When I wanted to learn about the compliance tactics of encyclopedia (or vacuum-cleaner, or portrait-photography, or dance-lesson) sales organizations, I would answer a newspaper ad for sales trainees and have them teach me their methods.
Weapons of Influence
How ridiculous a female turkey seems under these circumstances: She will embrace a natural enemy just because it goes “cheep-cheep,” and she will mistreat or murder one of her own chicks just because it does not.
Alfred North Whitehead recognized this inescapable quality of modern life when he asserted that “civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.”
Now, during the tourist season, she first tries to speed the sale of an item that has been difficult to move by increasing its price substantially. She claims that this is marvelously cost-effective. When it works on the unsuspecting vacationers—as it frequently does—it results in an enormous profit margin. And even when it is not initially successful, she can mark the article “Reduced from _____” and sell it at its original price while still taking advantage of the “expensive = good” reaction to the inflated figure.
There is a principle in human perception, the contrast principle, that affects the way we see the difference between two things that are presented one after another. Simply put, if the second item is fairly different from the first, we will tend to see it as more different than it actually is. So if we lift a light object first and then lift a heavy object, we will estimate the second object to be heavier than if we had lifted it without first trying the light one.
we may be less satisfied with the physical attractiveness of our own lovers because of the way the popular media bombard us with examples of unrealistically attractive models.
After placing one hand in the cold water and one in the hot water, the student is told to place both in the lukewarm water simultaneously. The look of amused bewilderment that immediately registers tells the story: Even though both hands are in the same bucket, the hand that has been in the cold water feels as if it is now in hot water, while the one that was in the hot water feels as if it is now in cold water.
Clothing stores instruct their sales personnel to sell the costly item first.
In the wake of a fifteen-thousand-dollar deal, the hundred or so dollars required for a nicety like an FM radio seems almost trivial in comparison.
Reciprocation: The Old Give and Take
He sent Christmas cards to a sample of perfect strangers. Although he expected some reaction, the response he received was amazing—holiday cards addressed to him came pouring back from the people who had never met nor heard of him.
While small in scope, this study nicely shows the action of one of the most potent of the weapons of influence around us—the rule for reciprocation. The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.
People we might ordinarily dislike—unsavory or unwelcome sales operators, disagreeable acquaintances, representatives of strange or unpopular organizations—can greatly increase the chance that we will do what they wish merely by providing us with a small favor prior to their requests.
The frightened captive with only a piece of bread in his hand then performed what may have been the most important act of his life. He gave his enemy some of the bread. So affected was the German by this gift that he could not complete his mission. He turned from his benefactor and recrossed the no-man’s-land empty-handed to face the wrath of his superiors.
Recall that the rule only states that we should provide to others the kind of actions they have provided us; it does not require us to have asked for what we have received in order to feel obligated to repay.
the Disabled American Veterans organization reports that its simple mail appeal for donations produces a response rate of about 18 percent. But when the mailing also includes an unsolicited gift (gummed, individualized address labels), the success rate nearly doubles to 35 percent.
why should it be that small first favors often stimulate larger return favors? One important reason concerns the clearly unpleasant character of the feeling of indebtedness. Most of us find it highly disagreeable to be in a state of obligation. It weighs heavily on us and demands to be removed.
We have already seen that one consequence of the rule is an obligation to repay favors we have received. Another consequence of the rule, however, is an obligation to make a concession to someone who has made a concession to us.
The truly gifted negotiator, then, is one whose initial position is exaggerated enough to allow for a series of reciprocal concessions that will yield a desirable final offer from the opponent, yet is not so outlandish as to be seen as illegitimate from the start.
The first of these plans, made two months earlier in a meeting with Mitchell, Magruder, and John Dean, described a $1 million program that included (in addition to the bugging of the Watergate) a specially equipped communications “chase plane,” break-ins, kidnapping and mugging squads, and a yacht featuring “high-class call girls” to blackmail Democratic politicians.
