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Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Chapter 5: Liking: The Friendly Thief

Cialdini begins the chapter by claiming that the Tupperware party is the "quintessential American compliance setting" (167). The simple principle of liking for compliance purposes is supplemented by other weapons of influence: reciprocity (games and prizes); commitment (testimonials); and social proof (group buying). The real power of the Tupperware parties, however, comes from the presence of the friend and host(ess) who has arranged the gathering. Liking your friend increases the pressure on you to buy the product. Charity organizations capitalize on this principle when they recruit people to canvas for funds in their own neighborhoods. The Shaklee Corporation uses the "endless chain" method of gaining referrals from satisfied customers to their friends.

Social scientists who have studied what makes us like another person have discovered a number of common elements.

Physical Attractiveness

A so-called "halo effect," physical attractiveness is a positive characteristic that dominates the way we view another person. Unconsciously, people assume that good-looking people have such traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence (171). Research into Canadian federal elections "found that attractive candidates received more than two and a half times as many votes as unattractive candidates" (171), even though 73 % of these voters denied being influenced by physical appearance. Good grooming in hiring interviews has been shown to have a similar outcome on the decision. Physical attractiveness also influences the outcome of judicial processes (171-72). Physically attractive people are more often helped, and are more likely to persuade us, and these benefits are conferred beginning at an early stage in elementary schools.


"We like people who are similar to us" and studies have demonstrated that we "are more likely to help those who dress like us"(173). This principle goes a long way towards explaining the ubiquity of uniforms and unofficial dress codes in schools. We can foster liking based on the similarity principle if we claim to have similar background and interests as the person we want to persuade. "I'm just like you" is an assertion we should be wary of. "Many sales training programs now urge trainees to 'mirror and match' the customer's body posture, mood, and verbal style..." (174)


The "world's greatest car saleman," Joe Girard, sent out holiday cards to each of 13 000 former customers; the cards said, "I like you." (174-5) The power of flattery is revealed in a North Carolina study that evaluated the effects of positive, mixed, and negative comments on male subjects: "First, the evaluator who provided only praise was liked best by the men. Second, this was the case even though the men fully realized that the flatterer stood to gain from their liking him. Finally, unlike the other types of comments, pure praise did not have to be accurate to work. Positive comments produced just as much liking for the flatterer when they were untrue as when they were true" (176). Beware the wolf in sheep's clothing!

Contact and Cooperation

We prefer the reversed image of ourselves that we see in the mirror everyday to the true image other people see of us. We like things that are familiar to us. When faces of people are flashed quickly on a screen, those faces seen most frequently--even for a fraction of a second--are likely to trigger a positive recognition response when seen in real life (177). Familiarity can be induced at an unconscious level through repetition, and this has profound consequences for political campaigns when we "recognize" those to whom we confer the power to make decisions on our behalf.

"School desegregation is more likely to increase prejudice between blacks and whites than to decrease it" (177). Why is this true? As Cialdini explains it, the school environment, despite the opportunity it provides for contact and greater familiarity, is generally highly competitive and stressful for the majority of students. These "unpleasant conditions" (178) actually subvert the contact principle and foster less liking. One response to the racial hostilities found in the normal competitive learning environment is to foster "coorperative learning" (179-180). The research of Muzafer Sherif on boys in a summer camp showed that splitting them into competitive groups fostered disharmony, and requiring them to cooperate to solve common problems helped bridge the gap between their differences. In Aronson's "jigsaw classroom," cooperation is essential to student success: "The essence of the jigsaw route to learning is to require that students work together to master the material scheduled for an upcoming examination. This is accomplished by forming students into cooperating teams and giving each student only one part of the information--one piece of the puzzle--necessary to pass the test. Under this system the students must take turns teaching and helping one another. Everyone needs everyone else to do well" (182). This principle of interdependence has become a staple of constructivist pedagogy.

