What Can We Learn From The Persuasion Definition

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated February 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Persuasion can exist in many forms all around us, from an ad on TV trying to convince us to buy a certain cleaning product to an entrepreneur trying to get funding for a project, to a friend trying to convince you to join them in training for a fundraising race. Given its prevalence, persuasion is a concept that can be worth digging into and gaining a deeper understanding of. Here, we’ll explore the definition of persuasion, several of its key principles, and what we can learn from it.

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Work on persuasion and communication in therapy

The definition of persuasion

Persuasion refers to the act of convincing, or attempting to convince, someone to do or think something. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines persuasion as “an active attempt by one person to change another person’s attitudes, beliefs, or emotions associated with some issue, person, concept, or object.” 

Put simply, persuasion involves influencing other people through various methods, such as through words, images, videos, ads, speeches, songs, and sounds. 

Persuasion: Then and now

Persuasion is not a new concept. More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle dissected the art of persuasion in his work Rhetoric, identifying three key means of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. He suggested that persuasion can occur due to the character of the speaker (ethos), the emotional state of the audience (pathos), or the logic of the argument itself (logos). While the uses and research of persuasion have continued to develop since then, these ideas have remained hugely influential. In fact, many of the ideas laid out by Aristotle are still widely revered and relevant today.

Persuasion can be (and has been) used for many things, ranging from trying to influence public opinion, to trying to shape beliefs, to trying to sell products. Today, one of the most obvious and widespread examples of persuasion is in advertising. Most of us are exposed to tons of advertisements on a daily basis, from checking social media to even driving down the street, though the ads can vary widely in their content and efficacy.

The importance of communication

With persuasion, one of the most crucial elements is often effective communication. If the point you are trying to make is not communicated clearly, it is unlikely to be convincing to someone else. For instance, persuasion often involves getting the other person to agree to the point that’s urged, gain interest, and perhaps hold onto this position long enough to act on it. But to get to that point where the other person agrees to the argument, they typically first need to understand it—which requires clear, effective communication from the persuader. In some cases, teaching new information through informative communication can play a key part in winning people over.


The six ingredients of persuasion

Different people may have different ideas on how to create and execute effective persuasion, but according to one of the leading psychologists on persuasion, Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., there are six key principles of influence

These six principles are as follows:


This is the idea that people often feel a need to return a favor—that we often feel that we must give back to those who have given something to us first. This feeling of obligation can be key in persuasion, such as by giving customers a free sample so they are more likely to buy the product. 

Commitment And Consistency

This is the idea that people want to agree to requests that are in line with commitments they have already made. This can involve honoring a promise they’ve made or staying consistent with their habits or self-image, for instance. 

Social Proof

This is the proof from other people that something works/doesn't work, usually endorsed by people that you trust including experts, large groups of people, people that you may know, or even celebrities.


This is the idea that the degree to which we like someone can impact how persuasive they will be to us. This may be affected by the connection we have with that person, their personality, their attractiveness, and how they treat us. 


This is the idea that we are more likely to be convinced by those who can give us evidence that this position is backed by experts. For instance, this might include pointing to research from experts or noting the relevant credentials of the speaker. 


This is the idea that if you are going to persuade someone, and you have something that is limited or one-of-a-kind, chances are they'll be more inclined to try to go with you for the sake of rarity.

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Work on persuasion and communication in therapy

Work on persuasion in therapy

Persuasion is a huge part of our society, and learning more about it can help us to become more effective persuaders ourselves and more discerning when encountering persuasive attempts from others. 

If you are interested in learning more about persuasion and developing related skills, online therapy can be a useful resource. For some people, it may feel awkward or uncomfortable to learn and practice skills like persuasion and communication, and some people may feel more at ease discussing these topics from the comfort of their own homes. With online therapy through BetterHelp, you can have sessions wherever you have an internet connection. 

Plus, research has demonstrated the effectiveness of online interventions for communication skills and related concerns. For instance, one research study found that an online communication skills training program improved participants’ empathy, communication skills, and self-efficacy. 


Persuasioninvolves convincing, or attempting to convince, someone to do or think something through various methods. It is not a new concept, and many of the ideas around persuasion that Aristotle detailed more than 2,000 years ago are still relevant today. According to some modern researchers, there are six key principles of persuasion: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. If you are interested in learning more about persuasion and developing your communication skills, online therapy can help.
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