The additional advantage of the technique is not really a psychological principle, as in the case of the other two factors; it is more of a purely structural feature of the request sequence. Let’s once again say that I wish to borrow five dollars from you. By beginning with a ten-dollar request, I really can’t lose. If you agree to it, I will have gotten twice the amount from you I would have settled for. If, on the other hand, you turn down my initial request, I can retreat to the five-dollar favor that I desired from the outset and, through the action of the reciprocity and contrast principles, greatly enhance my likelihood of success. Either way, I benefit; it’s a case of heads I win, tails you lose.
During the first week, customers…were shown the low end of the line…and then encouraged to consider more expensive models—the traditional trading-up approach…. The average table sale that week was $550…. However, during the second week, customers…were led instantly to a $3,000 table, regardless of what they wanted to see…and then allowed to shop the rest of the line, in declining order of price and quality. The result of selling down was an average sale of over $1,000.
Even though, on the average, they gave the most money to the opponent who used the concessions strategy, the subjects who were the targets of this strategy were the most satisfied with the final arrangement. It appears that an agreement that has been forged through the concessions of one’s opponent is quite satisfying.
Merely define whatever you have received from the inspector—extinguisher, safety information, hazard inspection—not as gifts, but as sales devices, and you will be free to decline (or accept) his purchase offer without even a tug from the reciprocity rule: A favor rightly follows a favor—not a piece of sales strategy.
Commitment and Consistency
Just after placing a bet, they are much more confident of their horse’s chances of winning than they are immediately before laying down that bet.
Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.
“Well, I wasn’t going to put down any money tonight because I’m really quite broke right now; I was going to wait until the next meeting. But when your buddy started talking, I knew I’d better give them my money now, or I’d go home and start thinking about what he said and never sign up.”
They start prior to Christmas with attractive TV ads for certain special toys. The kids, naturally, want what they see and extract Christmas promises for these items from their parents. Now here’s where the genius of the companies’ plan comes in: They undersupply the stores with the toys they’ve gotten the parents to promise. Most parents find those things sold out and are forced to substitute other toys of equal value. The toy manufacturers, of course, make a point of supplying the stores with plenty of these substitutes. Then, after Christmas, the companies start running the ads again for the other, special toys. That juices up the kids to want those toys more than ever. They go running to their parents whining, ‘You promised, you promised,’ and the adults go trudging off to the store to live up dutifully to their words.”
Asked them to predict what they would say if asked to spend three hours collecting money for the American Cancer Society. Of course, not wanting to seem uncharitable to the survey taker or to themselves, many of these people said that they would volunteer. The consequence of this sly commitment procedure was a 700 percent increase in volunteers when, a few days later, a representative of the American Cancer Society did call and ask for neighborhood canvassers.
Despite the fact that the caller started each type of interaction with a warm and friendly comment, the “How are you feeling” technique was, by far, superior to its rival (33 percent vs. 15 percent compliance), because it alone drew an exploitable public commitment from its targets.
For the salesperson, the strategy is to obtain a large purchase by starting with a small one. Almost any small sale will do, because the purpose of that small transaction is not profit. It is commitment.
The tactic of starting with a little request in order to gain eventual compliance with related larger requests has a name: the foot-in-the-door technique.
What the Freedman and Fraser findings tell us, then, is to be very careful about agreeing to trivial requests. Such an agreement can not only increase our compliance with very similar, much larger requests, it can also make us more willing to perform a variety of larger favors that are only remotely connected to the little one we did earlier.
man himself uses this same evidence to decide what he is like. His behavior tells him about himself; it is a primary source of information about his beliefs and values and attitudes.
For example, one study found that after hearing that they were considered charitable people, New Haven, Connecticut, housewives gave much more money to a canvasser from the Multiple Sclerosis Association.
Yet another reason that written commitments are so effective is that they require more work than verbal ones. And the evidence is clear that the more effort that goes into a commitment, the greater is its ability to influence the attitudes of the person who made it.
A pair of young researchers, Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills, decided to test their observation that “persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort.”
The more electric shock a woman received as part of the initiation ceremony, the more she later persuaded herself that her new group and its activities were interesting, intelligent, and desirable.
