Pants on Fire

A television program called Curiosity recently aired and it’s subject matter for the episode was brainwashing. In the episode, they hypnotized a group of people and had them perform different tasks, programmed as post-hypnotic suggestion. Most of us have either seen or heard of shows in which audience members are caused to act like chickens or some other fairly harmless behavior. In this case though, they programmed a man to perform an assassination. The upshot is that he did it. He shot a stranger he was programmed to believe was a ‘bad guy’ that had to be eliminated. I’m not going to get into the question of whether the ordeal was real, semi-real, or simple television drama. I could have been any of those. My point comes from the oblique; during the show, at a commercial break, they asked the question “What is the most common form of brainwashing?” We had to wait through a few commercials to learn that it was propaganda –mostly commercials.

Many people are aware of propaganda, and the vast majority believe that they’re immune to it. The truth is that most people are susceptable, some to greater degrees than others. From subliminal education down to simple repetition, people aren’t that difficult to program –which is one of the reasons that people believed that the tremendous number of dollars poured into political campaigns in this last cycle would have a winning effect. The various campaigning methods did have an effect, and a large one. However, some of the issues were so visceral that it would take a lot more exposure to turn the tides fully towards the desired result. One of the concepts that accompanies hypnotism is that subjects can’t be made to do something they’re really and seriously opposed to.

Leaving the idea of assassination behind though, let’s look at the way that advertising is practiced these days. There’s a lot more science involved than many people think, or for that matter, even believe. Recent brain studies have revealed that our concept of reality is a fallacy on many levels. From our hearing to vision to tactile senses, we experience an interpretation of the stimuli around us, rather than actually experiencing actual events. An example is persistence of vision. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to see motion pictures (film or video), lines drawn on a dark sky by waving sparklers, or many other visual experiences that we take for granted. It’s all the brain reacting to various sensory stimuli and delivering what amounts to an estimation of what’s occurring. Yeah, it’s a spooky thought. What reality turns out to be, are the various areas where the vast majority of people share the same estimations.

Understanding this explains a lot about the way that the mind can be manipulated. We’ve known that certain ‘tricks’ can be used to cause planned reactions in people. The most notable is subliminal education’s most basic form. As we view a stream of images that make up a moving picture, frames are injected into the stream. These images do not last long enough for the brain to include them in the movie it is interpreting from the stream of images, but they last long enough for the brain to see them and to recognize them. To summarize, if the words “You’re Thirsty” were placed into the stream of images of a movie in a theater with subliminal spacing, and the image was repeated over and over, the audience would react and go out to buy a drink from the concession stand. Subliminal imaging was so rock solid in its effect that the government made the practice illegal. For the purposes of this article I’m being tremendously simplistic, but factual. Literally everyone can be hypnotized and it happens with a consistency that’s alarming, especially with the latitudes that advertising is given by virtue of the First Amendment.

Repetition is also an effective way to manipulate. When the same message is delivered to us over and over again, it takes its place as a normal part of our lives. The greater the immersion in the message, the more effective it becomes. This is the primary reason that advertisers use saturation scheduling –to repeat their message so that their product ‘feels’ like it should be a part of your life. They also make associations between their product and something or things that we already have a strong affinity for. The most common examples are sex, family and camaraderie. But it goes even further than that, even colors have strong emotional associations and so quite often commercials are shot through lenses tinted with a color most appropriate to their image. We have all heard the expression demographics and know it generally means a quantity of people oriented in a certain way. But enter the word psychographics, which is the methodology of making people react in a certain way.

Manipulation of the masses is tremendously common. Again using a political example, let’s look at the Affordable Care Act –what’s known more commonly as Obamacare. It was found in virtually every research endeavor that while people tended to accept or reject the program according to party lines when it was referred to by its name, the overwhelming majority of people interviewed were 100 percent in support of the program if the distinct and separate elements of the program was inquired about. In other words, the people who said they wanted no part of Obamacare were in staunch favor of the program if they were confronted by the different things the Act contains, but without the label. I can come up with tons of other examples, perpetrated by both ends of the political spectrum; propaganda knows no mater, it’s a willing servant for anyone who wishes to employ it. And it’s employed all the time.

Manipulation is easier when there are more ‘subjects’ being programmed. This is because humans are social animals and peer pressure is an exquisitely powerful motivator. This is why so many companies use bogus reviews in today’s online marketplace; it reinforces the power of the lure when people believe that other folks, just like them, find favor with a product. Because of this, there is a whole science now dedicated to finding the ways to determine the difference between falsified commendations of a product and real ones as the hosts of the review platform try to maintain the credibility of their platform. Similar to color, group dynamics can set the stage for acceptance. In terms of color, an example is the CSI television series. Each of the shows are shot through color filters: green for the original, Las Vegas group, blue for New York, and amber for Miami. Many people don’t realize it until it’s explained, but at that point it is obvious to viewers. Each of those filters sets a stage to add to the suspension of disbelief a good program needs to gain loyalty from its audience. It’s all about programming the audience attitude. When coupled with other iconic aspects, the draw can be very powerful.  Sometimes it’s obvious, like the tone and images of the commercials begging for donations for animal protection. The music is always dirge-like and the emotion in the narration is palpable. But then, if they played a polka in the background and gave narration that sounded perky and upbeat, the audience wouldn’t have the same emotional drive to donate.

We are a people easily swayed. While it’s a blow to people’s self image of mental acuity, it shouldn’t be, In the same way a chemist combines elements and compounds to produce a result, the same is true about information delivery –especially when the information is trying to be persuasive. As you watch television, listen to the radio, or peruse the Internet, try to maintain a position of disbelief. Always look for ways to debate what you’re being told. If you’re like most people, you’ll surprise yourself with the number of fallacies and falsehoods you believe in on many, many topics. Remember, you’re up against experts who spend literally all of their time trying to find ways to convince you of things you might be resistant to.