Ancestors of present-day animals evolved 540 million years ago. They competed for food and sex. They survived by seizing opportunities and avoiding risks.

About 1 million years ago, hominids evolved the ability to learn from each other. This led to culture and ethnic groups. Heretics and cheats were cast out. Belonging was a matter of life or death—solitary humans were easy prey.

In modern times, these ancient evolutionary forces predispose what we find persuasive.

By learning tools of persuasion, you can defend yourself and influence others:

  • Greed

  • Fear

  • Social proof

  • Reciprocity

  • Commitment and consistency

  • Liking

  • Authority

There is a group of people who know very well where the weapons of automatic influence lie and employ them regularly and expertly to get what they want. They go from social encounter to social encounter requesting others to comply with their wishes; their frequency of success is dazzling.

-Robert Cialdini


Advertisers sell sex and status. Stockbrokers pitch lucrative investments. Appeals to desire are particularly persuasive when fast and easy. For example, get-rich-quick schemes and instant-weight-loss pills.

If you would persuade, appeal to interest and not to reason.

-Benjamin Franklin


Researchers have found that bad is stronger than good. Negative messages are more persuasive than positive ones. Fear of loss is more compelling than promise of reward. And fear of missing out leads to impulsive actions.

People find objects and opportunities more attractive to the degree that they are scarce, rare, or dwindling in availability.

-Robert Cialdini

If you want to control someone, all you have to do is make them feel afraid.

-Paulo Coelho

Social proof

It’s hard to resist peer pressure—most people follow social norms. For example, studies found that people disregarded evidence from their own eyes and conformed to group opinion 33% of the time.

Since 95% of the people are imitators and only 5% initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.

-Robert Cialdini


Primates exchange favors and throw tantrums when cheated. Humans are no exception. Even a token gift can trigger reciprocity. For example, researchers found that giving someone a Coca-Cola doubled sales of raffle tickets.

In every relationship you get into—every business, social, or personal transaction—make sure that the other person gets as much benefit from it as you do.

-Michael Masterson

Commitment and consistency

Most people’s actions are consistent with their values. They hate being called liars or hypocrites. The foot-in-the-door technique uses consistency—after people agree to a small request, they are more likely to agree to a large request. Similarly, people overvalue things they help create.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson


Likeable people are more persuasive. Increase liking by:

  • Finding things in common

  • Mirroring body language

  • Giving sincere compliments

  • Remembering names

  • Touching people on the arm

Remember that a person’s name, is to that person, the sweetest sound in any language.

-Dale Carnegie


We are trained from birth to obey parents and teachers. Throughout history, it was usually a good idea to follow the leader. Nowadays, we follow presidents, police, doctors, scientists, and celebrities.

Blind obedience to authority is the greatest enemy of truth.

-Albert Einstein

Overall, persuasion works best when there are no existing beliefs or decisions. It’s difficult to change someone’s mind—logic and facts are mostly useless. Social proof is effective, but takes time. For example, the civil rights movement began in the 1950s, but it took decades for racism to become socially unacceptable.

The single most wasteful thing you can do in marketing today is to try to change a human mind. Once a mind is made up, it’s almost impossible to change.

-Al Ries

Never do anything in life if you would be ashamed of seeing it printed on the front page of your hometown newspaper for your friends and family to see.

-Warren Buffett


Cambrian explosion. (2021, February 23). Wikipedia.

  • 541 million years ago, almost all major animal phyla appeared in the fossil record

Hintze A et al. (2015). Risk sensitivity as an evolutionary adaptation. Sci Rep. 5: 8242.

  • Risk aversion is a common behavior universal to humans and animals

  • Computer simulations indicated that rare, high-risk, high-payoff events such as mating could have driven evolution of risk-averse behavior in humans living in small groups

Boyd R, Richerson PJ. (2009). Culture and the evolution of human cooperation. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 364(1533): 3281–3288.

  • Over the past 1 million years, humans evolved the ability to learn from each other

  • This enabled cumulative, cultural evolution

  • Cultural norms for cooperation and group identification caused some groups to be more successful than others

Henrich J, McElreath R. (2003). The evolution of cultural evolution. Evolutionary Anthropology. 12: 123–135.

