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 Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion

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PostSubject: Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion   Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion EmptyMon 04 Jan 2010, 5:19 pm

Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion 51A3B29HNGL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_


Psychologists Pratkanis and Aronson present a thorough overview of how individuals and the mass media manipulate us using devious persuasive techniques. In order to understand how and why we are persuaded, the authors analyze the various tactics people use to get us to comply; point out ways we might deal sensibly and effectively with propaganda; and examine persuasion in a context of argument and debate. The authors' quarrel with persuasive communication today is that, rather than using logical argument, it uses emotional symbols to manipulate us. Advertisers, for example, use short, catchy, visually oriented messages to get us to buy things we might not need. Pratkanis and Aronson skillfully summarize research findings from the field of social psychology to illustrate their points. While a large portion of the book is devoted to advertising techniques, the authors also examine media coverage of the Gulf War, cult leaders, and political elections. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.

From an Amazon Reviewer....

This insightful book explores the profound differences in decision-making over the last 2,500 years. Despite a penchant for social science jargon, the authors successfully translate a tremendous amount of current communications research on the creation and maintainance of belief systems into an accessible book. "Age of Propaganda" documents the rise of advertising, the decline of genuine public discourse, and the inherent dangers of ten second soundbites in determining our desires, needs, and goals. Further, they detail the unique difficulties in making a "rational" decision in a fast-paced, message-dense, mass-media culture. This provocative and disturbing book also paints a potentially bleak picture for America's democratic traditions. Fortunately, the authors provide readers with "an arsenal" of intellectual tools to decode messages and protect ourselves. As the authors conclude, "we must depend on our own knowledge of propaganda tactics and our own efforts to treat important issues as if they were truly important."

And this detailed Comment, providing key excerpts from the book...

Behavioral principles
- repetition, intensity, association (link content to the recipient's experiences) and ingenuity (make the ad distinctive)

According to information-processing model, a persuasive message must successfully pass through a series of stages. First, the message must attract the recipient's attention; ignored messages will have little persuasive impact. Second, the arguments in the message must be understood and comprehended. Third, the recipient must learn the arguments contained in the message and come to accept them as true; the task of the advertiser and other persuaders is to teach arguments supportive of the cause, so that these arguments will come easily to mind at the appropriate time and place.

Finally, the recipient of the message acts on this learned knowledge when there is an incentive to do so; a persuasive message is learned, accepted, and acted upon if it is rewarding to do so. Given that later stages of the persuasion process are dependent on the completion of earlier stages, the chances of any given persuasive communication passing to the final stage are quite low and thus the effects are minimal.

The recipient of the message, according to the information-processing model, is quite rational, deciding on how much information to accept from each communication depending on how that information satisfies and rewards.

Subtle and indirect - may not tell you what to think, but they do tell you what to think about and how to do it.

The successful persuasion tactic is one that directs and channels thoughts so that the target thinks in a manner agreeable to the communicator's point of view; the successful tactic disrupts any negative thoughts and promotes positive thoughts bout the proposed course of action.

Here are six facts that professional persuaders have learned about modern propaganda:

  1. Ads containing the words, new, quick, easy, improved, now, suddenly, amazing, and introducing sell more products
  2. Merchandise placed on shelves at eye level sells best
  3. Ads that use animals, babies, or sex appeal are more likely to sell the product than those that use cartoon characters and historical figures
  4. Merchandise placed at the ends of a supermarket aisle or near the checkout aisle is more likely to be purchased
  5. Bundled pricing often increases the customer's perception of product "value"
  6. In solicitations and sales calls, asking the target "How are you feeling?" and then acknowledging the response can double the rate of compliance with the request.

Two routes to persuasion - peripheral and central

Peripheral - a message recipient devotes little attention and effort to processing a communication. Persuasion is determined by simple cues, such as the attractiveness of the communicator, whether or not the people around you agree with the position presented, the pleasure or pain associated with agreeing with the position, or whether a reason is given for complying with the request.

Central - a message recipient engages in a careful and thoughtful consideration of the true merits of the information presented. The person may actively argue against the message, may want to know the answer to additional questions, or may seek out new information. The persuasiveness of the message is determined by how well it can stand up to this scrutiny.

What determines which route to persuasion will be adopted? - the recipient's motivation to think about the message - the personal relevance of the issue. * we are cognitive misers, forever trying to conserve our cognitive energy, we adopt the strategies of the peripheral route for simplifying complex problems.

Cognitive dissonance - describes and predicts how we humans rationalize behavior - occurs whenever a person simultaneously holds two inconsistent cognitions. This state of inconsistency is so uncomfortable that people strive to reduce this conflict in the easiest way possible. They will change one or both cognitions so that they will "fit together" better. This is especially true in situations in which a person's self esteem is at risk. In these circumstances, individuals will go to great lengths of distortion, denial, and self persuasion in order to justify their past behavior. When our self esteem has been threatened by our own past behavior, we all have a powerful tendency to become rationalizing animals. By reducing dissonance, a person defends the ego and retains a positive self image.

