Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion Science

… a core concept in Communication Skills and Atlas 109


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Concept description

The key principles of influence – reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, liking, and consensus – articulated by Robert Cialdini, professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, and author of The Psychology of Persuasion.

The principles are summarized below and each is treated as a concept on the Atlas.

An animated summary can be found on YouTube at “Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion.” Robert Cialdini and Steve Martin, Secrets from the Science of Persuasion, published on YouTube 26 November 2012, at, accessed 27 December 2015.

1 – Reciprocity

2 – Scarcity

3 – Authority

4 – Consistency

5 – Liking

6 – Consensus

The following summary of the six principles has been adapted from the Wikipedia entry at, accessed 1 January 2016.

  1. Reciprocity – People tend to return a favor, thus the pervasiveness of free samples in marketing. In his conferences, he often uses the example of Ethiopia providing thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid to Mexico just after the 1985 earthquake, despite Ethiopia suffering from a crippling famine and civil war at the time. Ethiopia had been reciprocating for the diplomatic support Mexico provided when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935. The good cop/bad cop strategy is also based on this principle.
  2. Scarcity – Perceived scarcity will generate demand. For example, saying offers are available for a “limited time only” encourages sales.
  3. Authority – People will tend to obey authority figures, even if they are asked to perform objectionable acts. Cialdini cites incidents such as the Milgram experiments in the early 1960s and the My Lai massacre.
  4. Consistency – If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self-image. Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor the agreement. Cialdini notes Chinese brainwashing on American prisoners of war to rewrite their self-image and gain automatic unenforced compliance. See cognitive dissonance.
  5. Liking – People are easily persuaded by other people that they like. Cialdini cites the marketing of Tupperware in what might now be called viral marketing. People were more likely to buy if they liked the person selling it to them. Some of the many biases favoring more attractive people are discussed. See physical attractiveness stereotype
  6. Consensus – People will do things that they see other people are doing. For example, in one experiment, one or more confederates would look up into the sky; bystanders would then look up into the sky to see what they were seeing. At one point this experiment aborted, as so many people were looking up that they stopped traffic. See conformity, and the Asch conformity experiments.

Drawn from “Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion.” Robert Cialdini and Steve Martin, Secrets from the Science of Persuasion, published on YouTube 26 November 2012, at, and Wikipedia at, accessed 1 January 2016.

Atlas topic and subject

Practices of Persuasion (core topic) in Communication Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 12 February 2016.

Image: From YouTube presentation noted above, accessed 1 January 2016.