Note that this is purely a review / summary of chapter 1/7 of the book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion", and all credit of research is due to the author, Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.
Personal Review / Opinion
This book has exceeded my expectations in every way, including the choice of concepts presented, how they're explained, the order they're explained in and more. There wasn't a single page in the whole of chapter 1 where I didn't learn something new.
It's also a brilliant way to introduce someone who has no experience in psychology to social engineering, why it's important, some examples of how it can be exploited, & how to practice making it feel more like second nature.
One of the things about the book that stood out to me, compared to other social-engineering books I have read, is the lack of opinion regarding morals. While I do agree that people should only learn these concepts when following some kind of a decent moral compass, in my opinion, I don't think the author should be dictating what these morals are / should be, and if a person doesn't have the self-awareness to judge whether they are learning these tools to for legitimate use or not, then they should not be learning them at all.
Summary of Concepts
This chapter focuses on certain specific exemplar techniques that can be used to leverage someone's opinion and influence them into taking actions that may be directly beneficial to the "attacker", each of the said techniques also include examples which are extremely straight forward and clearly relate to the in-depth explanation.
Expensive = Good
The chapter starts off with a commonly known & used trick within the sales industry, and it is that the human mind automatically equates something being expensive to it being high quality or generally a good / worthwhile purchase.
This potentially dangerous mechanism is a product of evolution, where over the years we have learnt to generate specific automatic response to trigger words / events, and they aid us in saving precious time, brain capacity and energy when making seemingly less important decisions.
Now the logic attached to something being better just because it is expensive is not as superficial as it may sound, and genuinely runs deeply engraved in our human psychology, an example of how deep it runs can be observed below, with the energy drink example that was included in the book.
Energy drink example
A study was conducted that had a variety of students consume an energy drink before taking an exam. All students were split into two groups. One group, consumed an energy drink that was labeled at $1.89 but at a discount price of $0.89, and the other, an energy drink at the original price of $1.89.
The study found that the group that consumed the more expensive energy drink performed better within the exam, as their brains expected to be more alert than the group on the cheaper energy drink. The twist to the story is that both groups were provided with the exact same drink, demonstrating that the improvement came down purely to the students' expectations of how much the energy drink would help them.
Jewelry Shop Owner
Another example included within the book was attached to a personal friend of the author, and once again perfectly demonstrates how this "click, run" mechanism can be beneficial, but also extremely dangerous.
Essentially, the author received a letter from a close friend who owns a jewelry store, and was inquiring about an interesting event that had recently occured that she suspected had something to do with human psychology (instead of just pure coincidence).
The shop owner had been trying to sell a specific piece for a while, and wasn't having any luck. Before leaving for a holiday, she asked one of her staff members to place the products in the case at a price of
x*1/2, although the staff members mistakenly read the
1/2 to be a 2 instead.
This lead to everything within the casing being priced at double the original cost, which although extremely unreasonable in terms of pricing, boosted sales significantly, and lead to all products within the casing being sold before she was back from holiday.
Now the shop-keepers morals disagreed with her selling overpriced jewelry, but that didn't mean she then wasn't able to still abuse this psychological trick.
From that holiday onward, whenever she struggles to sell a specific item, she would double the price, but have it "reduced" to half. This lead any customers reading the label to believe they were getting an amazing deal on an expensive item, instead of buying something "cheap".
As previously mentioned, this mechanism is a product of evolution, and does not only occur within human beings. The main difference between humans and animals in regards to the "click, run" mechanism, is that humans generate these triggers upon reaching a similar conclusion time and time again (i.e. more expensive products last longer or are better quality). Whereas animals have burnt these triggers into the species as a whole due to years of evolution.
It's almost as if, at least in the sense of the "click, run" mechanism, humans have gone through thousands of years of evolution, in a single life-time, purely due to our intellectual superiority over other beings.
Below are some more examples of "click, run" mechanisms that humans respond to, which can easily be exploited for profit, along with an example of how thousands of years of evolution happen to fail certain less-aware animals.
Turkeys have been found to be extremely caring creatures for their young, attacking any predators that may approach, however, studies have shown that these years of evolution appear to have installed a back-door directly wired to the turkeys' brains, and that is via the chirping of the young.
Experts have found that upon attaching a model of a polecat (a common predator of turkeys) to a long pole, and then closening the model to a turkey, it is greeted with a vicious attack.
On the other hand, upon attaching a speaker to the model with it playing a recording of the poult's chirp, the mother turkey refuses to attack the model, and in fact goes as far as gathering the model underneath itself for warmth and protection.
