Covert Social Engineering: Priming

A highly powerful, very covert, and unbelievably common technique.

It turns out merely imagining things associated with a concept (retirement) causes people to change their behavior to follow that concept (walk slow like an old person).

Similarly, using rude words in a conversation makes the other person more likely to interrupt, while telling a story of politeness and compliance makes the listener more likely to aquiesce to a request.

(“Is this the way to Baker House?” is another good example — the recipent is at that moment deciding whether to help [they’re new here, send them home] or punish.)

Merely knowing about this phenomena gives you the power to spot a ton of very subtle social engineering attempts you’d otherwise miss. The author cites snack food advertising and push polling (“if you found out that Joe Politician had a sex addiction…”) as examples.

I would also suggest the age-old “covert mystique” (“you don’t have a need to know [any more than what you’ve been told]”) trick for getting people to do things they would otherwise revile as another.

Critical question: what happens when things reach the saturation point, when people are primed until their primers are sore?

Lobazewski’s Ponerology (cited back in May*) gives us an answer — the mind adapts, and a sort of balance is restored. In a population whose implicit memory had been conditioned beyond belief by authoritarianism, Lobazewski noted that:
“This society acts in concert and is aware of the true state of affairs; it begins to develop ways of influencing various elements of authority and achieving goals which are socially useful. […]

Exchange of information, warnings, and assistance encompass the entire society.

Whoever is able to do so offers aid to anyone who finds himself in trouble, often in such a way that the person helped does not even know who rendered the assistance. However, if he caused his misfortune by his own lack of circumspection with regard to the authorities, he meets with reproach, but never the withholding of assistance.”


[too much to quote]


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