1984, 1994, 2007, Books, Non-Fiction

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (1984, 1994, 2007) by Robert Cialdini

When this book was published in 1984, it was probably one-of-a-kind, and an absolute must-read. A pop psychology treatment on how businesses (and con men) manipulate us into buying things we don’t want, there was probably not much else out there like it. It’s a landmark and it was likely essential reading pre-internet.

Things have changed, however, and it’s hard to view this book as essential any more, in part because of the explosion of pop psychology and marketing psychology genres, and in part because the internet gives us untold resources to read about these things (including the actual studies these ideas are based on). I have read a lot of more recent pop psychology books and I must say that there was a general sense of deja vu while reading this. That’s not Cialdini’s fault – he’s a trailblazer. But it does suggest that maybe you don’t need to read this book.

The biggest issue for me is that, though I read an edition supposedly published in 2007, most of the evidence for the book is still drawn from pre-1980 research. Now, two things have happened in that time: first, there has been a hell of a long more research, some of which likely strengthens the findings Cialdini cites, and some of which likely undermines or even out-and-out refutes some of the studies he relies upon. The second thing is the twin daggers of the replication crisis and the WEIRD problem. You’ll find no mention of either in this book, and they both very much undercut much of what Cialdini is claiming. So I would just say that, if you are reading this book and you have not read a lot of psychology, and you are not aware of the current state of the discipline, just know that this book isn’t going to tell you about the potential issues with any of the studies it cites.

But it’s an easy read, it’s compelling (as you would expect from such a famous book) and a number of the studies it cites are quire provocative (whether or not they’ve held up decades later). Cialdini means well and much of what is in here is likely fairly close to the truth (as far as we can ascertain).

All I would say is, if your mentor some marketing guru is telling you that you have to read this book…well, you don’t have to. And, if you do, be sure to support it with some more recently published works, that rely on newer research than this does (and which acknowledge the discipline’s major problems).

7/10

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