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:


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:


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


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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.


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.



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


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


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.


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.



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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.


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.


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



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.


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.


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.


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


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



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


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.


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.


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

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