By William Butler
Ever stare at somebody intently, thinking if you did so you would get them to do what you want by sending them your thoughts? Well there isn’t a general method that can make people do what you want, but this is not to say that people haven’t tried. Studies on coercive persuasion, or mind control, can be traced to the Korean War. During this time, the theory of brain washing was a form of propaganda that the United States used to cover-up the unusually high prisoner of war retention rates of communist nations. Specifically, the Chinese would place our soldiers in conditions of physical and social deprivation for extended periods of time to break down their psychological barriers.
Other accounts are a lot less extreme. According to the 1956 U.S. Army Report Community Interrogation, Indoctrination, and Exploitation of Prisoners of War, their efforts were contrary to what most people had believed. The report claims that the most persuasive technique that the Chinese used was friendliness. Yep, they simply won them over with kindness by offering handshakes, cigars, and sincerity. These small actions caused trained American soldiers to sign anti-American confessions and even stay in communist China when offered to leave.
The most effective form of persuasion is warmth and sincerity. That is, don’t bluntly impose your will onto people. People don’t generally like to be told what to do and will typically react by doing the opposite. The first technique in persuasion is accepting that you cannot control other people. You can offer your side of an issue but that’s as far as it goes. Show that you know what you’re talking about; that you’re interested in what the other person has to say. People are a lot more receptive when they know they’re being heard.
A key bit of advice comes from the September 2012 journal Cognition & Emotion. We’ve all been told that good eye contact is fundamental to being taken seriously. It turns out reading others facial expressions actually takes up a lot of mental processing. Rather than maintaining eye contact, glances are a lot better for getting messages across.
So what’s the take away? When it comes to persuasion, less is more. This is good to keep in mind the next time you try to swoon the lady of your dreams or make that next big sale. People aren’t a simple equation where effort in equals what you want out. Sometimes a cigar and a handshake is all it takes.
William Butler is a psychology and pre-medical student at the University of Central Florida. He works as a receptionist for UCF Health Services at the College of Medicine in Lake Nona, Fl. He also volunteers for the MIT-2 lab, IMAlive suicide hotline, and UCF Counseling and Psychological Services Student Advisory Council. He is interested in neuroscience, music, and spending time with his friends and family. Despite his wide range of interests, William is NOT a medical or mental health professional and all attitudes expressed are opinions and are not intended to be used as medical advice.