Manipulating human mind

Here is an old joke on meditation:
Student: Swamiji, can I smoke while meditating?
Swamiji: No.
One mischivous student who watched this conversation, told the first student later – ‘I know how to extract the right answer from Swamiji’. On the following day the second student approached Swamiji and asked: Swamiji, can I meditate while smoking?
Swamiji: yes of course!

This is manipulation of the mind, pure and simple. The technical term for this in psychology is priming the mind. In other words , you can deliberately set up someone’s mind to accept your suggestion. The purpose need not necessarily be to manipulate. It can also be for preparing a positive frame of mind before you break a sad story. For instance, Hanuman, in Ramayana, goes after a mission in search of Sita in Lanka. When he returns successfully having met Sita, his very first words were: ‘Seen by me is Sita’ or ‘Discovered is Sita’ He is basically conveying the good news first before narrating stories of struggles , trials and tribulations he had to endure in Lanka.

Modern psychologists have done tremendous amount of research which sheds light on the phenomenon of priming the mind and its effects. Daniel Kahneman, a nobel prize winner in economics, writes about what he calls Marvels of priming. In one interesting experiment conducted at a British University office kitchen, staffers had the tradition of paying for the tea or coffee to which they helped themselves by dropping coins into an Honesty Box. A list of suggested prices were posted. The experimenters, one day, displayed a poster above the price list. For a period of ten weeks images of either flowers or eyes were displayed. The eyes appeared as though they were looking directly at the observer. Display of such images were done without any context or explanation. Amazingly, the contributions to the cash box increased significantly on the weeks when the big eyes were displayed above the honesty box. The contributions on the “eye weeks” were three times more than those on the “flower weeks”. Obviously, a mere symbolic reminder of being watched prodded people into better behaviour. There was a clear and unmistakable influence of the “watching eye” on the contributions made. This is evidently a case of manipulation of one’s mind and behaviour by using suggestive pictures.

in another interesting experiment by psychologists, a group of students were shown words suggestive of old age such as Florida, forgetful, bald, grey, wrinkle.Immediately after that the students were given another assignment in another corner of the corridor. The experimenters then unobtrusively noted the time taken by the guys for walking from one end of the corridor to the other. Surprisingly, each one of them walked very slowly – their pace was reduced to half of that of a normal person. Obviously their minds were saturated with images of old age and that was enough to prime their minds to walk more slowly than usual. (This is famously known as Florida effect).

Likewise, being amused tended to make you smile while smiling made one feel amused. This is an example of how we can benefit from priming effects – you fake it till you make it!

Very interestingly, when one is immersed in discussing money matters like stock picking, investments, saving etc, one is found to be individualistic and selfish showing reluctance to get involved with others.

Another example of priming or manipulation is the use of rhyming aphorisms. This is also known as ‘rhyme as reason effect’. For instance, ‘Woes unite foes’ will be considered more insightful than ‘woes unite enemies’. Likewise the statement – ‘sobriety conceals what alcohol reveals’ is likely to be considered more insightful than a statement – ‘sobriety conceals what alcohol unmasks’. So, next time you want to make a clinching point, remember to put it in a rhyming aphorism!

Published in: on March 13, 2016 at 2:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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