Principles of Persuasion: Commitment and Consistency

Principles of Persuasion: Commitment and Consistency

In his book ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’, Robert Cialdini describes 6 principles of persuasion:

These principles can be used to nudge citizens into behaviours that are beneficial to them. This blog post will discuss the Commitment and Consistency principle. 

An introduction to Commitment and Consistency

As the last piece of New Year’s confetti is swept from the floor, the resolutions begin. However, after an annoyingly short period, gyms get quieter, new job applications diminish, and we start spending money on things we don’t need again. 

The Commitment and Consistency principle is the way to buck this trend. Commitment and Consistency is the discovery that people do as much as possible to appear consistent in their words and actions (Lindquist, 2015). 

Thomas Moriarty, a psychologist, tested this phenomenon in 1975. Moriarty laid down a radio on a beach blanket and left the beach. Moriarty then staged robberies of the radio. 

Before leaving the radio, Moriarty did two separate things. In one set of instances, he had a casual conversation with people next to him, highlighting that he was alone. In the other cases, he explicitly asked the people next to him to look after his things. Moriarty found that when he asked people to watch his things, 95% of the time they would intervene in the robbery, compared to 20% of the time if he didn’t explicitly ask (Moriarty, 1975). 

This is because of people’s social commitment to watching Moriarty’s belongings. People wanted to be seen to act consistently with their commitment. 

If you want to stick to your New Year’s Resolution, tell someone you will do it. 

How has it been used?

Many organisations use ‘free trials’ to leverage the Commitment and Consistency principle. For instance, Spotify offers a month’s free trial for new users. Spotify is aware that by enabling users to invest a month of their time streaming music on their platform, including building personalised playlists, they will be much more likely to continue the service.    

Offering an incentive, like a free trial, or an easy way to access the service upfront, is key to getting that commitment. Once people have then committed to using the service, they will feel the need to be consistent in their actions. 

How can it be used digitally?

Commitment and Consistency is used regularly by websites to nudge you into registering your membership. 

Suppose we take Tripadvisor’s workflow as an example. Tripadvisor proposes an initial commitment to its visitors, which has low stakes and is easy to make, vital to the commitment principle (Fessenden, 2018). This proposal is to write a review. This appears straightforward, but when the visitor starts typing, a message appears explaining they need to write a minimum of 100 characters. Once the visitor is finished, they are prompted to select ‘Submit your review’, which is when they are asked to create an account to progress.

Due to the visitor having committed to this review by visiting Tripadvisor’s website and actually writing the review, combined with not wanting to lose the data they have spent time entering, they register for an account and submit. Tripadvisor then prompts the visitor to write another review, and now that they’re a member, the visitor will know it’s easy to do (Tripadvisor, 2022). 

What to be careful of

The Commitment and Consistency principle works so well because humans view consistency as a positive social trait, so they strive to be consistent. However, this can also be negative. Disastrous decision making can happen because people want to be perceived to be consistent. 

The sunk cost fallacy highlights this. Sunk cost is a term that originated in economics and describes money that has been spent and cannot be recovered. When we make decisions, economists advise that we ignore sunk costs. However, because we want to be seen as consistent in our actions, we carry on with failing investments because we have already committed money to them (Decision Lab, 2022). 

For instance, many of us will have experienced ordering far too much food at a restaurant, but proceeded to eat it all because we’ve paid for it. Then, inevitably left the restaurant feeling sick with a quivering belt buckle. Sound familiar? This is sunk cost fallacy.

We need to be wary of our commitment to being consistent so that we aren’t wasting time and resources on projects that aren’t going to work.

How can this help Welsh local authorities?

Local authorities can make sure that they do not fall victim to the Commitment and Consistency principle by being comfortable with failing. Being comfortable with failing will prevent projects from falling victim to the sunk cost fallacy. 

Agile delivery embraces this by incorporating ‘failing fast’ in its methodology. Failing fast is about gathering feedback quickly and frequently to determine whether to carry on working on a project or to take a different approach (Salimi, 2022). By consistently evaluating the progress and feasibility of a project, it will shield organisations from falling victim to the Commitment and Consistency principle.

How do you think Commitment and Consistency can help citizens or local authorities? Let us know in the comments. 

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