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Why Did I Do That?
by Eldon Taylor
What are the principles of compliance
that underpin the motivation for advertisements subliminally hiding
sex and death symbols? How is each of us influenced in our decision
making process by short cutting the rational thinking mind? This
article will examine perceptual defense mechanisms, strategies
of compliance, and mechanistic means to produce controlled responses.
Further, we'll consider the ethics of
compliance. When is the technical use of compliance strategies
necessary, appropriate and ethical? What is the fine line separating "exploitation"
from doing a "good job" motivating people, selling product,
or influencing those around us?
There are many psychological principles used to influence
each of us every day. Some of these manipulative applications
are direct and obvious, while others are so subtle as to be noticeable
only to the trained professional. In fact, there is little that one encounters
free of a compliance procedure. The reasons are obvious.
If each of us can be made vulnerable then we can be made to act. We'll
buy product, join clubs, even allow some stranger to put a bill board
on our front lawns without a payment of any kind. Sound ridiculous?
Governments, social psychologists and merchandisers
have long studied the methods of compliance. For even
longer, these methods have been used to merchandise and herd the masses.
Human beings need a reason to act. History is full
of accounts reporting the most unlikely of events. From the German attempt
to eradicate the Jewish people to the mass suicide of the Jim Jones' followers,
history shows people acting in the most unusual and bizarre manners. Why?
They have a reason.
When I was much younger, I sold sewing machines and
vacuum cleaners door to door. In those days, something called "bait
and switch" was legal, or I should say, it wasn't illegal.
This practice consisted of an offer just too good to be true. Let me provide
an example. In the early 1960's credit depended upon deposit. Thus, one
needed a down payment. In those days it was 10%. With credit freely available,
the most difficult part of making a sale became the down payment. The
company I worked for designed a sales system to obtain this down payment.
How was this done?
Through different media, the customer would enter a
contest. A drawing at the local grocery store, a "count the hidden
faces" contest in the Sunday paper, and so forth. The first place
prize was awarded, but everyone else won second prize. What was second
prize? A coupon worth $170. on the purchase of a new zigzag sewing machine
that was nationally advertised (usually in a popular home magazine) for
only $199.99. So, for only $29.99 every second place winner could enjoy
the many benefits of owning their own new zigzag sewing machine! Such
Here was the catch, however. The machine purchased
for $29.99 was a piece of junk. However, in the trunk of the automobile
was a new top of the line machine that advertised nationally for $499.
By trading in the machine you just purchased, this best of all machines
could be yours for only $299., and the ten percent deposit was already
paid. Therefore, your payments would only be $10.00 per month. Hence,
even though you only paid $29.99 for the first machine, you would receive
its full nationally advertised price as the trade in value. Wow---what
a deal! And believe me, this type of selling worked so well that
eventually it became illegal. And by the way, I should point
out that the national ads were placed only for this purpose. No one ever
actually tried to buy one of these machines at the advertised inflated
Before I was twenty, I left the door to door sales
game and went to work for a major retailer. They too used bait and switch
tactics, but with a new language. An automatic dryer might be advertised
for $88. The dryer was said to be "nailed down." This was another
way of instructing the sales staff that the dryer was not to be sold.
Oh, if the customer absolutely insisted, sell it. However, if you sold
it, know that it was because you were an incapable salesperson. Therefore,
you might consider another line of work. Sell too many of these $88. units,
and you would be encouraged to work elsewhere. Not for selling $88. machines,
of course, but for being so incompetent.
The retailer sold away from the "bait" using
a technique called "selling up by selling down." For example,
John Customer would be shown the most expensive dryer in the house with
emphasis on all the added feature/benefits, saving the $400 price tag
for last. Then, in an act of "honesty", the salesman might say,
"You know, I'm not paid to talk you out of spending money, but I
have a dryer over here that is new. It's last years model. Nothing is
different. It's the same dryer as this years model. The console looks
a little different. What's more, I can save you over a hundred dollars.
The dryer does everything I have just shown you, but it costs over a hundred
dollars less. Now it's up to you, would you prefer to spend the extra
money and have this years model?"
