Introduction to the Power of Persuasion


Have you ever found yourself buying something you don’t need? Most of us have. Do you think you are influenced by the adverts you see? Most of us don’t think so. But companies are spending millions on the advertising industry for one simple reason – ads work. And if you don’t even notice you’re being manipulated, even better – for them.

Before we start, let’s think about what the word ‘persuasion’ means. Persuasion means convincing other people to change their attitudes, opinions or feeling about something (which can often lead them to perform an action e.g. to buy your product or to vote for you in the next election). There are two ‘roads’ you can take to persuade people – the ‘deep’ and the ‘shallow’ path. People who take the ‘deep’ path to persuasion make up their mind about something after putting in a lot of thought into it. Think about buying a car or a new laptop – people are unlikely to just go and buy these things without putting in a lot of effort to research their options. However, thinking is very tiring! You need a lot of time to process the arguments, and you need to put in effort into finding and understanding the information you’re looking for. This means that you won’t choose this road very frequently (let’s be honest, who buys a new laptop every week?!).

The second road to persuasion that you can take is the ‘shallow’ road, which (you guessed it) requires a lot less time and effort. In fact, people can use various psychological tricks to persuade you without you being consciously aware of it! Yes, you read that right. Ads can manipulate us without us even realising. That’s how mindless people get sometimes, all to avoid the hard work of thinking (ugh). In 1984 Robert Cialdini published his book titled Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, in which he outlines the ways in which people can be persuaded to think or do something. He identified six such ways, which we will treat as ‘weapons’ which can be used to manipulate people. These weapons are: Authority, Commitment, Liking, Scarcity, Reciprocity and Social Validation. Don’t worry if you’re not quite sure what these things are, I will guide you through them all. Start looking through the resources on the right and discover the different tools used for persuasion.

• To become familiar with the different methods of persuasion
• To analyse adverts to identify the type of method used

This resource was funded by the Take Your Place project.  To find out more information visit

Resource activities

Activity 1 - Authority and Commitment

In this resource you will learn about the techniques people use to manipulate your opinion about things, and you will discover why most of them are so successful.


Activity 1 - Suggested Answers

Some suggested responses and points to include from the questions in activity 1


Activity 2 - Liking and Scarcity

This activity explores two more ways that brands might use to encourage you to buy their products


Activity 2 - Suggested Answers

Some suggested responses and points to include from the questions in activity 2.


Activity 3 - Social Validation and Reciprocity

You will explore some more persuasion techniques used in adverts today.


Activity 3 - Suggested Answers

Some suggested responses and points to include from the questions in activity 3.


Activity questions

  • How many principles of persuasion were proposed by Robert Cialdini?
  • If someone does something nice for you, before asking you for a favour, they are using the principle of…?
  • At a cinema, the same advert for an energy drink was shown three times (not in a row). Which technique are the advertisers using to increase their sales?
  • When advertisers use a doctor to promote their new medicine, they are making use of which principle?
  • Why is reciprocity a good mechanism, from an evolutionary point of view?

Reflective questions

To answer and record these questions you will need to have an account and be logged in.

Task 1

What are the key arguments, concepts, points contained within it?

Task 2

What are you struggling to understand?

What could you do to improve your understanding of these concepts/terminology etc.?

Task 3

What further questions has this resource raised for you?

What else are you keen to discover about this topic and how could you go about learning more?

Can you make any links between this topic and your prior knowledge or school studies?

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Further reading

  • 8 Persuasion Techniques

    Blog post exploring some of the different persuasion techniques that can help to change someone’s mind