Rationalization trap = first intentionally arouse feelings of dissonance by threatening self esteem, for example, making the person feel guilty about something, by arousing feelings of shame or inadequacy, or by making the person look like a hypocrite or someone who does not honor his or her word. Next, offer a solution, one way of reducing this dissonance, by complying with whatever request the propagandist has in mind. The way to reduce that guilt, eliminate that shame, honor that commitment, and restore your feeling of adequacy is to give to that charity, buy that car, hate that enemy, or vote for that leader.

Almost every war in modern times has been accompanied by characterizations of the enemy as less than human. Dehumanization succeeds in resolving any dissonance that may be aroused by our cruelty toward our enemies. However, watch out; the more we justify our cruelty, the easier it becomes. The rationalization trap becomes an escalating spiral: "I committed an act of cruelty; I justified this act by believing that the victim deserved it. If the victim deserved that cruelty, well maybe they deserve more and maybe I am just the one to give it to them.

In our everyday experience, we have seen people break out of the rationalization trap by courageously admitting to their mistakes and learning from their errors. By understanding of our defensiveness and dissonance-reducing tendencies and, second, through the development of enough ego strength to recognize and face up to errors in past behavior that require correction - not justification.

Four stratagems of influence

The first is to take control of the situation and establish a favorable climate for your message, a process we call pre-persuasion. Pre-persuasion refers to how the issue is structured and how the decision is framed. If fully successful, pre-persuasion establishes "what everyone knows" and "what everyone takes for granted" By cleverly establishing how an issue is defined and discussed, however, a communicator can influence cognitive responses and obtain consent without even appearing to be attempting to persuade us. Next, the communicator needs to establish a favorable image in the eyes of the audience. We call this stratagem source credibility. In other words, the communicator needs to appear likable or authoritative or trustworthy or possessed of any other attribute that would facilitate persuasion. The third stratagem is to construct and deliver a message that focuses the targets' attention and thoughts on exactly what the communicator wants them to think about - for example, by distracting the targets' attention on a vivid and powerful image, or even by inducing the target to persuade themselves. Finally, effective influence controls emotions of the target and follows a simple rule: Arouse an emotion that just happens to be the desired course of action. In such situations, the target becomes preoccupied with dealing with the emotion, complying with the request in hopes of escaping a negative emotion or maintaining a positive one.

Glittering generalities - use of words that have positive connotations but are usually ambiguous in the context in which they are used

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world view and mental habits proper to the reader, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak have been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought - should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.
Language, words, labels, categories organize our realities and serve to divide up the world into neat little packages and to imply the range of appropriate courses of action to take. Words have the power to pre-persuade. It defines our reality, our thoughts, our feelings, our imagination and thus influence our behavior.

Framing a situation
- depicting a single concrete, specific event
thematic - an abstract report about a general topic

Agenda setting is of great importance in maintaining power - by determining what issues will be discussed and when, what criteria will be used to resolve disputes, who will sit on what committees, and, which information will be widely disseminated and which will be selectively ignored.

How do analogies and metaphors persuade? By highlighting some comparison while hiding others and by providing a theme or structure for making sense of potentially ambiguous information

Defining the issue as "losing something" was more persuasive than stating it in terms of a gain

Never ask a question for which you don't know the answer. Never ask a question that doesn't get the answer you want.

Card stacking
- the order in which questions are asked and the order in which information is received can distort and bias the decision making process.
Question asking can be a powerful persuasion device because questions structure our decision making process. They do this by directing our thoughts about the issues at hand and by implicitly specifying the range of possible answers.

Context makes a difference, judgment is relative, not absolute. Depending on the context, objects and alternatives can be made to look better or worse. Often we do not pay much attention to the influence of context, must less question the validity of the alternatives presented.

One of the important tasks of media research is to keep tabs on the "reputation and credibility" of public figures. Advertisers want to know which figures are most believable, who is most liked by the public. The answers to such questions determine the figures value as a spokesperson for the advertiser's product. Credibility has become a commodity not only to be feigned but also to be bought and sold on the open market.

Advertisers know that we believe what we believe and buy what we buy in the service of self image. They imbue their products with a "personality". To claim the desired persona, all we need to do is to purchase and display the right products.

Communicators can make themselves seem trustworthy by apparently acting against their own self interest. If we are led to believe that communicators have nothing to gain and perhaps even something to lose by convincing us, we will trust them and they will be more effective.

When the message conflicted with their expectations, listeners perceived the communicator as being more sincere and they were more persuaded by his statement

Not only do we tend to take more notice to unexpected events, but we also attribute more credibility to speakers who appear to resist the pressures of their colleagues and who take stands in opposition to their backgrounds.

Another way of increasing the perception of credibility: The apparent trustworthiness of a person can be increased and the apparent bias of the message deceased if the audience is absolutely certain the person is not trying to influence them.

Specific advice for making yourself likable: say what the audience thinks (which you can find out through polling), make others feel comfortable, and control the atmosphere (the situation) for your best advantage.

