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Naming the Manipulation Methods

There are many ways people try to control others. It’s easy to unwittingly be influenced by them—whether out of willful or unintentional ignorance. These methods of manipulation aren’t necessarily random and uncoordinated; in fact, in many cases, they’re secretly puzzle-pieced together by either evil influences or the powers that be (or both) for a greater impact upon society’s thinking, condition, or well-being.

As we’ve said, many manipulation tactics go unnoticed. This isn’t always, by the way, a reflection of the public’s intelligence, because the craftsmen behind the deception are clever indeed; often, it’s highly educated intellectuals who are inserting manipulative concepts into the public sphere. However, once we identify and explain these strategies for shaping the public’s thoughts and behavior—many of which are formulas that have long been used in advertising and marketing—they’ll be easy to recognize as common threads running through society’s mainstream communication. With this in mind, and under the heading that “knowledge is power,” we present these methods of manipulation here by name. It’s time to call them what they are and show how they’re are being used to shape our culture’s mentality.

The Tactics


Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov, as many remember from high school psychology class, trained his dogs to salivate on demand by associating the sound of a tuning fork with their food.[i] In essence, his experience proved that, by applying the stimulus (the tone), the conditioned response (salivating) becomes a predictable reaction.[ii] We see this stimulus-response concept play out in myriad avenues in our day-to-day lives, including marketing, sales, and even education. For example, have you ever thought that you weren’t hungry…until you walked into a restaurant and smelled the aroma of food cooking? Surely, the scent in a floral shop or a spray of perfume wouldn’t prompt the same hunger response—despite the fact that those also stimulate the sense of smell. Or have you ever found that, after spending a stressful day at work where the phone rings a lot, you cringe when you arrive home and your cell phone rings? In yet another example, consider an energy-drink ad that portrays a beautiful, tan, scantily clad woman. Guys want to date her and girls want to be her. Of course, the ad is designed to make both genders feel a little closer to this goal, as long as they partake of this particular energy drink. The list goes on and on. While these are simple examples, the truth is that conditioning occurs in the background of society’s landscape, and when we’re aware and looking, we can see it everywhere.


The concept of shaping is simple and can be used for both good and evil. Generally speaking, it is the slow coaxing of an individual or group from one type of behavior or stance into another. To put it more academically, it’s when “successive approximations of the desired behavior are reinforced.”[iii] For example, a teenager balks about being asked to clean the entire house on a Saturday. So parents might start small and offer a reward, allowing the teen to visit friends later—after making sure the kitchen is clean or the living room is vacuumed. As the youth gets more used to doing chores and learns to take care of them more thoroughly and with a better attitude, the parents add new responsibilities to the list. Eventually, the teenager will be (rightfully) shaped to recognize the importance of keeping a tidy house, which will serve him or her well as an independent adult. In contrast, when we study how far today’s Church has drifted from the leadership of devout, prayerful, theologically inclined saints of generations past, we see that an increasingly lackadaisical attitude, reinforced by the conveniences and leisure of the world’s offering, it’s certainly no stretch of the imagination to see that our Body of believers has been reshaped in a negative manner. And not just in the Church, but throughout our entire society, we are seeing results of the shaping that has occurred throughout generations.

Selective Exposure/Omission

A little more than a year ago, I (Allie Anderson, along with a travel companion) stopped in on a local bookstore in a small town we were traveling through. We noticed that the bumper stickers on cars, political signs in yards, and messages in local businesses all seemed to have an anti-conservative flavor. In fact, that’s putting it mildly, as some of the statements we were seeing even had slightly hostile wording. As we were driving out of the town, my travel companion mentioned that the shop we had visited only had books on the liberal agenda displayed. There seemed to be a lack of balance in the presentation of media in that town.

Of course.

One of the simplest ways that groups of people are groomed to embrace a certain point of view is by selective exposure. When the masses don’t hear both sides of an issue, the one that’s regularly argued becomes familiar. Over time, senses warm to this position, and a large percentage of people tend to push against anything that would challenge that position. It is no secret that people are afraid of what they don’t know, they fear change, and they tend to be closed-minded about anything that contradicts the building blocks of their comfort zone. Thus, the shape of their foundation can be manipulated by filling their proximity with only a certain agenda. When the Church’s core beliefs come to be labeled as “hate speech” (which will be discussed later), then they begin to disappear from mainstream public view, because they’re no longer accepted as politically correct. Additionally, what little Scripture the public may be hearing and seeing is either taken out of context and twisted in a negative light or presented as archaic, old-fashioned, and outdated. Thus, the community is sanitized of all godly messages for the sake of political correctness, and Christianity is removed from the public eye in general. At that point, reasserting scriptural values is perceived as threatening rather than foundational.

