The contrast principle is simple to understand.
Quite simply, the human brain is wired to notice, emphasize, and sometimes exaggerate the differences in things.
For example, if I wanted to persuade you about capitalism vs. socialism a visual comparison might be a good start.
After all, much of Hong Kong and Cuba look like the following.
I might ask:
- Which place would you rather live in?
- Which city would you rather search for work in?
- Which place do you think allows the most opportunity for success?
- Which location and which political structure would you rather your son or daughter be subject to?
Not that any of that is incorrect, but I fell prey to this persuasive technique once when I signed up for my first WordPress host.
They had this little animated cartoon that showed what would happen if you went with a competitor. Your site was down. Information was lost. There was little support. And you were stressed while missing out on sales due to technical breakdowns.
Then they contrasted this with all the happy and wonderful things in store for you if you signed up with their service.
Of course the video worked on me – just like the pictures above are giving you pause too.
There is a principle in human perception, the contrast principle, that affects the way we see the difference between two things that are presented one after another. Simply put, if the second item is fairly different from the first, we will tend to see it as more different than it actually is. So if we lift a light object first and then lift a heavy object, we will estimate the second object to be heavier than if we had lifted it without first trying the light one.
-Robert Cialdini, Influence