  • Humans evolved cognitive biases that improved survival

  • Success and prestige bias: imitate and focus on the most skilled individuals

  • Conformity bias: copy behaviors, beliefs, and strategies of the majority, especially in information-poor situations

  • Ethnic markers bias: in-group members are more likely to cooperate fairly

Herrmann E et al. (2007). Humans have evolved specialized skills of social cognition: the cultural intelligence hypothesis. Science. 317(5843): 1360–1366.

  • A study of 106 chimpanzees, 32 orangutans, and 105 human children found that children correctly completed 74% of social cognition tasks vs. 33–36% for primates

  • This suggested that humans evolved specialized social-cognitive skills for living in cultural groups: communicating with others, learning from others, and “reading the mind” of others

Tools of persuasion

Cialdini RB. (1993). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. William Morrow.

Goldstein NJ, Martin SJ, Cialdini RB. (2008). Yes! 50 scientifically proven ways to be persuasive. Free Press.

Cialdini R. (2016). Pre-suasion: A revolutionary way to influence and persuade. Simon & Schuster.


Rung JM, Madden GJ. (2018). Experimental reductions of delay discounting and impulsive choice: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Exp Psychol Gen. 147(9): 1349–1381.

  • A review of studies found that human and nonhuman species steeply discounted value of future rewards

  • A meta-analysis of 10 studies found that vividly imagining a positive future decreased discounting (effect size = 0.38)

  • A meta-analysis of 10 studies found that framing a choice as a gain instead of a loss decreased discounting (effect size = 0.47)

  • A meta-analysis of 5 studies found that cueing people with a safe, abundant, natural landscape decreased discounting (effect size = 0.63)

Johnson KL, Bixter MT, Luhmann CC. (2020). Delay discounting and risky choice: Meta-analytic evidence regarding single-process theories. Judgment Decision Making. 15(3): 381–400.

  • A meta-analysis of 26 studies found that delay discounting was associated with probability discounting (effect size = 0.25)

  • Delay discounting is devaluing future rewards

  • Probability discounting is devaluing uncertain rewards

  • This suggested that a patient person would be more willing to tolerate delays and low-probability rewards


Baumeister RF et al. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review General Psychology. 5(4): 323–370.

  • A review of studies found that bad events, bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback had more impact than good ones

  • Bad information was processed more thoroughly than good

  • People were more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones

  • Bad impressions and bad stereotypes were quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones

Tannenbaum MB et al. (2015). Appealing to fear: A meta-analysis of fear appeal effectiveness and theories. Psychol Bull. 141(6): 1178–1204.

  • A meta-analysis of 127 studies with 27,372 participants found that fear appeals influenced attitudes, intentions, and behaviors (effect size = 0.29)

Social proof

Asch SE. (1956). Studies of independence and conformity: I. A minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs General Applied. 70(9): 1–70.

  • A study with 123 participants found they disregarded evidence from their own eyes to conform with group opinion about 33% of the time

Bond R, Smith PB. (1996). Culture and conformity: A meta-analysis of studies using Asch’s (1952b, 1956) line judgment task. Psychol Bull. 119(1): 111–137.

  • A meta-analysis of 133 studies with 4,627 participants found that conformity was influential across cultures (effect size = 0.92)


Brosnan SF, de Waal FBM. (2014). Evolution of responses to (un)fairness. Science. 346(6207): 1251776.

  • Studies with capuchin monkeys, macaques, chimpanzees, dogs, and crows found that animals responded negatively when a partner animal received a greater reward for same effort

  • The strongest negative effect was for a greater reward for no effort

Jaeggi AV, Gurven M. (2013). Reciprocity explains food sharing in humans and other primates independent of kin selection and tolerated scrounging: a phylogenetic meta-analysis. Proc Biol Sci. 280(1768): 20131615.

  • A meta-analysis of human and primate studies (8 monkey, 8 ape, and 16 human) found that reciprocity was associated with helping behaviors (effect size = 0.20)

Regan DT. (1971). Effects of a favor and liking on compliance. Journal Experimental Social Psychology. 7(6): 627–639.

  • A study with 81 participants found that giving someone a Coca-Cola increased purchase of raffle tickets from 1.0 to 1.9

Commitment and consistency

Beaman AL et al. (1983). Fifteen years of foot-in-the door research: A meta-analysis. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 9(2): 181–196.

