The science of persuasion – six universal factors

A little while ago I came across this video by RSA. It touches on six universal factors of persuasion. Watch the video for each factor and detailed case studies, or check out my overviews below.

1. Reciprocity

People are obliged to give to others when they have received something. When someone invites you to their party, you feel obliged to invite that person to your own. Researchers found that restaurant patrons tip up to 20% higher if they are given a small gift, like an after-dinner mint, with their bill.

2. Scarcity

People want more of the things there are less of. This sounds quite uncomplicated, much like basic supply and demand. However, researchers have found that you can create artificial scarcity. When British Airways announced that they where reducing their daily flights to New York to just two a day, sales skyrocketed the very next day.

3. Authority

People are more likely to believe, and be persuaded by, knowledgable experts. Research has found people are more likely to obey the directions of people if they are wearing a uniform. One study even found people are far more likely to give change to a stranger if they are wearing a pilot or fireman’s uniform.

4. Consistency

People are more likely to make a large commitment if they have previously made a smaller commitment along the same line. One study asked people to erect a large sign in their front yard to protest speeding in their neighbourhood; the number of people who accepted was very low. In another neighbourhood researchers first asked residents to put a small postcard in their window protesting the same thing. When they returned two weeks later and asked them to erect the large sign, acceptance increased 400%.

5. Liking

We are more likely to be persuaded by people we like. This may seem obvious, however it is amazing how simple ‘liking’ can be. There are three main reasons we like people.

  1. We like people who are similar to us.
  2. We like people who compliment us.
  3. We like people who cooperate with us to perform mutual goals.

One study had participants play a trading game online. One group was told that time equals money, and to trade as quickly and efficiently as possible. The other group was told to get to know your trading partners and find a similar interest before you start trading. The first group had a successful trade rate of around 60%. The second group who knew each other slightly better (if only on a very shallow level) had a successful trade rate of around 90%.

6. Consensus

We are more likely to be persuaded to do something if other people do it too. Research found that hotel visitors are more likely to reuse their towels if they are told that 75% of the hotel’s visitors reuse their towels. This rate increased if the information was even more specific. When a sign was placed in hotel bathrooms that said, “75% of guests in this room reused their towels”, reuse increased dramatically.