Notice that the sales pitch does two things. First,
it positions the customer toward compliance. This is
accomplished using two principles of compliance. The
salesman has acted in an honest way. He might even add, "I like you
and didn't want to show you this dryer at first, because we only have
one left. And I didn't want you to think that I was just saying that to
pressure you into buying." John Customer has just received a
false message of integrity, but few will respond to the message
for what it is. Why? Because we all want to be liked and we all want a
The second item the sales presentation accomplished
was to focus John Customer's attention on less. Forget that this dryer
is $249., or over $160. more than the advertised $88. dryer. No, the focus
now is on less, over a hundred dollars less than the dryer capable of
doing all the wonderful things John Customer and his wife want the dryer
When I joined this retail organization, there were
basically three defined components for training. They were knowledge (product
knowledge), enthusiasm and motivation. What I found lacking was technique.
Quickly my sales record attracted attention. I was promoted. Now I trained
salespeople. Sales increased. Why? Because technique suggests
there are rules by which one can position a person to comply with a request.
Let me provide a few examples.
One of the principles of compliance is consistency.
People like to be internally consistent and to appear externally consistent.
Therefore, when a customer entered the appliance department with a question
such as, "Do you have this refrigerator in harvest gold?", instead
of simply answering the question, "Yes", the salespeople were
instructed to convert the question into a close. This was done by stating
a question, "Do you want it in harvest gold?" Of course most
people responded with, "yes." Why? Because it is the only answer
they could give without implying that they're simply wasting time, yours
and theirs. Once this decision has been made and publicly stated, the
need to remain consistent forces the individual to answer the next question,
"Is Tuesday or Thursday better for delivery?" The sale is made.
There is no need to talk about refrigerators and the customer has never
been asked to buy. The sale is assumed from the question/answer method
of alternative decision making. "Yes, I want it in gold and Tuesday
would be better."
When I left the sales business I found myself in various
intelligence, security and interrogation schools. Ultimately I
became licensed as a deception detection (lie detector) examiner.
In both my former capacities as an investigator and as a lie detection
examiner, I have employed various compliance techniques in interrogation.
Have you ever wondered, why on earth would someone confess to a crime
that would lock them away for years to come? What would cause a person
to give up evidence that convicted them? Let me show you something very
simple which positions a person to commit perjury. It is intentionally
designed to cause that same person to lie. Later it is used to control
and direct this same person's need to prove their honesty, sincerity and
justify the reasoning involved for committing a crime. It is the principle
of little commitments lead to big commitments.
Imagine that you have come in for a lie detection test.
The examiner looks you straight in the eye, a firm look followed by a
warm smile, and says, "You didn't come here to lie to me, did you?"
Of course, you answer, "No."
The examiner continues, "So you intend to tell
me the truth today?"
"Good, because you look like an honest person
and I'm on your side. We can use this test to prove your innocence. You
do want that don't you?"
"Yes." (After all, what else are you going
to say even if you did the bad deed).
"Okay, I'm going to trust you. You look like a
good person. I am going to cover all the questions that I will ask you
today before I ever ask them in the test. I want to review them with you
carefully, and if anything about that question bothers you, let's discuss
it. Now that's important, because if it bothers you, I'll see it in the
charts, and it's probably some little thing, maybe some outside thing
that has nothing to do with this case. So be certain, if it bothers you,
tell me. Okay?"
Okay now, you're not the kind of person that lies and
"So, you wouldn't lie to someone that trusted
you or steal from a person like that---would you?"
"Good. I am going to ask you today the following
two questions. Did you ever lie to someone who trusted you? Later, I'll
ask the question, "Did you steal anything, say between the ages of
ten and twenty?"
The forgoing dialogue involves many principles of compliance.
To the examiner, everyone lies to their mother, their father, their spouse
or someone that trusts them, at some point in their lives. It is almost
a certainty that everyone has stolen something, even if it's just small
change from their siblings. The examiner has therefore placed the examinee
in a position that can be easily exploited for more than one purpose.
Why would this be the usual practice? We'll take a look at the
principles of compliance for our answer, but first, allow me
to digress and present what I often term as "cognitive engineering."
The idea in cognitive engineering
is straight forward and contained in the name. "Let's engineer
the cognitive process by altering fundamental beliefs."
