How our consciousness is manipulated and how not to become a victim

3 November 2023 24 minutes Author: Lady Liberty

Do not become a toy in someone else’s hands: Avoid the traps of manipulation

We are constantly surrounded by attempts to manipulate our consciousness – through advertising, news, politics, social networks. But there is a way to persevere – to develop critical thinking. This means not to take all the information on faith, but to check the facts and analyze the sources. It is important to constantly learn, especially in the field of media literacy. In the article, we share tips on how to recognize manipulative methods, such as emotional pressure or disinformation, and how to look for different sources of information so as not to fall under one-sided influence. You’ll also learn about “filter bubbles” in social media and how emotional messages influence our decisions. This article will help you develop intuition and introspection skills to protect your own consciousness.


Consciousness under fire: Techniques of manipulation and methods of protection

Previously, people first stood in line and only then wondered where it was going. “If all these people are waiting, then the product is good,” everyone thought. The very presence of a queue signaled the value of the offered product. Thus, the principle of social proof was revealed in society. Based on the herd instinct, it consists in imitating the behavior of the majority and is a protective function of our brain, which frees the latter from the need to process unnecessary information. The nature of the mainstream is hidden in it.

The principle of social proof works especially effectively when a person finds himself in a confusing or ambiguous situation, and he does not have time to understand it properly. “In any unclear situation, do like everyone else” – Social Proof now solves all problems. When we want to buy a new gadget and puzzle over which model to choose, the decisive criteria for us are often reviews and ratings. The principle of social proof has taken deep roots in modern business. It is no longer necessary to prove to a potential customer how good the product is, it is enough to point out that this is what most people think.

Today, marketers strongly recommend the owners of sites and various pages not to advertise counters if the indicators on them are modest. A large number of subscribers is the best sign of quality and a reason to subscribe too. This also applies to website traffic.

Another painful example of using the principle of social proof is sketch and humorous series. Viewers often complain that they are annoyed by the background laughter after every joke. However, this does not affect the effectiveness of the method. People are used to being guided by the reaction of others when determining what is funny, and often react not to the joke, but to the off-screen laughter that accompanies it.

By the way, Social proof became the basis for the emergence of some professions. For example, a clapper is a person who comes to a performance for a certain fee, applauds the loudest and shouts “Bravo!”, or a classic example is mourners who “set the mood” at funerals in Brazil or the Philippines.

Method of group reinforcement

This technique sometimes echoes the previous one, but, unlike it, it is focused on changing human beliefs rather than behavior. According to this principle, when the same thesis (idea, concept) is repeatedly repeated within any group, its members will later accept this statement as truth. The American academician and writer Robert Carroll emphasizes that a repeated judgment does not necessarily have to be true. It will be believed regardless of how theoretically or practically it is proven. Moreover, it is believed that people take on faith, without critical evaluation, any group values, ideas, doctrines, if they identify themselves with this group and do not want to be glorified as outcasts. This mental phenomenon and manifestation of conformity is called indoctrination. Opposite phenomena of indoctrination: “social autonomy”, “criticality”, “nonconformism”.

A colorful example of how the group reinforcement method works are stereotypes, myths and legends that are passed down from generation to generation. In addition, the reception is actively used by mass media and is an effective tool in information wars. With the help of skilful manipulation of facts and various linguistic tricks, the media impose certain beliefs on us by systematically repeating the same thoughts. To combat such trends, a media education course designed to develop critical thinking in people of all ages is being introduced into the curricula of some countries.

The rule of mutual exchange says: a person is obliged to repay what another person has given him. In simple words – return good for good. And since any obligations are depressing, you want to get rid of them as soon as possible. Therefore, the rule works and is actively used by some “initiates”. Such people may knowingly provide a small favor with the expectation that in the future they will make a larger request.

People say: “they take advantage of someone’s kindness.” It is noteworthy that knowledge of the rule of mutual exchange does not exempt a person from the desire to repay his debts.

Why do supermarkets give products for free to try? Why do different companies give away pens, notebooks and other souvenirs to their guests? And how to explain free promotions in bars and chewing gum after dinner in restaurants? Do employees want to make customers happy? No matter what.

