Cialdini's Persuasion Principles

Cialdini's Persuasion Principles

Last update: 27 September, 2018

Persuasion is the social influence on beliefs, attitude, intentions, motivations, and behavior. It’s a form of manipulation based on commitment that can change thoughts and behaviors. Persuasion principles use words to influence other people and achieve the desired changes.

Robert Cialdini stands out among the scholars of persuasion. He’s a psychologist from the United States who integrated different persuasion techniques into six fundamental principles. To do so, Cialdini worked as a used car salesman, in charity organizations, marketing firms, and other similar jobs.

While he worked, he put his knowledge of psychology into practice to prove its efficiency while he performed undercover experiments. Below, we’ll discuss each of the six principles Cialdini based his persuasion techniques on.

Robert Cialdini integrated persuasion techniques into six fundamental principles: commitment, reciprocity, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity.

Commitment and consistency

The influence of the principle of consistency is based on the desire to be and to appear to be a person with stances and behaviors that are consistent throughout time. According to this principle, people will be more willing to accept a requirement if it corresponds with their commitment. Some of the best-known techniques of this principle are “foot-in-the-door” and “low ball”.

Persuasion techniques applied.

The foot-in-the-door technique consists of requesting a small commitment from the person. It mustn’t be too costly so that they agree and it must be related to our objective. Once they accept our request, we request something else with a higher level of commitment, which is the request we really wanted in the first place. If the person denies our request, they would appear to be incoherent.

In the low ball technique, once there’s a deal on the bases and conditions, we remove those bases and introduce some that are less than desirable. However, since they had already accepted, they will tend to accept the second set of conditions. This is one of the most efficient persuasion techniques out there.


Normally, people feel compelled to return favors. Reciprocity refers to the need people have to restore equilibrium in social relationships. And so, when we receive something, we feel the urge to give something back in exchange. If we want to get information from someone, the easiest strategy is to tell them something personal about ourselves first. It can be a small confession or some other type of information. After that, this person will feel the obligation to say something in return.

People tend to treat others in the same way they’re treated, and this inertia gives way to some of the most efficient persuasion techniques. Applying this principle is simple. A clear example of it is when we give an unexpected gift or an exclusive discount. The more the person perceives the gift as something personal and thoughtful, the greater the influence of this psychological mechanism. Basically, this principle consists of giving something in order to make the other person return the favor.

Social proof or consensus

In general, people tend to validate a behavior that a large number of people have. They think that if everyone is doing it, there must be something to it. They do it to feel accepted. All people like to feel accepted in a group and they think that acting the same way as the rest reduces their risk of making mistakes.

This psychological mechanism explains why we conform to the consensus view often. We have the predisposition to accept something if others already accepted it and to reject it if others have rejected it before. Its application comes up frequently. If we see a product that has received good reviews, the possibility that we’ll buy it is higher. Similarly, if we see a brand that has many followers on social networks, we’ll be more likely to follow it as well.

Persuasion techniques through social groups.


According to the principle of authority, we’re predisposed to allow ourselves to be persuaded when we are pressured by an authority figure. This isn’t related to an abuse of power, but more related to the aura of credibility and the status that the authority imposes. We tend to believe that those who are in leadership positions have a more in-depth knowledge, more experience, or more right to give their opinion.

The authority principle applies two key elements: hierarchy and symbols. Hierarchy is based on the belief that people who reach higher positions have more knowledge and experience than the rest. On the other hand, symbols give credibility (such as police uniforms, a doctor’s coat, or different academic titles). An example of this is when a celebrity recommends a product or defends an idea, even if what they’re promoting isn’t directly related to their main activity. One clear example of this is actor Hugh Laurie, who played Dr. House on the television show. He promotes medical products even though he isn’t a real doctor.


By building a bond of sympathy and a degree of similarity, it’s easier to persuade someone. The principle of liking, also known as fondness, pleasure, or sympathy, signals something that may seem simple at first glance. We allow ourselves to be influenced by people we like and we’re less likely to be influenced by people we dislike.

Beauty, similarities, familiarity, compliments, and flattery are some of the factors that cause liking and seduce us. The use of models and celebrities in publicity is based on liking and familiarity. In politics, we see politicians trying to show that they have the same problems as the rest of the community.

Sympathy as a persuasion technique.


There’s a clear tendency to believe that there are enough resources for everyone. However, when a resource is scarce, we believe it to be more valuable. Time or accessibility could limit the scarcity of the product or service. In general, the perception of scarcity generates demand.

Limited time offers, such as discounts or limited editions, are real-world applications of this principle. The harder it is to get something, the more valuable it becomes in the eyes of the public. The same goes for prohibition. If an object is prohibited, then it consequently increases the public’s interest. The clearest example of this is drugs.

The persuasion techniques we’ve seen here are exploited by publicity campaigns to get what they want from us. Now that we know these techniques, we’ll be able to identify them and control their influence over us.

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