Robert Cialdini’s Principles of Influence Cheatsheet

Dr. Robert Cialdini is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on social influence. What follows is a persuasion cheat sheet I put together based on his book Influence: Science & Practice.

“Weapons of Influence” Cheatsheet

All animals have built-in fixed action patterns that are triggered by specific stimuli. For example, a mother turkey’s mothering instincts are activated by a specific “cheep cheep” sound. If a chick fails to make this sound, it will be ignored or even killed. If an inanimate object, or even a natural enemy such as the polecat, makes this “cheep cheep” noise, it will be taken in and cared for. It’s like a recording. Click, Whirr.

Humans also have a number of these fixed action patterns. They are shortcuts that help us process our social environment more efficiently. For example, if you ask someone to do you a favor, you will have better luck if you provide a reason, even if the reason makes no sense or is unrelated to the request. Because the recipient of your request reacts positively to the word “because.” Listed below are empirically proven weapons of influence that you can use to create unconscious biases that will improve compliance with your requests.


  • When people receive things from others, they naturally feel indebted. This is true in all cultures (Gouldner, 1960). Therefore unsolicited gifts increase compliance with future requests.
    • Example: A $5 check included with the survey produces more responses than the promise of $50 after responding (James & Bolstein, 1992).
      • Example: Waiters who give a piece of candy with the bill get 3.3% larger tips. Waiters who give two pieces of candy get 14.1% larger tips. Waiters who delayed the action of giving the second piece of candy, for emphasis, raised tips by 23% (Strohmetz, Rind, Fisher & Lynn, 2009).

Reciprocal Concessions: Rejection-Then-Retreat

  • The rule of reciprocity also applies to non-material exchanges. So that if you make a large request, are refused, and then make a smaller request as a concession, you are three times more likely to get compliance than if you asked for what you wanted straightaway (Cialdini, Vincent, Lewis, Catalan, Wheeler, & Darby, 1975).


  • Once a person has made a commitment, they are likely to follow through even if they know that acting consistently with that commitment will not be beneficial
    • Example: Simply conducting a telephone survey asking people predict whether they will vote in an upcoming election is the most effective way to get them to actually do so (Greenwald, Carnot, Beach, & Young, 1987). Because when they answer “yes” it becomes a personal commitment.
    • Example: Toy manufacturers hype up a particular toy before Christmas, and then purposely undersupply it. That way, parents who have already promised it to their children buy an equal value of toys before Christmas, and then buy the requested toy in January after supplies are again made available.


  • Each time we comply with a request, even a trivial request, it modifies our attitudes and self-concept such that we will tend to act more consistently with that type of action (Bem, 1972; Vallacher & Wegner, 1985).
    • Example: People asked to place a small “Be A Safe Driver” placard in their windows were 60% more likely to comply with a request, two weeks later, to allow a large poorly-lettered “DRIVE CAREFULLY” billboard to be placed in their front yards (Freedman & Fraser, 1966).
    • Example: Many groups who ask you to sign petitions never do anything with the actual petitions. Once you have signed the petition, your self-concept is modified to include related types of civic action.
    • Example: Tribal cultures in which members submit to the most dramatic and stringent initiation ceremonies are those with the greatest group solidarity (Young, 1965).

Social Proof

  • We determine what is correct by finding out what other people think is correct (Lun et al, 2007). This is particularly true in the presence of uncertainty (Sechrist & Stangor, 2007). We are particularly prone to follow the lead of people we perceive as similar to us (Park, 2001).
    • Example: Canned laughter causes people to rate shows as funnier (Provine, 2000)
    • Example: The use of shopping carts did not catch on until their inventor paid fake shoppers to push them around his store (Dauten, 2004).
    • Example: Publication of news stories about suicides increase both the number of suicides and fatal accidents among members of similar groups (Phillips, 1980).


  • People “prefer to say yes to the requests of people we know and like” (p.142). So increasing the degree to which you are liked by someone will increase the probability that they will comply with your requests. We like people better and believe them more when they: are more attractive (Chaiken, 1979); are similar to us (Burger et al, 2004); like us (Berscheid & Walster, 1978); are familiar to us (Mita, Dermer, & Knight, 1977; Grush, 1980; Borstein, Leone, & Galley); are engaged in a cooperative effort with us (Kamisar, 1980); are associated with things we like (Manis, Cornell, & Moore); are present while we are eating (Razran, 1938).
    • Example: At in-home Tupperware parties, the strength of the social bond between the host and attendee is twice as likely to determine purchasing decisions as preference for the actual product (Frenzen & Davis, 1990).
    • Example: The Guinness Book of World Record’s “Greatest Car Salesman” sent out monthly greeting cards to each of his previous customers which read “I LIKE YOU” (p. 150).
    • Example: Study participants reported a higher level of agreement with political statements they were exposed to while eating, even though they were not aware of which messages had been presented while food was being served (Razran, 1940).


  • Once someone has accepted you as an authority, they will follow your instructions even against their own judgement, ethics, and feelings (Milgram, 1974).
    • Example: Milgram’s (1974) obedience study
    • Example: Sanka made a commercial for decaffeinated coffee that was so successful that it ran for years, which featured an actor who had played a doctor on a medical show extolling the health benefits of decaf (p. 183)
    • Example: Nearly all pedestrians complied when an experimenter in a guard costume instructed them to pay someone else’s parking meter, even if the guard was no longer present (Bickman, 1974)
    • Example: 3½ times as many people will sweep out into traffic following a jaywalker dressed in a well-tailored business suit (Lefkowitz, Blake, & Mouton, 1955).


  • People are much more sensitive to potential losses than to potential gains (Hobfoll, 2001). Therefore opportunities seem more valuable to us when they are less available (p.200).
    • Example: A salesperson can easily secure a commitment to purchase an item when it is presumed that the item is unavailable, while the information that a desired item is in good supply can make it less attractive (Schwarz, 1984).
    • Example: After the passage of a law to ban phosphate laundry detergent was passed in Dade County, Florida, Miami residents came to believe that phosphate detergents were gentler, more effective in cold water, better whiteners and fresheners, more powerful on stains, and easier to pour than non-phosphate detergents (Mazis, 1975).
    • Example: College students had a greater desire to read a book, and a greater belief that they would enjoy the book, when they were informed that it was “for adults only, restricted to those 21 years and older” (Zellinger, Fromkin, Speller, & Kohn, 1974).
    • Example: People become more sympathetic to arguments when they learn that the argument has been censored—even when they have never been exposed to the argument’s justifications (Worchel, Arnold, & Baker, 1975).
    • Example: People given a cookie from a full jar enjoy it less and report that it is lower quality than an identical cookie from a mostly empty jar (Worchel, Lee, & Adewole, 1975).

Read The Rest of Cialdini’s Work

This cheatsheet gives you a nice quick reference on how to exert greater influence in your interactions, but it is no replacement for Cialdini’s excellent books and lectures. You can find Cialdini’s own site here, and can buy his books through Amazon by clicking here.

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