Six weapons of psychological influence with Robert B. Cialdini

It feels to me that I have been empowered with my own personal ministry of defense to the way of world. The tools, or weapons, of influence that have been formally introduced to me with clear descriptions of those weapons with down-to-earth stories to illustrate the way those weapons are used in the world at large. With Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, American social psychologist Robert B. Cialdini introduced me and anyone that reads this book on the psychology of persuasion a keen sense for common sense ways to interpret and function in the western world.

Over the course of seven chapters and an epilogue, Cialdini reviews the six categories that he has learned about and researched during his academic career and while teaching in the marketing department at Arizona State University. Each chapter feels readily accessible to me, and tends to draw you in with some kind of analogy that demonstrates the concepts intended for your understanding.

Influence Psychology of Persuasion 2(Robert B. Cialdini)

In the book’s opening chapter, the concept of using the presented categories of influence gets into the concept of substituting some single piece of representative information into a consistent shortcut for fully analyzing every situation that you are presented. An illustrating point that stood out for me what the concept of selling consumer goods in a store.

Pieces of turquoise were not selling in a vacation stop at the price intended. Many of the activities to sell these were not working until such time as the price point was doubled. The turquoise then flew off the shelves because people equated high price equals with high quality.

As you can guess, the bargain that was really present was for consumers that would have received more value with the original price more reflective of reality. The remaining chapters go into examples like this that, in turn and with increasing degrees of cleverness or manipulation, demonstrate how those aware of the psychological tricks in play can wield psychology as a weapon for or against the consumer.

The second chapter gets into reciprocation, or the notion of repaying in kind what another person has provided us. The third chapter gets into commitment and consistency. To quote Cialdini directly, it “is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”

Influence Psychology of Persuasion 3(The six tools, or weapons, of influence)

In discussing social proof in chapter four, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion points out that people will often look to what others consider acceptable to consider what the appropriate course of action should be. A seemingly harmless example of this would be a laugh track on a television program, such as one might hear on the popular CBS Television series The Big Bang Theory. A more harmful example of social proof might come about when, among a crowd of bystanders, nobody helps when a person goes into an epileptic seizure that could be aided with emergency assistance.

Liking gets discussed in chapter five using examples like Tupperware sales, referring friends in charitable solicitations, and even in combination with people tending to rely on the social proof of people they like over the social examples of folks they dislike.

In chapter six, Cialdini gets into the notion of how thinking sometimes does not happen to the proper level because of the perceived authority of one person over another. A comedic example of this effect was in the citation of medical dosing mistakes by Temple pharmacology professors Michael Cohen and Neal Davis. The case in point attributed the deference to an attending doctor’s authority when a nurse treated a patients right ear ache by placing the ear drops as directed into the patient’s rear end.

The seventh chapter of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion gets into scarcity. The notion in play is that people tend to crave that object of a potential loss more than an equivalent gain in value. That is, people tend to favor harder to possess things than easier to possess things. Folks also tend to hate losing freedoms. It is this notion that makes things available for a limited time.

As Cialdini pointed out in the epilogue, much of this reviewed book aims at drawing out examples wherein single, highly representative pieces of the total can be helpful shortcuts while also leading us to clearly stupid mistakes. The notion for where mistakes happen reflects how Cialdini thinks these psychological points have been made into weapons. I give Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion 3.5-stars out of 5.

Matt – Wednesday, November 22, 2017

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Psychological profiles with ‘Whoever Fights Monsters’ by Robert K. Ressler

American criminologist Robert K. Ressler served for the United States Army and that country’s Federal Bureau of Investigation. Ressler explains his career in the book he wrote with Tom Shachtman, namely Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI. Whoever Fights Monsters offers insight into the real life formation of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. It was Ressler‘s work in the formation of this unit as well as the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) that, along with the methodology and thinking behind those programs, that interested me in the Whoever Fights Monsters book.

Whoever Fights Monsters 2(Robert K. Ressler, left, and Tom Shachtman, right)

Ressler described his work in contributing to the formation of the BSU, which in part started with the thinking that helped coin the term serial killer. (The definition from Psychology Today is included in the link contained in the previous sentence). Much of that psychology is performed based forensic analysis of crime scenes, the evidence gathered at those scenes, and the collected wisdom of the thinking of criminals in the past. Beyond this means of making cases against criminals, much of what fascinated me in reading this book was the interviewing of convicted serial killers in gaining insight into what makes those that have committed crimes tick.

Whoever Fights Monsters 3(Friedrich Nietzsche‘s warning to interviewers)

The insight of dividing criminals into organized, disorganized, or those that switch between default forms was intellectually interesting. The subject matter was rather dark, and certainly not for everyone. The Thomas Harris book (and subsequent movie) The Silence of the Lambs was inspired by information sharing that Ressler briefly described in Whoever Fights Monsters. The television series Criminal Minds on the American Broadcasting Corporation in the United States also owes something to the methodologies of the BSU.

Perhaps my timing in reading this book during the fall was inspired by the autumn season. The diminishing hours of daylight each day played their inspiring role. That Halloween would soon be approaching with the return to standard time rather than daylight savings time also played a role. I give Whoever Fights Monsters 3.5-stars out of 5.

