A Book That Opened My Mind

Following my previous two posts (A Book That Inspired Me and A Book That Made Me Think), let me share another story about a book that has impacted my life and career.

Nearly 20 years ago, I stumbled upon Robert B. Cialdini’s “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” in a friend’s house. It opened my eyes to the fascinating world of human psychology and its role in our decision-making processes.

As I waited for my friend to finish a phone call, I found myself drawn to this title, and within minutes, I was hooked.

The book belonged to my friend’s housemate, who was away for the weekend. Desperate to continue reading, I made a promise to return it within a day, which I did, and soon aquired my own copy. Some books just grab you like that.

Cialdini’s groundbreaking work unveiled a surprising truth: humans are not as rational as we believe, and our minds can be easily manipulated through well-known psychological techniques.

Calling Influence a “self-help book” would not do it justice, even if that description isn’t entirely misleading. What sets this book apart is the relevance and applicability of Cialdini’s principles to both personal and professional (UX design) settings.

Influence reveals that we are not as rational as we believe. Cialdini presents six key principles of persuasion:

  1. Reciprocity: The tendency to return favors or feel obligated to give when something is received.
  2. Commitment and Consistency: The inclination to stay consistent with our choices and follow through on commitments.
  3. Social Proof: The tendency to look at others’ actions and choices as a guide for our own decisions.
  4. Authority: The inclination to follow and trust the opinions or instructions of perceived experts or figures of authority.
  5. Liking: The tendency to be more easily persuaded by people we like or find attractive.
  6. Scarcity: The perception of limited availability, which increases the perceived value and desirability of an item or opportunity.

These principles have not only informed my understanding of human behavior but have also guided my approach to user experience design.

To give just one example: I had a personal experience with the principle of reciprocity soon after reading the book, during a trip to Egypt. While visiting the pyramids in Giza, a hawker approached me, offering a “gift.” Thanks to Cialdini, I was aware of the psychological trap and politely declined, avoiding the obligation to make an overpriced purchase in return.

In the world of online shopping, principles like scarcity are sometimes employed in less-than-ethical ways, leading to what is known as dark UX. Websites using countdown clocks or displaying “only 3 seats left at this price” exploit our natural tendency to act under pressure.

As designers, we should be careful never to employ dark UX. As users, we should remain vigilant against such manipulative tactics.

Years after my first encounter with Influence, I noticed it appearing on UX reading lists, validating my own opinion about its significance for our field. While I felt a pang of disappointment at losing a secret weapon, I was pleased that more designers were discovering this valuable resource.

Cialdini’s book offers an accessible introduction to the area of human psychology, a crucial component of UX. If you’re looking to take your first steps into the exploring this subject — or simply seeking an insightful and engaging read — I recommend Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.