In behavioral circles this technology is called "cognitive
behavioral therapy." The term was coined by Albert Ellis
(1988). Ellis asserted that certain behaviors were the direct consequence
of belief. His A-B-C model is most useful in conceptualizing both the
theory and its implications. For Ellis:
(Activating event) (Belief) (Consequence/ emotional & behavioral)
Thus, alter a belief and the event is interpreted differently
while simultaneously altering the consequence. This simple diagram is
most useful for understanding the force underlying the principles
of compliance. Implicit in this simple model rests the
the power of subliminal communication and its ability to activate
or alter a belief.
Social beliefs are among the strongest beliefs
of the individual. It is social beliefs that most often conflict
with individual desires. It is social beliefs that provide the very fabric
of social interest. Playing these beliefs, desires and conflicts, like
a composer on a grand piano, is the merchandiser and profiteer. Social
beliefs, selfish interest, and their conflict, form the bedrock of compliance
A compliance principle is simply a stimuli
which produces a socially acceptable response. It is precisely
for reason that compliance principles are so powerful.
While not all authors agree on the designation or number
of general compliance principles, there are ten important
ones used on all of us each day that everyone should be alert to. They
are: consistency, reciprocity, social proof, association, conditioning,
liking, authority, scarcity, drives and justification.
In the beginning of this chapter I suggested that someone
could engineer a situation where you would place a bill board on your
front lawn without so-called quid pro quo (equal consideration). Robert
Cialdini, in his most recommended book, INFLUENCE, tells a of
just this. A group of homeowners were asked to sign a petition to "keep
California beautiful" by a "volunteer worker." A couple
of weeks later, these same homeowners were approached by a different "volunteer"
and asked to place a billboard on their front yard advertising safe driving.
The chief researchers, Jonathon Freedman and Scott Fraser, discovered
that 76% of the persons who signed the petition were willing to display
the billboard, as opposed to 17% who had never been asked to sign the
petition. The first act of compliance, signing an innocent petition,
apparently produced significant feelings of civic mindedness
and involvement. This first innocent decision led to the second, for the
vast majority, due to the need to be consistent, and the need to justify
one's actions. Thus, a small commitment led to a larger one.
Studies have shown that the act of gift giving produces
the need to reciprocate. I remember when "little green pigs"
were sold this way. It was the practice of a certain vacuum cleaner company
to give a one quart bottle of your favorite soft drink (Coca-cola, Pepsi,
etc.) to everyone that answered their door. The pitch began with something
like "I have a gift for you. Which of these drinks is your favorite?"
Your choice was given to you and while the bottle remained in your hand,
the sales team in your doorway, the next line came, "Have you heard
of the little green pig?" From here on your answers only worsened
the situation unless you truly desired to spend a large part of your evening
hearing all about the vacuum cleaner to end all vacuum cleaners. Once
the gift was accepted, a certain obligation was incurred. The least you
could do was give these young people five minutes of your time to hear
about the "little green pig."
Reciprocity is commonly used in many forms
for compliance purposes. From the so-called "warm handshake"
to the "free" everythings offered today, a gift extended implies
a gift needed in return.
Social proof is the idea that where many agree,
it must be right. Or, in the alternative, it must be good, desirable,
and so forth. As a result, modern merchandisers enlist testimony after
testimony from faithful satisfied users to sell us their wares. Carnival
hucksters seed their audience with winners of the "big panda bear."
Merchants of religion often sew the seeds of a mass conversion by enlisting
an army of devoted followers to "come forth at varying intervals
to create the impression of a spontaneous mass outpouring." (Cialdini,
Association seeks to link favorable feelings, attitudes,
etc. with a product or aim. We all know of the politician with apple pie,
babies and the American flag in the background. We have all seen advertisers
place stunning men and women in the most unlikely of places, with the
most unlikely of apparel, just to connect this image (usually sexual)
with their product. However, as with all of these principles, there is
much more than just the obvious. Take for instance a study that sought
to measure the influence of major credit card logos on buying. This
study, carried out by Richard Feinberg, showed that subjects were willing
to spend 29% more on mail order items when a master card logo was present
in the room. Another study by the same researcher showed that
college students were more likely to give money to charity if the master
card logo was present in the room. This despite the fact that credit cards
were not accepted. Further, the statistical difference is striking. 33%
of the students gave to charity where there was no credit card logo in
the room while 87% gave when the logo was present. Just the association
increased spending. (1986).
One association seldom overlooked by advertisers is
that of sound. Television producers use canned humor to punctuate comedy.
