5th Principle of persuasion: Authority
Authority is a powerful factor that influences people’s behavior. They tend to follow the guidance of experts who have credibility and expertise. Having a professional title, dressing well, and driving a luxury car are some of the ways to enhance one’s authority and persuade others to comply with requests – even if they are not legitimate.
This was demonstrated in a 1974 experiment by Stanley Milgram, a psychologist from Yale University. He asked ordinary people to administer electric shocks to ‘victims’ who answered questions wrongly. The people in charge wore white coats to look like authoritative scientists. The participants were told that the shocks increased by 15 volts each time the victim made a mistake. However, the shocks were fake and the victims were actors.
The actors pretended to suffer from the shocks and begged to be freed. Surprisingly, about two-thirds of the participants ignored their pleas and gave them the maximum shock of 450 volts.
“Milgram explained that the main reason for the experiments was the [participants’] inability to resist the orders of the boss, the researcher in the white coat who encouraged and, if needed, instructed them to do their duties, despite the harm and pain they were causing.”
Note: The participants in Milgram’s experiment were men from different ages, occupations and education levels. Later studies showed that the gender of the subjects did not affect their readiness to shock the victim.
How marketers can use this: When people are unsure, they look for external information to help them make decisions. Since authority figures have a lot of influence, it would be smart to use testimonials from legitimate and recognized experts to help convince prospects to take action or buy products.