Mental Models: Authority Principle

We want to follow the lead and advice of a legitimate authority.

How might this apply to great teams and cultures?

When communicating an idea that you want to see taken up by others, demonstrating authority in some way will give you more credibility in the eyes of your audience, and enable them to make a decision much more easily as the decision will feel less risky. Remember the reverse — if a figure of authority is stating that your idea is not the way to go, your audience is likely to listen to that statement. You need to be aware of this before communicating your message, so do your research and try to understand what authority positions in the market are saying.

How might this apply to great products?

To some extent, we all look for guidance and direction. Following a perceived leader has real benefits as it means you don’t have to spend time and energy figuring things out for yourself — you can just copy, learn from them, or obey and get the benefits. First to market gives authority. So does best quality.


How well does your product, service or organization lead people through an experience? Does that experience communicate confidence, quality and assurance? Are there options in your application that could be made at a design level on behalf of users? In an uncertain or new space, is there the presence of a formal authority figure (or brand) to reassure people?

See Also

Social Proof, Contrast, Limited Choice, Autonomy, Sequencing


In the whirl of our day-to-day interactions, it’s all too easy to forget the nuances that distinguish great teams, great cultures, and great products/services.

Mental Model Flash Cards bring together insights from psychology into an easy reference and brainstorming tool. Each card describes one insight into human behavior and suggests ways to apply this to your teams as well as the design of your products and services.