Cialdini: Commitment and Consistency (1)

This is the second category of circumstances that Bob Cialdini  describes in his book “Influence” that prompt automatic thinking. Here is the core idea

Research shows that people believe more strongly in something after they have committed to it. So before betting on a race horse, one may have some doubts about its chances to win. Those doubts diminish significantly after we place our bet. We expect reality to be consistent with our commitment.

Why? One reason is that consistency is a valued attribute. We should act in accordance with our decisions. And in modern life, expecting consistency offers a shortcut to cope with complexity. Once we have decided on something, we stop thinking about it.  Moreover, with this commitment, we can ignore disturbing aspects of life that we would prefer not to think about.

This, of course, can be manipulated. Once a commitment is made, behavior will follow. So promising a child a certain toy as a Christmas present creates a commitment. If that commitment cannot be met — let’s say because the manufacturer didn’t supply enough of the toy — the parent will buy something else AND with just a bit of prodding the promised toy later.

The key to using this tool is to generate a commitment. That commitment may be small (even just an answer to a question) but it may influence the respondent in how they will act in the future to be consistent with their commitment. Indeed, the most common tactic is to start with a trivial request and then build on it. The classic study was in California where homeowners were asked to agree to the placement of a large sign on their front lawn that said “Drive Carefully”.  With no initial commitment, most refused. But if two weeks before they had been asked to place a very small sign or even to sign a petition to keep California beautiful, the percentages went up significantly.

In the next post we will go deeper into the thinking behind this. Stay tuned!

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