by Jon Atack
Manipulation is the use of deception and influence to control perception, attitudes and behavior.
The word is often used to mean any form of persuasion, but true psychological manipulation includes a hidden agenda, unlike open and honest persuasion.
At Open Minds, we accept all of the terms used for manipulation – including brainwashing, undue influence, thought reform, coercive control, exploitative persuasion, indoctrination, mind control and totalism. Manipulation is perhaps the least emotionally loaded of these terms, and covers the full range of possibilities. “Brainwashing” and “mind control” need careful explanation to distance them from popular misconceptions; “undue influence” and “coercive control” are both legal terms. “Exploitative persuasion” is precise, but has not caught on with either academics or the public.
Commerce and Politics
Manipulative techniques have been devised and refined over centuries for use by political groups, commercial organizations, cults and predatory individuals. For instance, Machiavelli’s The Prince dates back to the sixteenth century, and shows how a ruthless leader can control and exploit his followers and extend his influence.
Tremendous refinements to public manipulation were made in the early 20th century by American PR experts Edward Bernays, Walter Lippmann, and Ivy Lee. The US government’s Committee on Public Information adopted their methods during WWI, and Bernays later pointed out that Hitler’s propaganda minister Josef Goebbels had simply applied his own American PR techniques to the whole population of Germany.
New Thought Manipulation
Manipulative techniques were also developed in the New Thought movement, which persists to this day through such methods as “The Secret” and the “Law of Attraction”. Leaders in this field generally use “affirmations”, allied to the strange belief that the universe responds directly to the wishes of individual human beings. There have been many fraudsters involved with this approach, including Napoleon Hill and Emil Coué.
Manipulation is used by dishonest advertisers, by political spin-doctors, by unethical sales people, by confidence tricksters, by abusive partners, by pedophile groomers, by human traffickers, and by cult leaders. There are many methods, all of which rely upon the trust of good people, our desire for profit, or our desire to help others, and drawing on normal group psychology. All of these methods are based in deception and distraction, and stir up emotion in order to overwhelm reason.
The Open Minds Foundation is dedicated to exposing the tricks of all dishonest manipulators, and the traits by which manipulators can be recognized.
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