Influence Cialdini - Part 1
Psychologists have understood for years that humans want to be seen as being consistent. Not only do we want to be consistent to ourselves, we want to look consistent to others. Leon Festinger describes this quite nicely in his book Cognitive Dissonance. (Another book that is well worth a read for ex-cult members).
A person who is consistent is seen as stable, honest and trustworthy. A useful member of society! Now try to imagine how a society would function with totally inconsistent members…!
In his book on influence Cialdini explains that behaving consistently with our thoughts and beliefs is often much easier than having to change our thinking. Because if we took the time to think, me might not like what we realize.
And whatever happens, most of us don't want to be seen to be wrong. So once we have started into something, there are very strong forces pushing us to continue. Once we make a decision, we create reasons and justifications for it and so the idea 'grows legs of its own'.
Because of these types of influence Cialdini points out that sometimes we will act in ways that are contrary to our own best interests. I'll say that again. These influences mean that sometimes we will act in ways that are contrary to our own best interests.
Destructive groups take advantage of this. Remember, mind control is a process. So what the destructive groups do is introduce ideas one step at a time. Once you accept the first step it's much easier to take the second step which is consistent with the first. Now that you have accepted the second part (and justified it to yourself...), in order to be consistent, there is an obligation to accept the third part.
For example, a cult member confesses something in front of the group. Then they feel obliged to accept the punishment that is normally given out for that kind of weakness or sin. Even if the punishment is outrageous or the person would never have tolerated that kind of treatment before.
Or a person goes along to a personal development seminar to learn about communication skills. And the leader begins to build a ' logical chain' starting with the idea that in order to improve communication skills a person needs to change their thinking. In order to change your thinking you need to change who you are. One way to do that is to change your values. He argues that the value of freedom is the most important. After all, if you have freedom you have access to all the possibilities available to you. Next, an important aspect of freedom is sexual freedom.
Having led the members of his group down this particular path, members now believe that sexual liberty indicates that they are evolving, developing. This, of course, leaves the members very vulnerable to sexual abuse by the leader. After all, having sex with the leader is, he will argue, consistent with, and proof of, having sexual freedom.(Because such a relationship is uneven in its power structure, it is not possible for informed consent on the part of the student/adept, therefore it is always considered sexual abuse.)
If we don't know what to do in a given situation, the safest thing to do is what others around us are doing.
For example, an alarm rings in the gymnasium and there is no obvious fire or other danger, but people are still unsure whether they should evacuate or not. So they look at each other to see what everyone else is doing. No-one else, including the instructor, seems concerned, so they continue exercising...
With this type of influence Cialdini notes that in large cities it is not unusual for passers by to ignore two people fighting or a car crash. Initially, it may not register that there is an emergency situation. But when people ask themselves if they should do anything, and they look around and see nobody else taking an interest, they continue on their way without doing anything. There is very little conscious decision making going on, simply a 'click-whirr' response to what everyone else is doing.
In destructive sects, the principle of social proof is used extensively. For example, current members are encouraged to repeat courses for a reduced fee or even free. Then if the group begins to do anything strange, or different, or a bit weird, and the new people are having second doubts, when they look around and see the members acting as if all is normal, they are reassured and will even join in. This often means that they will carry out behaviors that previously they would not have done.
Note too, now that they have carried out these new behaviors, they have to change their thinking and their emotions to be consistent with this! So the weapons of influence begin to stack one on top of the other.
To use this influence Cialdini says that compliance professionals very often try to rapidly form friendships to make use of the power of liking. They recognize that if they can get us to like them they have much more influence over us.
Psychopaths are particularly good at creating masks or personas that they present to people. Robert Hare, an expert on psychopaths, says that one of the first things the psychopath does to create a relationship is to get the person to like them. In fact, they are so good at it, if you find yourself great friends with someone in a very short period of time, you need to re-evaluate the relationship and check if you're actually friends with a psychopath!
This is the same advice about this type of influence Cialdini gives. He says the key to noticing this influence is if you find yourself liking the other person more than we should under the circumstances.
Similarity is one way to create friendship. We like people who are similar to us, similar in dress, similar in beliefs, similar in interests.
And compliments. We like people who compliment us. But be aware, we also like people who praise us even if the positive comments are untrue!! So the person doesn't even have to know us well, just giving us lots of praise means that we tend to like them.
In the introduction of new members to cults, this tactic is called love bombing. They're made to feel special and welcome, and they are led to believe they are intelligent and talented for understanding the ideas and that they will do very well in the group and so on.
Like the other principles of influence Cialdini says that we tend to underestimate the effect liking someone has on our decision making and behavior.
For example, the fact that the members like or love the leader of a cult, is one of the factors that actually makes it very difficult for them to leave. And if somebody tries to point out that the leader is abusing them, they find it almost impossible initially to accept it. In part, because they cannot believe that somebody that they actually like would be manipulating them and doing them harm.
Another aspect of the liking principle of influence Cialdini says, is the idea of association.
Advertisers frequently like to associate their product with well-known and well liked celebrities. So people who like the celebrity tend to like the product as well.
Cults will also try to do this. For example, cults often associate themselves with celebrities and politicians and cults that offer courses may have other professionals come in to offer their own courses and by association, it gives credibility and prestige to the cult.
You have the theory but how do you actually apply it? This book spells it out...
Do you think that you might be in an abusive relationship? Are you realizing that the group you are in may be a cult?
Do you think you are being taken advantage of emotionally, physically, sexually or financially in your relationship? Do you want to leave but you can't seem to get away?
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If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.