Of course, there are times when selective exposure is appropriate. For example, a four-year-old doesn’t need to know where the keys to the gun safe are or how to open it. The omission of this info is both expected and responsible, until the child has developed the appropriate level of maturity. So, in no way are we saying that every minute fact should be given to every individual all of the time. Our point is that, as we look at what types of subject matter, propaganda, and even news reports the masses are being exposed to, we can see a spike in the promotion of certain agendas and a diminishment in the advancement of others. We see this played out, for example, when it becomes trendy to hate a certain politician or celebrity. From that moment on, the target’s every wrong move is overpublicized, while his or her redeeming acts are ignored. Such tactics in the realm of public media have extreme shaping power in our society.


These two manipulation tactics are similar, but each has certain elements that occur in different order. In studying both group and individual conformity/compliance in the school of social psychology, we see these techniques emerge in the world every day to influence the majority. Additionally, we see hints of these approaches nearly everywhere, once we’ve learned to recognize them. When successfully carried out, they often produce the desired results: The masses accept a concept they previously rejected, or they come to regard something that may have seemed irregular before as commonplace.

The “foot-in-the-door technique” involves introducing an idea or request on a small scale to prevent immediate rejection, and it builds from there. For example, in 1966, a number of people were asked to sign a safe-driving petition. Many agreed to do so, because it was only a simple signature toward indicating support of a good cause. Two weeks later, the members of this group, along with others, were asked to place “a large, ugly sign” in their yards instructing those on the road to drive carefully.[iv] The majority of those who had signed the petition agreed to post the sign as well, but most of those who hadn’t been involved in the petition part of the social experiment refused to place the sign. By starting small—just a “foot in the door,” a signature, but a statement the signer could personally connect to and remember for two weeks before the bar was raised—people became more open-minded about participating in the safe-driving cause on another level.[v]

In today’s media, we see this strategy used regularly. When carried out on a collective level, the “support” is measured by our lack of protest. This can be done by briefly including something potentially controversial in the background of a song, book, or movie, or it can emerge in other areas of culture in small, isolated, and seemingly harmless increments. Once the debatable issue has become generally accepted as a piece of the background, it is slowly brought to the forefront and presented in a more overt fashion. At this point, any protests are met with the reminder that the matter “has been around for a long time.” Furthermore, since it will have likely been conditioned over a period of years, those who recall a time without it will likely be pointing to a distant period gone by, making the protest now seem old-fashioned and out-of-touch. Those who have been successfully conditioned to embrace the element will often support their stance with phrases such as “this is [insert current year]” or “get over it.”

To take one example, in 1962’s black-and-white film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Davis’ character is ragingly jealous of Crawford’s. In frustration, the former utters the words “you miserable—” then she performs the lip movement to form an expletive (rhyming with “witch”) that can’t be heard because of the timely sound of a buzzer in the background (a part of the movie’s plot).[vi] To the audience, it appears as though Davis’ character speaks the entire phrase. Such language hadn’t yet been accepted into filmmaking when the movie was released, yet, the profanity took place with diminished impact on the audience because it was communicated without being heard. Slipping in curse words in this manner was the only strategy many filmmakers dared to use at that time. However, as moviegoers grew more accustomed to vulgarity via this type of exposure, actors were allowed to utter such words and phrases fully, uncensored, out loud. Fast-forward to today, and we now hear profanity in movies and television programs, on magazine covers, and even in brand names and logos on product packaging, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and more. Foul language is simply everywhere these days, and that’s because, decades ago, the public was slowly prepared to accept it. The same type of conditioning can be seen regarding such issues as nudity, sexual content, violence, sexualization of minors, devaluation of human life, illicit subject matter, and political agendas.

Absolutely without doubt, those who wish to drive an anti-Christian agenda would, and have, used this tactic by hinting that Christians are incompetent, unfair, money-hungry, hypocritical, shallow, selfish, judgmental, and so on. And as those concepts become acceptable (with any disproof omitted by selective exposure), the accusations increase to a greater indictment of Christians’ moral fiber. Then, every time the name of a believer—or a belief—is dragged through the media mud, the concept is further solidified.

