Rutu Mulkar

Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion

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This book is about how our brain loves shortcuts, and other people can make us follow them by pushing our emotional buttons. These manipulators are everywhere in the industry, they’re compliance professionals, and their entire job is to influence you into doing what they want.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

The world is a complex place, where you can’t process everything, and our brains evolved to use these shortcuts to make decisions.

Sadly others can hack our brains.

For example, people can skip a line by simply mentioning a reason

At a printer line:

“May I skip the line, because I’m in a rush” - 94% complied

If no reason was given, only 60% complied

Fascinatingly, even BS reasons seemed to work “Can I skip the line, because I want to make copies”

Our shortcut deems any reason sufficient

There are 6 principles for exploitation, widely used by marketing and business people, be wary of them:

  1. Reciprocation
  2. Scarcity
  3. Consistency
  4. Social proof
  5. Likability
  6. Authority

I will expand on each one of them.

1. Reciprocation

Humans have an overpowering need to return favors. Ever received free samples?

That is a trick, since people feel obliged to return favors, even much larger favors. Don’t fall for it.

When colleagues were given a 10 cent gift as a nice gesture, people felt compelled to return 5 times more in return, value of 5 cokes.

We are socially conditioned and evolved to return favors, because otherwise we upset the group, and we are seen as ingrates or moochers, and this fear of being labeled and perceived is what manipulators use to get us to do what they want.

Manipulation tactic: Rejection and retreat Starting with an outrageous price, and retreating from there can win concessions

This is because we feel bad and obliged to refuse the person yet again, even if the first offer was ludicrous

We feel bad to say No. Don’t fall for it

There is also a contrast principle, a bug in our brains: When two items are presented to us one after the other, we magnify the difference of the second from the first item presented.

Defense against Reciprocation tactics:

  • Make a habit to think if people are genuine
  • Check people’s reputation with others
  • If you’re feeling obliged, don’t be. Say No.
  • Don’t negotiate with people that are playing dirty, and starting with unrealistic offers.

2. Scarcity exploitation - When something is hard to obtain, it makes us inclined to buy it our of fear of missing out (FOMO)

effects contribute to scarcity exploitation:

  • Recency bias (When we perceive the availability of something to be recently decreased, we want it more)
  • Competitive nature (We hate losing to a rival)
  • Loss aversion (We like winning, but we hate losing out)

Examples of exploitation through scarcity:

80% off this week Limited offer Limited stock Last chance, sale ends in two days

Scarcity especially applies to time pressures. It causes an eagerness effect, hence people buy out of FOMO

Irrational wish to posses junk

A fun observation on sale exploitation:

In experiments, when people perceived a sale to end, they were inclined to buy it. But they were inclined to buy it even MORE if they were told they were the only ones that knew of the deal.

Manipulation compounds. Don’t be a sucker.

Scarcity sales effect: Banning something makes it more attractive

People want what they can’t have. Grass is always greener where you can’t step. Fixation on the forbidden

Called Romeo & Juliet effect. It’s human nature. It’s all desire.

Humans hate losing opportunities

How to defend against manipulation through scarcity:

  • Don’t be impulsive
  • Don’t rush
  • Have patience
  • Ignore price decreases

There is always time to make buys, rather than lose out of being impulsive in the long run.

3. Consistency - Staying true to your word

(even when that is not in your interest)

We have a strong desire for consistency, especially internal, not just social.

Done out of laziness, easier for the brain to copy past actions and habits than be creative.

For example, when people observed a beach towel theft, only 20% reacted, but when explicitly asked “please watch this towel”, 95% people reacted, even chasing the guy

What dictates consistency? Commitment.

Socially we become accountable, and our reputation and perception matters to us.

Especially if made explicit, publicly or easily verifiable commitments.

Our self image is malleable, and others that wish to manipulate us can mold it through small unconscious commitments.

See “Dumping strategies” When a new company has absurd low prices just to get consumers hooked, and change their beliefs. “I am an X brand buyer now”

The harder something is to get, the more we value it.

See signaling effects:

  • Luxury brands
  • Tribalism
  • Gang tattoos
  • making you want a product, then mentioning the price after, or even changing it

4. Social Proof - We often decide the best course of action by copying other people.

Ever wondered why laugh tracks are added in sitcoms. Because our brains short-circuit through imitation, and find stuff funny, which is not.

See on youtube “laugh track removed” videos

Other examples of copying behavior:

  • “salting” donation boxes with some initial money
  • best-seller
  • luxury brands
  • everyone facing same way in elevators
  • bystander effects
  • evolution of fashion
  • how suicides increase after celeb does it
  • fake endorsements

The more similar we are to others, the more they influence us. Ingroup vs. outrgroup.

Hence why salesmen try to always mention “I do that too” to get you to feel like you are part of the same tribe. Don’t fall for it.

Why do you think @naval is followed by so many male, Indian, in poor conditions demographic? Because of emulation and imitation, people wish to become like that, and they’re looking for examples of people similar to them.

How to defend against social proof manipulation:

  • Be alert for fake signals
  • Be wary if people are crafting perceptions on shaky foundations and external validation
  • Ask reality, and reason from first-principles
  • Never assume, always check

5. Likability - We comply with people we like and it’s easy for others to trick us into liking them

Best person to sell you something is a friend.

That’s why multi-level marketing schemes are so popular and perverse.

A friend can never wish you harm, right? Unless he doesn’t know what he’s doing, or he has hidden motives.

We’re suckers for compliments and familiarity.

Hence why sales people frequently compliment us and claim similarities to us.

We are also more drawn to attractive people, or popular people, even though they are not competent at all. (Halo effect)

Examples:

  • good cop/bad cop interrogation
  • “we on the same team”
  • “we fighting the same fight”

Anti-thesis: Shoot the messenger effect

How to defend against likability manipulation:

  • Be skeptical
  • It’s too good to be true
  • If you liked someone recently, they’re probably sucking up

6. Authority effect - We obey authorities because they appear competent.

We were raised to obey as kids (fathers, teachers)

But adults are full of shit.

Examples:

  • Electric shock experiment
  • Nurse that received note “Add meds in R ear” from doctor, and ended up adding the meds in the poor guy’s ass (“Rear”) instead of right ear

Never assume, always check

Authority negates independent thinking. We trust blindly, assume they know better.

We try to infer symbols of authenticity (uniforms, titles)

Just the brain being lazy.

Don’t trust blindly. Even highly competent and authority figures.

They’re human too. And even if they are competent, maybe their expertise is not applicable with the problem we are facing now.

To avoid authority bias, ask these Q’s:

  1. Is he an authority, or a fake?
  2. Is his authority relevant to the situation?
  3. How honest can an authority be in this situation?
  4. Do they have my best interests at heart.

That was it. Hope it makes you understand your mental shortcuts better, before others manipulate you first.

And remember: “Do your best not to fool yourself, and know that you’re the easiest person to fool”

Read the original tweet thread here

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