A plea for help, or the Benjamin Franklin method

One day, Benjamin Franklin needed to make contact with a person who openly disliked him. Benjamin then asked this man to lend him a rare book. Franklin was as polite as possible in his request and thanked the person even more politely when she agreed. After this incident, they became good friends.

The essence of the method of the same name is that people like to be asked for help. First, based on the rule of reciprocity, a person thinks that he can count on a favor in return if necessary. Secondly, by helping, he feels needed and useful. And this, as they say, is priceless.

By the way, it is believed that at first it is better to ask for more than you want to get. If you are suddenly refused, on the next attempt you can voice a real request, and this time it will be inconvenient to refuse.

Logic chain rule

Psychologists have come to the conclusion that the desire to be or seem consistent in actions is an innate feature of a person, which often forces him to go against his own interests.

The fact is that in society, consistency is considered a virtue. It is associated with honesty, intelligence, strength and stability. English physicist Michael Faraday said that consistency is valued more than correctness. Inconsistent behavior, as a rule, is considered a negative quality and taken for duplicity.

In order to force a person to act in a certain way, it is necessary to start the mechanism of consistency in his thinking. The starting point in this mechanism is what social psychologists call obligations. A person who has made a commitment (even if unconsciously) will do everything to fulfill it.

Suppose, if a person is recognized as the best chess player in the city, after this case, he will train three times more in order to justify the obligation and status imposed on him. The sequence mechanism is triggered: “If I am like this, then I must do this, this and that…”.

Positive reinforcement

POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT IS PLEASANT CONSEQUENCES FOR A PERSON of his actions: praise, reward, or reward that motivates a person to perform these actions in the future.

Once a group of Harvard students conducted an interesting experiment. At one of the lectures, the boys agreed that when the teacher moved to one side of the hall, everyone would smile, and when the teacher moved to the opposite side, they would frown. You don’t need to be seven feet in the forehead to guess in which part of the audience the lecturer spent most of the class. This experiment has gone down in history under the name “Verplank’s experiment” and became a confirmation that positive feedback has an educational effect on a person.

According to the American psychologist Skinner, praise educates a person more effectively than punishment, which is more damaging to the individual. Freud confirms the theory of his colleague and in the description of the principle of pleasure emphasizes that a person’s desire to receive positive emotions pushes him to perform actions that reinforce them and are thus associated with pleasure. Therefore, the absence of the “action – satisfaction” chain deprives a person of motivation and desire to do something.

Motivation by fear

THE MOST POWERFUL HUMAN EMOTION IS FEAR. So, to make a person do something, you need to scare him. Advertising business is built on this principle. I wonder how many tons of descaling agent were sold after seeing the graveyard of washing machines in a famous commercial? Insurance companies use the same methods. As long as you don’t scare the client, he won’t get insured. And the easiest way to do this is to show him the statistics of how many apartments were robbed, how many were burned, how many cars were stolen. After all, if there is an opportunity to protect yourself from loss plus get rid of unnecessary stress, why refuse help?

On the other hand, you can scare, for example, your employee, so this will lead to his dismissal. Therefore, wise leaders use the power of fear wisely. As a rule, they press on the fear of loss: “We are considering your candidacy for promotion, but so far, unfortunately, you are not fulfilling the plan…”. If you describe possible losses to a person, he will accept the proposed directives. According to one study, people are twice as likely to agree to something just before the threat of loss.

Aikido method

The peculiarity of the martial art of Aikido is to use the strength of the opponent against himself. Adapted to the communication environment, this method is used in tense negotiations or conflict situations and involves returning the opponent’s aggression in order to get the desired from the interlocutor.

Newton’s law states: the force of action is equal to the force of opposition. So, the more rudely a person responds to an opponent, the more fiercely he defends his position, the more aggression he receives in response. The main principle of Aikido is to win by giving in. To incline a person to your point of view, first of all, you need to agree with him, and by “mirroring” his way of talking and holding yourself. And then, in a calm tone, offer your version of the development of events. In this way, a person conserves his strength, does not annoy the opponent and ultimately wins.

A slightly exaggerated example might look like this: “You’re a fool. You are doing everything wrong. – Yes, I do everything wrong, because I’m a fool. Let’s try to find a way out of the situation together…”

The vertical principle

All the world’s famous dictators convinced their opponents before they even spoke. They knew how to position their body in space in such a way that in the eyes of the interlocutor they looked like a “living argument”.