Matt – Sunday, November 5, 2017

Anthony Horowitz colors me intrigued with ‘Magpie Murders’

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is a 2016 United Kingdom released mystery and thriller that made its way to a United States release in 2017. The immediate intrigue to this work was that the story reputedly played in the same realm as an Agatha Christie novel.  That the story takes a turn towards being the story of who killed who wrapped around an unfinished book dealing in similar subject matter colored me intrigued right from the start.

The central characters, only the second of which we get to meet really well, are fictional mystery writer Alan Conway as well as his editor, Susan Ryeland. In the embedded book, the champion detective is Atticus Pünd looks to solve a murder at Pye Hall within a sleepy English village circa the 1950s. You get a good sense for where the story is going when, at the moment of revelation, things take a turn that suggests that the manuscript has been changed. With the death of the author Conway, Ryeland is cast into the role of getting to the bottom of determining what happened while facing what turns into a real time thriller for herself.

Magpie Murders 2(Anthony Horowitz)

If you like puzzles as well as novels in the detective genre, you will be quite happy with Magpie Murders. As to why Horowitz chose to set his book in the 1950s rather than something more contemporary, the author had some clear thoughts on why.  Roslyn Sulcas in a review of Magpie Murders in The New York Times on June 8, 2017 leads to Sulcas quoting Horowitz.

“He placed the Conway novel in the 1950s, he said, because he likes murder mysteries that are “forensic free,” without surveillance cameras and DNA. “I want sprinklings of clues and red herrings,” he said. “And having no mobile phones is wonderfully helpful; it slows the pace down, and you have more time for atmosphere and character.””

I give Magpie Murder 3.75-stars out of 5.

Matt – Thursday, October 19, 2017

Vision Overcomes Hardship in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor E. Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning introduced me to the writing of Viktor E. Frankl, a 20th century psychiatrist and holocaust survivor. In the mood for seeking larger meaning, vision, and an inspiration for a recent testimonial for overcoming adversity with psychological strength, I was drawn to Frankl‘s best-selling work.

I found the reminders and echoing of philosopher Soren Kierkegaard in the treatment of Frankl‘s Man’s Search for Meaning reassuring. Frankl builds his logotherapy with an awareness of Kierkegaard‘s will to meaning. That Frankl further counterpoints Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler by arguing not for drives of pleasure or power but for meaning strikes me as a truly remarkable accomplishment.

Mans Search for Meaning 2(Viktor E. Frankl)

The book itself starts first with not so much of Frankl‘s experiences in the concentration camps throughout Europe during World War II as an exploration of some of the personality profiles of those that experienced the concentration camps. The editorial consideration here was not as much to downplay personal narratives of those that had come. The decision was to offer something different.

Man’s Search for Meaning then introduced the psychiatry of logotherapy. The edition that I was reading was a later version that aimed to make modifications based on the learning and growth within this branch of psychiatry, which again advanced upon focusing on meaning rather than “not the drive to sex or pleasure, as Freud theorized, or power, as Nietzsche and Adler argued” (www.goodtherapy.org).

Friedrich Nitezsche was a philosopher in his own right that focused in no small part on human drives and passions as central to a meaningful human experience.

Mans Search for Meaning 3(People define meaning!)

A powerful aid and benefit that I took from Man’s Search for Meaning came with the exploration of logotherapy. In discussing self-actualization and experiencing meaning, Frankl mentioned three different ways to discover meaning:

  1. By creating a work or doing a deed.
  2. By experiencing something or encountering someone.
  3. By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

The first of those is self-explanatory. Offering the world a new thing like a smartphone, or a best-selling book, or the means for two friends that later become husband and wife, are examples.

The second could involve experiencing the goodness of an act of kindness, the truth of an uplifting statement of gratitude, or the beauty of the autumn colors as leaves change from green to golden, brown, or red. Loving another person offers meaning and connection of its own.

When facing circumstances that you cannot change and which cause tangible pain, anxiety, or both, your approach to that pain can transform the experience of suffering into bearing witness to that pain and transforming it into a human achievement. The example Frankl offered on this score was that of an aging medical doctor who had been suffering greatly after his deceased had died. There was comforted when he realized that his wife’s passing first meant she would not suffer the grief that he was feeling.

I came away with the reward of new insight and encouragement. Viktor E. Frankl further rewarded me with a deeper structural understanding of psychiatry along with distinctions between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.  I give Man’s Search for Meaning 4-stars out of 5.

Matt – Sunday, October 15, 2017

Visionary leadership in ‘Team of Rivals’ by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln introduced me to the writing of Doris Kearns Goodwin, a historian “best known for authoring biographies of American presidents, including Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln” (Biography.com).

While interesting to note that Goodwin has treated three presidents that died in office, as well as a fourth that succeeded the last to die while in office, the subject of this review is my reading of Goodwin’s treatment of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

Team of Rivals 2(Doris Kearns Goodwin)

While I felt going into this reading that I had a fairly decent layperson’s understanding for the way that history viewed the sixteenth president of the United States, what I found with this reading is that my understanding was (and perhaps still is) a largely textbook understanding of the man and his presidency as offered through some of my grade school, high school, and slight introduction to the man in college.