For increasing credibility - set easy initial goals and then declare victory (this will create the perception that you are a strong leader); use setting to support image; choose the negatives that will be written about you; and understand how people see things, then appeal to what they prefer.
Float an idea without attribution (that is, circulate a rumor). If everyone likes the idea, then claim it as your own. If it gets shot down, then deny your campaign ever said it. In this manner, you can always be sure to say exactly what everyone wants to hear. Another piece of advice: make sure you appear consistent in the media. And the best way to do this? Just say a few things over and over again (that way, you don't contradict yourself)

Credibility is manufactured, not earned. Credibility is created by carefully managing the situation so that the communicator, looks just the way he or she is supposed to look - likeable, credible, strong, expert, or whatever image is needed at the time.

Models are effective for two primary reasons. First they teach new behavior. Second we behave like our model because we believe the rewards received by a model for a given behavior will also come to us. It serves as a cue to indicate that a certain behavior is legitimate and appropriate. It can shape and twist our understanding of what is right and wrong. A model is most effective when he or she is high in prestige, power, and status, is rewarded for performing the behavior to be learned, provides useful information on how to perform the behavior, and is personally attractive and competent in facing life's problems - the model is a credible and attractive source.

Confidence of the speaker - the more self assured and confident a communicator appears, the more likely that we well accept what is said - low rates of speech error, an authoritative tone of voice, and a steady body posture, are positively related to persuasion.

Load a speech
with the "correct" symbols and buzzwords as a means of informing the recipient that the message is acceptable and worthwhile.

Five conditions that are most likely to lead to heuristic rather than rational decision making (Heuristic - a simple cue or rule for solving a problem.)

  1. When we do not have time to think carefully about an issue
  2. When we are overloaded with information that it becomes impossible to process fully
  3. When we believe that the issues at stake are not very important
  4. When we have little other knowledge or information on which to base a decision
  5. When a given heuristic comes quickly to mind as we are confronted with a problem

Self generated persuasion - getting someone to role play an opponent's position, or by asking a person to imagine adopting a course of action - is one of the most effective persuasion tactics ever identified. It gains its power from providing subtle social cues and directions that ask the target of influence, in effect, to think up as many positive cognitive responses about the issue as you can and, if you do happen to come up with some counter arguments, to be ready to refute them. The resulting message will come from a source that you almost always consider credible, trustworthy, respected, and liked - yourself. The act of generating arguments is an act of commitment to the cause. After all, they're your ideas, aren't they?

Vivid messages affect our cognitive responses in at least four possible ways:

  1. Attracts attention - it helps the communication stand out in the message dense environment
  2. It can make information more concrete and personal
  3. Its appeal directs and focuses thought on the issues and arguments that the communicator feels are most important
  4. It can make the material more memorable. This is especially important if we do not reach an immediate conclusion but base our later judgments on information that comes readily to mind.

Frequent repetition of an advertisement helps to meet multiple marketing objectives in a cost efficient manner. Repeatedly exposing consumers to an ad is a good way to introduce a new product or to remind customers of the value of an older brand. Often, repeat exposure is an unintended consequence of attempting to present an ad to multiple target audiences (the members of which may overlap). With the high cost of creating and producing new advertising ideas and slogans, its makes sense to stick with proven winners.

All other things being equal, the more a person is exposed to an item, the more attractive it is.

The rank and file are usually much more primitive than we imagine. Propaganda must therefore always be essentially simple and repetitious
. In the long run only he will achieve basic results in influencing public opinion who is able to reduce problems to the simplest terms and who has the courage to keep forever repeating them in this simplified form despite the objections of intellectuals.

Advertisers know that repeated exposure can leas to what is known as "wear out" - when an ad loses its effectiveness because consumers find repeated exposures to be tedious and annoying. Wear-out effects are most likely to occur with ads that attract much attention, such as humorous ads and informational messages. Advertisers attempt to eliminate wear-out by using a technique known as "repetition with variation". In this technique, the same information or theme is repeated many times, but the presentation format is varied.

If you don't have anything to say, sing it. In other words, a mild distraction can disrupt counter arguing and increase the effectiveness of a persuasive message. A lively song can make us happy and thus help use think happy thoughts about a product. At other times the song may get stuck in our head, reminding us of the brand name. At still other times a catchy song or a big production number can attract our attention to the ad so that we don't change the channel or go to the bathroom and we at least hear the advertisers message.

The trick for the advertiser is to provide just enough of a distraction to disrupt counter arguing but not so much that it eliminates the reception of the message.

Distraction increases the effectiveness of weak arguments (because it disrupted counter arguing) but decreases the impact of strong arguments (because it disrupted the ability to pay close attention to the cogent argument being made).

People are less able to develop counter arguments to a time compressed message and that time compressing a message consisting of strong arguments reduced persuasion whereas it increases the persuasive impact of a message containing weak arguments.

