Behavioural ScienceCat Rebak

The art of pre-suasion: why controlling the moment before your message matters

When it comes to persuasion - whether you're trying to write a killer pitch, or improve the copy of your ad campaign - we all know that what you say is important. However, according to Robert Cialdini, one of the world's leading expert on the psychology of influence, if you haven't paid attention the background context in which the message is received, you're doing yourself a disservice. 

The Art of Pre-suasion

In his new book, Cialdini has introduced the idea of 'pre-suasion'. There's a key window of time before a message is delivered - a "privileged moment for change" in which the communicator can prepare people to receive a message before they experience it.

In one experiment, researchers asked passers-by to take part in an uncompensated marketing survey, and only 29% agreed. But if this request was preceded with the pre-suasion question "do you consider yourself to be a helpful person?" the number of people willing to volunteer shot up to 77.3%. 

Why did this happen? When asked if they were a helpful person, most people answered yes. The question caused them to retrieve memories of them being helpful in the past, and this made the idea of 'helpfulness' feel more congruent with who they were as a person. When they were then asked for help with the survey, they wanted to be consistent with this recently activated idea of himself as a helpful person.

So what? The process of persuasion, therefore, starts before a message has even been sent. By changing the psychological context in which a request or a message is received, you can put people in a frame of mind that fits with the message they are about to hear, and will make them more receptive to it. In order to change 'minds', you don't always need to alter peoples beliefs, attitudes, or experiences - sometimes it's enough to simply change their 'state of mind'.


Cat Rebak

Behavioural Science Specialist

2CV London