that the first 60 days of his administration have shown?” And it seems to me that we have to give people who’ve made a commitment by voting, we have to give them cover. We have to give them an excuse, a way out of that mistake. For example, we might be able to say, “Well, of course you were in a position to make that decision in November because you didn’t know about X.”
So you’re allowed out of your commitment without having to lose face, without having to lose a sense of yourself as a good decision maker.
So if I were advising the Democratic Party – and I’m not! – that’s what they would have to do in order to dislodge, efficiently and effectively, a lot of the people who have made a choice, a vote, in the face of evidence that that may have been a poor choice.
Cardiff Garcia That’s an intriguing idea also, that incumbents have an advantage going into the next election cycle precisely because a lot of people have already voted for them. And so it’s almost like you’re starting from the base of all the people that already voted for you, and that was enough to win the first time. And it’s just not easy to get people to go back on an earlier commitment.
Robert Cialdini Right, in fact the research backs up your analysis. That is, even when Congress has very low approval ratings, that’s not true of your own representative. Because you were someone who voted that person in, he or she doesn’t share in the same kind of blame, because if you asked that person to own up to the blame, then you’re partially at fault for having voted for that person. ….
Cardiff Garcia What you have learned about persuasion from your participation in, and your study of, the political process?
Robert Cialdini What I’ve learned is that, like the business community, the political establishment is now embracing behavioural science in making their choices about how to present their candidates, how the candidate should make their cases, and so on.
I just spoke about Trump, and so I can describe a strategy that President Obama used in both of his campaigns, which was to be sure that when there were reports of how much money they had received in donations (they are required to do that every month, every quarter), that campaign didn’t just describe the amount of money that they received, they also described the number of contributors, the number of people who donated to the campaign....MUCH MORE, including the Alphachat audio player.