Although we expect the human mind to be reasonably good at judging when we should give up our own time / belongings to aid someone else, we're not, and this is partially due to another one of our simple "click, run" triggers, or more specifically the word "because".
Multiple fascinating studies have found that by simply implementing the word "because" into a sentence when asking for a favour, you are much more likely to receive a positive response. Read that again and understand exactly what I mean. It doesn't come down to the excuse / reasoning you give at all, it is purely based on the general use of the word "because" that the mechanism is triggered.
For example, when asking to cut into the queue to print something off in a library you may say, "Hi, I only have five pages, could I please use the printer before you?", or, alternatively, you could say "Hi, I only have five pages, could I please use the machine because I need to print these off?".
Although you haven't contributed any new information to your question, the latter is much more likely to succeed. In fact, when making the request without the word "because", the participants were 60% successful in cutting in line, however, upon adding the seemingly harmless word, the success rate skyrocketed to 94%.
Finally, we have our last "click, run" mechanism that can be used to influence people into believing what you're saying, and that is simply by acting as if you got your information from an expert, or a study. There really isn't much more to it, and the trigger for this case is when people hear phrases such as "studies have shown" or "according to experts", or alternatively, directly speaking to an expert and taking for granted their decisions / opinions are absolute.
Which of the following sounds more convincing:
"Armadillo shells are bullet-proof"
"Experts have found that armadillo shells are bullet-proof"
"Studies have shown armadillo shells to be bullet-proof"
If your answer is the last two, then that'll be your "click, run" mechanism reaching the conclusion that those new words somehow make it more believable.
Due to the fact that we are more likely to trust the opinion of an expert, a psychological phenomenon has arrised known as captainitis, which results in us dismissing our own thoughts & conclusions simply because an authoritative figure contradicts it.
An example of captainitis was the tragic recording of an airliner’s flight minutes before it crashed into the Potomac River near Washington National Airport in 1982:
Copilot: Let’s check the ice on those tops [wings] again since we’ve been sitting here awhile. Captain: No. I think we get to go in a minute. Copilot: [Referring to an instrument reading] That doesn’t seem right, does it? Uh, that’s not right. Captain: Yes, it is. Copilot: Ah, maybe it is. [Sound of plane straining unsuccessfully to gain altitude] Copilot: Larry, we’re going down! Captain: I know it. [Sound of impact that killed the captain, copilot, and seventy-six others.]
The Contrasting Comparison Trick
Finally, the chapter covers one more fascinating psychological magic trick, and it essentially comes down to the order which items are displayed to a perceiver, and it's also the reason why a salesman will always show you the most expensive product first.
Essentially, whatever item / concept you are presented with first, your brain will compare to the second, and the difference between the two will seem extreme, when it actually isn't.
Imagine you need to buy a new suit, so you go to the store and tell the clerk you need to buy the whole thing: tie, shoes, socks, and suit. The suit will obviously be the most expensive part of the outfit, so the shop clerk will show you that part first.
This is so that when you go to buy the rest of the outfit, the cheaper parts, they seem much cheaper (since your mind is comparing the price of each item to the price of the suit), and you're more likely to spend more money.
Similarly, if you open a letter to your parents with a variety of horrible events that have occured to you (these can be hypothetical events), and then close by telling them you are failing a class at school, your parents will not care nearly as much about the failing grades, as their brains will be comparing the severity of a failing grade to whatever terrible things you write about in the opening (even if you admit to them being lies).
Aeroplane Compensation Voucher Example
A clear example of this happening was written about in the book when an airline was overbooked, and they needed volunteers to take a later flight in exchange for an airline voucher. The staff of the airline announced over the speakerphone that if anyone was willing to volunteer their seat on the flight, they would get a 10 thousand dollar voucher for the airline, his goal, of course was to get a laugh out of some of the customers, and he did succeed.
Although, when he then proceeded to announce that the voucher available as a reward to the volunteers was actually 200 dollars, there were no takers, and the airline had to then increase the reward to 300, and finally to 500, before people finally volunteered their seats on the flight.
This was due to the customers comparing the 200 & 300 dollar vouchers to the initial (joke) of 10 thousand dollars, making it a pretty expensive joke. Alternatively, if the airline staff had made his joke with an extremely low price (for example, 2 dollars), he probably would have been greeted with the same laughter AND volunteers for the $200 voucher, as the customers brains would have compared the $2 joke to the $200 reward, making it seem like a huge amount of money.