Robert Cialdini
Professor of Psychology and Marketing, Arizona State University

Robert Cialdini Explores the Neuroscience of Influence

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Robert Cialdini on how your brain tricks you.

Robert Cialdini

Robert Cialdini is president of Influence at Work, an international consulting, strategic planning and training organization. His books including, Influence: Science & Practice, are the results of more than 30 years of study into the reasons why people comply with requests in business settings. Cialdini received his Ph.D from the University of North Carolina and post doctoral training from Columbia University. He has held visiting scholar appointments at Ohio State University, the University of California, the Annenberg School of Communications, and the Graduate School of Business of Stanford University. Currently, he is a professor of marketing and psychology at Arizona State University, where he has also been named Distinguished Graduate Research Professor. In the field of influence and persuasion, Dr. Cialdini is the most cited living social psychologist in the world today.


Question: What influence does neuroscience have on your work?

Cialdini:    I am taking a special interest in neuroscience, the neuroscience of influence and persuasion.  So, for example, there’s one classic study in social psychology called the [Ashe] Study in which people go around a table and choose between three lines, which is the one they think is the longest.  And the researchers have rigged the data so that the first five people who are all confederates of the experimenter say the wrong line, and then they get to the sixth person and they find a very high percentage of those six people that that sixth person will go along with the crowd instead of believing their own eyes.  It’s a clear difference, perceptually.  They replicated that study.  Since then, a new study has been done to replicate that procedure with people who are hooked up to brain imaging devices, and what these researchers found was that when people came upon the situation where they were out of sync with their fellows there in the room, two things happened in their brain.  One is the area associated with puzzlement lit up, and so did the area associated with physical pain.  Being out of step with the group was physically painful for those individuals.  Now, here’s the brilliant thing about the study.  They also did it with being out of step with five computers.  With the computer set, you got puzzlement lighting up in your brain but no pain.  That’s why it’s so difficult for us to be out of step with the crowd, with our group, with our subculture, because it’s painful to be… the social consequences of being out of step are painful to us.  There are no social consequences of being out of step with computers, but there are social consequences of being out of step with your friends, and it registers as pain.  I thought that was a very important insight from that brain imaging study.