Petit traité de manipulation à l'usage des gens honnêtes

Summary of: Petit traité de manipulation à l'usage des gens honnêtes
(the little book of manipulation for well intended people)

People are subject to self manipulation, which opens the door to being manipulated by others, and therefore people making decisions should always keep in mind of the following:a) be aware that engagement triggers predictable behaviors, b) do not hesitate to re-consider a decision, c) learn to consider each decision individually (and not take into account previous decision), d) do not overestimate your freedom of choice.

Disciplines

Publication Reference

Published in/by
Presse Universitaire de Grenoble
Date
2002

Findings

  • Decisions are resilient, and our choices are influenced by prior decisions, whether they were conscious or unconscious.
  • The fact that people are subject to this self manipulation opens the door to being manipulated by others: someone can easily exploits this resilience of decisions and introduce in an interaction preliminary steps that will condition a person to comply later with a request.
  • In order for this scheme to be successful, the initial preparatory decision should be the result of free choice. It can be induced through several means:
    1. through a plain lie, for example offering a product that is not available or promising a deal that does not exist
    2. by controlling how the information is released, for example ask the subject to make a decision first, then provide him with more details that include changes to the original deal (low ball technique)
    3. by using a teaser, for example offering a sale on a pair of shoes with only large sizes left
  • In addition to decisions being resilient, people tend to stick to their original decision even after you inform them of changes after the fact (as in the low ball technique for example). This is due to the effect of "engagement", which precedes the "resilience of decision".
  • There can be several levels of engagement:
    1. signing a petition can be a low entry level, providing name/address/profession is another level
    2. how public is the engagement or how often the engagement is requested also impacts the level of engagement
  • Engagement is reinforced by action. More specifically, experimentation has shown the following:
    1. When there is engagement into an action that is in tune with what the person thinks, it reinforces the conviction of this person.
    2. When there is engagement into an action that conflicts with what the person thinks, it results in an adaptation of the person's convictions

    As a result, the effect of engagement reinforced by actions can influence someone regardless of their original point of view on a given matter.

  • The impact of engagement is that what we perceive as "free choice" is actually "free will submission". The decision maker thinks he is making a free choice, but he can be influenced by a simple request. The result of this process is considered good or bad depending on the situation:
    1. when engagement is for a "good" cause, it is usually considered as leadership - the person engages in an action
    2. when engagement is for a "bad" cause, it is usually called being brain washed, or manipulated - the person has been engaged into an action.

    But the mechanism behind is the same.

  • It is a fact that manipulation and propaganda are everywhere. And while people usually feel unconfortable with the concept of manipulation, the idea of marketing propaganda forcing commercials into a consumer brain without regard for his/her own interest is certainly not a better option. In fact, well intended manipulation can be considered as a simple act of selling, and architecting behaviors should not be considered to be as bad as manipulating people by lying on the virtues of a product or trying to brain wash them through force fed commercials.
  • Regardless of what one thinks, it is clear that we are subject in our everyday life to manipulation. So people making decisions should always keep in mind of the following:
    1. be aware that engagement triggers predictable behaviors
    2. do not hesitate to re-consider a decision
    3. learn to consider each decision individually (and not take into account previous decision)
    4. do not overestimate your freedom of choice
  • Freedom does not prevent us from doing things that are costly to us personnally and that are the result of somebody else expectation. From a political point of view, one should not confuse living in a liberal society and living in a true democracy.

There are basic facts related to decision making and the idea of "free choice" that everybody should know. Experiments have proven that we are victims of ourselves, and therefore we can fall victims of others. This book presents the mechanisms that guide our behaviors and the techniques that can help influence it, so that the reader can be aware of the traps that awaits him in his day-to-day life.

How the brain works - resilience of decisions

Our choices are influenced by prior decisions, whether they were conscious or unconscious decisions. And these individual behaviors impact group decisions as well, and points to the fact that in a group, the analysis of the impact of a decision should always be done by people other than the ones involved in the decision.

Examples of such self manipulation can be seen in 3 types of behaviors:

  • Escalating Commitment
  • Sunk Cost
  • Escalating Conflict
Escalating Commitment

When people agree to a small request, they feel committed, and will make sure that they do the right thing even if it costs them more than they originally expected or intended. For example if someone is asked to look after a bag, chances are that he/she will run after a robber trying to get away with this bag. Under the same circumstances but without a prior request from the owner of the bag, the same person may not have done it. An example of such a mechanism can be found in a study by Staw published in 1976 "knee deep in the big muddy: a study of escalating commitment to a chosen course of action".

