Persuasion: Its Definition And Principles

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated February 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When you think of the word "persuasion," do you think of it negatively or positively? While your specific definition may vary, you may associate the act of persuading someone with the concept of peer pressure or boundary violation, which can be unhealthy. Or you might think of persuasion in a positive light, such as someone attempting to sell you a beneficial product or persuading you to get support for a mental health symptom.  

Persuasion can be interpreted in varying ways. However, when done healthily, persuasion can be a beneficial skill. For example, in an interview, you might try to persuade someone that you are the best candidate for the job. When negotiating, you might persuade someone to reduce the price of an item you want to purchase. Additionally, persuasion is often studied under principles, which can help you understand it more profoundly.

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Persuasion definition 

Persuasion may be more than pressure or disregard for boundaries. Instead, persuasion might come in the form of subtle behaviors and communication.

Persuasion can be positive or negative. For example, you might be persuaded into doing something reckless. However, you can also be persuaded away from doing something reckless. Persuasion can be broken down into a few definitions, but the basic definition is that it's the process of changing someone else's opinions or actions.

Elements of persuasion may include the following:

  • Using symbols to persuade, including pictures, sounds, words, etc.
  • Making a deliberate attempt at persuasion (as opposed to accidentally)
  • Allowing a choice to the person being persuaded
  • Suggesting instead of using force
  • Using varying media, examples, and tactics to persuade someone 

Modern persuasion

In modern human society, persuasion may be utilized more than in the past. On social media, you may see various advertisements using marketing techniques to persuade you to purchase a product. An example of this is straight-line persuasion, a tactic used by professionals in the sales industry. You may also find people trying to persuade you to believe in particular political or lifestyle beliefs. In the 21st century, persuasion may travel through online messages, emails, or social media posts. Social popularity may also have a basis in persuasion, with individuals wanting an item more because it is trendy.

In modern times, persuasion may also be more subtle. Many people dislike too much persuasion or blatant advertisements, so marketers might push messaging through subtle imagery and social psychology. For example, someone wanting to appeal to a younger generation might use memes to sell their products. A brand might also work to appear hip and trendy on a trending social media platform like TikTok by hiring a younger marketing manager who understands what people in their age group are looking for. 

Principles of persuasion

Six principles of persuasion are often cited to explain how the concept works, including the following. 

Reciprocity principle

The reciprocity persuasion principle involves paying back what you were given. If someone gives you something, you may feel persuaded to give something back to complete your exchange or adhere to societal norms. For example, if someone gives you chocolates when you move into the neighborhood, you might feel persuaded to bake them pastries to say thank you. 

Commitment and consistency

Humans may each have their own idea of their comfort zone. If we are overwhelmed by many options, we may retreat to our comfort zone. For example, if successful persuasion has convinced you to buy a certain brand’s product, you may be more likely to buy from that same brand again. Brands use this persuasion method when they offer loyalty programs.


Social proof principle

We may be persuaded to buy something or partake in it due to social support. For example, if it is difficult to get a reservation at a restaurant, one may feel more inclined to think that the food there is valuable. 

Marketers also use celebrities to recommend products because people may feel like they know that celebrity and thus might have more belief in the products’ benefits, especially if the celebrity says they are actively using them. Additionally, fans might feel closer to the celebrity if they use the same product. 

Highly rated reviews might also make one feel inclined to try a particular product. In some cases, having an expert give a speech or testimonial related to a product can be used as social proof. For example, a toothpaste commercial might hire a dentist to claim the product is high-quality.

Liking principle 

The liking principle is when we are persuaded by someone that we like. The persuader may be a friend, family, partner, or simply someone who shares a similar opinion on a specific subject. However, it can involve strangers as well. If someone we find attractive recommends something, we may be more likely to be persuaded. Often, ads use attractive people to get their point across.

Attractiveness doesn't necessarily only involve the physical appearance of people, however. It could involve the attractiveness of a store or a website. A good-looking and user-friendly website could be attractive to buyers and show competence in the industry. Sources claim that beautiful websites are more likely to gain views. 

Based on this principle, if you are trying to persuade someone, it might help to become their friend. However, do not form a relationship on false premises. If you are an acquaintance, be friendly, open, and avoid judgment. Try offering genuine and well-timed compliments and being empathetic to someone's fears or concerns. 

Authority principle

Someone in a position of authority that is considered an expert might persuade you through the authority principle. While this authority may be telling the truth about a subject, in other cases, the authority may be vague or a farce. For example, ads might claim that their studies are "according to research" or "science." The ad may not mention who or what study came to those conclusions. Nevertheless, the implication of authority could be enough to make someone purchase the product. 

Sometimes, persuasion can come from actual positions of power and authority. For example, a politician you like may convince you to try to make a change or vote for someone. Trusting someone with experience can be beneficial, but try to remain alert and find evidence to back up any claims that are made.

The principle of scarcity

Finally, marketers and persuaders may use the principle of scarcity. People might be persuaded to buy a product that is marketed as "rare," "exclusive," or "personalized." Many want to be someone who has something no one else has. Commercials use this method when they tell you to call within the next ten minutes to get the best offer. It may not matter when you call, but the commercial might not mention that. 

Another example of this principle is the Birkin bag by Hermes. You must make an appointment with a Hermes retailer to purchase a bag. However, doing so may prove extremely difficult, and only a few individuals gain an appointment each year. You might be put on a waiting list, and the bag may cost thousands of dollars once you are called in. This exclusivity is considered the brand's marketing strategy for positioning itself at the "top" of the bag business. 

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Counseling options 

There are many ways you can be persuasive and many ways you can be persuaded. If you want to work on being persuaded less or how to be more persuasive, consider speaking to a counselor. Counselors may help you develop boundaries, learn persuasion techniques, and know whether a situation is healthy. 

In modern society, counseling can be done online, which offers affordability and availability to those looking for flexible therapy. One study showed that online therapy could be equally as beneficial, if not more beneficial, than in-person therapy. Another study showed that online therapy is more affordable than in-person therapy, considering it removes costs like transportation, time off work, and childcare in many cases. If you're interested in trying therapy online, consider signing up for a platform like BetterHelp


Brands and businesses often use persuasion to sell products. However, individuals can use it to further relationships, encourage others to get help, or make connections. If you want to learn more about persuasion and when it's healthy, consider reaching out to a counselor. 
Learn the subtleties of persuasion
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