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Review: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

http://www.amazon.com/Influence-Psychology-Persuasion-Business-Essentials/dp/006124189X

this book doesn't use critical thinking. it takes some evidence and tells a story to explain it and doesn't tell us how it knows that story is correct and not some other story. it doesn't consider and criticize rival explanations. it just gives selective attention, over and over, to favored explanations. why are those explanations favored? it never says.

each influence tactic it discusses it acknowledged as fallible. but there's no extensive discussion about when and why they fail. the author doesn't seek explanations about what differentiates the successes and failures, instead he simply accepts and ignores the failure rate. the "scientists" involved in the field try to argue that X causes Y by doing an experiment where X happens and Y results, with a control with no X and no Y. they don't consider the Z and W that also differed between the test group and the control. but they also don't consider what A, B or C could be added to stop it from working anymore, or what background factors D, E, and F are required to be present for the X/Y relationship to work.

generally, the book is concerned with selective positive claims and not with error, correcting error, or considering everything.

the book is also sometimes wrong, incompetent or dishonest about technical details. in one case it described a drop from 38% to 10% as impressive. but it was in circumstances where we would have expected a 2/3 drop anyway. a 2/3 drop already gets us down to 12.66% so the observed drop could easily be within the margin of error, but that isn't mentioned. there was also a straightforward reason for a greater than 2/3 drop. yet the 38% to 10% drop was simply presented as a large drop scientifically proving the point – it was treated as evidence of the author's particular story about why there would be a drop in this case.

another issue is the book doesn't try to apply what it claims we're learning. it will raise some point, e.g. that people are biased in a particular way in a particular kind of situation. then it won't go looking for what other situations that applies to. for example it talked about fraternity hazing and how people try to act consistent with their sunk costs, so if they already went through tough hazing then they try to like the group they joined. hazing is an easy target but why not consider whether the same principle can be used to criticize some less well known target? for example people with PhDs is a group with high costs to enter it, so should people with PhDs watch out for bias regarding how much they think their PhD was worth the price and how nice life in the PhD recipient group is? the book consistently doesn't go the extra mile to consider anything controversial, it keeps just discussing psychological factors to make points that are already popular.

the book has other flaws too.

Elliot Temple on January 31, 2014

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