Chapter Three - Commitment and Consistency: Hobgoblins of the Mind

Appearing consistent is a well documented problem in psychology. The first reason is that consistency is valued by society. Not only is consistency associated with personal and intellectual strength, it is considered a trait of the trustworthy (2009). In one experiment, 19 out of twenty people stopped someone who was appearing to steal an object on the beach that apparently belonged to someone else. The biggest trigger for this was when the owner asked them to keep an eye on their things. Without this trigger, the number fell to four out of twenty (2009). This seems to indicate that the largest influencing factor was that the participant would follow through on something they had committed to – watching the object. Also, without consistency, a person could not navigate challenges as easily. Consistency acts as a shortcut through complexity – by falling back on old assumptions and beliefs a person does not have to continually face complex situations (2009). Essentially, it acts as way of cutting through complexity and shielding an individual from threatening ideas.

A key component of using consistency to influence another person is by securing an initial commitment (2009). Because people have a strong drive to appear consistent in their behaviors, they are more willing to commit to things in line with prior agreements they may have made. For instance, Toy Stores have learned to capitalize on this trend by understocking in-demand gifts at Christmas, because they know that parents have already committed to buying them. When the item is not available, they realize that parents will buy something else in time for the holidays, and come back for the original item they made a commitment to buy (2009).  Commitments have the most power to influence someone when they are active, public, effortful, and viewed as uncoerced (2009).

                Commitments are most powerful when they are made internally. If they make these choices internally, then they tend to "grow their own legs" (Cialdini, p. 83, 2009), meaning that people will come up with their own reasons to support and protect them, even if they are placed there through manipulation, or if the initial agreement is revoked or changed. Marketers exploit this by getting people to make tiny commitments, preferably in writing, and then expanding from there. An example the book gives is Chinese military, who were able to get massive amounts of soldiers to collaborate, by having them commit to tiny beliefs on paper, like the idea that America is great but not perfect (2009), Once they wrote these ideas down, they would post these writings for other prisoners to see, and even play them on radio stations. Suddenly, saying that America is not perfect became associated with being pro-China. This created a powerful incentive for the person to change the way they saw themselves, so that they wouldn't appear inconsistent to others.

Another example of the power of initial commitments is the idea of low-balling, a tactic that salespeople use to exploit commitment in others. In one example, car dealers would offer a special discount on a vehicle to a customer. Only after the customer agrees and the transaction begins to happen the dealer would take back the lower offer, often citing a clerical error or stating that an upper level manager refused to let it through. Surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of individuals continued with the transaction anyway (2009).

Resisting the commitment-based method of influence depends on stomach signals and listening to your heart of hearts.  Stomach signals comprise a tightening of the stomach (2009) that acts as an early warning system. Cialdini argues that looking for stomach signals can give us a method to understand when we may be coerced. In these instances, he advocates that an effective method of countering this coercion is to simply tell the influencer what methods of coercion they are using. Heart of Hearts are for deeper questions when the correct answer is not obvious (2009). Described as the place where it is impossible to fool ourselves (2009), it involves deep introspection. It is possible to register these feelings a split second before the rational mind kicks in, which allows us to understand our true feelings before coercion affects us. When reflection is called for, a method to use Heart of Hearts is ask yourself if you would repeat the same event again if you went back in time (2009). Special vulnerabilities include age, strong personal factors, and cultural factors. These methods allow us to counter coercion attempts based on commitment and understand our true feelings on an issue. 

Ericka Goerling,
Mar 22, 2012, 12:16 AM