Exit and Support Network

Principles of Influence Used in Society

Six principles of influence that are used everywhere in society are discussed by Dr. Robert Cialdini. While these are common principles that can be effective, ethical, and lasting, they can also be used unethically, as by those leading totalistic groups.

Compliance is behavior that occurs only because it is requested, that is, getting what you ask for.


The Agents of Influence:

Bunglers: Those who don't know the principles.

Smugglers: Those who know the principles and exploit them in unnatural ways for their own benefit only. Those who "smuggle" risk losing our trust.

Sleuths: Those who know and use the principles in an ethical manner so that both parties benefit.

Those agents who are most effective carefully structure what they do before they make the request. They create a psychological context for making their request. Perceptions can be manipulated by means of comparison to contrasts or extremes. The context is extremely important.

The Six Principles:

  1. Obligation:
    We are programmed from childhood to pay back those who give us  something. If someone gives us a present for our birthday, we have to give that person a gift for his birthday. If someone sends us a Christmas card we feel we must send them one. Those who only take are called moochers, ingrates, parasites. We feel we must pay back the debt, even if we don't like the person or the gift.

    For example, the Krishnas are mostly funded by contributions. They give you something like a book or flower, then ask for money. People buy their way out of the obligation. Some try to give back the flower, or throw it on the ground in order to break free. Now the Krishnas are pinning small American flags on people's lapels, because we won't throw our flag on the ground.

    Often the first approach by a cult recruiter to a potential recruit is with an invitation to a free dinner followed by a lecture. How can you reject someone who has been so generous, especially when the invitation has been offered in the context of profuse "love-bombing"?

    b. Reciprocation of concessions: A person will start by asking for something very high, and then come down. Compliance is very high in this situation. Compare the method of car salesmen, or charity solicitor.

  2. SCARCITY (if I can't have it, I want it)

    Something held in abundance is much less highly valued than something scarce. Deceptive groups use this, for example, by saying that this is the only way to salvation. To a slightly less degree this is also done when the group claims to be the "best," the "closest to the will of God," "God's Green Berets," the "fastest path to enlightenment," etc.

    a. Exclusivity of information: Exclusive information is more prized, and more readily believed. A test of scarcity showed that scarcity of commodities produced increased revenue, but the exclusivity of the information about a future shortage produced a far greater increase in revenue. Note that the information must be true to maintain the relationship of trust.

    b. Rivalry for scarce items: Scarcity can be manipulated, especially by creating rivalry for it. In cults this can apply to such things as leadership positions, praise from the leader, other special favors.

  3. AUTHORITY (if an expert says it, it must be true)

    We automatically believe the expert or follow those in authority. This is true even if the person is not and cannot be an authority, but is only perceived as such. We react automatically, without thinking, because an "authority" says so. Deceptive groups put people in a position where the recruit cannot think straight and then are manipulatable: fatigue, information overload, sensory overload, etc. The most credible authorities are both knowledgeable and trustworthy.

    a. Trust: Must be impartial, unbiased, honest. A short-cut to gaining trust is to say something mildly contradictory to your own position. Then you will be seen as impartial, willing to acknowledge the negative side of your own position, and you will thus establish credibility.

    b. Misplaced Trust: Trust can be established either by "smuggling" or by being honest and providing the truth.

  4. CONSISTENCY (I can't back out now, nor do I need to)

    a. Obtain a commitment: People become more certain after they invest in something--or make a decision.

    b. Start small and build: Start by getting a person to make a very small commitment, then ask for increasingly larger request. The buildup can be slow, subtle, insidious. Once the commitment is made, it is very hard to change.

  5. CONSENSUS (everyone else is doing it)

    The actions of many others: We often look to see what other people are doing before we act. In Singapore, a bus strike caused a run on a bank and its closure because the people outside the bank waiting for the bus created the impression of a problem with the bank.

    The actions of similar others: The more we see others like us doing something, the more we do what they do.

    Rejection of Original Referent Group: If the original referent group is rejected, a person is susceptible to the coercion and persuasion of the new group. This is one of techniques used by cults: reject normal society, parents, and friends and substitute the cult.

  6. LIKING (positive connections create liking)

    E. g., the Tupperware Corporation makes $2M a day on parties put on by friends.

    Similarities: We like people who are like us.

    Compliments, praise: We like people who compliment us, whether the compliment is true or false. This is why "love-bombing" is so successful.

    Cooperative efforts: Bonds form through cooperative efforts, whether natural and legitimate or unnatural and manipulative.

These principles will be seen in any influence-setting situation. It is crucial to take a psychological step back, away from the situation to ask yourself, "Why do I feel this obligation to say yes to this person's request [or to believe what this person is telling me]?" Are you just feeling obligated because the person gave you something, or because he or she seems to be an "authority," or because the person claims to have exclusive truth, or because he or she is "a nice person," or because all your friends signed up, or because you've already agreed to an earlier request? Are these reasons, by themselves, sufficient to warrant your going ahead and saying yes to the person? Make sure there are legitimate reasons for doing forward.

When you are the influence agent, examine the setting to see which of these principles reside there naturally, and engage them rather than smuggle in influence. This is the way to produce influence that is effect, ethical and lasting.

By Thomas R. Yoder


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