First, they were always vertically one level higher than those with whom they were talking. There is a psychological explanation for this. The fact is that the subconscious initially perceives those who are higher as authorities. Our parents were always higher than us. After all, they were our authorities for many years. This explains why many managers arrange chairs and desks in offices so that they look down on their subordinates.

Also, for our subconscious, a person who takes up a lot of space seems more convincing and right. Exuberant gestures, spread “T” hands on the back of the chair or active movement around the hall during the presentation – all this helps to cover the maximum amount of space and grow in the eyes of the viewer.

Built-in language commands

Built-in language commands help the initiator of communication to create a certain mood in the addressee, evoke the desired emotion and, accordingly, direct his thoughts in a given direction. An embedded message is a fragment of a phrase that is highlighted by gesture or intonation. At the same time, the influence occurs on the subconscious mind of a person, who may not pay attention to the phrase itself.

By introducing positively colored vocabulary into our speech (words like “pleasant”, “good”, “happiness”, “success”, “trust”, etc.), we make the interlocutor feel happy and successful. At the same time, it does not matter what it is about and in what context these words are used, the main thing is to highlight them with intonation or gesture.

A spiral of silence

In theory of mass communication, there is such a concept as the spiral of silence. Proposed by the German political scientist Elisabeth Noel-Neumann, this concept boils down to the fact that people may share a certain point of view but are afraid to admit it because they think they are in the minority. The spiral of silence is based on the fear of social isolation and begins to work at the moment when someone confidently expresses his point of view on a socially significant topic. Those who disagree with what they heard prefer to remain silent and not speak out, because they are convinced that they are in the minority and are afraid of isolation.

There is a pattern that mature individuals who have taken place do not succumb to the fear of social isolation and are able to express their opinion regardless of public opinion. It is these people who drive progress and stimulate global change. The second half of humanity is the guarantor of strength and stability in society.

How to protect yourself from social manipulation?

INFLUENCE ON THE SUBCONSCIOUSNESS IS FAR NOT THAT SIMPLE. It should not be perceived as uncritical “garbage”: what “threw down” also “fell”. The subconscious mind is always primarily on our side and seeks to reject information that is hostile to us or does not correspond to our goals. Therefore, suggestions that are “unprofitable” for the “master” are rejected very quickly. To bypass this defense mechanism, manipulators almost always use the method of pressure “on speed” – you need to make a decision right now, there is no time to think! If you are faced with something like this, in no case do not make any decisions, take a time out.

The healthier and more balanced our lifestyle is, the more difficult it is to use us for bad purposes

Another popular method of manipulation is “false alternative”. You are offered a quick choice between options, none of which are in your best interest. For example: “Which is more convenient for you to pay for our miracle product – the full amount at once or in installments?”. The option “Not at all, I don’t want to buy your product” is not considered. Therefore, I advise you to turn on the “alarm signal” every time you hear such “either-or”.

PHYSICAL DISCOMFORT: fatigue, hunger, thirst, suffocation, heat/cold, etc.;

STATE OF ANXIETY: justified or artificially induced (“Let’s run faster, because they will eat everything tasty, and we won’t have any left!”);

OVERLOAD OF THE ORGANS OF PERCEPTION (for example, loud music, strong smell, crowding, etc.)

The most striking example for all situations at once is a sale in a large store. Dullness, pounding, rush in combination with loud music and noise of the crowd – ideal conditions for reckless spending.

Accordingly, the conclusions suggest themselves: the healthier and more balanced our lifestyle, the more difficult it is to use us for bad purposes.

The best way to protect yourself from manipulation is to be aware of yourself and communicate with others. It can be developed by periodically asking yourself the following questions:

WHAT DO I FEEL RIGHT NOW? What are my physical sensations, emotions, desires?

WHY DO I MAKE THIS OR THAT DECISION (go, buy, help)? What do I want to get as a result and what do I expect, are these expectations realistic? What drives me now?

WHAT DO I EVEN WANT FROM LIFE? What is important to me? Are the decisions I make leading me to my goals or taking me away from them? And, by the way, are these exactly my goals or are they also imposed by someone?

The habit of asking yourself such questions, independently or in the company of a psychologist or coach, is a kind of “technical examination” for the psyche and a good guarantee that you will not become a victim of manipulation.

