We are reviewing Bob Cialdini’s seminal book “Influence” and are in the second part of the second category of triggers that produce automated responses.
This category is called “commitment and consistency” and the basic idea is very simple. Once people make a commitment to a thing, they tend to act subsequently in a manner that is consistent with it. The Chinese used this tactic against US prisoners during the Korean war. They did not try to coerce the prisoners. But they did prod them to voluntarily write down comments that had anti-war implications. The prisoners were prodded to write more pro-Chinese statements as they cooperated more. The effects were dramatic. The prisoners collaborated with their captors and few escaped.
Why does this work? It seems that the mere act of writing something down has the effect of making a commitment to be what was written. So, if you enter a contest to write “Why I like … (a given product)” you may end up actually liking that product. An active demonstration of commitment is more effective than a mere intellectual or verbal one. The effect is greater still when the writing is made public. And the commitment is stronger still when it requires effort.
This last idea – that when we make effort to commit to something, we become more loyal to it — helps to explain rather violent tribal initiation rites as well as fraternity hazing and military boot camp. they all share similar types of physical hardships. The more effort one has to expend to join a group, the greater one senses the value of membership.
But there is one more dimension to making this work – whether the commitment is made from within or without. That is next!