Influence: The psychology of persuasion

By Robert Caldini.

Most of the studies included in the book come from an area of research filled with shoddy science [#1 in the link], for example in one chapter he talks a lot about the bystander effect which is discussed in detail using the Genovese case as an illustration – he never even mentions (/doesn’t know? People hadn’t figured out yet that..?) that there weren’t actually 38 witnesses, etc. When reading the beginning of chapter 6 I was immediately reminded of this. I don’t trust a lot of the inferences made – they make for good stories, but often there are other ways to explain what happened besides the ones the author uses, and the examples are far from always convincing. If you base your inferences on shaky research then you can easily get into trouble, and he’s completely uncritical of the research he’s using in the book – nowhere in the main text does he even suggest the option that perhaps ‘in this particular study the sample size was quite low, and so perhaps we cannot trust the results of this experiment’. There are sometimes a few critical remarks in the notes, but these are also few and far between. He seems quite ignorant about some of the things he writes about; for example he talks about the bait-and-switch tactic at one point (without ever mentioning that that’s what it’s called), and it’s obvious in his treatment that he’s only familiar with it through personal experiences – he seems completely unaware that the tactic he describes actually is well-known and has a name. The same can be said of his treatment of loss aversion in the last chapter – he talks about this stuff, but seems to be completely oblivious to the fact that this psychological mechanism has a name and had been known for decades in the literature (the book is from 2003, and Kahneman & Tversky published a paper about this stuff already in 1984). He also talks about the winner’s curse in the last chapter without ever using that term, presumably because he’s again ignorant of the terminology and theory. There are generally a lot of text and words and not a lot of information; there was very little new stuff in the book, and most of the stuff he covers has in my opinion been handled better elsewhere (a marketing course I took a long time ago I’d say handled many of these things better, and I say that even though I didn’t like that course). He repeats himself quite a bit along the way.

I didn’t read every word of this book, a few times I skipped whole paragraphs because I knew what would be in them and I knew actually reading the words would be a waste of my time – this is very unlike me, I almost always read everything. I’m baffled that the book has such a high average rating on goodreads – I gave it a 2 star rating, whereas the average is 4.14. I should note that that goodreads rating was an important part of why I read it in the first place, so it’s been a disappointing read; I expected a lot more than I got. It does have redeeming features and I found the child-rearing remarks in chapter 3 in particular quite interesting, but although it’s far from horrible, it’s also simply not very good. I would not recommend this.


July 24, 2013 - Posted by | Books, Psychology


  1. I didn’t read it in its entirety either — too much fluff in my opinion.

    Comment by Miao | July 24, 2013 | Reply

  2. > the book is from 2003, and Kahneman & Tversky published a paper about this stuff already in 1984

    The book’s actually from 1984…

    Comment by gwern | July 26, 2013 | Reply

    • Not the edition I was reading – as he points out himself in the introduction, “It has been some time since the first edition of Influence was published.”

      I was wrong about the publication year (it’s 2006, not 2003), but it doesn’t change anything much. If I were the author, I’d have revised the terminology applied in the original work substantially.

      Comment by US | July 27, 2013 | Reply

      • Most people do not completely rewrite books to take advantage of decades’ worth of research, and it’s unreasonable to expect that of Cialdini. Conclude that it’s a period book and one is better off reading _Thinking Fast and Slow_, sure – but don’t criticize it for not meeting your unreasonable demands.

        Comment by gwern | July 27, 2013

      • @gwern: I respectfully disagree. I do not think that the author of this blog has unreasonable demands. If Cialdini wishes to increase sales by publishing a so-called ‘revised’ edition 22 years after the first release of the book, I think it is only fair to expect him to keep up with the relevant fields of research and incorporate new information (and rewrite the book substantially if necessary) — otherwise it would not justify the money and time spent by people who read his book under the impression that there is up-to-date information. I will “conclude it is a period book” if Cialdini allows it to stay the way it is in the annals of history, rather than misleading readers by releasing supposedly revised editions of it. But I guess it is much easier to cash in on the reputation of the book by making negligible revisions than to write a completely new one.that actually contains contemporary stuff.

        Comment by Miao | July 27, 2013

      • “The study of persuasion, compliance, and change has advanced, and the pages that follow have been adapted to reflect that progress”. […] “In addition to an overall update of the material, I have included a new feature…”

        Quotes from the introduction. My expectation that he’d updated the material didn’t pop up out of nowhere – he claims in the introduction to have updated the book to reflect the changes that have happened. He’s either exaggerating, outright lying, or he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And I don’t really see why I should care which it is – I’m not going to read any more of his stuff.

        Comment by US | July 27, 2013

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