The spirit of cooperation is often leveraged by compliance professionals to gain their ends. The police use of the "good cop / bad cop" splitting strategy is a classic example that relies on the "perceptual contrast" principle (the good cop seems especially supportive) and reciprocity (buying a gift of coffee and making an offer of support), but mainly because supects feel someone is on their side.

Killing the Messenger, Reporting the Weather

"The nature of bad news infects the teller" (Shakespeare). The simple association of bad news with the teller of it stimulates our displeasure. Happily, the "principle of association is a general one, governing both negative and positive connections" (189). The logical fallacy of guilt by association affects not only weathermen reporting a coming storm; unfortunately for Syrians like Maher Arar, it can lead to imprisonment and torture if you have ever been associated with a suspected terrorist.

Team Canada wins the 2002 Winter Olympics

Positive Associations

Positive associations include attractive models included in car ads, or products which capitalize on the "current cultural rage" such as the Olympics, a moon walk, naturalness, or a pop celebrity. Celebrity endorsements capitalize on the bandwagon technique and are a kind of argument to authority.

Gregory Razran coined the term the "luncheon technique" when he discovered that his subjects "became fonder of the people and things they experienced while they were eating." His research was particularly concerned with the change of opinion about political beliefs over the course of a luncheon. Razran's insight owes a debt of influnece to Pavlov's pioneering research that showed how a dog could be taught to salivate merely by associating food with something irrelevant to it, like a bell. Food is associated with bell; ring the bell and the dog salivates: classical conditioning.

Canadian hockey fan

Cialdini suggests that "people understand the association principle well enough to strive to link themselves to positive events and separate themselves from negative events" (195). Sports fans--and fanaticism--illustrate this principle that people like to associate themselves with the positive accomplishments of sports teams and well-known athletes. With sports, "the self is at stake" (198). Basking in reflected glory, or chilled by defeat, fans will wear the uniforms of successful teams (principle of similarity), and curse the athletes and coaches who let the hometown down--all motivated by the power of association. The pronouns reveal it all: "We're number one!" "They suck." And we will be more likely to associate ourselves with positive teams and athletes when our own self-esteem or public image is damaged. The success of others, when we associate ourselves with it, helps us save face. Cialdini takes these findings one step further to suggest that rabid sports fans--such as football hooligans--and rock-music groupies hold the "rather tragic view of accomplishment as deriving from outside the self" (203). Stage mothers, or people who trade on the careers of their partners, fall into this sorry category according to our author.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Chapter 6: Authority

This chapter opens with a shocking description of Stanley Milgrim's experiments to determine the following research question: "When it is their job, how much suffering will ordinary people be willing to inflict on an entirely innocent other person?" The experiment is described by Thomas Blass on his website in honour of Milgrim:

Controversy surrounded Stanley Milgram for much of his professional life as a result of a series of experiments on obedience to authority which he conducted at Yale University in 1961-1962. He found, surprisingly, that 65% of his subjects, ordinary residents of New Haven, were willing to give apparently harmful electric shocks--up to 450 volts--to a pitifully protesting victim, simply because a scientific authority commanded them to, and in spite of the fact that the victim did not do anything to deserve such punishment. The victim was, in reality, a good actor who did not actually receive shocks, and this fact was revealed to the subjects at the end of the experiment.

The results of the experiment surpassed all estimates of the percentage of people who would be willing to administer the increasing dosage of shocks even though their subjects were begging to have the experiment stopped. Subsequent experiments determined that it made no difference if the subjects (those administering the shocks) were male or female. The experiment included a standard cross section of ages, occupations, and education levels; and tests determined that these people were as psychologically normal as you and I.

Photo of Mussolini and Hitler

This experiment was stimulated by Milgrim's conjecture in the early 1960's that the German people suffered a national character flaw--an unthinking obedience to authority--which allowed them to become enthralled with Adolph Hitler. Milgrim concluded that such behaviour is explained by a "deep-seated sense of duty to authority within us all" (213). Those who administered the shock found it difficult to disobey the instructions of the lab-coated researcher. In fact, many subjects protested that the shocks should end but still carried out the researcher's orders. As Milgrim concluded, "It is the extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority that constitutes the chief finding of the study" (215).

