influence

Review: “Influence” by Robert B. Cialdini

Thumbs up for Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini. Psychology.

Okay, to be honest, this book did little for me, but that is not a flaw with the book. Influence is, rightfully, a basic touchpoint of pop psychology. The word “basic” is the problem: I had an atypical upbringing, and was well-educated in the art of psychological manipulation before I learned my seven-times table. (Yes, my parents are weird, and God bless them for it.) Anybody who ever has to get anyone to do anything—whether it’s hire them, date them or buy something from them—or anybody who wants to avoid getting taken advantage of—in other words, everyone—should be familiar with the premises covered in this book. This is a pretty digestible presentation of them.

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. For example, when University of North Carolina students learned that a speech opposing coed dorms on campus would be banned, they became more opposed to the idea of coed dorms. Thus, without ever hearing the speech, they became more sympathetic to the argument. This raises the worrisome possibility that especially clever individuals holding a weak or unpopular position can get us to agree with that position by arranging to have their message restricted. The irony is that for such people—members of fringe political groups, for example—the most effective strategy may not be to publicize their unpopular views, but to get those views officially censored and then to publicize the censorship. Perhaps the authors of this country’s Constitution were acting as much as sophisticated social psychologists as staunch civil libertarians when they wrote the remarkably permissive free-speech provision of the First Amendment. By refusing to restrain freedom of speech, they may have been attempting to minimize the chance that new political notions would win support via the irrational course of psychological reactance.

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