Who Is Robert Cialdini? Meet the Master of Influence and Persuasion

Dr. Robert Cialdini is the mind behind Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, one of the great and enduring works of social psychology, along with a number of other books, including Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. Cialdini’s work is among the world’s best resources on how we persuade others and how we are persuaded.

“There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.”

Robert Beno Cialdini grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, a time when psychology’s influence on the public was large and growing. Dr. Spock told us how to raise kids. Freudian and Jungian psychotherapy was a growing practice, Abraham Maslow proposed his hierarchy of needs, B.F. Skinner proposed behavioral therapy, Alfred Kinsey was showing us our sexuality, and Stanley Milgram conducted his famous experiment on authority.

After attending the University of Wisconsin, the University of North Carolina (where he earned his Ph.D.), and Columbia University (for post-doctoral training), Cialdini eventually went on to make his own contributions to the field of psychology, as important as any of those he grew up with. His work on influence would be summarized in his legendary book on social psychology Influence, as well as a number of later books.

Human beings are automatically, unavoidably influenced, in definite and predictable ways, by the actions of those around us. By pointing out six principles of influence and associating them with a number of clever, well-designed experiments and real-life experiences to prove them, Cialdini synthesized a theory of what he called a “click-whirr” reaction in the mind: an automatic reaction reminiscent of Daniel Kahneman’s description of the brain’s “System 1” thinking.

Cialdini believes that if we are not careful, we can be manipulated into parting ways with our money, our time, our lives, and ourselves. The only way to protect against that is to be aware of all the tricks people can use to persuade us. For that, Cialdini deserves his reputation as a Master of Influence.

Robert Cialdini Quotes

“We seem to assume that if a lot of people are doing the same thing, they must know something we don’t.”

“Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.”

“In part, the answer involves an essential but poorly appreciated tenet of all communication: what we present first changes the way people experience what we present to them next.”

“We will use the actions of others to decide on proper behavior for ourselves, especially when we view those others as similar to ourselves.”

“In general, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct.”

“There is an obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to repay.”

“Freedoms once granted will not be relinquished without a fight.”

“Advertisers love to inform us when a product is the ‘fastest-growing’ or ‘largest-selling’ because they don’t have to convince us directly that the product is good; they need only say that many others think so, which seems proof enough.”

“As the stimuli saturating our lives continue to grow more intricate and variable, we will have to depend increasingly on our shortcuts to handle them all.”

Suggested Readings on Robert Cialdini

Robert Cialdini on the Best Persuasion Technique for Job-Seekers – Cialdini talks about the best way job-seekers can use persuasion to help them land a job.

The Principles of Influence – A short video of Cialdini introducing the universal principles of influence.

The Psychology of Persuasion – More discussion of the six principles of persuasion.

Secrets from the Science of Persuasion – An animated look at the psychology of persuasion.

Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive – Here are the 50 ways you can become more persuasive, from Cialdini’s book of that name.

Mental Model: Commitment and Consistency Bias – Cialdini uncovered one of the great useful psychology principles: our preference for commitment and consistency.

Social Proof: Why We Look to Others For What We Should Think and Do – Why do we do what we do? Because other people are doing it.

How Raising Prices Can Increase Sales – Cialdini suggests that in some cases, businesses can actually increase their sales by raising prices.

What Lovers Tell Us About Persuasion – As Cialdini concludes, “We’d be fools to think that a force as primitive and powerful as human connection can direct change only within romantic relationships.”

The Most Effective Way to Retain What You Read – Cialdini offers a great method of helping to hang on to what you read.




Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Yes: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive

Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade

Book Recommendations