Behavioralist Cialdini: Putting "Influence" to Work
April 22, 2009 • 4:10PM

The first person mentioned in the now-famous TIME article on Obama's coven of behavioral economists, was not an economist at all, but rather a straightforward behavioral psychologist. Robert Book Cialdini, the author of Influence: The Science of Persuasion, is credited in the article with increasing the 2008 voter turnout, simply by spreading the line, "excessive turnout expected." According to Cialdini, people like to be seen doing what others are doing, and this phrase was just the way to transmit that idea. Cialdini has built a career on motivational psychology, and this hoaxter is now being elevated to the level of policy-making, as front man for fascist policies.

"Dr." Cialdini, with a Ph.D from the University of North Carolina and post-doctoral training from Columbia University, is a "motivational" salesman, whose theories are best fitted to the world of "infomercials." Now holding "dual" positions in marketing and psychology at the influential University of Arizona, his "theories" were developed by watching used car salesmen in action. Cialdini has applied these theories to the business environment in general. His company, "Influence at Work," specializes in applying the "Six Principles of Influence" to the work environment. According to his website, he has created an international cadre of CMCTs, or "Cialdini Method Certified Trainers" for a host of Fortune-500 companies on seven continents, as well as such clients as the US Dept. of Justice, and NATO.

In 2007 (apparently before he met up with Obama), Cialdini was invited to London, where he worked with Tony Blair's Labor Party, focussing on their NHS, or health services department. (He was able to decrease the level of "no shows" for doctor appointments, by having them take down the sign broadcasting the number of cancellations (reinforcing the negative), and instead, having patients fill out their own appointment form, instead of having it handed to them.) Somewhere in this time period, "Influence" opened up an office in London, and Cialdini has now published his second book, Yes: The Psychology of Persuasion, in Britain (available in the US in December), with co-authors Steve Martin (no joke—he heads the UK branch), and Noah Goldstein, head of Anderson School of Management at UCLA. Today, Persuasion, like Thaler's Nudge, is on the reading list for Cameron's Tories, as well.

In a 2009 article, the London Times points to the center of this work. It identifies an Atlantic Monthly article from 1982, in which George Wilson and James Kelling reviewed the work of Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo, advancing what they called the "broken windows" theory, that a "decrease in visible signs of public disorder would lead to a reduction in crime rates." This, they say, laid the groundwork for community policing. Today, building on Cialdini's work, a Dutch behaviorist, Keez Keizer, has brought those conclusions into question, with experiments showing that they could increase or decrease crime at will, simply by changing the environment.