Part [5/12] Review of CXL’s Digital Psychology and Persuasion

Aaron Baker
5 min readAug 24, 2020

During this week’s (week 5) lectures of CXL’s Digital Psychology and Persuasion Mini-degree, we finish learning about non-conscious motivators. This week we covered the lessons from Robert Cialdini’s 2nd book pre-suasion his 7th principal unity, along with Motivational Chemistry and our susceptibility to digital Persuasion.

Lessons From Pre-Suasion and ‘Unity’ the 7th Principal of Influence

The Salten of influence, Robert Cialdini, was preparing to write his new book “Pre-Suasion” and he received an offer to do research at the university. He jumped to the opportunity and planned on using this time to complete his book.

About a week went by and the university called him to let him know that everything was going well, just after they flattered and offered him praise they dropped their “ask”. I imagine it went along the lines of “Robert, we love you and we’re so excited that you’ll be joining our staff in the fall, also could you lecture a course during your stay here?” Since he had already committed to doing his research at the university, it would be inconsistent for him to not agree to them

I can only imagine the irony, Robert felt having been bamboozled using his own techniques. He was timed and Primmed.

Clouds vs. Pennies and Lessons from cults

Ultimately, when the participants were asked if they would purchase this couch, more declined when compared to the group that was shown clouds.

Clouds vs. Pennies

In this study, participants were asked a simple question. “What do you think of this couch?” The results could be separated into two groups. One where the participants described the couch with a focus on comfort and features and the other group that was fixated on cost.

Why Was This?

Well it turns out that each of the two groups was primed using images of clouds and pennies. The group thought of the price of the couch were shown pictures of pennies before entering the room

The group that was feature conscious saw the couch as comfortable, and they were show images of clouds before entering the room.

Ultimately, when the participants were asked if they would purchase this couch, more declined when compared to the group that was shown clouds.

Lessons from Cults

When it comes to persuasion, Cults have it down pact. They tend to ask specific sets of questions that lead you to believe that you are in need for their “solution” These questions, typically make you feel worse about yourself/your life than you actually do so that when the cult makes their offer, it sounds like they’ll save you from your life of sin.

Cialdini says that we should use these techniques (for good) by asking customers what they dislike about their situation and what problems they’re having.

Unity, the 7th Principal

These can be desired or perceived attributes as well. The example used was from Apples, “I’m a PC vs I’m a Mac”

Where the “Mac” was young, hip and simple the “PC” was clunky awkward and for lack of a better word a “dweeb”. This further the connection Apples target audience identified with Mac.

By using the principle of unity you can take your audience from liking to sharing an identity with your brand.

Motivational Chemistry and Susceptibility to Digital Persuasion

Dr Brian Cuggleman, PhD is an expert in behavioural science and he gave a presentation on what happens if your behavioural psychology experiment backfires and how to trigger emotions in users so that they’re motivated to take action.

The Behavioral Intention-Outcome Matrix

In the matrix, Brian describes 4 potential outcomes when designing or running Behavioral Psychology experiments

Essentially there are intended results and there are unintended results and theses results either come out as positive or negative.

When running an experiment your goal is always to have intended + positive results. You could also get unintended + positive results.

On the other hand, things can go as planned (intended) but produce negative outcomes. This is typically in the area of manipulation and considered a Dark Pattern.

Think Wolf of Wall St.

At the very worst, you can have both unintended and Negative results. In these cases you see your plan backfire and it ends up pushing users away from your brand.

Brian also discloses that we can actually induce emotions by trigger the production of different chemicals in our brains.

He highlights Dopamine, Cortisol, Oxytocin, and Serotonin as the primary targets for behavioural change.


You can think of dopamine as our ‘Goal’ hormone. It creates the anticipation of rewards and drives us to attainment.

Dopamine can be triggered by showing anything that promotes survival.

Emotional impact: Pleasure, curiosity interest, anticipation, excitement


Cortisol is our stress response. It grabs our attention and drives us to try and remove the pain.

Cortisol can be triggered by demonstrated a real or perceived threat

Emotional impact: At low levels, you can expect alertness. At high levels, you can expect your audience to be on alert and if these high levels continue for an extended period of time it can cause anxiety.


Brian believes that Oxytocin may be the chemical responsible for our feeling of Unity or the Us

vs. Them Hormone.

Oxytocin can be triggered when we interact with others, this includes things like social bonding (online and offline) and physical touch.

Emotional Impact: Creates the feeling of trust, contentedness, jealousy, territoriality and possessiveness


Serotonin causes our status-seeking behaviour, our risk-aversion and our loyalty to long-standing social constructs ( Ex. traditions)

It can be triggered by realizing your superiority, being praised, achieving status or climbing the social ladder

Emotional Impact: People will feel important, special, confident, proud safe and secure.

Final Thoughts

I find that I’m saying this every week, but the material is really really well laid out. The Lecture structure has really contributed to my comprehension of the topics. There is lots of information that was not included in this session of the mini-degree, but the content in these courses are comprehensive and after I finish I know that I’ll be able to apply these concepts in real life. I give this section a 4.7/5.

Untill Next week!