A social psychologist considers why and how we make decisions.
In his previous book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (1984), Cialdini (Emeritus, Psychology and Marketing/Arizona State Univ.) aimed to help consumers “resist influence attempts employed in an undue or unwelcome way.” A bestseller, that book led to requests from people “ravenously interested in learning how to harness persuasion” in business or their personal lives, which inspired this illuminating, easy-to-digest follow-up. Although aimed at persuaders, the book also gives insight to consumers about the forces that shape decision-making. Drawing on studies in psychology, business, and the social sciences, which comprise the majority of his 90-page bibliography, Cialdini makes two central arguments: persuaders must trigger in their audience associations favorable to change, and “the factor most likely to determine a person’s choice in a situation is not the one that counsels most wisely” but rather “one that has been elevated in attention…at the time of the decision.” The book is filled with anecdotes and punctuated by cartoons (“Doonesbury” and “Dilbert” make appearances), advertisements, and, occasionally, graphs. Although some findings seem common-sensical—to get consumers to buy French wine, play French background music before they decide—others surprised even the author. If we want people “to feel warmly toward us, we can hand them a hot drink,” for example; and because the concept of weight “is linked metaphorically to the concept of seriousness,” manufacturers making e-readers as light as possible may “lessen the seeming value of the presented material” and “the perceived intellectual depth of its author.” Late in the book, Cialdini confronts the ethics of his entire enterprise: is he, in fact, “doing more harm than good” by imparting means of tricking consumers? Unethical business practices eventually undermine an organization by creating a corrosive “culture of dishonesty," he asserts; but he concedes that his “argument against duplicity” may not convince profit-hungry business leaders.
An accessible, well-researched inquiry into how minds get changed.