Those of us old enough to remember the Marlboro television commercial,
remember the theme from the movie, The Magnificent Seven. My own work
has often concentrated in an area I call "audio cuing". Sound,
particularly music, has long been observed to have affective power. In
fact, Leonard Bernstein once said something like sound moves upon the
primordial nature of a person in a non-discursive feeling way.
One of my own research projects, working with a Nevada
company, involves the sounds a slot machine makes. For example, does the
sound of money falling into a metal tray attract players? At this point,
we think so. Are there sounds that will increase play time while leaving
the player with a sense of having fun, even if they are losing money?
We think so. Nevertheless, don't be too awful casual about even the most
innocent of features that accompany a product or advertisement. The company's
behind them spend billions annually doing what they do with very deliberate
and skillful knowledge of what works on you.
Conditioning and association are combined by some authors
(Cialdini, 1992) for obvious reasons. Take for example the credit card
logo study. The association of credit card to pleasure, a principle
of conditioning, is assumed. Indeed, when prior experience with
a credit card is negative, the effects on spending are reversed. (Feinberg,
1990). I choose to separate these two principles simply because classical
conditioning can and has been accomplished via subliminal stimuli.
(For a complete discussion of subliminal conditioning see Subliminal
Learning: An Eclectic Approach by this author). The principle
of association implies at least some conscious recognition of the stimuli.
Subliminal stimuli violates this assumption. In other
words, although the stimuli is associated with a response, as with classical
conditioning, the fact remains that the stimuli itself is unrecognized
by the conscious mind. For example, when the faces of individuals are
repeatedly presented subliminally to subjects, the subjects
become more comfortable with the individual. Indeed, the more frequently
the subliminal exposure the greater the liking for the
individual when they later met. This despite the fact that subjects had
no conscious awareness of the subliminally presented
faces. (Bornstein, Leone, & Galley, 1987).
There are many forms of association that can
be presented in such a manner as to bypass one's awareness. Not
all of these forms are by definition subliminal. Additionally,
there are perceptual defense mechanisms that figuratively serve at times
to blindfold each of us. These basic mechanisms will be discussed later
in this chapter. Suffice it to say, that as with the associations that
are intentionally built into the advertisement, reviewed
in the prior chapter, certain consciously undetected associations can
operate on existing conditioning and be paired to produce new conditioning.
Liking is a fundamental principle in compliance.
The more each of us identifies with another, feels comfortable with that
other, the more compliant we are about their requests.
In fact, this principle is so obvious that discussion seems ridiculous.
However, there are a couple of nuances to the liking principle that not
everyone is familiar with. One of these is the mechanical nature by which
liking often operates. The new science of Neuro Linguistic Programming
teaches the mechanical power of mirroring and matching.
This is a process of simply imitating the speaking style, physical
mannerisms and so forth of an individual. NLP, as the technology
is often referred to, is now taught without discretion to everyone from
sales organizations to health care professionals. This is a powerful
technology that operates almost as mechanically as the typical knee jerk
response. (For more information see Frogs into Princes by Richard
Bandler and John Grinder). Since this book is not about compliance,
per se', or NLP, for that matter, suffice it to say that
the ability to build rapport, increase liking and so on is so enhanced
by NLP technology that nearly every trained interrogator
in the country has had some training in it.
Second, liking is enhanced and facilitated often under
conditions of cooperation. We are all familiar with the common enemy strategy,
or the politics make for strange bed fellows truism, but most are not
aware of how subtle this process can be. Take for example a new cold or
flu medication. How many times do we see a television commercial that
opens with, "It's flu season and there is a new dreaded enemy virus.
It's coming to your town! It may find you. Never fear, XYZ is here."
First, the advertisement threatens with a new enemy and then makes a common
distinction, a common enemy, out of the threat. Next the commercial promises
relief, allegiance, from your friendly medicine. In fact, often, the rewards
portrayed for becoming ill appear to outweigh the advantages in remaining
healthy. In my view, this is an insidious abuse of compliance principles.
