The scientific study of persuasion has been going on for over half a century now. Yet, the research on persuasion is somewhat of a secret science, often lying dormant in the pages of academic journals. Considering the large body of research that’s been produced on the subject, it might be useful to take a moment to think about why this research is so often overlooked. It’s no surprise that people who are faced with choices about how to influence others, including important program or policy choices, will often base their decisions on thinking that’s grounded in the established theories and practices of fields such as economics, finance, and public policy. However, what’s puzzling is how frequently decision-makers fail to use established psychological theories and practices to guide them in their choices.
One potential explanation for this tendency is that, unlike the field of economics, finance, and public policy, which tend to require learning from outsiders to achieve a minimal level of competence, people believe they already possess an intuitive understanding of psychological principles simply by virtue of living life and interacting with others. As a consequence, they’re less likely to learn and to consult the psychological research when making decisions, creating direct response campaigns, or generating solutions to problems. This overconfidence inevitably leads people to miss golden opportunities for psychologically informed social influence – or worse still, to misuse psychological principles to the detriment of themselves or others.
Besides being overly reliant on their personal experiences with others, people also rely too much on introspection.
Persuasion has often been referred to as an art, but in a sense, this is a misclassification. Although talented artists can certainly be taught skills to harness their natural abilities, the truly remarkable artist seems to possess a certain level of talent and creativity that no instructor is capable of instilling in another person. Fortunately, this isn’t the case with persuasion. Even direct response marketers who consider themselves persuasion lightweights – people that feel they couldn’t convince a child to play with toys – can learn to become persuasion heavyweights by understanding the psychology of persuasion and by using the specific persuasion strategies that have been scientifically proven to be effective.
Over the next few weeks I will post a series on the science of persuasion, documenting 12 scientifically proven strategies to persuasiveness. Assisting me is Robert Cialdini, the Bestselling Author of Influence.