  • A meta-analysis of 85 experimental groups found the foot-in-the-door technique increased compliance (effect size = 0.21)

Pfeffer J et al. (1998). Faith in supervision and the self-enhancement bias: Two psychological reasons why managers don’t empower workers. Basic Applied Social Psychology. 20(4): 313–321.

  • A study with 282 participants found that managers’ ratings of identical work products increased from 3.5 to 5.0 on a 7-point scale when they helped create it

Norton MI, Mochon D, Ariely D. (2012). The IKEA effect: When labor leads to love. Journal Consumer Psychology. 22(3): 453–460.

  • 4 studies with 315 participants found they overvalued self-made creations

  • Self-builders of an IKEA storage box were willing to pay $0.78 vs. $0.48 for non-builders

  • Self-builders of origami frogs or cranes were willing to pay $0.23 vs. $0.05 for non-builders


Montoya RM, Horton RS, Kirchner J. (2008). Is actual similarity necessary for attraction? A meta-analysis of actual and perceived similarity. Journal Social Personal Relationships. 25(6): 889–922.

  • A meta-analysis of 313 studies with 35,747 participants found that interpersonal attraction was associated with actual similarity (effect size = 0.47) and perceived similarity (effect size = 0.39)

Montoya RM, Kershaw C, Prosser JL. (2018). A meta-analytic investigation of the relation between interpersonal attraction and enacted behavior. Psychol Bull. 144(7): 673–709.

  • A meta-analysis of 11 studies found that indirect mimicry increased interpersonal attraction (effect size = 0.25)

Grant NK, Fabrigar LR, Lim H. (2010). Exploring the efficacy of compliments as a tactic for securing compliance. Basic Applied Social Psychology. 32(3): 226–233.

  • A study with 119 college students found that giving compliments increased compliance for handing out flyers from 46% to 79%

Howard DJ, Gengler C, Jain A. (1995). What’s in a name? A complimentary means of persuasion. Journal Consumer Research. 22: 200–211.

  • A study with 30 subjects found that 90% purchased cookies when a professor remembered their name vs. 55% for no recall

  • Similar results were found in two follow-up studies with 71 subjects

Segrin C. (1993). The effects of nonverbal behavior on outcomes of compliance gaining attempts. Communications Studies. 44(3–4): 169–187.

  • A meta-analysis of 13 studies with 2,322 subjects found that tactile contact increased compliance (effect size = 0.21)


Haslam N, Loughnan S, Perry G. (2014). Meta-Milgram: An empirical synthesis of the obedience experiments. PLoS One. 9(4): e93927.

  • An analysis of 23 obedience-to-authority studies with 780 participants found that 43.6% fully complied with shocking someone up to 450 volts

Existing beliefs

Washburn AN, Skitka LJ. (2018). Science denial across the political divide: Liberals and conservatives are similarly motivated to deny attitude-inconsistent science. Social Psychological Personality Science. 9(8): 972–980.

  • A study of 1,347 Americans found that liberals and conservatives both similarly denied scientific credibility of results when correct interpretation of data conflicted with attitudes

Ditto PH et al. (2019). At least bias is bipartisan: A meta-analytic comparison of partisan bias in liberals and conservatives. Perspect Psychol Sci. 14(2): 273–291.

  • A meta-analysis of 51 studies with over 18,000 participants found that liberals and conservatives were similarly biased (effect size = 0.25)

Walter N et al. (2020). Fact-checking: A meta-analysis of what works and for whom. Political Communication. 37(3): 350–375.

  • A meta-analysis of 30 studies with 20,963 participants found that fact-checking had a positive influence on political beliefs (effect size = 0.29), but this effect was decreased by a person’s existing beliefs, ideology, and knowledge

  • Pro-attitudinal fact-checking was stronger (effect size = 0.43) than counter-attitudinal fact-checking (effect size = 0.28)

  • Researchers concluded: “the effects of fact-checking on beliefs are quite weak and gradually become negligible the more the study design resembles a real-world scenario of exposure to fact-checking.”

Did you enjoy this chapter? Read the full book. Download your free copy: EPUB MOBI PDF

Copyright © by Raven Dojo Inc.

Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty