Methods of Manipulation


One of the most interesting topics in psychology is how you can influence other people. How you can trick, control and outright manipulate them. One of these tools of influence is called MINDSPACE. That is what we will be discussing today. MINDSPACE is a very convenient acronym. It stands for: Messenger, Incentives, Norms, Defaults, Salience, Priming, Affect, Commitment and Ego. We will discuss in turn what each of these mean, and how they can used to manipulate. Messenger We are heavily influenced by who communicates information to us. We don't just believe anyone. If something is said by someone who we judge to be knowledgeable about a topic, an expert if you will, we are much more likely to accept the information. Other messengers that are very influential are the so-called influencers. You can find them on Instagram, some of them have millions of followers. If they say they use a product, it very often sells out quickly. Marketing departments have had a field day with this type of promotion, because succesful influencers are incredibly persuasive. And their followers really want to be like them. That is the importance of having the right messenger, before the message even gets out. Incentives If something can be framed as being beneficial to us, were are more inclined to cooperate. Our responses to incentives are shaped by predictable mental shortcuts such as wanting to gain, but even more strongly: wanting to avoid losses. People have become increasingly suspicious of "quick gain schemes," but to phrase something as an avoidable loss will work. It is something the sustainability movement should use more intensely. Because "gaining" cleaner air is great, but losing the opportunity to breathe works better. Norms One of the strongest influences on behaviour, at least for the majority for people, is the norms our society abides by. We are strongly influenced by what others do and what society deems normal. What can you do, and what can't you do? The consequence of not following norms can be social exclusion. And as social animals, we do not deal well with that threat. Energy consumption is one of the behaviours easily changed by social norms. If you tell people that they are overconsuming compared to their peers (neighbours etc.) they will cut back on their energy consumption. This works for taxes too. If you tell people that 95% of their fellow citizens pay taxes on time, you tend to reduce overdue taxes. Win-win. If you can frame a scenario in such a way that makes it seem as if you are enforicing a norm, people are more likely to cooperate. Defaults Life is difficult. It is filled with decisions. As such, when we have the option to just "go with the flow" and select pre-set options, we will, because we are tired. This can be good: in Sweden the best retirement-investing-package is set as the default, or bad, if the provider of the default is trying to make a quick buck out of you, rather than help you live your best life. Insurance companies are known for this form of exploitation. When presenting a manipulation of your own, set your preferred idea as the default. Also take context-effects into account when doing this. I have described those in a different article read it here.,

Salience Our attention is drawn to what is novel and seems relevant to us. Which is why a lot of marketing uses big fonts and bright colours. How can you make use of this? Direct language is key. You have to repeat and explain in great detail how your message is important (and beneficial!) to the person you are directing it at. Make them see what it would mean for them, but make them really envision it. If someone has had a vision and that vision can be taken away from them by not cooperating with you, it can be felt as a loss. You have now used salience and incentivisation. Priming I am not the biggest fan of priming, and research does not really replicate it well, but I wll outline its (possible) effects. Our acts are often influenced by sub-conscious cues. A lot of influence here comes from things that might have been in the background. Key here is, however, that it shouldn't be noticed conciously. For direct manipulation this is a bit of a rough one, because overdoing unconcscious exposure to a stimulus makes it conscious and very often it then backfires. But hey, if you want to flesh signs at someone at the rate of 0.001 seconds, be my guest. Affect Our emotional associations can powerfully shape our actions. Politics mainly uses the power of fear. Us vs. Them language. "They are stealing our jobs! They are dangerous! They are terrorist! They are ruining our country!" After fear then very often comes the call to action, rallying the troops. This is mainly done through anger. "We have to take back the country WE build!" The language can differ and can be more subtle, but it boils down to the same. If you can make someone experience an emotion, they are like butter in your hands. But you do have to make sure they experience the right one... I wrote another article on which emotion does what, and can lead to which action. Read it here. Commitment We seek to be consistent with our public promises, and reciprocate acts So if we declared on Facebook that we are going to lose weight, run a marathon, not spend money this month etc. we are more likely to stick (to some extent) with our promise. This is because we don't want to lose face. Because losing face is pricy, it relates back to the herd. We don't want to dissapoint the herd, and we don't want to be judged as "flakey," or rather: unreliable. If you want to manipulate someone, you just have to make sure they either agree early on, and can't get back on their word (much like a contract) or that you do something for them first (as a favour), which they will have to return. People don't like to be in someone's debt either. Convenient that, isn't it? . Ego We act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves. Within altruism (helping someone without monetary benefit) this is known as the "warm-glow-effect." This works well with commitment as well. We don't "flake" on our commitments, because we don't want to feel bad about ourselves. We don't want to experience that type of guilt. It can work with norms too. If we are outperforming everyone else (we are recycling more, using the least energy etc.) we feel good about ourselves, because we are the type of people that care about the environment. In direct manipulation, sales-tactics work this way. People will hammer on it being a good deal (incentives), but also that YOU are the type of person who'd see the value of such a deal. Only YOU are being offerred this, only YOU were smart enough, or fast enough etc. to get it. It's a car-sales technique. Talking about cars, this is why people drive those damn Priuses. Because oit signals: "I'm environmentally friendlier than you." Great ego boost. So appeal to someone's ego to get them where you need them to go. So there you have it folks, a quick list of hacks you can use to manipulate others and a slightly longer explanation of how you have been manipulated yourself. The expert manipulator obviously knows that you should use multiple methods to make your message more effective. So I most definitely recommend that you read much more of my blog, it will greatly benefit you. But then again, someone as smart and talented as you might not even need it. But in the wise words of Einstein: there is no such thing as too much knowledge. And it is super-relevant to your day to day life. You could totally outsmart that nuisance of a colleague with a single reference to one of my articles. Success guarenteed!




References Dolan, P., Hallsworth, M., Halpern, D., King, D., Metcalfe, R., & Vlaev, I. (2012). Influencing behaviour: The mindspace way. Journal of Economic Psychology, 33(1), 264-277.

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