These “weapons of influence” aren’t persuasive arguments, but psychological factors that can be manipulated by people to produce a certain set of behaviors from their target audience. These psychological factors exert their power over us by tapping into socialized behavior patterns drilled into every functioning member of society — behavior patterns that can’t be broken without considerable psychic cost.
For example, the psychological principle of Reciprocity enforces in us the notion that if someone does us a favor, we automatically owe them a return favor, even if we didn’t ask for or want their help in the first place. Welching on that implied contract carries such a high psychic toll, that compliance professionals can confidently manipulate this weapon of influence to produce a very predictable — and exploitable — set of behaviors.
And among Cialdini’s weapons of influence is Consistency and Commitment, the socialized desire to trustworthy and consistent in one’s actions and statements. No one wants to be labeled a “flake” or “braggart,” or a liar, so we’re programmed to demand consistency in our behaviors and actions. We’re socially programmed to follow through on our commitments. Programming that is often exploited by compliance professionals.
The classic example, and one given in Cialdini’s book, is the use of a petition to create a small public commitment that can later be snowballed into a much larger commitment — one that the individual would have been unlikely to agree to without the prior set-up/commitment. Here’s how it works:
You’re asked to sign a petition for some cause you believe in. You may doubt how much good it will do, but it seems like a very small commitment to put your “voice” behind the call for change. Then, a few days after having publicly committed to the cause, you’re asked to make a larger commitment, like donating money, putting a sign up on your yard, e-mailing friends, etc. And this time, that earlier commitment makes you that much more eager to stay consistent with your stated beliefs. It makes you that much more eager to follow-through.
In other words, if the people behind the petition had started with the larger request, your chances of agreeing would have been much, much smaller, but now that you’re psychologically influenced by your inner need to appear consistent, you’re almost twice as likely to say yes to the larger request.
Sneaky, huh? And it happens all the time in this internet world of ours. In fact, the current incarnation takes the form of Facebook Likes, as exemplified in this ad for The National Park Foundation:
I mean really, what good is liking The National Park Foundation going to do?
But then again, what could it hurt, right? And one of my friends has already jumped on the bandwagon, too (a form of Social Proof, another of Cialdini’s weapon of influence)
So knowing what you now know, I’ll give you two guesses why The National Park Foundation wants my like, and why giving it to them might be a bigger commitment than most people realize : )