Persuasion is an umbrella term of influence. Persuasion can attempt to influence a person's beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motivations, or behaviors. In business, persuasion is a process aimed at changing a person's (or a group's) attitude or behaviour toward a few event, idea, object, or additional person(s), by using written or spoken words to convey information, feelings, or reasoning, or a combination thereof. Persuasion is additionally an often used tool in the pursuit of personal gain, such as election campaigning, giving a sales pitch, or in trial advocacy. Persuasion can additionally be interpreted as using one's personal or positional resources to change people's behaviours or attitudes. Systematic persuasion is the process through which attitudes or beliefs are leveraged by appeals to logic and reason. Heuristic persuasion on the additional hand is the process through which attitudes or beliefs are leveraged by appeals to habit or emotion.

Brief history

Persuasion began with the Greeks, who emphasised rhetoric and elocution as the highest standard for a successful politician. All trials were held in front of the Assembly, and both the prosecution and the defence rested, as they often do today, on the persuasiveness of the speaker. Rhetoric was the ability to find the available means of persuasion in any instance. The Greek philosopher Aristotle listed four reasons why one should learn the art of persuasion:

  1. truth and justice are perfect; thus if a case loses, it is the fault of the speaker
  2. it is an excellent tool for teaching
  3. a good rhetorician needs to know how to argue both sides to understand the whole problem and all the options, and
  4. there is no better way to defend one’s self.

Aristotle's rhetorical proofs:

  1. ethos (credibility)
  2. logos (reason)
  3. pathos (emotion)


Attribution theory

Humans attempt to explain the actions of others through either dispositional attribution or situational attribution.

Dispositional attribution, additionally referred to as internal attribution, attempts to point to a person’s traits, abilities, motives, or dispositions as a cause or explanation for their actions. A citizen criticising a president by saying the nation is lacking economic progress and health because the president is either lazy or lacking in economic intuition is utilising a dispositional attribution.

Situational attribution, additionally referred to as external attribution, attempts to point to the context around the person and factors of his surroundings, particularly things that are completely out of his control. A citizen claiming that a lack of economic progress isn't a fault of the president but rather the fact that he inherited a poor economy from the previous president is situational attribution.

Fundamental attribution error occurs when people wrongly attribute either a shortcoming or accomplishment to internal factors, and disregarding any external factors. In general, people tend to make dispositional attributions more often than situational attributions when trying to explain or understand a person’s behavior. This happens when we're much more focused on the individual because we don't know much about their situation or context. When trying to persuade others to like us or another person, we tend to explain positive behaviours and accomplishments with dispositional attribution, but our own negative behaviours and shortcomings with situational attributions.

Conditioning theories

Conditioning plays a huge part in the concept of persuasion. It is more often about leading someone into taking certain actions of their own, rather than giving direct commands. In advertisements for example, this is done by attempting to connect a positive emotion to a brand/product logo. This is often done by creating commercials that make people laugh, using a sexual undertone, inserting uplifting images and/or music etc. and then ending the commercial with a brand/product logo. Great examples of this are professional athletes. They are paid to connect themselves to things that can be directly related to their roles; sport shoes, tennis rackets, golf balls, or completely irrelevant things like soft drinks, popcorn poppers and panty hose. The important thing for the advertiser is to establish a connexion to the consumer.

This conditioning is thought to affect how people view certain products, knowing that most purchases are made on the basis of emotion. Just like you at times recall a memory from a certain smell or sound, the objective of a few ads is solely to bring back certain emotions when you see their logo in your local store. The hope is that by repeating the message several times it will cause the consumer to be more likely to purchase the product because he/she already connects it with a good emotion and a positive experience. Stefano DellaVigna and Matthew Gentzkow did a comprehensive study on the effects of persuasion in different domains. They discovered that persuasion has little or no effect on advertisement; however, there was a substantial effect of persuasion on voting if there was face-to-face contact.

