Chapter 1: Weapons of Influence

            Cialdini (2009) begins Chapter One with the story of a Native American jewelry store catering primarily to travelers to Arizona. The owner of the establishment, also a friend of the author, called Cialdini with a surprising observation. Her turquoise jewelry was not moving, so she displayed the jewelry in another, more prominent location within the store. However, the change in location did not matter, as the jewelry continued to be ignored. Then, prior to departure on a business trip, she left a note next to the turquoise jewelry display, instructing her employee to lower the price on the jewelry “X ½.” However, because she was in a hurry, her handwriting wasn’t her best, so the employee interpreted “1/2” as “2,” thereby
doubling the price. When the store owner returned, all of the turquoise jewelry had been sold.

             As Cialdini notes, the heuristic at play in this episode evolved from the adage, “You get what you pay for,” which had been transformed in the minds of the tourists to a simple equation: expensive = good. This equation had served as a “trigger” compelling the customers to purchase.

            “Triggers,” leading to what Cialdini calls “fixed action patterns” in human behavior, were the focal concept of Chapter One. According to the author, because we live in an increasingly complex environment that requires shortcuts to survive, we often do not have the luxury of analysis and contemplation in making our decisions. Consequently, “profiteers” who understand what our triggers are can exploit that understanding without our awareness by mimicking trigger features. In essence, they cultivate the “ability to manipulate without the appearance of manipulation” (Cialdini, 2009, p. 12). He uses the onomatopoeic construction of “click, whirr” to illustrate the mechanical nature of human decision-making. Like one of those old reel-to-reel tape recorders, there is a “click” as the preprogrammed tape is activated, followed by a “whirr” as the tape begins to run.
            Other heuristics discussed in Chapter One include (1) the provision of reasons during persuasive efforts versus controlled responding, and (2) contrast.

            Controlled responding is a term referring to situations during which humans utilize analysis and contemplation when making a complex decision, or a decision which affects them personally. Controlled responding is time-consuming, and requires the efforts of the System 2 component of the brain. Cialdini alludes to a colleague who, while standing in line to use a library’s copying machine, asked to move to the head of the line at the photocopier because he had only five pages to copy, and he was in a hurry A significantly higher percentage of individuals allowed line-cutting when a reason was given than when the request was simply: “May I use the Xerox machine?” Then, Cialdini’s colleague inserted a twist in his experiment. Instead of providing a reason for his desire to cut in line, he merely asked if he could go to the head of the line because he have some copies to make. About the same percentage of individuals allowed line-cutting. The colleague thought he was allowed to advance to the front of the line merely because of the inclusion of the word, because. The implication in this situation is that in matters of persuasion, humans are more likely to be swayed in a certain direction when exposed to the trigger word, because, which encourages the perception of a logical reason for the decision they’re being asked to make.
            The heuristic of contrast pertains to the tendency of humans, when confronted with two slightly different ideas, items, or concepts, to perceive the one presented second as much more distinct than the first. Such approach is frequently used in sales. For example, if an individual wishes to purchase clothing, it is much more advantageous to close the sale of the more expensive item (like a sports coat), then offer to add other less expensive items (like socks and a belt) after the commitment for the more expensive item has been made. In comparison to the larger ticket for the first item, the other items seem cheap by comparison, so the decision is more likely to be made in favor of the purchase. After all, what difference will the addition of a few more dollars make after the bigger purchase? (I wish I had read this chapter prior to purchasing my car last year. Just as Cialdini predicted in his book, the salesperson, after acquiring my commitment to make the auto purchase, turned me over to another individual, who sat down with me to persuade me to purchase a number of additional features to make my experience so much more worry-free—and each was only a few extra dollars a month through the life of my loan!)

            The “take-away” from Cialdini’s first chapter, I think, is the importance of our cultivating an awareness of how our brains work in situations when other people are attempting to persuade us, either to another point of view, or to purchase an item. I can perceive some similarities between Cialdini’s perspective and Christophe Morin’s presentation on neuromarketing. Though the terminology may be different, I think both perspectives focus on our vulnerabilities to triggers of persuasion which seem to reside in the reptilian brain.




Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.


Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Subpages (1): Chapter 2: Reciprocation