Sunk cost

When people make a choice, they tend to choose based on what did cost them more instead of what would be the best for them. For example if people make a reservation (and pay) for two events that turn out to be on the same day, they will tend to choose to go to the one that did cost more rather than the one they would most interested in, even though the money was spent and the overall cost is the same regardless of the choice made. An example of such a mechanism can be found in a study by Arkes and Blumer published in 1985 "the psychology of sunk cost"

Escalating Conflict

When a person has to take a additional decision to get out of a situation in which he is trapped, it is very hard to make such decision. If the opportunity to re-evaluate the original choice is not given, people will tend to stick to their original choice way beyond the point when this choice starts costing them more than they would ever have committed. An example of such a mechanism can be found in a study by Brockner, Shaw, and Rubin published in 1979 "factors affecting withdrawals from an escalating conflict: quitting before it's too late"

How manipulation works: from Self-manipulation to Manipulation

Preparatory steps

All the behaviors presented earlier are the result of self manipulation, but they open the door for actual manipulation by others. Somebody can easily exploits these type of behaviors, and introduce preliminary steps in an interaction so as to condition a person to fall later into one of the response mechanism described earlier. The initial preparatory decision should be the result of free choice, which can be induced:

  • through a plain lie, for example offering a product that is not available or promising a deal that does not exist
  • by controlling how the information is released, for example ask the subject to make a decision first, then provide him with more details that include changes to the original deal (low ball technique)
  • by using a teaser, for example offering a sale on a pair of shoes with only large sizes left

It has been shown that in addition to decision being resilient, people also tend to stick to this original decision even after they have been informed of a change to the original deal. An example of this mechanism can be found in a study by Cialdini published in 1978 "low ball procedure for producing complaince: commitment then cost"

Engagement

What makes all these processes work is the effect of "engagement", which precedes the "resilience of decision", as demonstrated in a study by Kiesler published in 1971 "The psychology of commitment - Experiments linking behavior to belief"

Engagement can be reinforced, and there can be several levels of engagement:

  • signing a petition is a low entry level, and providing name/address/profession is another level
  • how public is the engagement or how often the engagement is requested also impacts the level of engagement.

As a result of this engagement process the reality is that "free choice" is actually "free will submission". The perception from the decision maker is that he is making a free choice, but the reality is that he can be influenced by a simple request.

The consequences of engagement

It has been shown that the preparatory steps work better when engagement is reinforced by action. More specifically, experimentation has shown the following:

  • When there is engagement into an action that is in tune with what the person thinks, it reinforces the conviction of this person.
  • When there is engagement into an action that conflicts with what the person thinks, it results in an adaptation of the convictions

Engagement into a non-conflictual decision, followed by an action makes the choice more resilient. This can go as far as creating boomerang reactions to opinions that go against the original choice. For example it has been shown that people asked to sign a petition for a cause that they are supporting will become stronger supporters of that cause after they have signed than they were before.

The interesting part is that the effect of engagement being reinforced by actions applies someone regardless of the original point of view of the person. This can regarded as a good thing or as a bad thing depending on how one wants to look at it:

  • when engagement is for a good cause, it is usually considered to be leadership - the person engages in an action
  • when engagement is for a "bad" cause, it is usually called being brain washed, or manipulated - the person has been engaged into an action

But the mechanism behind remains the same.

Techniques of manipulation

Several techniques can help prepare the context for a better compliance to a later request:

  • The "Foot-in-the-door" technique
  • The "Door-in-the-face" technique
  • Touch
  • The "Foot-in-the-mouth" technique
  • The "Fear-then-relief" technique
  • The "But you are free of" technique
  • The "A little is better than nothing" technique
The "Foot-in-the-door" technique

In this technique, the preparatory step consist in getting the person engaged into a low cost action as a way to prepare for a much more costly one. For example asking for the time of the day before asking for some money to pay for a phone call - such examples can be found in a study by Freedman and Frazer published in 1966 "compliance without pressure: the foot-in-the-door technique", and by Pliner Host Kohl and Saari published in 1974 "compliance without pressure: some further data on the foot-in-the-door technique".

This technique works even better if you follow up with an "attribution", by commenting on the person's action and by making them feel good about such action (Attribution technique - see below)

The "Door-in-the-face" technique

This technique consist in asking for something totally unrealistic as a way prepare for a much more resonable request. For example asking for a large sum beyond the means of a person before asking for $100. Such examples can be found in studies by Cialdini, Vincent, Lewis, Catalan, Wheeler and Darby published in 1975 "a reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing complaince: the door-in-the-face technique"

Touch

This technique consist in touching the person for a few second as a preparatory step for a later request. As strange as it may seem it does make real difference. Examples of results from such a technique can be found in a study by Kleinke published in 1973 "compliance to requests made by gazing and touching experimentaters in field settings"

The "Foot-in-the-mouth" technique

This technique consist in inquiring about the person and showing interest in the answer as a preparatory step for a later request. Examples of results from such a technique can be found in a study by Howard published in 1990 "the influence of verbal responses to common greetings on compliance behavior: the foot-in-the-mouth effect"

The "Fear-then-relief" technique

This technique consist in creating stress before providing relief as a preparatory step for a later request. However unpopular it might be, examples of this technique can be found in police questioning procedures.

The Attribution technique

This technique consist in commenting on the person's action to give them a good image of themselves. Examples of results from such a technique can be found in a study by Millet, Brickman and Bolen published in 1975 "attribution versus persuasion as a means for modifying behavior"

The "But you are free of" technique

This technique consist in clarifying after a request that the person should feel free to not comply to this request. Examples of results from such a technique can be found in a study by Guegen and Pascual published in 2002 "evocation of freedom and compliance: the but ou are free of... technique".
This technique also works on the web (for example by changing the wording of a button to "feel free to click here" instead of just "click here"). In one experiment from Guegen, LeGouvello, Pascual and Morineau published in 2002 "request solicitation and semantic evocation of freedom: an evaluation in a computer mediated communication context", it was shown to move the success rate from 65% to 82%.