Cognitive dissonance theory

Leon Festinger originally proposed the theory of cognitive dissonance in 1957. He theorised that human beings constantly strive for mental consistency. Our cognition (thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes) can be in agreement, unrelated, or in disagreement with each other. Our cognition can additionally be in agreement or disagreement with our behaviors. When we detect conflicting cognition, or dissonance, it gives us a sense of incompleteness and discomfort. For example, a person who's addicted to smoking cigarettes but additionally suspects it can be detrimental to his health suffers from cognitive dissonance.

Festinger suggests that we're motivated to reduce this dissonance until our cognition is in harmony with itself. We strive for mental consistency. There are four main ways we go about reducing or eliminating our dissonance:

  1. changing our minds about one of the facets of cognition
  2. reducing the importance of a cognition
  3. increasing the overlap between the two, and
  4. re-evaluating the cost/reward ratio.

Revisiting the example of the smoker, he can either quit smoking, reduce the importance of his health, convince himself he's not at risk, or evaluate the reward of his smoking to be worth the cost of his health.

Cognitive dissonance is powerful when it relates to competition and self-concept. The most famous example of how cognitive dissonance can be used for persuasion comes from Festinger and Carlsmith’s 1959 experiment in which participants were asked to complete a quite dull task for an hour. Some were paid $20, while others were paid $1, and afterwards they were instructed to tell the next waiting participants that the experiment was fun and exciting. Those who were paid $1 were much more likely to convince the next participants that the experiment really was enjoyable than those who received $20. This is because $20 is enough reason to participate in a dull task for an hour, so there's no dissonance. Those who received $1 experienced great dissonance, so they had to truly convince themselves that the task actually was enjoyable in order to avoid feeling like they were taken advantage of, and therefore reduce their dissonance.

Elaboration likelihood model

Persuasion has traditionally been associated with two routes.

  • Central route: Whereby an individual evaluates information presented to them based on the pros and cons of it and how well it supports their values
  • Peripheral route: Change is mediated by how attractive the source of communication is and by bypassing the deliberation process.

The Elaboration likelihood model (ELM) forms a new facet of the route theory. It holds that the probability of effective persuasion depends on how successful the communication is at bringing to mind a relevant mental representation, which is the elaboration likelihood. Thus if the target of the communication is personally relevant, this increases the elaboration likelihood of the intended outcome and would be more persuasive if it were through the central route. Communication which doesn't require careful thought would be better suited to the peripheral route.

Functional theories

Functional theorists attempt to understand the divergent attitudes individuals have towards people, objects or issues in different situations. There are four main functional attitudes:

  1. Adjustment function: A main motivation for individuals is to increase positive external rewards and minimise the costs. Attitudes serve to direct behaviour towards the rewards and away from punishment.
  2. Ego Defensive function: The process by which an individual protects their ego from being threatened by their own negative impulses or threatening thoughts.
  3. Value-expressive: When an individual derives pleasure from presenting an image of themselves which is in line with their self-concept and the beliefs that they want to be associated with.
  4. Knowledge function: The need to attain a sense of understanding and control over one’s life. An individual’s attitudes therefore serve to help set standards and rules which govern their sense of being.

When communication is targeted at an underlying function its degree of persuasiveness will influence whether the individual will change their attitude, after determining that another attitude will be more effective in fulfilling that function.

Inoculation theory

A vaccine introduces a weak form of a virus that can easily be defeated to prepare the immune system should it need to fight off a stronger form of the same virus. In much the same way, the theory of inoculation suggests a certain party can introduce a weak form of an argument that can easily be thwarted in order to prepare the audience to disregard a stronger, full-fledged form of the argument from an opposing party.

This is often practised in negative advertisements and comparative advertisements, both for products and political causes. An example would be a manufacturer of a product displaying an ad that refutes one particular claim made about a rival’s product, so that when the audience sees an ad for said rival product, they'll refute all the claims of the product without a second thought.