Team of Rivals introduced to me some of the means for how Abraham Lincoln went about making decisions, receiving information, taking advice and council from those around him, and largely had a keen insight tempered with reflection that guided a compassionate, and perhaps a largely Midwestern United States viewpoint, of the larger world. The means and feeling of these points were revealed in a way that helps me understand the man in a way that a history class would not.

I enjoyed getting to know Lincoln, Senator William Henry Seward of New York, Governor Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, and judge Edward Bates of St. Louis, Missouri, the four men who, together with Lincoln, made up the first candidates of the political party in the United States that today is called the Republican Party, even if the politics of what a Republican was then is quite different than today. It is partly through the introduction to these men that Kearns Goodwin offers what was a partly well known tale:

“The unifying theme is the growing sectional polarization over the issues of slavery and its expansion. But each story follows a separate track until they begin to converge with the death of the Whig Party and the birth of the Republican Party in the mid-1850’s.”–quote borrowed from a 2005 New York Times review of the book by James M. McPherson.

The four men entered Lincoln’s cabinet when he became president following his 1860 election. The men disliked each other, yet served the president well in large part owing to Lincoln’s deft, compassionate insight into human motivation. The book gets into how Lincoln conducted the war and politics, not so much the interpersonal touches that I found in reading about Theodore Roosevelt at the hands of Edmund Morris.

Team of Rivals 3(The team of rivals)

Since I came away with the reward of new insight and a larger understanding for the professional relationships that Abraham Lincoln had in his presidency, I give Team of Rivals 4-stars out of 5.

Matt – Saturday, September 9, 2017

‘The Given Day’ by Dennis Lehane exceeds ‘Live By Night’

The sequel to The Given Day by Dennis Lehane, Live By Night is a prohibition era gangster novel aiming to establish an ethos for the gangster lifestyle first in Boston Massachusetts, second in Tampa Florida, and finally in Cuba and into the northern Gulf of Mexico cities Miami through New Orleans.

Live By Night 2 (Dennis Lehane)

A adequate job of tension was central to the story, and for that I was grateful. This quality of the book frankly saved the book for me, as the inner conflict . The characters lacked some depth, in my humble opinion, and the story almost felt like an attempt to offer us Joe Coughlin as modeled on the character Michael Corleone from Mario Puzo‘s The Godfather. Live By Night is no The Godfather, and Lehane does not compare well with Puzo in this effort.

It is not necessary to read The Given Day to read Live By Night, as the two books share at least three characters of significant import. The focus of the two books are greatly different; the protagonists for these two books are largely different. In fact, I would say that the idea of carrying characters over from one book to the other feels more an accommodation to a publisher than a deliberate desire from the author.

Live By Night 3(From the author of Shutter Island and The Given Day)

In comparing the two books, I liked the first more than I did the second. I felt more invested in the characters of The Given Day. The resolution to the characters that carried over between these two books was much better in the first book, too.

Overall about 3.25-stars, rounded to 3.00.

Matt – Sunday, July 23, 2017

Uncoiling ‘The Shipping News’ by Annie Proulx

The Shipping News won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award (in the United States). When this award winner for E. Annie Proulx came recommended on a Stephen King recommended reading list put out by a book publisher, so I put the book on the “please buy it” list at the library and, a happy read later, I wind my thoughts together into this review.

The Shipping News tells the story of Quoyle and his two daughters as they uproot their lives following the death of the two-timing wife and mother to the harbor town of Killick-Claw, Newfoundland, Canada. The family reconnects with a place that none of them knows with an aunt of Quoyle’s who remembers a long ago past for the family’s ancestors in this place. The story, too, is an evocation of place much stronger than the movie Manchester By The Sea, a sad 2016 movie that owes much in tone to this book, and perhaps The Shipping News (2001) movie of several years earlier.

The Shipping News 2(Annie Proulx)

Proulx performs well in bringing out a sense of local color both for place and for people in her telling of The Shipping News. The story shows four people, namely the widowed Quoyle, his nameless aunt, and Quoyle’s two young kids, Bunny and Sunshine,  struggling with the sudden changes beset by the death of a cheating wife. The nameless aunt seems more strongly the stand-in narrator for Proulx in The Shipping News, though Quoyle is the clear if befuddled, third-rate newspaper hack protagonist for the story.

That Quoyle was socially inept through the story is much of the launching point of the story. That Quoyle was offered the stabilizing support of an intelligent aunt, a ready job, and a befuddled backwater of a town that lets him earn his keep makes the story all a bit neat. That the mystery of Quoyle and this story rests in his ability to untangle the knot of a new life, or metaphorically to “uncoil” the rope of his family and life story, is the principal tying the story together. I appreciated the metaphorical offerings by Proulx.

Overall, my feeling for this novel is one wherein I feel I’ve been here already. I did mention that Manchester By The Sea seems to have done this plot, though that movie clearly came second. I offer a rating for the book of 3-stars out-of-5.

Matt – Tuesday, July 18, 2017