Most of us have a strong desire to be correct - to have "the right" opinions and to perform reasonable actions
. When someone disagrees with us, it makes us feel uncomfortable because it suggests our opinions or actions may be wrong or based on misinformation. The greater the disagreement, the greater the discomfort. But this does not necessarily mean the members of an audience will change their opinion.

There are at least four ways in which the members of an audience can reduce their discomfort:

  1. Change their opinion
  2. Induce the communicator to change his or her opinion
  3. Seek support for their original opinion by finding other people who share their views, in spite of what the communicator says
  4. Derogate the communicator - convince themselves the communicator is stupid or immoral - and thereby invalidate that person's position.

One sided or two sided argument

If a communicator mentions the opposition's arguments, it might indicate that he or she is an objective, fair minded person; this could enhance the speaker's trustworthiness and thus increase his or her effectiveness. On the other hand, if a communicator so much as mentions the arguments on the other side of the issue, it might suggest to the audience that the issue is a controversial one; this could confuse members of the audience, make them vacillate, induce them to search for counter arguments, and ultimately reduce the persuasiveness of the communication.

It depends to some extend on how well informed the audience is and on the audience's initial opinions on the issue. The more informed the members of the audience are, the less likely they are to be persuaded by an argument that brings out the important opposing arguments and then attempts to refute them. This makes sense: a well informed person is more likely to know some of the counter arguments; when the communicator avoids mentioning these, the knowledgeable members of the audience are likely to conclude that the communicator is either unfair or unable to refute such arguments. On the other hand, an uninformed person is less apt to know of the existence of opposing arguments. If the counter argument is ignored, the less informed members of the audience are persuaded; if the counter argument is presented, they might get confused.

Another factor is the partisanship of the audience. If a member of the audience is already predisposed to believe the communicator's argument, a one sided presentation has a greater impact on his or her opinion than a two sided presentation. If, however, a member of the audience is leaning in the opposite direction, then a two sided refutation argument is more persuasive.

The more frightened a person is by a communication, the more likely he or she is to take positive preventive action. Fear can be a powerful motivating psychological force, channeling all our thoughts and energies toward removing the threat so that we don't think about much else.

The principle of fear then relief

People who had a reasonably good opinion of themselves were the ones most likely to be moved by high degrees of fear arousal. People with low opinions of themselves were the least likely to take immediate action when confronted with a communication arousing a great deal of fear - but after a delay, they behaved very much like the subjects with high self esteem. People who have a low opinion of themselves may have difficulty coping with threats to themselves. A high fear communication overwhelms them and makes them feel like crawling into bed and pulling the covers up over their heads. Low or moderate fear is something they can more easily deal with at the moment they experience it. But, given time - that is, if it is not essential they act immediately - they will be more likely to act if the message truly scared the hell out of them.

If the recipients of fear appeal perceive that there is no way to cope effectively with the threat, they are not likely to respond to the appeal but will just bury their heads in the stand.

In sum, a fear appeal is more effective when:

  • It scares the hell out of people
  • It offers a specific recommendation for overcoming the fear arousing threat
  • The recommended action is perceived as effective for reducing the threat
  • The message recipient believes that he or she can perform the recommended action
  • The recipient's attention is first focused on the painful fear. In such a frightened state it is difficult to think about anything other than getting rid of the fear. Next, the propagandist offers a way to get rid of that fear - a simple, doable response that just happens to be what the propagandist wanted you to do all along.

Creating granfalloons - proud and meaningless association of human beings.

People acted as if those who shared their meaningless label were their good friends and close kin. They indicated that they liked those who shared their label. They allocated more money and reward to those group members who shared their label and did so in a competitive manner.

What makes a granfalloon tick - two psychological processes, one cognitive and one motivational. The knowledge that "I'm in this group" is used to divide up and make sense of the world. Differences between groups are exaggerated, whereas similarities among members of the granfalloon are emphasized in the secure knowledge that "this is what our type does." One serious consequence is that out group members are dehumanized; they are represented in our mind by a simple, often derogatory label, as opposed to unique individuals. It is a lot easier to abuse an abstraction. Second, social groups are a source of self esteem and pride. To obtain the self esteem the group has to offer, members come to defend the group and adopt its symbols, rituals, and beliefs.
Herein lies the secret to the persuasiveness of the granfalloon. If the professional persuader can get us to accept his or her granfalloon, then we have a ready made way to make sense of our lives - the propagandist's way - and as our self esteem becomes increasingly linked to these groups, we have a strong motivation to defend the group and to go to great lengths proudly to adopt its customs. What the propagandist is really saying is: "You are on my side (never mind that I created the teams); now act like it and do what we say."

Sometimes granfalloons come ready made. Each group is associated with a certain self image and lifestyle. Products are given a "personality" that fits the image of the target market; this advertising then goes on to create further the image of each granfalloon by specifying what needs to be done to maintain a certain image.

Shared emotion and feeling can also create a granfalloon. A sense of oneness with others can be produced by sharing a fun time, a sad situation, or a harrowing experience.