Narrative transportation theory

Narrative transportation theory proposes that when people lose themselves in a story, their attitudes and intentions change to reflect that story. The mental state of narrative transportation can explain the persuasive effect of storeys on people, who might experience narrative transportation when certain contextual and personal preconditions are met, as Green and Brock postulate for the transportation-imagery model. Narrative transportation occurs whenever the storey receiver experiences a feeling of entering a world evoked by the narrative because of empathy for the storey characters and imagination of the storey plot.

Social judgement theory

Social judgement theory suggests that when people are presented with an idea or any kind of persuasive proposal, their natural reaction is to immediately seek a way to sort the information subconsciously and react to it. We evaluate the information and compare it with the attitude we already have, which is called the initial attitude or anchor point.

When attempting to sort the incoming persuasive information, an audience will evaluate whether it lands in their latitude of acceptance, latitude of non-commitment or indifference, or the latitude of rejection. The size of these latitudes will vary from topic to topic. Our "ego-involvement" generally plays one of the largest roles in determining the size of these latitudes. When a topic is closely connected to how we define and perceive ourselves, or deals with anything we care passionately about, our latitudes of acceptance and non-commitment are likely to be much smaller and our attitude of rejection much larger. A person’s anchor point is considered to be the centre of his latitude of acceptance, the position that's most acceptable to him.

An audience is likely to distort incoming information to fit into their unique latitudes. If something falls within the latitude of acceptance, the subject tends to assimilate the information and consider it closer to his anchor point than it really is. Inversely, if something falls within the latitude of rejection, the subject tends to contrast the information and convince himself the information is farther away from his anchor point than it really is.

When trying to persuade an individual target or an entire audience, it is vital to first learn the average latitudes of acceptance, non-commitment, and rejection of your audience. It is ideal to use persuasive information that lands near the boundary of the latitude of acceptance if the goal is to change the audience’s anchor point. Repeatedly suggesting ideas on the fringe of the acceptance latitude will cause people to gradually adjust their anchor points, while suggesting ideas in the rejection latitude or even the non-commitment latitude won't result in any change to the audience’s anchor point.


The art of persuasion'--returning from a ball in India from "The Graphic", 1890

Persuasion methods are additionally at times referred to as persuasion tactics or persuasion strategies.

Usage of force

There is the usage of force in persuasion, which doesn't have any scientific theories, except for its use to make demands. The use of force is then a precedent to the failure of less direct means of persuasion. Application of this strategy can be interpreted as a threat after the persuader doesn't give options to their request.

Weapons of influence

Robert Cialdini, in Influence, his book on persuasion, defined six "influence cues or weapons of influence": Influence is the process of changing.


The principle of reciprocity states that when a person provides us with something, we attempt to repay him or her in kind. Reciprocation produces a sense of obligation, which can be a powerful tool in persuasion. The reciprocity rule is effective because it can be overpowering and instil in us a sense of obligation. Generally, we have a dislike for individuals who neglect to return a favour or provide payment when offered a free service or gift. As a result, reciprocation is a widely held principle. This societal standard makes reciprocity extremely powerful persuasive technique, as it can result in unequal exchanges and can even apply to an uninvited first favor.

Commitment and consistency

Consistency is an important aspect of persuasion because it:

  1. is highly valued by society,
  2. results in a beneficial approach to daily life, and
  3. provides a valuable shortcut through the complicated nature of modern existence.

Consistency allows us to more effectively make decisions and process information. The concept of consistency states that if a person commits, either orally or in writing, he or she's more likely to honour that particular commitment. This is especially true for written commitments, as they appear psychologically more concrete and can be backed up with hard proof. Once a person commits to a stance, he or she has a tendency to behave according to that commitment. Commitment is an effective persuasive technique because once you get someone to make a commitment, they're more likely to engage in self-persuasion, providing themselves and others with reasons and justifications to support their commitment in order to avoid dissonance.