The story of S. Brian Willson, an anti-war activist, is equally instructive. Willson had both legs severed below the knees when a Navy armaments train failed to stop even though he and two others were lying across the tracks. The civilian crewmen on the train would not disobey orders from their superiors to keep going. Willson, a veteran of 4 years in Vietnam was philosophical about their failure to disobey authority: "They were just doing what I did in 'Nam. They were following orders that are part of an insane policy. They're the fall guys." Fall guys, maybe: the crewmen went on to sue Willson for causing them mental anguish and physical stress.

Laurent de La Hire, Abraham Sacrificing Isaac, 1650, Musée Saint-Denis, Reims

Cialdini suggests there are reasons for this deference to authority. "A multi-layered and widely accepted system of authority confers an immense advantage upon a society" (216). It allows for the organization necessary for resource development, trade, defense, and most cooperative activities. As an alternative to anarchism, deference to authority is promulgated by parents, teachers, and other figures of influence from an early age, and thus is deeply ingrained. Disobedience is often punished; obedience rewarded. Duty, loyalty, and devotion are all accorded high praise. Disobedience to the instructions of God resulted in the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Abraham was ordered by God to plunge a knife into his youngest son Isaac.

So far, these have all been dramatic examples of obedience to authority. Most of the time, however, "Information from a recognized authority can provide us a valuable shortcut for deciding how to act in a situation" (218). As with all the weapons of influence, "mechanical" obedience to authority can be misleading. Cialdini uses the example of medicine to show that unthinking deference to the authority of doctors contributes to a high percentage of medication errors. Research involving a "doctor" prescribing an unusual dose of medication over the phone resulted in a 95% compliance rate. The researchers concluded that the intelligences of the nurses following the orders were "nonfunctioning" (225). The "rectal earache" was a case in point. The popularity of Robert Young as Marcus Welby allowed him to promote Sanka coffee, even though he didn't appear as a doctor--proving that we are just as "vulnerable to the symbols of authority as to the substance" (220).

Symbols of authority include titles, clothes, and trappings. Titles such as professor have a marked effect on conversations and the estimation of height! (223) Con men will artificially increase their height with shoe lifts to gain more status and authority, just as birds and animals will puff themselves to appeal to mates or intimidate rivals. Wearing some kind of uniform, or well-tailored business suit, greatly increases the chance of compliance--as evidenced by the bank-examiner bunko scheme. In North America, impressive trappings include jewelry and cars--owners of prestige autos are given preferential treatment. As with all the situations involving the pressure of authority, people tend to under-estimate how much they would defer to authority. "Not only does [the property of authority] work forcefully on us, but it does so unexpectedly" (229).

Obey, The Medium is the Message

Defenses against the power of authority include a heightened awareness of "authority power" and how it is constituted. Michel Foucault's important studies of knowledge, power, and discipline all contribute to such an understanding. It is also useful to ask if the authority's credentials are relevant to the question at hand, and what evidence we have that the person is an authority. Is the authority likely to be truthful in a given situation? How trustworthy is this authority? "By wondering how an expert stands to benefit from our compliance, we give ourselves another safety net against undue and automatic influence" (232). Waiters such as Vincent, however, will gain our trust by seeming to argue against their own interests--by recommending a cheaper dish or bottle of wine--knowing that this small concession will be repaid by future generosity. In this example, Vincent's authority is supplemented by the rule of reciprocity.


Host an Online Tupperware Party!

Ivan Pavlov: Biography

Play the Pavlov's Dog Game

Hockey Canada: Become a real fan.

Stanley Migrim: hosted by Thomas Blass.

Obey Giant: graphic art for Phenomenological activists.

Shepard Fairey on Artsy-net: More of Shepard Fairey's work on a great art website

S. Brian Willson: essays and writings by the peace activist.