Co option tactic
- subtly to change a person's granfalloon - corporation gives active critic a new position, often highly visible but without real power within the organization. Gradually, the critic becomes increasingly isolated from old "activist" friends and increasingly dependent on the corporation for material resources and a sense of identity. The opposition is defused as ties with the old granfalloon are dissolved.

Guilt - the feeling that we are responsible for something wrong whether real or imaginary - leads to compliance

Why it works

  • Sympathy, or feeling sorry for the victim
  • Restitution, or feeling the need to compensate for the wrongdoing
  • Generalized guilt, or the desire to repair a self image tarnished by a transgression
  • When we feel guilty we typically pay little attention to the cogency of an argument, to the merits of a suggested course of action. Instead, our thoughts and actions are directed to removing the feeling of guilt - to somehow making thing right or doing the right thing. We fall into the rationalization trap.

The norm of reciprocity - if I do something for you, then you are obligated to return the favor and do something for me - establishes a feeling of obligation and indebtedness

Commitment can be self perpetuating, resulting in an escalating commitment to an often failing course of action. Once a small commitment is made, it sets the stage for ever increasing commitments. The original behavior needs to be justified, so attitudes are changed; this change in attitudes influences future decisions and behavior. The result is a seemingly irrational commitment to a poor business plan, a purchase that makes no sense, a war that has no realistic objectives, or an arms race gone out of control.

When made to feel like a hypocrite, these people found the one sure way to restore their feelings of integrity: to begin to practice what they were preaching. If we are not made starkly aware of our hypocrisy, we all share the tendency to push the hypocritical behavior out of sight and do nothing about it.

When we discover that a commodity is scarce or may be unavailable, one of first inferences is that is must also be desirable. Why else would it be so rare? We tend to use a simple rule, or heuristic: If it is rare, if it is unavailable, then it must be valuable.

Scarcity and unavailability can do more than just make an object appear more desirable. When a phantom alternative is present, it can also result in a change in the perception, evaluation, and ultimate choice of the available options.
The presence of an attractive phantom made the other options look less attractive - a contrast effect similar in nature to, but opposite in direction from, that found with decoys. Second a phantom changed the relative importance given to the criteria for making a decision. Specifically, the attribute on which the phantom was superior was rated as most important for making the decision.

Owning an object that is scarce for or unavailable to everyone else is a means of defining one's self: "I am unique and special because I won something that no one else (or at least not many) has been able to obtain." Just hearing about a phantom may induce worry and concern: "If they bring out a better product, I'll be stuck with this thing. Maybe I should wait."

Phantom trap - fixation - focus attention on the scarce or unavailable item By concentrating on the scarce or unavailable, we may forget or overlook the possible. The presence of an attractive but currently unavailable object can focus our attention and resources on obtaining the desired prize. Settling for less than the phantom becomes a conflict that can only be resolved by "strength of willpower," a test that many of us often fail.

In many cases, phantom fixation can be a waste of time and energy, especially when the phantom is really a "red herring" of sorts - a truly unavailable option.
Consumer catch 22 carousel - obtaining a scarce and rare product adds to one's self image as a unique and special person. Manufacturers know this and design and market their products accordingly. If the marketer does a good job of creating a perception of the product as unique, then you desire and acquire it. But the catch is, so does everyone else; suddenly you are no longer an original. Instead of acquiring a product that makes you unique, you have obtained one that makes you just like everyone else. This further heightens the need for uniqueness, and off we go in an endless pursuit of the next faddish phantom. Once we begin using material goods to define ourselves, we are doomed to be on an endless treadmill of dissatisfaction.

Selectivity of news
- without some form of censorship, propaganda is impossible. In order to conduct propaganda there must be some barrier between the public and the event. Access to the real environment must be limited, before anyone can create a pseudo environment that he thinks wise or desirable. For while people who have direct access can misconceive what they see, no one else can decide how they shall misconceive it, unless he can decide where they shall look, and at what.

Everyday news - selection of news

  • News reporters typically work beats - they are assigned a group of institutions to cover. This immediately injects one source of bias into news coverage - something that happens off or between beats has a lower chance of being covered unless it is a major disaster or other spectacular event. Off beat stories rarely are covered and aren't considered news.
  • Most reporters are on a deadline; they must prepare a given number of stories by a certain time regardless of what is happening. In order to meet their deadlines, reporters place a premium on sources that can be easily contacted and trusted. This also creates bias in at least two ways. First, the reporter develops a routine for covering a story - ignoring potentially relevant avenues of investigation. Second, the reporter's routine results in the same type of people appearing on the news repeatedly.
  • Increasingly, reporters work for a corporation. This concentration of ownership results pressure on the reporter; certain stories are encouraged or not encouraged depending on their implications for the parent corporation. More subtly, however, corporate ownership biases programming and coverage.
  • As difficult as these pressures may seen, the journalist faces one more pressure that may mean her or his livelihood - the ability of the news story to hold the audience's attention. All television programming, including the evening news, must strive for profits - and that translates into securing ratings and viewers that will attract advertising dollars. And what induces people to watch the news concludes that most viewers want to be amused and diverted; being informed is only a secondary motive for watching. To guarantee high ratings and revenues, mass media content tends to be agreeable and to require little effort on the part of consumers, while still being arousing, emotionally engaging, and above all entertaining.
What makes a great news story? Stories that:

  • Are new and timely
  • Involve conflict or scandal
  • Concern strange and unusual happenings
  • Happen to familiar or famous people
  • Are capable of being made dramatic and personal
  • Are simple to convey in a short space or time
  • Contain visual elements
  • Fit a theme that is currently prominent in the news or society
  • The result of this itch for entertainment is sound bite and photo op news - a montage of brief visual images that play to the crowd. Each event and every idea must be part of a dramatic story amply illustrated with visual displays. Stories that are easily dramatized and visualized are readily covered. More complex issues receive little attention unless they can be made concrete and visual.

As one's confidence is weakened, a person becomes less prone to listen to arguments against his or her beliefs. Thus the very people you most want to convince and whose opinion might be the most susceptible to being changed are the ones least likely to continue to expose themselves to a communication designed for that purpose.

People tend to acquire information mostly about things that they find of interest and tend to avoid information that does not agree with their beliefs. Should someone find that they have been unavoidably exposed to uninteresting and disagreeable information, a common response is to distort and reinterpret that information, thus ignoring its implications for updating beliefs and attitudes.

The use of entertaining programs to disseminate a point of view has been successful in achieving high audience ratings and in changing people's attitudes and behaviors. Not appearing to be explicit attempts at persuasion, they should arouse little resistance, inhibiting the formation of counter arguments by distracting the audience. Most importantly, people will probably watch them without switching channels.

Information campaigns can succeed if they follow these simple rules:

  1. Make the program entertaining
  2. Do not directly attack a viewer's attitude and beliefs

The term cult is used to describe a pattern of social relations within a group. At the core of the relations is dependency. In a cult, members are dependent on the group and its leader for most if not all resources, including money, food, and clothing, information, decision making, and, perhaps most importantly, self esteem and social identity.

This dependency results in a specific pattern of relations. First, cults tend to be highly leader oriented, since the leader is the source of all sustenance. Second, because the leader is so important, he or she cannot be criticized or second guessed. Cults are marked by little or no checks and balances on the leader's power. The leader is typically exempt form the rules of the cult. Communication is highly centralized, with little information available from outside the group. The agenda, objectives, and work tasks are set by the elites. Finally given the importance of the group to the individual, all influence and persuasion is directed toward maintaining the leader's power. Dissent is immediately quashed. Persuasion is based on simple images and plays on emotions and prejudices.

Seven tactics for creating and maintaining a cult

  1. Create your own social reality - by eliminating all sources of information other than that provided by the cult. Cult headquarters should be isolated from the rest of the world. If cult members must remain in the larger community, then they should be isolated psychologically by keeping them busy chanting, reading cult literature, or working continuously for the cult. Members' mail should be censored. Family should be prevented from visiting members. Strict boundaries between believer and unredeemed must be maintained. Such censorship can be physical. However, it is much more practical to teach members self censorship by labeling everything that is not "of the cult" as "of the devil."

    Then provide a cult's eye view of the world. This picture of the world is then used by members to interpret all events and happenings. One useful technique for constructing social reality is to create your own language and jargon. A good vocabulary is useful for putting the "right" spin on things. By teaching a battery of clich├ęs any event is quickly defined as good or evil and critical thinking is abruptly terminated.

    Repeat your message over and over again. Repetition makes the heart grow fonder, and fiction, if heard frequently enough, can come to sound like fact.
  2. Create a granfalloon - the granfalloon technique requires the reaction of an in group of followers and an out group of the unredeemed. The technique allows you to control members by constantly reminding them: "If you want to be a chosen one, then you must act like a chosen one. If you are not chosen, then you are wicked and unredeemed. To be saved, you must act like you are supposed to act." Seasoned group members serve as role models and guides on how to behave for new group members. Intense peer pressure is applied to secure conformity. The result is a uniformity of opinion and behavior in the cult, which then serves to further reinforce cult practices - if everyone is doing it, it must be right.

    A new recruit is often brought into a granfalloon with a practice called "love bombing" - the newcomer is showered with attention, approval, and support by cult members. Cult recruiters are taught to mirror the interests and attitudes of the potential new member, thus making it feel as if there is rapport and understanding between the recruit and the cult. In order to keep this support and approval, the recruit must conform to the group.

    The essential ingredient in establishing an in group of believers is the creation of a social identity - an image of who "we" are. Joining a cult represents a break from the "other" world and the acceptance of this new identity.

    The outward trapping of the believer - the new name, distinct garb, a special diet - all confirm that the member is indeed a chosen one. To retain this valued membership, all one needs to do is continue to grow in this newfound life and, of course, continue to obey.

