Six Rules of Human Vulnerability

Source: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini

The majority of instances in which people do things that run counter to their rational self-interest are due to:

  1. the urge to reciprocate what's perceived as thoughtful behavior;
  2. the need, once one has chosen to do a foolish thing, to continue to behave foolishly in the name of consistency;
  3. the need to run with the herd, even when the herd is a fabrication (example: people think TV laugh tracks are stupid, but laugh more at shows that have them);
  4. the need to do things for people one likes for superficial reasons--for instance, because they're physically attractive, or because they flatter you;
  5. the need to defer to authority (most famous example: the Milgram "banality of evil" experiment in which subjects were persuaded to administer electric shocks to others); and
  6. the need to get or experience something that will cease to be available soon--even if the thing to be gotten or experienced isn't really desired.

How reporters exploit these vulnerabilities

Why people talk to reporters, when clearly it is not in their interest to do so is now more understandable: Every one of these vulnerabilities, of course, can be exploited by inquiring journalists.

Finally, Cialdini explains why reporters take subjects to lunch. During the 1930s, a psychologist named Gregory Razran did a series of experiments in which people were shown political statements twice--once on an empty stomach, and once while they were eating. He found that they liked the political statements more when they were eating. Apparently people are more accommodating when they are consuming food--even if there isn't any liquor. Cialdini points out that this technique is exploited by politicians when they are trying to sway other legislators or when they are soliciting political contributions (in the latter case, this is done en masse at fund-raising dinners). But it applies equally well to the reporter who takes a source out for a swank lunch.

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