The "A little is better than nothing" technique

This technique consist in adding to the request that a little will be better than nothing, thus removing the excuse of cost from the possible answers. Example of results from such a technique can be found in a study from Cialdini and Shroeder published in 1976 "increasing compliance by legitimazing paltry contributions"

"This is not all" technique

This technique consist in offering additional items that were not requested originally to justify the high cost of the request. This is a classic, and we are exposed to in our everyday shopping.

The "Foot-in-the-memory" technique

This technique consist in asking the person to remember when they did not comply in the past with something that they approve of in general, or try to ask them to visualise situations that would not be conform with a given policy. An example of results from such a technique can be found in a study by Dickerson, Thibodeau, Aronson and Miller published in 1992 "using cognitive dissonance to encourage water conservation"

Once all these techniques have been identified, it is then possible to mix and match to try to optimise results. An example of such mix and match and the results that it yielded can be found in a study by Joule published in 1989 "Tobacco deprivation: the foot in the door technique versus the low ball technique". In this experiment, the goal was to have students agree to stop smoking for 18 hours. In the control group, 12% of the students selected agreed to the request, and only 4% actually complied. But after two "foot-in-the-door" steps followed by 2 engagements 95% of the students selected agreed to the request, and 90% complied.

Possible Applications

An obvious application of all these techniques is Marketing.
Management and Child Education are the other areas where they can be useful.

Management

Organizations of all kinds all require that a group of individuals work towards a common goal. And even when the culture inside the organization is very open (what the authors call industrial democracy), we are still in a configuration were people are being asked to do, or maybe they are being influenced into doing, something that makes sense for the organization as the best way to reach the goal.

Research by Kurt Lewin (1947 "group decision and social change") gave birth after the war to the practice of group decision making in industrial organizations. But what remains today from this orginal theory has been dilluted into two main versions that were further advertised, one with a "management" bias, and the other one with a "democratic" bias.

To understand how these versions differ (or not), one has to look at two important parameters within the entreprise:

  • the internal social weight - impact on employees
  • the organizational efficiency weight - impact on production

The "management" version of the original theory has been presented by Norman Maier who was studying group decision for better management. According to him:

  • If a change has no internal social weight and no organizational efficiency weight (for example the color of the paint on the walls), then who makes the decision does not matter, and coin tossing is a good method
  • If a change has no internal social weight but has organizational efficiency weight, then the decision should be taken by experts
  • If a change has internal social weight but no organizational efficiency weight, then the decision should be taken as a group decision
  • If a change has internal social weight and organizational efficiency weight, then there is potential conflict, and the situation requires a "moderator" to drive the group towards the decision that makes most sense for the organization, while it is taken with buy-in from the group. This means using techniques to guide the free choice, to gain engagement, and therefore through manipulation.

The "democracy" version of the original theory favors "listening to the group", by analysing the organization constraints and the personal conflicts within the group. And from this analysis it is expected that a solution will emerge at some point in time.

But while it seem to be a friendlier approach, this also can be seen as another form of manipulation: even if the intent is sincere, the fact that the indivudual agrees to get into the process means he has been "engaged". And from that point, he can be guided as well (and the organization needs it if we do not want the process to take forever), which is again manipulation, but using a psychologist instead of a moderator.

Education

In Education, well intended parents want their child to have choice. But it should not be choice betwen many options, but rather the choice to do or not to do: when somebody makes a choice, they internalize this choice and then rationalize it. This mechanism makes them more apt at making similar choices in the future. So in the case of a child, asking him/her to do the right thing (rather than giving them a real choice or trying to impose an action) and then doing an Attribution, will condition them to make similar decision in the future. During the internalization process, they will associate the behavior to the fact that they were doing the right thing because this is who they are rather than because they were doing what they are told.

Conclusion

Manipulation and propaganda are everywhere, and people usually feel unconfortable with the concept of manipulation. But Marketing propaganda is forcing commercials into a consumer brain without regard for his/her own interest while well intended manipulation can be seen as just another act of selling. Architecting behaviors should not be consider as bad as manipulating people by lying on the virtues of a product or trying to brain wash them through force fed commercials. In fine, and despite the unpopularity of the word "manipulation", using technologies of comportment is probably a more ethical choice, as long as the preliminary steps to engage the person are not based on lies or abuse.

Regardless of what one would like to think, it is clear that we are subject in our everyday life to manipulation. So people making decisions should always keep in mind of the following:

  • be aware of the mechanism behind various behaviors
  • do not hesitate to re-consider a decision
  • learn to consider each decision individually (and not take into account previous decision)
  • do not overestimate your freedom of choice

Freedom does not prevent us from doing things that are costly to us personnally and that are the result of somebody else expectation. From a political point of view, it means that one should not confuse living in a liberal society and living in a true democracy.