I believe that advertisements of this nature sell sickness. In fact, I
have often imagined a scenario to test this theme. Go to the American
public with all the tools of compliance. Have an actor
dressed like a doctor inform the public that a new disease has just been
identified. The symptoms of this disease must be general, so they consist
of tiredness, fatigue, restless sleep, lack of motivation, occasional
headaches, some general aching especially in the back and limbs, sometimes
dry skin and are accompanied by irritability and depression. Explain the
disease as not formerly diagnosed, although very common. Further, enhance
and embellish the explanation with estimates of the great numbers of people
who may suffer from this disease and never be treated. Now, provide a
simple reason for the disease such as an imbalance in chemicals produced
by the thyroid which results in low normal body temperature. Show how
slight changes in the body temperature affect the metabolism by directly
influencing the proper operation of enzymes. Finally, offer the remedy
as an affordable pill or liquid that will restore proper temperature to
the body. Watch the good ol' folks in America rush to their pharmacy.
You don't think it's possible? I do!
Authority, authority, authority. Rings kind of like
the adage regarding the secret of retail success: location, location,
location! Everywhere one turns today, it is the authority that instructs,
the authority that informs, the authority with which we come to trust
our very lives. What was the world possibly like before there were so
many different authorities?
In the 1960's, Professor Stanley Milgram performed
an experiment that most of us have at least heard of. Milgram arranged
for volunteers to deliver electric shock to other so-called volunteers
(research cohorts) in voltage amounts up to 450 volts. Even when the subject
receiving the shock protested with cries of pain and warnings of a heart
condition, so long as the authority, the research scientist in his white
coat, insisted upon more shock, the volunteers delivered it. The authorities
power was so awesome as to produce physical evidence of severe psychological
conflict in some of the volunteers who obediently carried out the instructions
to deliver more voltage. (1963).
Cialdini relates the research findings of Hofling,
Brotzman, Dalrymple, Graves & Pierce, as reported in the Journal of
Nervous and Mental Disease, 1966. In this study 22 separate nurses' stations
were phoned by researchers. The nurse answering the phone was instructed
by the caller, who represented himself as a doctor, to administer 20 milligrams
of the drug, Astrogen, to a patient. In 95% of the cases, the nurse carried
out the instruction although she had never met, seen or before spoken
with the doctor. Further, the drug prescribed by the researchers was not
on the approved drug list of the hospital, and the dosage was twice that
of the maximum daily dose (10 milligrams) clearly printed on the container.
(1992, p.183). Now, before you become too alarmed, the researchers stopped
the nurses before they actually administered the drug. Okay, but somehow
that doesn't make me feel too awful comfortable. The nurse is a trained
professional who under orders from an authority somehow subverts all of
her training and blindly follows instructions. That's disturbing!
Everything in the world is sold to us on the basis
of authority. We must rely on authority at some time in our modern society.
Yet blind reliance is absolute ignorance. Fortunately, more and more people
are becoming suspicious of authorities.
Scarcity is the oldest sales line any of us
have ever heard. This is the last one, better make up your mind.
Act now, limited quantity. Don't delay, don't miss out. Time is limited,
sale ends blank day. Hurry---first come first serve. These are but a few
of the scarcity statements we all find in advertisements for everything
from pickles to pantyhose. Why is the compliance principle of
scarcity so powerful? In a word: greed!
There is an adage that applies here, "The grass
is always greener on the other side of the pasture." Everyone wants
what they don't have, at least until they have it. Rare, scarce,
and so on equal value for most. Of course, the social proof is
also evident here. The greater the demand, the scarcer the product.
The product must be good or it wouldn't be in such demand.
No one wants to miss out on a deal. Everyone has heard
of some once in a lifetime deal that was missed or passed over. Scarcity
drives prices up and motivates consumers to spend. However, not all scarcity
is a matter of limited time, short supplies and so on. No, there is another
kind of scarcity that is also promoted by manipulators of compliance principles.
When I was conducting interrogations the scarcity of
honesty was often invoked. After all, honesty knows no such thing as percentages.
It either is or is not. Like fidelity, most people are not interested
in a spouse that is 90% faithful. The missing 10% will get you every time.
Promoting the idea that it is difficult for a person to be honest, while
identifying the rare honesty of the examinee, positions a person to perform
honestly. By contrast, promoting the idea of clarity as a rare factor
in the decision process, increases both the possibilities for rationalization
(justification) and the tolerance for error. Scarcity, like the
other principles of compliance, has many subtle varieties not so easily
seen through even by the trained individual.