Social scientists have determined that we accept inner responsibility for a behavior when we think we have chosen to perform it in the absence of strong outside pressures.
The same is true of a strong threat; it may motivate immediate compliance, but it is unlikely to produce long-term commitment.
It suggests that we should never heavily bribe or threaten our children to do the things we want them truly to believe in.
I have discovered a way to handle people who try to use the consistency principle on me. I just tell them exactly what they are doing.
Social Proof: Truths Are Us
To discover why canned laughter is so effective, we first need to understand the nature of yet another potent weapon of influence: the principle of social proof. It states that one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct.
Bartenders often “salt” their tip jars with a few dollar bills at the beginning of the evening to simulate tips left by prior customers and thereby to give the impression that tipping with folding money is proper barroom behavior.
For instance, in an early study nursery-school-age children chosen because they were terrified of dogs merely watched a little boy playing happily with a dog for twenty minutes a day. This exhibition produced such marked changes in the reactions of the fearful children that after only four days, 67 percent of them were willing to climb into a playpen with a dog and remain confined there, petting and scratching it while everyone else left the room.
In general, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct.
Especially in an ambiguous situation, the tendency for everyone to be looking to see what everyone else is doing can lead to a fascinating phenomenon called “pluralistic ignorance.” A thorough understanding of the pluralistic ignorance phenomenon helps immeasurably to explain a regular occurrence in our country that has been termed both a riddle and a national disgrace: the failure of entire groups of bystanders to aid victims in agonizing need of help.
a New York college student who appeared to be having an epileptic seizure received help 85 percent of the time when there was a single bystander present but only 31 percent of the time with five bystanders present.
75 percent of lone individuals who observed smoke seeping from under a door reported the leak; however, when similar leaks were observed by three-person groups, the smoke was reported only 38 percent of the time. The smallest number of bystanders took action, though, when the three-person groups included two individuals who had been coached to ignore the smoke; under those conditions, the leaks were reported only 10 percent of the time.
Stare, speak, and point directly at that person and no one else: “You, sir, in the blue jacket, I need help. Call an ambulance.”
Not only was this help rapid and solicitous, it was infectious. After drivers entering the intersection from the other direction saw cars stopping for me, they stopped and began tending to the other victim. The principle of social proof was working for us now.
The answer was plain: Only 33 percent of the wallets were returned when the first finder was seen as dissimilar, but fully 70 percent were returned when he was thought to be a similar other. These results suggest an important qualification of the principle of social proof. We will use the actions of others to decide on proper behavior for ourselves, especially when we view those others as similar to ourselves.
When the newspaper detailed the suicide of a young person, it was young drivers who then piled their cars into trees, poles, and embankments with fatal results; but when the news story concerned an older person’s suicide, older drivers died in such crashes. l advised, then, to take special care in our travels at these times.
I have been sufficiently affected by these statistics to begin to take note of front-page suicide stories and to change my behavior in the period after their appearance.
In addition to the times when social evidence is deliberately faked, there is another time when the principle of social proof will regularly steer us wrong. In such an instance, an innocent, natural error will produce snowballing social proof that pushes us to the incorrect decision.
First, we seem to assume that if a lot of people are doing the same thing, they must know something we don’t.
Second, quite frequently the crowd is mistaken because they are not acting on the basis of any superior information but are reacting, themselves, to the principle of social proof.
Certainly, a flier whose plane is locked onto automatic pilot would be wise to glance occasionally at the instrument panel and out the window. In the same way, we need to look up and around periodically whenever we are locked onto the evidence of the crowd. Without this simple safeguard against misguided social proof, our prospects might well run parallel to those of the freeway lane switchers and the North American buffalo: Crash.
Liking: The Friendly Thief
A halo effect occurs when one positive characteristic of a person dominates the way that person is viewed by others. And the evidence is now clear that physical attractiveness is often such a characteristic.
When, much later, the researchers checked court records for the results of these cases, they found that the handsome men had received significantly lighter sentences. In fact, the attractive defendants were twice as likely to avoid jail as the unattractive ones.
