The ‘Science’ of Manipulation
We’re all well aware of the term ‘persuasive messaging’, or at least we should be, and that it is heavily used in marketing tactics. We’ve all been manipulated by it at some point, sometimes knowingly but at other times unknowingly. Let’s face it, it’s a part of every day life.
I think we all know, and even accept, that just about every company’s marketing tactics are based on the research for persuasive messaging, although I wonder how many people realise just to what extent it is these days.
Whilst researching for this article I came to the conclusion that I actually had no idea quite how bad it is. That made me wonder just how many of our choices are actually truly our own, and how many we have been manipulated to choose.
What is ‘Persuasive Messaging’?
A persuasive message is written or spoken communication that compels the intended audience to respond or act in a certain way. These messages are formed in order to provoke an emotional response from you. They are attempting to manipulate you, and, looking around today, they’re doing a pretty good job of it too.
Persuasive messaging is an art and it’s also a science, and has been for many years. There are researches, studies and courses galore going on every day all around the world in order to perfect the art/science of manipulating people.
Just how deep and far it goes is far too big a subject for this article, and me!
Over the last few years, at least since 2016, it seems to me that manipulation by politicians, governments and scientists has been on the increase.
We saw it going on throughout ‘Brexit’. The emotion provoked by politicians was so high that it divided everybody, friends and families. While I tried to carefully research matters in order to confirm whether or not it was true or false, I was harassed by ‘friends’ who shouted and screamed at me, telling me I needed to be “put in place”. I was shocked by the strength of emotions running riot in so many people. At the time I simply could not understand why friends I had known for years suddenly turned and verbally attacked me. I believe I know the reason now.
Now we are seeing it again through the Covid-19 pandemic. Emotions of fear, aggression and blame are running ridiculously high, people are divided – if you don’t conform you are verbally attacked.
Clinical Trials and Research
So, where are we today?
In 2020 Yale sponsored a study, “Persuasive messaging to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake intentions,”. The clinical trial involved two survey experiments, and examined how different persuasive messages affected 1) intentions to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, 2) willingness to persuade friends and relatives to get the vaccine, 3) fear of those who have not been vaccinated, and 4) social judgment of people who choose not to vaccinate. Whilst this study was done in America, let’s just say, I would not be surprised if similar studies have been, and are being done, in the UK and other parts of the world.
The resulting paper did not address the underlying reasons why someone might have concerns about having the COVID vaccines, but simply focused exclusively on how to persuade them to have it.
Messages that had been tested by the researchers were included in mainstream media narratives and public health campaigns throughout the world, prior to the release of any science reports. These messages were created around self-interest, community interest, guilt, embarrassment, anger, bravery, trust in science, personal freedom, economic freedom and community economic benefit.
Two particular types of messages were designed to evoke concerns about reputation and social image. The “not brave” idea that it was not brave to be unafraid of the virus, that it was selfish not to have the vaccination, and by getting vaccinated it showed strength and concern for others. The “trust in science” message suggested that those who do not get vaccinated do not understand science and signals ignorance to others.
Then there were messages about personal freedom, economic freedom and community economic benefit, which were based on concerns about COVID restrictions.
The messages that were found to be the most effective in getting people to encourage others to get the vaccine were those that incorporated community interest and embarrassment. The “not brave” messaging showed the most promise in creating negative judgments of non-vaccinators.
The findings of the Yale study are consistent with another recent paper, “Vaccination as a Social Contract,” which demonstrated people view vaccination as a social contract, and are less willing to cooperate with those who refuse vaccination.
Also in 2020, Saad Omer, one of the authors of the Yale study, initiated a “Building Vaccine Confidence Through Tailored Messaging Campaigns” project, which involved randomized trials in five countries using social media messaging to increase COVID and childhood vaccine coverage.
Omer stated, “We are trying out liberty-based messages or liberty-mediated messaging around this behavior related to COVID-19 outbreak. That wearing a mask or taking precautions eventually make you free, regain your autonomy. Because if the disease rates are low, your activities can resume.”
Yale is not the only university researching the science of compliance. Academic institutions and government agencies throughout the world are immersed in this emerging behavioral science.
When reading social media, I couldn’t believe why so many people were behaving as they were. But it’s clear to me that it’s an effect of the Persuasive Messaging that has been, and is still being put out to the general public.
Vaccinated people are negatively judging the non-vaccinated, treating them as ‘unclean’, calling them stupid and selfish, and labeling them all as anti-vaxers. If anybody dares to speak out against the mainstream, they’re condemned, told they’re spreading fake and false news. Scientists, professors and doctors who dare refer to research and studies that disagree with anything within the mainstream are silenced and the words FAKE and FALSE rise up against them. Their words are twisted and they’re even quoted saying things they never said.
It’s Déjà vu and reminds me so much of the time during Brexit. Divide and Conquer!
So just when does ‘persuasive messaging’ become a step too far? For me, when I listen to those around me, that time has come.
- US National Library of Medicine, COVID-19 Vaccine Messaging, Part 1
- National Library of Medicine, Persuasive messaging to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake intentions
- Science Direct, Persuasive messaging to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake intentions
- US National Library of Medicine, Clinical Trials