    The reverse side of the granfalloon tactic is the creation of an out group hate. The creation of an evil out group serves the dual purpose of making members feel good about belonging to their own group (I'm glad I'm not like them) and increasing their fears about leaving and not supporting their won group (I don't want to be like them; I can't let them take over the world.)

    If granfalloon techniques are correctly applied, then you should be successful in creating fear of the "outside" world and the belief that the cult is the only solution to a happy life. Life is thus impossible outside the cult - the only solution to life's problems.
  3. Create commitment through a rationalization trap. Cults can insure members' obedience by establishing a spiral of escalating commitment; the cult member, at first agrees to simple request that becoming increasing more demanding. After making an initial commitment, one does not feel comfortable reneging on the deal. To justify the sensibility of the initial commitment, the member if often willing to do more and then still more - to meet increasingly demanding commitments. In this way, the resolution of dissonance and maintenance of one's self image as honoring commitments form a powerful rationalization trap.

    Shower new recruits with attention and gifts; consistent with the norm of reciprocity, it is now time for the newcomer to do something for the group.

    Note also that the member, after having done all these things, is faced with a dilemma: "How can I explain all that I have done to those outside the group?" This requires the creation of the sensible, coherent justification that is not easily forthcoming. The rationalization trap is sprung.
  4. Establish the leader's credibility and attractiveness. Most cults have leader myths - stories and legends passed from member to member concerning the life and time of the cult leader. What is the purpose of such myths? Cults require members to engage in extreme behavior - that extreme behavior arouse dissonance; we are more likely to comply with extreme requests if common means for reducing our dissonance are not available (eg. Derogating the requester) and we can rationalize our extreme actions - we must do it for God and to "the son of God" or, at least, blessed by a divine purpose. Anybody in his or her right mind should seek to identify with and be like such a holy person.
  5. Send members out to proselytize the unredeemed and to fund raise for the cult. Witnessing to the unconverted has the obvious advantage of bringing in new members. Perhaps just as important, proselytizing can ensure that members are constantly engaged in self sell, or self generated persuasion. The act of witnessing requires the member to state anew to many different people the positive advantages of being in a cult. In arguing to convince others, members convince themselves. In testimonials given to other cult members, many cults encourage members to embellish how bad they were before joining the cult. The worst you were, the more approval you receive from the group. By constantly recounting these stories, cult members come to believe in the power of the cult to effect change and how hopeless they would be without it.
  6. Distract members from thinking "undesirable" thoughts. Most cult doctrines are hard to take seriously, must less accept. The cult member, especially a new recruit, is likely to question and counter argue basic points. Teaching that any "disagreeable thought" is evil and from the devil. Members become their own mind police. Control your own thoughts, or at least the expression of those thoughts.
  7. Fixate members' vision on a phantom. The successful cult leader is always dangling a notion of the promised land and a vision of a better world before the faithful. If is also likely that most new recruits will be in a state of despair. Phantoms can establish hope - a powerful motivator of human behavior - by providing a sense of purpose and mission.

Effective propaganda relies on heuristics and appeals to the emotions.

Its propaganda's effect for the most part must be aimed at the emotions and to a very limited degree at the so called intellect. We must avoid excessive intellectual demands on our public. The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, by their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.

Acceptance of the idea that persuasion was to start at the top of society and be directed downward toward the masses. It was the responsibility of the ruling elite to make the decisions and then inform the masses of the wisdom of those decisions through propaganda; the responsibility of the masses was to follow. And what better role for the masses, since, by and large, they are ignorant and cannot think.


Third person effect - in communication - a tendency to believe that the mass media will have a greater effect on others than on oneself - "I will mot be influenced, but others may very well be persuaded." Simply because we think we are immune to persuasion does not necessarily mean we are immune.
We often watch the mass media while we are in a mindless state. The communications are typically just not that involving or interesting. But, ironically, that often makes them all the more persuasive. In such cases, despite knowing that the advertiser is "out to get us," we still do not make much of an attempt to refute the message and, as a consequence, are often persuaded.

Forewarning seem to say "Watch out, I'm going to try to persuade you," and people tend to respond by marshaling defenses in two ways - by playing attitudinal politics and by preparing a possible rebuttal to the anticipated communication. By attitudinal politics we mean holding and expressing an opinion not because it is believed but in order to secure some strategic purpose. For example, many people dislike having their perceived freedom threatened by a communication and thus seek to appear independent but consistent. When these motives are invoked, the goal is to appear unpersuaded - regardless of the merits of the communication. On the other hand, there are times when one seeks to appear informed, reasonable, and open to discussion. In such cases, a forewarning may result in more persuasion, or at least becoming more moderate in one's opinion. As a result of attitudinal politics, the effects of forewarning may be short lived. As the audience for our beliefs or the strategic purpose for why we hold an opinion changes, so does the opinion. On the other hand, a forewarning has little effect when an individual is distracted from fully thinking about the message or has little time or opportunity to prepare a defense. Under certain conditions, even a clear forewarning will not always lead to an attempt to refute the message. One of these conditions is when the recipient believes the message or topic is unimportant.