Still another tactic of scarcity is the "no
longer available" notion inherent to such ideas as banned.
Book publishers know that one of the best ways to sell books is to find
some group to ban the book.
Drives are the basic built in needs of the species.
In psychology, human drives are often referred to as the four "F's."
The drives are: fight, flight, feeding and f---let's say the propagation
of the species. I like to think that human drives have evolved, especially
since the advent of modern merchandising and deferred payment. Consequently,
my view incorporates five "f's," or five forces. The fifth "f,"
I call the fifth force. What is the fifth force? Simple: MORE! Add to
food, fight, etc., the fifth force, more! No one has enough. Everyone
wants more. More has somehow become a sought after quality. It isn't just
a matter of quantity. Today the word more equals power, prestige, status,
peace of mind, and so on. More now means quality as much as it means quantity.
Compliance experts know how to tap into and
use these drives just as they do with the principles of compliance.
Indeed, I recently caught part of a program on television while flicking
my remote to get away from a commercial. In a sort of pseudo-scientific
way, an actress presented herself in a short skirt and tight top to passers-by
leaving a mall. She asked various men to assist her in carrying her bags
eight blocks. They all agreed to help, even one witha bad back that was
only planning to go one block. So what's new about that? Birds and the
bees, right? Exactly. Still, when this same actress dressed differently,
padding her garments to appear fat, she was unable to enlist the aid of
anyone. Again, so what? That's sad, but it shouldn't come as a surprise.
Correct? However, there was one other factor that was blatantly obvious.
When the actress put on her "fat" clothes, her entire demeanor
changed. Apparently, she had a stereotype in her mind and that must have
been of a repugnant personality. In her short skirt, the facial expressions
and body language portrayed not just sexuality, but vulnerability.
When a compliance practitioner wishes
to persuade someone in a manner that is not obvious, tactics employing
drive related strategies will invariably invoke vulnerability, non-dominance,
loyalty, and so on. If it's scary (flight), violent (fight), filling/fulfilling
(food), and/or sexual, it sells. If all of the above can be combined,
sales soar! If a product is really none of these things, then associating
it with them will enhance sales and product image. In fact, Cialdini reports
a study conducted by Smith and Engel where "men who saw a new-car
ad that included a seductive female model rated the car as faster, more
appealing, more expensive-looking, and better-designed than men who viewed
the same ad without the model". (1992, p.156). Further, these same
men, when questioned about the ad and their response, denied the possibility
that the seductive female had anything to do what so ever with their rating
of the automobile.
Justification is the principle that acts on
the rule that extenuating circumstances can justify radical actions. Indeed,
a tenant of our jurisprudence system allows for just this. That is why
there are such acts as justifiable homicide, self-defense, etc. This
principle is probably the most often over-looked compliance tool.
However, an excellent example of its power exists in an older television
commercial. The viewer sees a woman performing the many tasks of an absolutely
frantic day; shopping, cleaning, caring for the children, banking, and
so forth. At the end of the day, she (a very beautiful and seductive woman)
relaxes in her bath covered by bubbles. The commercial advertises a bubble
bath and ends with the statement, "Let XYZ product take you away".
It's an excellent commercial and employs more than one compliance
principle. Still, it is the notion of justifying indulgence that
makes this commercial so powerful. How else do you sell bath bubbles?
Now there is a very important note to all of this.
Being informed does not necessarily remove one from the power
of these principles. The fact is, the principles obtain
most of their power on the basis that they operate automatically.
That is, their power does not arise as a result of thinking a matter over.
No, indeed, Cialdini refers to the automatic response as "click,
whirr." (1992). This automatic behavior is considered by social scientist
to be necessary, expedient, and efficient in most instances. Further,
by definition of automatic, the normal cognitive processes are bypassed.
This has been called "judgmental heuristics" and it is prevalent
in much of human behavior. (Cialdini, 1992). Simply being aware is therefore
not enough to avoid the grips of a compliance operation.
Earlier I alluded to the role of perceptual
defense mechanisms in exploitations of a non-conscious, subconscious and
unconscious nature. It should be pointed out that these mechanisms
are vital to our self interest as well as the general species interest.