Social proof

We are influenced by others around us; we want to be doing what everyone else is doing. People often base their actions and beliefs on what others around them are doing, how others act or what others believe.

"The power of the crowd" is quite effective. We all want to know what others are doing around us. We are so obsessed with what others do and how others act, that we then try to be just like additional people. Cialdini gives an example that's somewhat like this: in a phone–a–thon, the host will say something along the line of, "Operators are waiting, please call now." The only context that you have from that statement is that the operators are waiting and they aren't busy. Rather the host might say: "If operators are busy, please call again." This is proving the technique of social proof. Just by changing three words, it sounds like the lines are busy and additional people are calling; so it must be a good, legitimate organization.

Social proof is most effective when people are uncertain or when there are similarities in a situation. In uncertain or ambiguous situations, when there are multiple possibilities or choices that need to be made, people are likely to conform to what others do/are doing. We become more influenced by the people around us, in situations that cause us to make a decision. The additional effective situation for social proofing is when there are similarities. We are more prone to change/conform around people who're similar to us. If someone who's similar to you is being controlling and a leader, you're more likely to listen and follow what it is they're saying.


This principle is simple and concise. People say "yes" to people that they like. Two major factors contribute to overall likeness. The first is physical attractiveness. People who're physically attractive seem to be more persuasive; they get what they want and they can easily change others' attitudes. This attractiveness is proven to send favourable messages/impressions of additional traits that a person might have, such as talent, kindness, and intelligence. The second factor is similarity. We are more likely to be persuaded by people we see as similar to ourselves.


We have the tendency to believe that if an expert says something, then it must be true. People like to listen to those who're knowledgeable and trustworthy, so if you can be those two things, then you're already on your way to getting people to believe and listen to you.

In the Milgram study, a series of experiments begun in 1961, a "teacher" and a "learner" were placed in two different rooms. The "learner" was attached to an electric harness that could administer shock. The "teacher" was told by a supervisor, dressed in a white scientist's coat, to ask the learner questions and punish him when he got a question wrong. The teacher was instructed by the study supervisor to deliver an electric shock from a panel under the teacher's control. After delivery, the teacher had to up the voltage to the next notch. The voltage went up to 450 volts. The catch to this experiment was that the teacher didn't know that the learner was an actor faking the pain sounds he heard and wasn't actually being harmed. The experiment was being done to see how obedient we're to authority. "When an authority tells ordinary people it is their job to deliver harm, how much suffering will each subject be willing to inflict on an entirely innocent additional person if the instructions come 'from above'?". In this study the results show that most teachers were willing to give as much pain as was available to them. The conclusion was that people are willing to bring pain upon others when they're directed to do so by a few authority figure.


Scarcity is a principle that people underestimate. When something has limited availability, people assign it more value. According to Cialdini, "people want more of what they can't have." When scarcity is an issue, the context matters. This means that within certain contexts, scarcity "works" better. To get people to believe that something is scarcer, you need to explain what about that certain product will give them what no additional product will. You have to work the audience in the correct way. Something else that you can do to get people to believe that something is scarce, is to tell them what they'll lose, not what they'll gain. Saying things like "you will lose $5", rather than saying "you could save $5". You are making something sound more scarce.

There are two major reasons why the scarcity principle works:

  1. when things are difficult to get, they're usually more valuable so that can make it seem to have better quality; and
  2. when things become less available, we could lose the chance to acquire them.

When this happens, we assign the scarce item or service more value simply because it is harder to acquire.

This principle is that we all want things that are out of our reach. If we see something is easily available, we don't want it as much as something that's quite rare.


Machiavellianism employs the tools of manipulation and deceit to gain wealth and power.

Relationship-based persuasion of Shell and Moussa

In their book The Art of Woo, G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa present a four-step approach to strategic persuasion. They explain that persuasion means to win others over, not to defeat them. Thus it is important to be able to see the topic from different angles in order to anticipate the reaction others have to a proposal.