Stealing thunder - revealing the negative information about oneself or about the issue at hand before it is revealed by an opponent or others. Supposed if you are faced with a situation in which negative information can be revealed that will hurt your cause. What can be done to limit the impact of the attack?
A concession coming from your mouth is not nearly as hurtful as an exposure coming from your opponent's. We cannot be forgiven for a wrongdoing we have committed and tried to cover up.
Why it works - first it enhances one's credibility; it shows that you are fair and willing to look at al the evidence regardless of its unfavorability to your cause. Second, it indicates to the audience that the negative information isn't all that bad (you're willing to admit it), and thus it takes the "sting" out of the potentially damaging information.

Inoculation technique - increase resistance to persuasion - if people receive prior exposure to a brief communication that they are able to refute, they then tend to become "immunized" against a subsequent full-blown presentation of the same argument, in much the same way that a small amount of an attenuated virus immunizes people against a full blown attack by that virus.
Prior exposure, in the form of a watered down attack on our belief, produces resistance to later persuasion tactics because 1 we become motivated to defend our beliefs and 2 we gain some practice in doing so. We are better equipped to resist a more serious attack.

  • Monitor your emotions - get out of the situation and then analyze what is going on or redefine the situation mentally until you can escape
  • Explore the motivation and credibility of the source of the communication
  • Think rationally about any proposal or issue - what is the issue, what labels and terms are used to describe it, what courses of action are being discussed, what are the supporting and opposing arguments and how cogent are these arguments.
  • Don't base your evaluation on what someone says but on what the person actually does
  • When everyone is doing the same thing, use this as a cue to ask why
  • Avoid being dependent on a single source of information. One of the hallmarks of intense propaganda is centralized communications for a single perspective

Last edited by IP on Mon 04 Jan 2010, 6:04 pm; edited 3 times in total
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Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion Empty
PostSubject: Re: Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion   Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion EmptyMon 04 Jan 2010, 5:26 pm

and this from another Amazon reviewer (really good summaries here)....

Peoples' data-processing capabilities are limited. In the information-dense world people are unable to critically review all the information they receive. In order to be adequate to the situation, they resort to so-called heuristics, simple cues or rules for solving the problem. Heuristics are based on peoples' previous experience in similar situations. Although relying on heuristics is sometimes a useful way of dealing with the onslaught of the decision-rich environment, basing our decisions primarily on heuristics can present some problems. First, heuristic cues that we possess may be false. Furthermore, a rule may be appropriate in certain situations but be misapplied in others. Another serious problem is that heuristics can be easily faked and manipulated. Knowledge of heuristics enables propagandists to control peoples' course of action.

The authors did a research of propaganda techniques and set four stratagems of persuasion:

1. You create favorable climate for the massage (called pre-persuasion). You subtly outline what picture has to be drawn in the end. Here you decide what way thoughts and perceptions of the audience will be shaped and channeled. Having established right basis for further discourse you secure the results you seek. At this stage you should identify some statements as axioms, i.e. `what everyone takes for granted' and `what everyone knows'. You attribute labels (positive or negative) to objects of further discussion, put black-or-white colors in non-disputable way. You use generalities to depict the situation - they are usually so ambiguous that you may change their meanings in the future. You use rumors and gossips.

2. You create a `source credibility', i.e. establish a favorable image in the eyes of the audience. The message must come from `experts' or `unbiased' and, of course, personally attractive communicators. Try to switch on the self-persuasion mechanism of the audience.

3. You create a message that focuses the target's attention and thoughts on exactly what you want them to think about. Research has identified at least five conditions that are likely lead to heuristics. Heuristics are most likely to be used when people do not have time to think carefully about the issue, when they are so overloaded with information that it becomes impossible to process it fully, or when they believe that the issues at stake are not very important. Heuristics are also used when people have little other knowledge or information on which to base a decision and when a given heuristics comes quickly to mind as they are confronted with a problem.

4. You create an emotion of the target that will help you channel thoughts of audience in right direction. Fear appeals are most effective when they raise high levels of fear and suggest a doable and effective responses (the authors also explain why sometimes fear does not work). Guilt: once we are filled with guilt, our thoughts and behavior are directed towards ridding ourselves of this feeling that's where propagandists take advantage of us. Feeling of obligation and indebtedness: large initial request and immediate concession by the requester invokes the norm of reciprocity -we concede. Feeling of commitment based on our desire to be self-consistent. For example, to `soften up' the target you make him involved in a much smaller aspect of the action. This serves to commit the individual to `the case'. Once people are thus committed, the likelihood of their complying with the larger request increases. Another way is to show uniqueness of the offer (scarcity sells). Use the `minimum group paradigm': You are on my side (never mind that I created the terms); now act like it and do what we say. Etc.

The book can be used by target audience to learn persuasion techniques and withstand or organize propaganda tricks. The book is entertaining, rich in vivid examples, and ... has everything to be a success in conveying authors' ideas. Instructive. Great read overall.
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