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The Power of Persuasion: 20 Ways Your Brain Plays Tricks on You

I bet you think you’re a rational person.

I bet you think you consciously make decisions with the best intentions after careful thought and deliberation.

The truth? You’re anything but rational.

While you think you’re in control of your life, decisions, and behaviors, more often than not your brain is constantly playing tricks on you.

If you’ve read many of the pop-psychology books, you’ve heard of many of these concepts before. It’s fascinating — the degree to which you’re being influenced by your environment and other people is much much much higher than you beleive.

Even worse, you can’t get close to defeating these biases fully.

So what can you do?

First, you can recognize and understand them. Many people aren’t even aware they exist and go through life with massive blind spots.

Read these books and your understanding of the world win increase ten-fold:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Poor Charlie’s Almanack

How to Fail at Almost Anything and Still Win Big

The Boron Letters

Thinking Fast and Slow

Second, you can do two things to set yourself apart from 99 percent of the population. You can fight to make yourself ten to fifteen percent more rational — you’ll never fully win but if you’re ‘rational enough’ you’ll perform better.

Also, you can see how these brain tricks and persuasion techniques work on other people. You’ll start to realize the truth and the truth will set you free.

What truth? Facts don’t matter much. It’s all about persuasion, heuristics, and biases.


1.Reward and Punishment — People respond highly to incentives, whether they are positive or negative. Often, you can look at someone’s incentives and predict their behavior.

2. Liking Tendency — We tend to respond to and listen to the ideas of people we like and because we like them we tend to ignore their faults. We find people we like more credible regardless of whether or not they’re right.

3. Disliking Tendency — We tend to disregard facts from people we don’t like even if their one hundred percent accurate. We also distort the facts in order to fit our view of dislike for that individual. Easy example — Trump can’t be one hundred percent wrong about everything, but many people think he is.

4. Doubt/Avoidance Tendency — If we aren’t sure if a decision is the right one, we tend to make a hasty and ill-informed decision as a way of alleviating our doubt.

5. Confirmation Bias — Once we believe something to be true, we find facts to fit our beliefs and discard those that don’t. “To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

6. Kantian Fairness tendency — We all come equipped with a sense of fairness, which is why it’s difficult to deal with the inherent unfairness of the world. I’m sure this one hits home for many of you. The fact of the matter is that the universe could care less about your feelings, and you must deal with it.

7. Reciprocity — We tend to return a favor when one is given to us. This is why car salesman offer you a cup of coffee or water when you visit the dealership or why bloggers give you a ‘free gift’ to sign up to their email list. This concept was made famous by the observation of the Hari Krishna’s, who subtly goaded people into donating to their organization by giving them flowers first.

8. Influence from Mere Association — People put Lamborghini’s and private jets in their ads for a reason. Association with positive and desirable imagery, people, and brands provides a subtle credibility marker. Admit it, you may say the ads are corny, but don’t act like they’re not alluring.

11. Simple Pain Avoiding Psychological Denial — Life can be too painful at times, so we use denial as a coping mechanism to mask the truth.

12. Excessive Self-Regard Tendency — We all think we are above average drivers. Mathematically this is impossible.

13. Loss Aversion — We hate losing more than we love gaining. Not only do losses feel worse than the positive feeling of an equivalent gain — they feel much worse. Some psychologists explain this as irrational, while other philosophers like Nassim Taleb explain the usefulness of loss aversion in the real world, e.g., you need loss aversion in the combination of events so as not to risk total ruin.

14. Social-Proof Tendency — If you saw one person looking up at the sky, you might not look, but if you saw five people looking up at the sky simultaneously, you’d definitely look. This is due to social proof. Social proof explains why you’re likely to read a book with 1,000 reviews over one with five. Or why you primarily watch shows based on recommendations from friends. As a human being, you behave in a very real ‘monkey see, monkey do, fashion.

15. Comparison Bias/Anchoring — People have a hard time understanding the true value of something and rely on deciphering its value in relation to something else. This is why real estate agents show over-priced homes first. It makes the slightly overpriced home they show next look like a steal in comparison. This technique also works in negotiations — start with an offer that’s well above what you actually want, making your real offer seem reasonable in comparison.

16. Commitment Consistency Bias — People hate contradicting their own character and tend to stay consistent with it. This is why salespeople will get you to answer ‘yes’ to a bunch of questions about your preferences, then make you an offer that matches all those preferences.

17. The Halo Effect — First impressions stick with you. In short, appearance matters more than substances, especially the first time you encounter someone or something. This also works in a negative sense. Example — in a season of the Bachelorette, one of the contestants plays a practical joke by making her believe he lived with his parents. She enjoyed the rouse, but she couldn’t remove the subconscious impression of him being a loser who lived in his mom’s basement. She quickly eliminated him from the show.

18. Availability Bias— We overweight what’s easily available and will choose it rather than wasting cognitive energy on searching for better answers.

19. Authority Bias — We believe authority figures are more credible regardless of whether or not they actually are.

20. The Lollapalooza Effect— As a persuader, you can stack these biases on top of one another to influence people’s decisions. This works on levels from advertising all the way up to brainwashing people into becoming cult members. If you’ve ever wondered how people join cults or exhibit other seemingly illogical behaviors, you’re seeing the lalapooza effect at work.

Keep an eye out for these biases in yourself and in others. You’ll see the world in a different way.

On the one hand, our susceptibility to influence is terrifying. On the other hand, the world will make much more sense to you and you can use your powers of persuasion to have a positive impact on others (or to be a diabolical jerk, but don’t do that).