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When people think of authority, they do not normally associate it with danger.  While typically it is not associated with danger it can be.  This became apparent to me when watching the movie Catch Me If You Can.  In this movie Leonardo DiCaprio plays a 19-year-old who becomes an unbelievable con man.  He commits cons worth millions of dollars.  How does he do this?  He uses the power of authority as a weapon to accomplish his cons.  First, he poses as a pilot.  Pilots have a certain matter of respect and when they say things most people to not argue but simply so what they are told.  This could be him talking to other people who work for the airline such as flight attendants or even persuading passengers to believe that he is a real pilot.  Thus, ordinary people are then trusting their lives with someone that may not even know anything about flying a plane.  He also poses as a doctor where he dresses as a doctor abruptly places himself in charge of other employees including doctors and nurses.  Instead of questioning him they employ him to be able to steal money and give bad information to others.


Authority has the ability to allow people to not have to think.  When someone has a title of authority such as a doctor or professor people tend to take those experts for their word.  As I stated above authority can be used as a weapon, but it can also be a productive tool for society.  According to Cialdini authority “allows the development of sophisticated structures for resource production, trade, defense, expansion, and social control that would otherwise be impossible.” (p216) While it can be used for the betterment of society the example from paragraph one shows a darker side to authority.  Things to look for that designate authority other than title can be things such as clothes.  This is just how the character DiCaprio plays in the movie was able to scam others.  By dressing as a pilot or doctor it made people more apt to succumb to the scam and believe that DiCaprio’s character was in fact a pilot and doctor. Another aspect of authority is trappings.  These include “finely styled and expensive clothes carry an aura of status and position, as do trappings such as jewelry and cars.” (p229). It is important to understand these things so if someone is trying to use their authority to persuade you it is easy to spot and say no.  In order to spot authorities, influence Cialdini proposes two ask two questions.  First, “is this authority figure truly an expert?” (p230). The second is how truthful can we expect the expert to be here?” (p231). With these questions it will help you spot authorities influence and know when to question it.


In sum what is authority?  Authority is a tool of persuasion that can be used to influence people.  There are many different aspects that contribute to someone being perceived as a person of authority or not.  Firstly, is that of a title such as judge, coach, professor, doctor and so on.  The second aspect that contributes to someone’s authority is clothing’s.  There are many experiments that have tested this including the Milgram study with someone as a lab coat.  The experiment showed that people perceived that the person in the lab coat had high level of authority.  Thus, anytime the person in the lab coat asked them to continue with the experiment the participator did so.  This can also be seen in other clothing such as a doctor’s coat, an officers uniform, or a business man or women in a suit.  The last contributing factor to authority is trappings.  These are things such as jewelry or cars that can show that you’re a person of wealth.  That can influence how you are perceived as a person of authority or not.  While all types of authority are not bad it is important to understand how people perceive authority.  It is also important to question someone’s authority when something seems wrong or inauthentic.  Now that you are equipped with this information observe how authority is used in your day to day life.

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