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Chapter 1: Weapons of Influence

In Chapter 1, titled Weapons of Influence, Cialdini discussed automatic compliance responses and the ways people who are aware of fixed action patterns exploit and profit from them.  Cialdini started by talking about fixed action patterns in animals and how ethologists have studied how relevant features (and simulated features) trigger animal responses.  Similarly, humans sometimes respond to environmental stimuli without mindful consideration. With so much going on, humans sometimes lack the time, energy and mental capacity to think things through.  Therefore, people rely on mental shortcuts to make decisions (unless it is a decision of high relevance and the person has the time and desire to thoughtfully consider the decision at hand).  Examples of mental shortcuts (also called judgmental heuristics) include notions such as “expensive = good”.  People tend to associate higher prices with higher quality.  As a result, people are more likely to choose higher priced items and avoid purchasing “cheap” items.  This consumer practice is profitable to store owners and salespersons.

Cialdini also talked about tactics used to trigger compliance such as the use of contrast and stating reasons for requests.  In relation to contrast, when two things are presented one after the other, differences are perceived as being greater than they actually are.  Therefore, if someone wants to sell a high priced item, for example, they could present a significantly higher priced item first so that the presentation of the second price will not seem as high to the buyer.  Similarly, a car salesman might offer additional options after a large sale has been made. The add-on price of a few hundred dollars for upgrades will seem insignificant to the large amount already spent.  In this manner, salespeople are able influence purchasing decision and profit from comparisons. 

Another tactic used to influence individuals to comply with requests includes stating reasons or causes for requests.  In some cases, the reason stated may not have to be a good one, as long as “because” is stated.  Cialdini gave the example of a researcher asking to cut in line to make copies.  The researcher received better compliance responses when she used the word “because” within her request.  Whether the reason was “because I’m in a rush” or simply “because I need to make copies”, people were more likely to comply than when the word “because” was not included. 

In sum, there are times when people behave on auto-pilot.  The people who are aware of the way automatic compliance response work know how to trigger, exploit, and profit from them.  This leaves those who are not aware of compliance patterns vulnerable to influence from those who know how to prompt (or trick people into making) particular decisions.  In this way, understandings of automatic response patterns can be used as weapons of influence.