We like people who are similar to us. This fact seems to hold true whether the similarity is in the area of opinions, personality traits, background, or life-style. Consequently, those who wish to be liked in order to increase our compliance can accomplish that purpose by appearing similar to us in any of a wide variety of ways.
When the experimenter was dressed in the same way as the student, the request was granted in more than two thirds of the instances; but when the student and requester were dissimilarly dressed, the dime was provided less than half the time.
Familiarity plays a role in decisions about all sorts of things, including the politicians we elect. It appears that in an election booth voters often choose a candidate merely because the name seems familiar.
School desegregation is more likely to increase prejudice between blacks and whites than to decrease
Conjoint efforts toward common goals steadily bridged the rancorous rift between the groups. Before long, the verbal baiting had died, the jostling in lines had ended, and the boys had begun to intermix at the meal tables.
Compliance professionals are forever attempting to establish that we and they are working for the same goals, that we must “pull together” for mutual benefit, that they are, in essence, our teammates. A host of examples is possible. Most are familiar, like the new-car salesman who takes our side and “does battle” with his boss to secure us a good deal.
During the 1970s, when the magic cultural concept appeared to be “naturalness,” the “natural” bandwagon was crowded to capacity. Sometimes the connections to naturalness didn’t even make sense: “Change your hair color naturally,” urged one popular TV commercial.
Using what he termed the “luncheon technique,” he found that his subjects became fonder of the people and things they experienced while they were eating.
As distinguished author Isaac Asimov put it in describing our reactions to the contests we view, “All things being equal, you root for your own sex, your own culture, your own locality…and what you want to prove is that you are better than the other person. Whomever you root for represents you; and when he wins, you win.”
Deep inside is a sense of low personal worth that directs them to seek prestige not from the generation or promotion of their own attainments, but from the generation or promotion of their associations with others of attainment.
Our vigilance should be directed not toward the things that may produce undue liking for a compliance practitioner, but toward the fact that undue liking has been produced. The time to react protectively is when we feel ourselves liking the practitioner more than we should under the circumstances.
Authority: Directed Deference
Under circumstances mirroring precisely the features of the “bad dream,” the typical Teacher was willing to deliver as much pain as was available to give. Rather than yield to the pleas of the victim, about two thirds of the subjects in Milgram’s experiment pulled every one of the thirty shock switches in front of them and continued to engage the last switch (450 volts) until the researcher ended the experiment. More alarming still, not one of the forty subjects in this study quit his job as Teacher when the victim first began to demand his release; nor later, when he began to beg for it; nor even later, when his reaction to each shock had become, in Milgram’s words, “definitely an agonized scream.” Not until the 300-volt shock had been sent and the victim had “shouted in desperation that he would no longer provide answers to the memory test” did anyone stop—and even then, it was a distinct minority who did.
The result couldn’t have been clearer; 100 percent of the subjects refused to give one additional shock when it was merely the fellow subject who demanded it.
Obviously, rectal treatment of an earache made no sense. Yet neither the patient nor the nurse questioned it. The important lesson of this story is that in many situations where a legitimate authority has spoken, what would otherwise make sense is irrelevant. In these instances, we don’t consider the situation as a whole but attend and respond to only one aspect of it.
Studies investigating the way in which authority status affects perceptions of size have found that prestigious titles lead to height distortions.
After he left the room, each class was asked to estimate his height. It was found that with each increase in status, the same man grew in perceived height by an average of a half inch, so that as the “professor” he was seen as two and a half inches taller than as the “student.”
That 95 percent of regular staff nurses complied unhesitatingly with a patently improper instruction of this sort must give us all great reason for concern as potential hospital patients… recent U.S. Health Care Financing Administration estimate of a 12 percent daily-medication error rate in American hospitals, stays of longer than a week make it likely that we will be recipients of such an error.
That is why the “Is this authority truly an expert?” question can be so valuable: It brings our attention to the obvious. It channels us effortlessly away from a focus on possibly meaningless symbols to a consideration of genuine authority credentials.
