Why We are Susceptible to Manipulation → Washingtons Blog
Why We are Susceptible to Manipulation - Washingtons Blog

Monday, February 22, 2010

Why We are Susceptible to Manipulation

Biologists and sociologists tell us that our brains evolved in small groups or tribes.

As one example of how profoundly the small-group environment affected our brains, Daily Galaxy points out:

Research shows that one of the most powerful ways to stimulate more buying is celebrity endorsement. Neurologists at Erasmus University in Rotterdam report that our ability to weigh desirability and value doesn’t function normally if an item is endorsed by a well-known face. This lights up the brain’s dorsal claudate nucleus, which is involved in trust and learning. Areas linked to longer-term memory storage also fire up. Our minds overidentify with celebrities because we evolved in small tribes. If you knew someone, then they knew you. If you didn’t attack each other, you were probably pals.

Our minds still work this way, giving us the idea that the celebs we keep seeing are our acquaintances. And we want to be like them, because we’ve evolved to hate being out of the in-crowd. Brain scans show that social rejection activates brain areas that generate physical pain, probably because in prehistory tribal exclusion was tantamount to a death sentence. And scans by the National Institute of Mental Health show that when we feel socially inferior, two brain regions become more active: the insula and the ventral striatum. The insula is involved with the gut-sinking sensation you get when you feel that small. The ventral striatum is linked to motivation and reward.

In small groups, we knew everyone extremely well. No one could really fool us about what type of person they were, because we had grown up interacting with them for our whole lives.

If a tribe member dressed up and pretended he was from another tribe, we would see it in a heart-beat. It would be like seeing your father in a costume: you would recognize him pretty quickly, wouldn't you.

As the celebrity example shows, our brains can easily be fooled by people in our large modern society when we incorrectly ascribe to them the role of being someone we should trust.

As the celebrity example shows, our brains can easily be fooled by people in our large modern society when we incorrectly ascribe to them the role of being someone we should trust.

The opposite is true as well. The parts of our brain that are hard-wired to quickly recognize "outside enemies" can be fooled in our huge modern society, when it is really people we know dressed up like the "other team".

Wolf In Sheep's Clothing

Because of this hard-wiring in our brains from the days we lived in tiny tribes, we are highly susceptible to false flag attacks.

Specifically, if government agents dress up like the "other team" and stage an attack on their own country, most people's "defend the tribe" hardwiring kicks in, so they rally around their leaders and call for the heads of the "other team".

Our brains assume that we can tell truth from fiction, because they evolved in very small groups where we knew everyone extremely well, and usually could see for ourselves what was true.

On the other side of the coin, a tribal leader who talked a good game but constantly stole from and abused his group would immediately be kicked out or killed. No matter how nicely he talked, the members of the tribe would immediately see what he was doing.

But in a country of hundreds of millions of people, where the political class is shielded from the rest of the country, people don't really know what our leaders are doing with most of the time. We only see them for a couple of minutes when they are giving speeches, or appearing in photo ops, or being interviewed. It is therefore much easier for a wolf in sheep's clothing to succeed than in a small group setting.

Indeed, sociopaths would have been discovered very quickly in a small group. But in huge societies like our's, they can rise to positions of power and influence.

As with the celebrity endorsement example, our brains are running programs which were developed for an environment (a small group) we no longer live in, and so lead us astray.

Like the blind spot in our rear view mirror, we have to learn to compensate and adapt for our imperfections, or we may get clobbered.

Grow Up

The good news is that we can evolve.

While our brains have many built-in hardwired ways of thinking and processing information, they are also amazingly "plastic". We can learn and evolve and overcome our hardwiring - or at least compensate for our blind spots.

We are not condemned to being led astray by Madison Avenue advertisers and ruthless dictators and scientific frauds and fundamentalists.

We can choose to grow up as a species and reclaim our power to decide our own future.


  1. Think you can't be controlled? ...I command you to watch this!



    PUA's, or pick-up artists, also talk about the same sort of thing. How we evolved in tribes, and how it affects our modern-day behavior, etc.

  2. "The good news is that we can evolve."

    I'm sixty. I'm evolving all the time.

    No. -Wait a second. I just checked.

    Scientifically speaking, I am not evolving.

    -I- am resolving.

    I'm resolving to look the word up -at least once-, before use it again, -Charles Darwin.

    Let me recommend a book.

    "The Careful Writer - A Modern Guide to English Usage" Theodore M. Bernstein 1973, Antheneum, NY.

    This is by far the most entertaining book on English usage ever written.


  3. The inability to understand the distinction between small and large scale is at the heart of the crisis of contemporary society. I doubt that brain plasticity is a sufficient counter-measure. It's a stretch to assume that something that has always worked at a certain speed will now accelerate just because we want it to.

  4. There are people who see celebrities as "leaders of the pack"?
    Beam me up, Scotty. Please!

  5. I do not think "evolution" has anything to do with the effectiveness of mass manipulation. I think it's simply a matter of consolidated control by less than 10 major corporations who own well over 90% of all news media outlets including network TV, cable TV, radio,national magazines and newspapers. These corporations function as defacto government agencies. Edward Bernays, the father of PR, discussed the ability to manipulate populations in 1928 in his book "Propaganda." Bernays' methods have been advanced by light years due to the visual appeal of TV.

    We should not be surprised that the men behind the curtain are trying to severely restrict internet access since this is essentially our last domain for free information.

  6. A cautionary tale would be the story of William Rodriguez's penetration of the 9/11 Truth movement with a thin story that any mainstream person can recognize as a con in an instant. Willie claims he saved hundreds of lives by "opening doors and letting people out". But the people were not locked in!

    Simple statistics show his claim for a lie. There were 15,000 civilians on the 179 floors of the WTC below the impact floors. Willie opened doors on 39 floors, 22% of the total. So how many died on the 140 floors where he didn't open the doors? None. 150 people out of the 15,000 died -- trapped in elevators or slow to get down the stairs. If Willie's key was necessary to open the doors and save people, then 11,700 people should have died on the floors he never reached. The man has been a liar and a fraud since day one--and everybody outside the truth movement knows it, and nobody inside the truth movement wants to believe it. He's done enormous damage to our credibility.

  7. Your fallacy is showing...

    In your opening remarks you stated that because of our alleged "small-tribe" social wiring, we would spot an impostor "in a heart-beat" if one of our own tribe tried to pass himself off as a member of a rival tribe.

    Yet, later you argue that our tribal mindset is precisely what makes us susceptible to false-flag attacks; that because of our putative evolutionary history in small communities, we are over-trusting and can readily be duped by an impostor. This is of course, precisely contrary to your earlier statement.

    Your argument is a failure, not least because it is based on flawed premises.


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