How our consciousness is manipulated: simple techniques and protection techniques

Manipulations and manipulators

Manipulation is a type of psychological influence that is used to covertly introduce into the psyche of the victim the goals, desires, intentions, relationships or attitudes of the manipulator that do not coincide with the needs of the victim that actually exist. … A person can become a victim of manipulation only if he acts as a co-author, co-participant in the process. Manipulation is not so much violence as seduction, playing on human weaknesses and vulnerabilities. These weak points are determined by the peculiarities of a person’s psyche and worldview, his system of values and system of relationships.

There is no person who would not face the manifestation of someone else’s influence. Anyone can be a manipulator – a business partner, a boss, a family member, a TV host, a politician, or even ourselves.

Below we will take a closer look at the most common types of manipulations and methods of countering them, which we will call antidotes.

“Foot in the door”

This method of manipulation is often used by market traders and traveling salesmen. It consists in the fact that at first the seller persuades not to buy, but only to “try” or “try on” his product. In this case, a simple but effective trap for consciousness is obvious. On the one hand, we are not offered anything dangerous or bad, we seem to have complete freedom of any decision. But it is only necessary to taste or wear the offered item, as the seller immediately asks another cunning question: “Well, how did you like it?” It is not easy to answer such a question negatively, and even more so if you have already “adjusted” to the product and liked it. Most often in such a situation, of course, you answer in the affirmative. And with this, as it were, you give involuntary consent to the purchase. After all, although it would seem that we are talking exclusively about taste sensations or external impressions, in fact another question is hidden behind the seller’s interest: “Will you buy?”

So, for example, sellers of vacuum cleaners from long ago in the West, and now in our country, often offer free carpet cleaning in the hope that once they get to the owner’s house, they will be able to convince them of the need to buy this particular vacuum cleaner. The main thing for them is to get a face-to-face meeting, and there they will be able to deploy their arsenal of “homemade preparations” of various manipulations.

Antidote: Don’t feel uncomfortable refusing an imposed offer. Your feelings of guilt and discomfort in this case are only a product of wrong views and irrational attitudes, which scoundrels skillfully play on. You can remove the strings on which the manipulators play in this case by giving up the desire to please everyone without exception. Stop trying to “always be on top” – this will help prevent many problems.

The solution is here and now

This manipulation technique is aimed at forcing a person to make a decision immediately. The manipulator provokes and sometimes directly insists that a decision must be made “here and now”, since “tomorrow will be too late”. “Grab your bags, the station is coming!” and similar verbal threats form requirements for quick and reckless decision-making. Creating commotion and emotional tension reduces the degree of awareness of behavior and reasonable control over the situation. This is used by a lot of swindlers, from train station thieves to participants in financial pyramid schemes.

Antidote: It is worth developing a rule for yourself “not to make hasty decisions.” You can make a small profit ten times over from a hasty decision, but suffer a much bigger loss from the next rash decision. It is not for nothing that folk wisdom states that “the morning is wiser than the evening.” In order not to “burn out”, you should decide immediately, but take the information into account, postponing the decision for a time when it is necessary to think it over. Take your time.

“Carthage must be destroyed”

The repetition technique is another effective method of manipulating people’s minds. During the Punic Wars – a struggle not for life, but to the death between Carthage and Rome – the strict Roman senator Cato the Elder became famous for a habit he had learned. Speaking in the Roman Senate, whatever he was talking about – whether it was about elections to the commission or about the prices of vegetables in the Roman market – Cato invariably ended each of his speeches with the same phrase: “And besides, I think that Carthage should be destroyed! The senator had a goal – to accustom listeners to this opinion. This repetition of the same phrase over and over again, in the end, really made the senators get used to the idea behind it, so much so that the future destruction of Carthage became something natural to them. At first they laughed at the wise old man. But then everything happened as he wanted: as a result of a terrible bloody struggle, Rome won, Carthage was wiped off the face of the earth, and the very place where it stood was plowed with Roman plows.

The antidote: Monitor the pressure you’re putting on yourself, including rep technique. Don’t let quantity turn into quality, reminding yourself of the arguments for your position.

