I strongly believe that we all need to get very familiar with the principles of psychological influence. 

There has been a great deal of research done on the tactics used by people who wish to get us to feel things and do stuff. 

There really ARE many people (and organizations, and institutions) who spend a GREAT DEAL of time trying to get us to think specific things, feel specific things, and do specific things. 

The list of people who wish to “brainwash” us for various reasons is seemingly endless. 

“Brainwashing” might sound like an overdramatic term for their attempts to persuade us…but I truly think it fits for one reason: those who wish to brainwash us aren’t terribly concerned about our consent. 

It would be one thing if people and institutions were all about providing us with information and options, and trusting in our autonomy and judgment to make good decisions. 

But that’s not how they operate. 

Many would-be brainwashers think that their agenda is too important to be left up to our judgment, or to attain our consent. 

And there is an entire category of would-be brainwashers who actively fear that if “consent” entered the conversation, they simply wouldn’t get what they wanted. 

And what they want, to them, is way more important than we make a “free choice.” 

So I strongly think we all need to be familiar with the principles of persuasion and influence. 

We don’t need to be paranoid or anxious. But we need to be realistic and educated. 

Luckily, it’s not hard to get up to speed on would-be brainwashers’ playbooks. 

The psychologist Robert Cialdini, in particular, has thoroughly researched and written about the principles of influence that seem to be more or less universal— and that are used, to one extent or another, by would-be brainwashers, from politicians running for president to Girl Scouts selling cookies. 

Cialdini’s principles include reciprocity (we tend to do things when we’ve had something given to us or done for us, and we feel obligated to return the gesture); commitment and consistency (we tend to do things that will help us feel consistent with who we believe we are, or which we view as following through on implicit commitments we’ve made); social proof (we tend to engage in behavior that has been visibly “validated” by other people); authority (we tend to do what we’re told by those we perceive to be in positions of legitimate authority); liking (we tend to do things for people with whom we feel an affinity); and scarcity (we tend to value things that seem scarce— whether or not they actually ARE scarce). 

The social psychologist Albert Bandura did pioneering research in the power observation and modeling has on our feelings and behavior— that is, we tend to do things we see modeled (behavior, in other words is “catchy” or “contagious”). 

There is an entire GENRE of books written specifically for men interested in attracting women for sex and relationships. It’s often called “seduction” or “pickup” literature, and, while it might sound cheesy, those books contain a great deal of “field tested” speculation about what men need to do and say to attract and manipulate women. 

(Notable among this genre are books by Ross Jeffries; “The Game” by Neil Strauss; and “The Mystery Method,” by— who else?— Mystery). 

The pseudoscience of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), while not the most robustly researched and validated body of theory, offers many real-world hypotheses about what word combinations, facial expressions, and even hand gestures can influence behavior in persuasive ways. 

So why am I telling you all this? 

Do I want you to read all of these books, and become an expert on persuasion? 


But I want you to be very clear on the fact that there are absolutely people out there who make it their life’s work (and very often their financial livelihood) to persuade, and even manipulate, you. 

I want you to at least Google the names and titles in this blog post, and achieve at least a nodding familiarity with these systems and techniques. 

I’ve seen far, far too many people walking around without a working knowledge of psychological influence and persuasion— and I’ve worked with many people who have been manipulated into unsafe relationships, poor decisions, and difficult to escape situations. 

It’s not our fault if we get manipulated or lied to. 

Some people are just going to manipulate and lie to us. It’s just going to happen. 

All we can do is what we can do— be as familiar with the techniques of influence as we can, and pay attention every day. 


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One thought on “The would-be brainwasher’s playbook.

  1. Very interesting read. I remember speaking to a family relative some years ago who worked for an Advertising Company and he stated some mindblowing tactics that are used to manipulate people to buy certain products.


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