So vital are they, that they accompany the human condition in much the
same manner that genes do. In other words, they have evolved with the
human animal. Further, it is the very existence of these defense mechanisms
that underlie the fabric of compliance principles and give rise to their
ability to be automatic. Indeed, I would suggest that defense mechanisms
are the building blocks of compliance principles while
society is the architect. Our own families, peers, etc. are the brick
masons, carpenters, and so forth. As such, defense mechanisms, like compliance
principles, are essential and necessary elements in individual and social
well being. In this sense, the technicians use of these mechanisms and
principles defines the inherent "good" or "bad" usage
thereof. Therefore, in certain instances, there exists an ethical imperative
requiring the skillful use of compliance principles.
For example, use of these principles by a health care practitioner is
appropriate. It is equally appropriate in marketing provided there are
no misrepresentations. Advertising moves product, and that moves
the economy, and that is good. However, employing these principles to
sell product while surreptitiously using imagery, such as subliminal embeds
which may increase hostility and violence, is not only unethical, it's
irresponsible. In fact, I would argue that the continued "tweaking"
of the human psyche and manipulation of the human condition
could eventually erode the very fabric of our social order.
A brief review of the mechanisms is now appropriate.
First, however, let me remind the reader that the information offered
here on compliance principles is but a fragment of the
data available. It is intended only as an overview designed to be facilitative
in understanding the why's behind certain forms of manipulation.
The basic perceptual defense mechanisms follow:
1. Denial. As implied by its name,
this mechanism is simply one of denying. Often the denial occurs through
projection, that is, projecting blame or fault onto another. We can
see this mechanism at work when insincere compliments are accepted as
genuine. Since each of us has a basic desire to be liked, we may deny
the possibility that we are being "stroked." In the alternative,
the skeptic may deny a sincere compliment.
2. Fantasy formation. This mechanism
creates a perceived reality out of fantasy. If motives cannot be satisfied
in the objective external world, they may become a perceived reality
in a dream world. Some psychologists suggest that the appeal for much
of our entertainment is oriented to satisfying our fantasies for adventure,
affection, and security.
3. Introjection. This mechanism
allows one to place blame on oneself. This self-directed blame or punishment
defends against disappointment or disillusionment in another. For example,
a child feels unworthy of the parent's attention because the parent
pays no attention to the child. It is often this mechanism that perpetuates
the acceptance of authoritarian guidance even when it persistently has
erred in the past. A subtle, yet pervasive form of this mechanism, goes
like this, "I'm not smart enough. I must have misunderstood something."
4. Isolation. This mechanism involves
the avoidance of connecting associations to related ideas that produce
anxiety. One set of data is isolated from an associated set: birth is
isolated from death, war from mourning, nuclear arsenals from murderous
horror, and so on. If you think back to the blonde and the automobile
rating, the men rating the automobile had isolated the blonde from the
formation of their rating. To acknowledge otherwise would be is self
threatening. Therefore, it is easy to see how this mechanism can be
used in the pairing of associations that have no natural relationship
such as birth and death.
5. Projection. Simply stated, this
mechanism allows one to project blame or responsibility onto another.
Further, it provides the ability to project intention, attitude, etc.
onto another. Take the actress who in her short skirt was able to enlist
the aid of nearly every male passerby. What do you think their fantasy
formation information projected onto the actress had to do with their
willingness to heft heavy packages for a great distance? Indeed, there
can be a fine line between normal and pathological projection, for many
rapist have the attitude that the victim "really wanted it".
6. Regression. This mechanism is
common during serious illness. Essentially, one regresses to an earlier
age, usually as a dependent, where he felt safe and comfortable. The
individual usually returns to an earlier stage of development where
someone else assumed responsibility and where fewer, simpler, and more
primitive goals existed. This mechanism is intimately involved with
approaches such as the one taken in the bubble bath commercial discussed
earlier. It is also involved in the "flu-ads" as well as some
of the "gusto" advertisements. Pampering, spoiling, care free
desires and so on are the elements of ad campaigns that appeal to this
7. Repression. This mechanism censors
or prohibits memories, associations, and adjustments from conscious
awareness. Like an invisible filter, this mechanism prevents the conscious
mind from "seeing" painful memories and "stymied"
motives. Personal experiences ranging from embarrassment to cruelty
are often subject to the lens of repression. Social enculturation plays
a significant role here likewise. For example, it can be asserted that
one of the reasons one fails to see a large penis in a bourbon ad, is
simply relative to the dirty mind argument. To see the penis entails
admitting to a dirty mind. So, don't see it, or at least repress the
awareness from the conscious mind.