Even sneakier than the “foot-in-the-door” technique of conditioning is called “door-in-the-face,” because it comes from the opposite direction and tends to be unexpected. This method provides the false sense of security that comes with believing we have overcome a situation, when really, we’ve been duped into letting our guard down. The process is simple: A real request is hidden behind one that will be rejected. The way this plays out is simple, as in the following example:

Betty wants to borrow Jane’s brand-new, leather, high-heeled shoes. She knows Jane spent about $100 on this addition to her wardrobe, and is certain that she will say no to this request, since she has damaged items Jane has loaned her in the past. She goes to talk to Jane, but instead of asking for the shoes outright, she recalls an expensive handbag that cost Jane nearly $300. Instead of asking to borrow the heels, she asks to use the purse. As expected, Jane refuses. Acting hurt, or maybe disappointed, Betty leaves. The next day, she returns to ask Jane if she can borrow the shoes. Jane, feeling bad for turning down Betty’s initial request, gives in. After all, the shoes have a lower replacement value than the handbag, and she’s already turned Betty down once recently. Jane’s conscience feels a boost (after she felt guilty for not loaning her friend the heels), and Betty leaves with the very item she originally wanted. “The success of the door-in-the-face technique is probably due to our tendency toward mutual reciprocity, making mutual concessions,” explains psychologist and author Richard Griggs. “The person making the requests appears to have made a concession by moving to the much smaller request [the individual being manipulated feels obligated to make a concession as well].”[vii] In this case, both Betty and Jane are happy, but Jane has no idea that she’s been played.

Maybe this scenario will seem more familiar: Your teenaged daughter wants to go shopping at the mall on Saturday with her friends—and she wants you to give her a hundred dollars to spend while she’s there. Instead, she asks if she can go on an overnight trip with her friends—an excursion that will cost four hundred dollars. When, for whatever reason, you say no to that, she responds, “Okay…Daddy—” [insert eye-batting here] “—then can I have…?”

You see where this is going; parents fall for this strategy every day!

Although the scheme appears unabashedly manipulative and controlling, its common use in society is no more controversial than the sales pitch used to move the latest new car off the Ford lot or sell the last oil painting to the highest bidder at an auction house. And, just like the foot-in-the-door method, its sister technique, door-in-the-face, can be (and often is) practiced upon the public to incite a cultural change in our attitudes.

People presented with the first idea have time to refute it and identify why it’s not practical. Meanwhile, in the pursuit of “slamming the door shut” on that, they’re also required to think about the grander picture presented to them, even if only momentarily considering how the proposed idea could work, hypothetically. Still putting this together?

Taking the example about Betty borrowing Jane’s three-hundred-dollar handbag, Jane had to entertain the “what-if” idea that she might loan it to Betty before she could identify the reasons she ultimately would not. Just visiting the possibility imprinted it on her memory as a notion that, even subconsciously, continued to be considered. Rehearsed conversations with Betty play out in Jane’s head as her resolve strengthens; she prepares for future confrontation about the issue, should there be hard feelings. Every time she sees her handbag hanging in her closet, she reminds herself of how she feels about the answer she gave Betty—whether the reflection is one of regret or relief. The more Jane’s subconscious thoughts and hypothetical-scenario “memories” solidify in the back of her mind, the more her cognitive, conscious mind revisits and accepts the idea that it could happen. Having played and replayed myriad potential scenarios in her mind, Jane is relieved when Betty returns, only asking for her shoes.

So, when this strategy is used for large groups or even entire populations, it begins with something grand, unreasonable, perhaps even abrasive. For example, consider the over-the-top manner of illicitly cruel behavior depicted of those who follow (and twist) the Bible in The Handmaid’s Tale (more on this in an upcoming article). The series introduces concepts of extreme, ritualistic, sexual abuse being committed by these individuals, but because it is done in the realms of entertainment, the “accusation” is tapered down to a hypothetical for the viewer’s mind to process and ponder. The result is seedlings of factional polarity between Christians and non-Christians. A suggested scenario is presented, but under the guise of a premise so outrageous that people don’t even have to refuse it; after all, it’s complete fiction. Yet the idea is then a set of hypotheticals planted in the back of people’s minds, and even seeded deep into their subconscious, asking seemingly unrealistic but severe questions like “Christians: What if it’s ever ‘us’ or ‘them’”? As the brain plays with all the directions a fictional scenario such as that in The Handmaid’s Tale could go, people begin to watch Christians differently in the real world as well: Anything the Church does that looks awry is met with suspicion, those who claim to believe and follow the Gospel but turn out to be hypocrites solidify this wariness, once-respected biblical principles are relabeled as “hate speech,” and in general, the public begins to see the Church more as a threat than as a force for good in the world.

For more information on the topics covered in this article series, see the book Dark Covenant by Donna Howell and Allie Anderson, available below:

UP NEXT: Create a Problem…Present the Solution

[i] Griggs, Richard A., Psychology: A Concise Introduction: Fifth Edition (New York: Worth Publishers, 2017), 152.

[ii] Ibid., 152.

[iii] Ibid., 319.

[iv] Ibid., 378.

[v] Ibid., 378.

[vi] Robert Aldrich, director, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (The Associates & Aldrich Company; 1962).

[vii] Griggs, Richard A., Psychology: A Concise Introduction: Fifth Edition (New York: Worth Publishers, 2017), 379.

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