Step 1: Survey the situation
This step includes an analysis of the persuader's situation, goals, and challenges that the persuader faces in their organization.
Step 2: Confront the five barriers
Five obstacles pose the greatest risks to a successful influence encounter: relationships, credibility, communication mismatches, belief systems, and interest and needs.
Step 3: Make the pitch
People need a solid reason to justify a decision, yet at the same time a large number of decisions are made on the basis of intuition. This step additionally requires presentation skills.
Step 4: Secure commitments
In order to safeguard the longtime success of a persuasive decision, it is vital to deal with politics at both the individual and organisational level.

List of methods

By appeal to reason:

By appeal to emotion:

Aids to persuasion:

Other techniques:

Coercive techniques, a few of which are highly controversial and/or not scientifically proven to be effective:

In culture

It is through a basic cultural personal definition of persuasion that everyday people understand how others are attempting to influence them and then how they influence others. The dialogue surrounding persuasion is constantly evolving because of the necessity to use persuasion in everyday life. Persuasion tactics traded in society have influences from researchers, which might at times be misinterpreted. To keep evolutionary advantage, in the sense of wealth and survival, you must persuade and not be persuaded. In order to understand cultural persuasion, researchers will gather knowledge from domains such as "buying, selling, advertising, and shopping, as well as parenting and courting."

Methods of persuasion vary by culture, both in prevalence and effectiveness. For example, advertisements tend to appeal to different values according to whether they're used in collectivistic or individualistic cultures.

Persuasion Knowledge Model (PKM)

The Persuasion Knowledge Model (PKM) was created by Friestad and Wright in 1994. This framework allows the researchers to analyse the process of gaining and using everyday persuasion knowledge. The researchers suggest the necessity of including "the relationship and interplay between everyday folk knowledge and scientific knowledge on persuasion, advertising, selling, and marketing in general."

In order to educate the general population about research findings and new knowledge about persuasion, a teacher must draw on their pre-existing beliefs from folk persuasion in order to make the research relevant and informative to lay people, which creates "mingling of their scientific insights and commonsense beliefs."

As a result of this constant mingling, the issue of persuasion expertise becomes messy. Expertise status can be interpreted from a variety of sources like job titles, celebrity, or published scholarship.

It is through this multimodal process that we create concepts like "stay away from car salesmen, they'll try to trick you." The kind of persuasion techniques blatantly employed by car salesmen creates an innate distrust of them in popular culture. According to Psychology Today, they employ tactics ranging from making personal life ties with the customer to altering reality by handing the customer the new car keys before the purchase.


Attitudes and persuasion are among the central issues of social behavior. One of the classic questions is when are attitudes a predictor of behavior. Previous research suggested that selective activation of left prefrontal cortex might increase the likelihood that an attitude would predict a relevant behavior. Using lateral attentional manipulation, this was supported.

An earlier article showed that EEG measures of anterior prefrontal asymmetry might be a predictor of persuasion. Research participants were presented with arguments that favoured and arguments that opposed the attitudes they already held. Those whose brain was more active in left prefrontal areas said that they paid the most attention to statements with which they agreed while those with a more active right prefrontal area said that they paid attention to statements that disagreed. This is an example of defensive repression, the avoidance or forgetting of unpleasant information. Research has shown that the trait of defensive repression is related to relative left prefrontal activation. In addition, when pleasant or unpleasant words, probably analogous to agreement or disagreement, were seen incidental to the main task, an fMRI scan showed preferential left prefrontal activation to the pleasant words.

One way therefore to increase persuasion would seem to be to selectively activate the right prefrontal cortex. This is easily done by monaural stimulation to the contralateral ear. The effect apparently depends on selective attention rather than merely the source of stimulation. This manipulation had the expected outcome: more persuasion for messages coming from the left.