As an interesting aside here, I remember showing
a slide of a Playboy magazine advertisement to a group of inmates at
the Utah State Prison. The ad portrayed a beautiful woman in her birthday
suit holding a Christmas wreath. Through the middle of the wreath was
a banner that said, "Give him ideas for Christmas." The wreath
was made up of penis heads, vaginas and so forth. Yet not one inmate
recognized them as other than funny looking holiday nuts, until they
had been shown what they were looking at.
8. Sublimation. This mechanism redirects
basic drive mechanisms. Sublimation is simply the substitution of acceptable
behavior to satisfy basic motives that might be met equally well in
a primitive sense by some form of unacceptable social behavior. Aggression
motives, for instance, are often met by sports activities. The process
of sublimation is to find avenues in which basic motives may be satisfied
in a manner acceptable to the individual and society. This mechanism
is most useful in the effective use of associations, especially those
of a sexual nature. A sports car, for example, can be made into an acceptable
social sexual experience.
In addition to these eight mechanisms, there are several
miscellaneous escapes and defenses that some theorists consider as contributing
to the basic perceptual defenses outlined above, all for the purpose of
showing each of us only what we want, or can psychologically afford, to
see about ourselves and the world around us.
Compliance professionals are very aware of
both the principles and the perceptual defenses outlined in this chapter.
Perhaps now, the real power of the advertisement shown in chapter one
is just a little clearer.
It would be a gross over sight to leave the
subject of compliance without discussing altered states of consciousness,
also referred to by professionals as, "states of heightened suggestibility."
In my earlier work, Subliminal Communication, I outlined
some of the ways in which advertisers, religious organizations,
popular movements, etc. employ suggestibility techniques discovered
and developed in the field of hypnosis. The intent here
is not to redo that material, but simply to reinforce the awareness of
its use. The reader should be advised that music rhythms, eye elevations
and fixations, flashing sequences of a light intensity difference, and
so have hypnotic effects. Indeed, the practice of
NLP discussed earlier, was itself a discovery credited Milton
Ericson during his hypnotic research. Suffice it to say,
if you feel like you're in a light trance when you're watching television,
you don't hear your spouse speaking to you, and so on, you probably are.
One of the favored techniques of many hypnotherapists
is "indirect suggestion". This is a powerful
means to bring about compliance. It operates chiefly through
internal decisions. A very simple form of this exists in alternative decision
closes. For example, the salesmen never asks for the sale, he simply turns
the contract around, and says, "Do you wish to use your pen or mine?"
A hypnotechnician may have one imagine a magnet on their
forehead and another in the palm of the hand. In an attempt to produce
an arm levitation, a common induction procedure, they ask the subject
to sense the magnets and decide, "Is the magnetic force stronger
from the hand to the head or from the head to the hand?" In other
words, which is the strongest magnet? The decision does not matter, the
outcome is that a magnetic force has been acknowledged, Internal consistency
requires that the two forces will pull the hand to the head. Wa-la, the
hypnotist has control of one's body.
One last note. Although I am adamantly opposed to the
misuse of these techniques, I nevertheless feel that the use of these
methods is inevitable and unavoidable. However, I also feel that to level
the playing field, so to speak, the consumer, user, or person on the other
end of the technique, is entitled to the same knowledge the compliance
professional has at their disposal.
There are numerous compliance principles that
influence decisions. These principles activate automatic processes
that position a person toward compliance. Compliance
professionals use these principles to gain their ends, sell merchandise
or evangelize converts.
There are perceptual defense mechanism
which inhibit or prevent the processing of certain types of information.
The operation of these defense mechanisms explains why so-called subliminal
print advertising can present blatant sexual material that goes
undetected. The only defense against these principles and mechanisms is
information. I sincerely hope that you are now just a little more informed.
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Ellis, Albert. (1988). How to Stubbornly Refuse to
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Milgram, s. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience.
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Taylor, E. (1988). Subliminal Learning: An Eclectic
Approach. R K Book, Big Bear City, CA
Taylor, E. (1990). Subliminal Communication. R K Book,
Big Bear City, CA
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