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What are Cialdini’s 6 persuasion principles?

It was 1984 when Robert Cialdini, professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University in the United States published his Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

A publication destined to become crucial for marketing and communication, in which Cialdini explains and helps us to gain a better and more specific understanding of how people perform actions and make decisions, identifying six principles of persuasion that can motivate people by responding to their needs.

How does our decision-making process work?

As Cialdini explains in his book, our brain naturally tends to prioritise actions and decisions that require the least amount of energy and time, often employing shortcuts, known as heuristics, used by the oldest, most instinctive and emotional part of our brain to make decisions and formulate judgements quickly, exploiting memories, sensations and mental associations stored in the memory.

Cialdini’s most significant contribution is the understanding that these unconscious mechanisms also, and above all, occur when we make purchasing decisions: this is why the Arizona State University professor theorised six main patterns, which he called “principles”, for use in marketing and communication to move and engage people, motivating them towards a purchase.

principi di cialdini

Quali sono i 6 principi di Cialdini


Cialdini’s 6 principles refer to six different modes or situations:

  • RECIPROCITY: when people receive a favour, they are more willing to reciprocate it: in other words, we are more likely to listen to or consider a proposal from a brand or a person if they have done something practical or significant for us.


  • COMMITMENT AND CONSISTENCY: people often perform more than one action and unpredicted actions consistent with those they have performed in the past or even short before.


  • SOCIAL PROOF: people tend to adjust their behaviour and decisions to those of the majority.


  • LIKING: attractive or particularly charming people are generally more persuasive.


  • AUTHORITY: people who hold a leadership position or are recognised as authorities have greater persuasive abilities, which is the reason why numerous brands hire well-known and acclaimed endorsers.


  • SCARCITY: consumers are inclined to have a more positive perception, at an unconscious level, of what they perceive as exclusive or scarcely available. Our brain is indeed more sensitive to the possibility of gaining and especially losing something. “Flash”, limited offers, are based on this principle.

Reciprocity and commitment and consistency

As a species, humans value and tend to pursue fairness and equality: this means that people dislike being indebted to others and feel the urgency to repay and return a favour received. This dynamic occurs not only in interpersonal relationships, but also between individuals and brands: the principle emphasises the importance of offering consumers services that can actively help and support them, but also offer them unexpected gifts or presents. This establishes a relationship of trust between the brand and consumers, offering a positive brand experience even before a potential purchase.

Another important principle of persuasion is that of commitment and consistency: people are more comfortable if they perform actions and make choices that are consistent with what they have done before. This principle emphasises the influence that our past experiences and commitments have on the choices we make every day, acting as a yardstick and guide that determines our behaviour. People like to be true to themselves and the commitments they make. One of the most common examples of this principle in practice is the deposit: asking for a small sum of money as a guarantee leads people to honour a commitment they have already made, following up on and endorsing a choice they made in the past.

What is the social proof principle?

Three of Cialdini’s best-known and most influential principles of persuasion have social implications. According to the principle of social proof, for example, people are inclined to tune their behaviour to what the majority does: this principle is based on the assumption that, being social animals, we feel the need to conform to the group we belong to, by going along with their decisions and making them our own.


Liking and authority: two very similar principles

The principles of liking and authority are equally important. According to the former, people we generally regard as more attractive or affable and likeable have a greater capacity for persuasion and influence: on an unconscious level, their appearance and character are associated with ideas of success, serenity and well-being.

The principle of authority, on the other hand, shows how the opinions of influential and authoritative individuals are usually automatically considered as more reliable and trustworthy. The proposals and projects of individuals recognised as experts are usually received and appreciated much more, legitimising mental shortcuts that assume that their judgement is necessarily correct. This principle explains the success that testimonials and celebrities still have in promoting a brand or product.

principi di cialdini

The power of scarcity

People often attribute greater value to a product or service that they consider to be exclusive, rare or available in scarce supply. As explained by Cialdini, this principle explains how the perception of the value of a particular commodity is altered by its availability.

The more exclusive and scarce an object is, the more automatically it becomes important and desired. This explains the effectiveness of flash or time-limited offers, which appeal to consumers driven by a sense of urgency to obtain something they might not be able to get their hands on if they wait.