Use of obscure words and terms

Such a technique as saturating the language with clever words and complex concepts can cause different reactions from the interlocutor. On the one hand, it creates an impression of the importance of the discussed problem, the weight of the reasons, the high level of professionalism and competence of the speaker. On the other hand, the use of unclear, scientific-like terms can provoke the opposite reaction of the opponent as irritation, alienation or care in psychological defense. However, this technique works when the interlocutor is embarrassed to ask about something or pretends to understand what is being said and accepted the excuses.

Antidote: Don’t be afraid to admit your incompetence, show your ignorance. It is impossible to know absolutely everything. What is important is not the level of erudition, but only the desire and desire to learn about what is necessary and useful. Mindlessly memorizing dictionaries is a mistake similar to learning the telephone directory. The most reliable antidote to this kind of manipulation is the absence of fear of exposure and distortion in ignorance of something.

Reverse desire

This technique is to achieve something by insisting on the opposite of what you really want. The fact is that focusing attention on the extreme desirability of fulfilling a request (for example, its repeated repetition) encourages, on the contrary, to refuse to fulfill it. And often even provokes the strict opposites to action. Manipulators use this antagonism.

Antidote: Before you get annoyed by the insistence of the person asking and decide to “do everything the other way around”, try to ask questions about the goals of the interlocutor and the true motives of such behavior.

Using “mass opinion”

When using this technique, judgments, statements, and phrases are selected that give the impression that they do everything that way. For example, a message may begin with the words: “All reasonable people understand that…” or “No reasonable person would deny that…” etc. because the majority of members of a certain social community, with which he identifies himself or whose opinion is significant for him, accept similar values, ideas, programs, etc.

Antidote: Notice the overgeneralization. They are characterized by marker words such as everyone, nobody, everywhere, nowhere, always, never, and similar signs of the operation of an irrational attitude.

Inappropriate questioning or difficult clarifications

With such manipulation, the effect is achieved due to the fact that the manipulator pretends that he wants to better understand something. He questions you, but repeats your words only at first. Then the manipulator only partially talks about that, bringing a different meaning to what you said earlier. Thus, he changes the general meaning of what was said for himself.

Antidote: Be very careful when your opponent questions something you say. Always listen to what is being said to you, and when you notice a cover-up, clarify your words and statements. And even in the case when the manipulator pretends not to notice your desire to once again clarify his position and tries to move on to another topic.

Artificial indifference or pseudo-inattention

This technique consists in the fact that the manipulator tries to perceive both the interlocutor and the received information as indifferently as possible. Thus, he causes the opponent an unconscious desire to try anything to convince the manipulator of his importance for him. The manipulator remains only to control the source of information from the object of his manipulations, obtaining those facts that the object was not going to teach before.

Antidote: Take your time and don’t throw all your trump cards on the table. Control your emotions and behavior more clearly.

Fear manipulation

Using people’s fears is one of the most favorite techniques of manipulators of all types and stripes. Very often they play on a person’s lack of awareness. When I was a child, my parents used to scare me: “If you misbehave, the policeman will take you away,” “If you don’t study well, you will become a janitor.” Now the bosses scare with the threat of dismissal, the husband/wife with the threat of divorce, boyfriends or girlfriends with the loss of relationships. Even the TV scares us with gloomy news, and advertising with carious monsters, germs in the toilet and the smell of sweat.

Antidote: Find out how real the threat is. Determine for yourself the degree and probability of danger by contacting independent and reliable sources of information, preferably several.

Manipulation using presupposition

The human brain is designed in such a way that it automatically makes up the missing information in a sentence. Partners can offer each other the illusion of choice: Will you give me money now or tomorrow? The presupposition is “you’ll still give me money.” “In which currency will it be more convenient for you to pay?” The presupposition is “you will pay.” Another example: “Write us why you love “Halyna Blank”. Love for this brand is declared as an axiom. The options are artificially narrowed down to an estimate for what? And another modest choice – to write or not to write. Or, as Carlson slyly phrased his question: Have you stopped drinking cognac in the morning? The answer “yes” or “no” equally puts the interlocutor in an awkward position. However, there may not be enough time and arguments to fully defend against presuppositional accusations. This technique is often used in the “black” PR of political technologists.

Antidote: Avoidance tactics for this type of manipulation are similar to those used when confronting closed questions. It consists in the following: to disagree with the imposed framework of manipulation, to voice one’s version of events and view of the situation.

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