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Consistency and Commitment

 

Techniques General persuasion > Cialdini's Six Principles > Consistency and Commitment

Description | Example | Discussion | See also

 

Description

Principle: We feel we must always align our outer actions and promises with our inner choices and systems, such as our beliefs and values.

When we make a promise, we feel obliged to work hard to fulfil that promise. When we make a decision, we like to feel that this is the right decision for us.

When we do something that is out of alignment with our beliefs, values and other aspects of our self-image, we may change those inner aspects in order to restore alignment.

When we have committed to something, we tend to justify this commitment by inventing new rationale and otherwise seeking confirmation that we have made the right choice.

Example

A company gives away free samples. The customer finds that, having used the item, they feel more inclined to buy it.

A parent congratulates their child on working hard (rather than rewarding them for doing homework). Before long, the child thinks of themself as being a hard worker.

A person is more convinced that a horse will win a race after they have placed a bet on it. In fact they may even increase the bet amount.

A charity gets people to sign a petition not so much to influence others as to get them to increase their commitment to the cause. 

Discussion

The underlying principle is one of alignment. If our beliefs, values, models and actions are not fully in agreement with one another, we feel the tension of cognitive dissonance. A surprising effect of this force is that we may even change our beliefs in order to justify our actions.

An important factor in persuasion that uses this principle is that the target person feels they have made a free choice. If they feel coerced or obliged, they can explain their choice by saying they were 'forced' into the decision. When they believe they have made a free choice, they feel personally responsible for their decision and seek to justify it.

Brainwashing uses this principle, where the subject is asked to take many incremental actions that increasingly demonstrate the new belief. Each action may seem small, but slowly their beliefs change internally in order to justify what they are doing. If the action is too significantly different, they can excuse this by saying they were doing as they were told. But when the action is minor, they cannot excuse themselves and so have to believe they wanted to do it themselves.

When it takes a lot of work to join a group (including time, pain and cost), we feel a greater sense of commitment to the group. This is the principle behind entry rituals, where the new member may have to jump through a number of hoops and where a big fuss is made of their transition from non-member to member.

The Foot In The Door (FITD) method gains a toe-hold with a small request and then asks for more after the person has justified their initial action as a free choice. This is similar to the lowball negotiation tactic.

See also

Consistency Principle

 

Cialdini, R. (1984). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, New York: Quill

 

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