Scarcity: The Rule of the Few
homeowners told how much money they could lose from inadequate insulation are more likely to insulate their homes than those told how much money they could save.
Customers are often told that unless they make an immediate decision to buy, they will have to purchase the item at a higher price or they will be unable to purchase it at all.
As opportunities become less available, we lose freedoms; and we hate to lose the freedoms we already have. This desire to preserve our established prerogatives is the centerpiece of psychological reactance theory, developed by psychologist Jack Brehm to explain the human response to diminishing personal control. According to the theory, whenever free choice is limited or threatened, the need to retain our freedoms makes us desire them (as well as the goods and services associated with them) significantly more than previously. So when increasing scarcity—or anything else—interferes with our prior access to some item, we will react against the interference by wanting and trying to possess the item more than before.
we rarely recognize that psychological reactance has caused us to want the item more; all we know is that we want it. Still, we need to make sense of our desire for the item, so we begin to assign it positive qualities to justify the desire.
Almost invariably, our response to the banning of information is a greater desire to receive that information and a more favorable attitude toward it than before the ban.
The intriguing thing about the effects of censoring information is not that audience members want to have the information more than they did before; that seems natural. Rather, it is that they come to believe in the information more, even though they haven’t received it.
Those who learned of the age restriction (1) wanted to read the book more and (2) believed that they would like the book more than did those who thought their access to the book was unlimited.
when certain juries learned that the driver was insured, they increased the damage payment by four thousand dollars. But when other juries were told officially that they must not use that information, they used it still more, increasing the damage payment by thirteen thousand dollars.
According to the scarcity principle, then, we will find a piece of information more persuasive if we think we can’t get it elsewhere.
The parent who grants privileges or enforces rules erratically invites rebelliousness by unwittingly establishing freedoms for the child. The parent who only sometimes prohibits between-meal sweets may create for the child the freedom to have such snacks. At that point, enforcing the rule becomes a much more difficult and explosive matter because the child is no longer merely lacking a never-possessed right but is losing an established one.
Realtor who is trying to sell a house to a “fence-sitting” prospect will sometimes call the prospect with news of another potential buyer who has seen the house, liked it, and is scheduled to return the following day to talk about terms. When wholly fabricated, the new bidder is commonly described as an outsider with plenty of money: “an out-of-state investor buying for tax purposes” and “a physician and his wife moving into town” are favorites. The tactic, called in some circles “goosing ’em off the fence,” can work devastatingly well. The thought of losing out to a rival frequently turns a buyer from hesitant to zealous.
To attract and arouse the catch, fishermen scatter some loose bait called chum. For similar reasons, department stores holding a bargain sale toss out a few especially good deals on prominently advertised items called loss leaders. If the bait, of either form, has done its job, a large and eager crowd forms to snap it up.
Perhaps, in fine jujitsu style, we can use the arousal itself as our prime cue. In this way we can turn the enemy’s strength to our advantage. Rather than relying on a considered, cognitive analysis of the entire situation, we might simply tune ourselves to the internal, visceral sweep for our warning. By learning to flag the experience of heightening arousal in a compliance situation, we can alert ourselves to the possibility of scarcity tactics there and to the need for caution.
Should we find ourselves beset by scarcity pressures in a compliance situation, then, our best response would occur in a two-stage sequence. As soon as we feel the tide of emotional arousal that flows from scarcity influences, we should use that rise in arousal as a signal to stop short. Panicky, feverish reactions have no place in wise compliance decisions. We need to calm ourselves and regain a rational perspective.
We should refuse to watch TV programs that use canned laughter. If we see a bartender beginning a shift by salting his tip jar with a bill or two of his own, he should get none from us. If, after waiting in line outside a nightclub, we discover from the amount of available space that the wait was designed to impress passersby with false evidence of the club’s popularity, we should leave immediately and announce our reason to those still in line. In short, we should be willing to use boycott, threat, confrontation, censure, tirade, nearly anything, to retaliate.