Why do people do the things that they do?

Dr. Robert B. Cialdini’s book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” brilliantly explains factors that affect the decisions that we make. Below is a summary in a question and answer form.

  1. Why did I buy the more expensive pair of shoes? The automatic, fixed-action pattern made you think that higher price reflects higher quality.
  2. Why do people announce the good and bad news together? It could lessen the perception of how bad the bad news is. The contrast principle affects the way we see the difference between two things. This is also the reason why it’s easier to say yes to a lesser request.
  3. Why do we feel indebted to someone who gave something or did something for us? The rule of reciprocation says that we should try to repay what another person has provided us. The rule is overpowering, enforces uninvited debts, and can trigger unfair exchanges.
  4. Why can’t we get rid of initiation rights and why are military trainers always mean? These are not acts of sadism. These are acts of group survival that also promote cohesiveness. “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 effort (Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills).”
  5. Why is it easy to go with the flow or follow the crowd? We have the tendency to assume that an action is more correct if others are doing it. Especially in times of uncertainty, we rely on social proof. We normally look around at the actions of others for clues.
  6. Why are there a lot of sports fanatics? Why do we always feel “proud” as a Filipino when a fellow Pinoy wins something or does something great? “All things being equal, you root for your own sex, your own culture, your own locality… Whomever you root for represents you; and when he wins, you win (Isaac Asimov).” Likewise, positive association encourages us to name-drop or to claim that we know or we’re friends with a famous or successful person.
  7. Why do we willingly submit to authority? We are trained from birth that obedience to proper authority is right and disobedience is wrong. The mere command of a higher authority trumps apparent senselessness, harmfulness, injustice, or usual moral standards of a certain act because information from a recognized authority can provide us a valuable shortcut for deciding how to act in a situation.
  8. Why do we eat the “forbidden fruit”? With psychological reactance, we show strong tendency to react against restrictions on our freedoms and the tendency to want what has been banned.
  9. Why do scarce cookies taste better? This perception is an emotional arousal that flows from scarcity influences.
  10. Why do we depend on isolated piece of information even if it could lead us to stupid mistakes? For the sake of efficiency, we must sometimes retreat from the time-consuming, sophisticated, fully informed brand of decision making to a more automatic, primitive, single-feature type of responding.