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Despite our illusions of independence and control, it’s possible to manipulate people using a variety of psychological tricks—heck, that’s what the entire advertising and marketing industry is built on. So it stands to reason that a little light mind control could make things go your way a bit more often. When you dig into supposed psychological tricks, however, you often get mired in a lot of pseudo-science and dubious claims. But while it’s true that you’re not going to be controlling minds and hypnotizing people into doing your bidding any time soon, there are psychological tricks that do really work—and that are backed by scientific evidence.
If you’re looking to gain a little bit of an edge in your everyday life, here are some mind tricks that actually do work.
Create a debt
If you want to make someone do something for you and meet resistance, one trick you can employ is to create a debt by doing something for them first. This hinges on what’s known as the Norm of Reciprocity—basically, the pressure people feel to return a favor. An easy example of this is when someone cleans your windshield when you’re stopped at a light, and then asks for a tip. You didn’t ask them to clean your windshield, but once it’s done, you feel pressure to reciprocate.
You can create this debt in a wide variety of ways. Servers in restaurants jot personal notes on your bill to create a debt of goodwill, encouraging larger tips. Companies offer free trials of products and services because they know that once you use the product, you’ll feel a debt and be more reluctant to cancel or return the item. So next time you need someone to do something for you and you sense their reluctance, do something for them and you’ll increase your chances of success.
Yes, something used by Andy Bernard on The Office is a legit psychological trick with science backing it up. Personality mirroring, or The Chameleon Effect, is when we unconsciously mimic the people around us—their postures, attitudes, and other behaviors. We all have a tendency to do this because of what’s known as the “perception-behavior link,” wherein observing a behavior increases the likelihood that we’ll repeat it.
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You can use this to your advantage by consciously mirroring people you’re trying to influence, matching their mannerisms and other behaviors. This increases trust and will make you seem more authoritative and trustworthy, because you’ll literally remind people of themselves.
Are you trying to get someone to do something? Try the Door in The Face (DITF) technique. You use this trick by first asking your target for something much harder or more outrageous than what you really want—something they’ll doubtlessly refuse. Then, back down and ask them for your original desire. The chances that they agree are now much higher because of DITF, which pivots off the Norm of Reciprocity discussed above (the name of this technique is taken from the concept of people slamming the door in a pushy salesperson’s face). When you downgrade what you’re asking, it’s perceived subconsciously as a concession—which creates a debt. People will have a strong urge to erase that debt by agreeing to your “lesser” request.
If you’re trying to convince someone of something, one of the most powerful psychological tricks you can employ is what’s known as repetition bias. Basically, the perceived legitimacy and truth of any statement increases the more frequently it is repeated—in other words, the more you repeat even blatantly untrue or incorrect information, the more likely people will start to believe you. This results in what’s known as the “illusory truth effect,” and the last few years have shown just how powerful it can be even when dealing with huge populations that have access to factual information. So the next time you need to convince someone of something, just repeat it doggedly—you’ll eventually wear them down.
The scarcity principle is one of the most common examples of blatant psychological trickery we encounter on a daily basis. Any time you see an advertisement that promises something is limited—in time or quantity—it’s using the scarcity effect against you. It’s easy to see why this works: We tend to place more value on something when we think it’s rare. When you’re told that an opportunity only exists for a short time or in a limited supply, your fear of missing out (FOMO) hits hard, and you almost instinctually want to avoid it.
While this is most useful with marketing products, you can also employ this trick in other ways. You can trick people into spending time with you by implying that you can’t fit them into your busy schedule, for example.
Speak with confidence
Being thoughtful about your vocabulary choices when speaking can have a huge impact on how you’re perceived, and how often people do what you want. We often unconsciously “hedge” when we talk, using phrases like “I think” or “I’m not 100% sure, but...” This gives your audience wiggle-room to doubt what you’re saying and to perceive you as less than reliable.
On the other hand, using confident phrases like “I know” or “I believe” will make your arguments seem more authoritative even if nothing else changes in what you’re saying. In other words, your statements might be as dubious as before, but because you’re stating them so confidently, people will have a stronger tendency to believe you.
If you get the sense that someone’s attention is wandering from you, or if you want to ensure that they’re focused on you no matter what else is going on around you, try using their name. Science tells us that hearing our name pivots off the “Cocktail Party Effect,” which describes the way we instinctively filter out all other stimuli when we hear something interesting—and our own names trigger this effect in spades.
That’s why salespeople are usually trained to repeat your name often as they deliver their pitch to you, and you can use this simple technique to ensure that people are paying attention and feel engaged with you as you speak. Your audience may not even realize why they remember their conversation with you so well, or why they failed to notice other people in the room while you were speaking.
If you’re trying to establish a bond of trust with someone, you can use something called “affinity” to trick people into trusting you. Affinity is a sense of familiarity people have when they’re used to seeing you all the time—the more “present” you are in their lives, the more likely they are to feel close to you and to trust you.
For example, an experiment was conducted in which four women posed as students in a class. The women did not interact with any of the other students at all—they merely showed up. The impostors attended different numbers of classes, and at the end of the term, the other students were shown photos and asked their opinions. The women who had attended the most classes—who had been most “present”—triggered higher levels of affinity, even though they hadn’t spoken to anyone.
Dish the compliments
One of the trickiest mind tricks involves something called spontaneous trait transference. In a nutshell, this means that people tend to view you with the adjectives you use on other people.
So, if you want someone to see you as smart, start calling other people smart. If you want to be seen as confident—or even attractive—describe others using those terms. Over time, everyone will start to view you through the lens of those comments. Keep in mind that this works in reverse, too—if you spend your days crankily insulting other people, those around you may start to view you in a very negative way.
Want to influence people? Try some subliminal touching. Subliminal touching is simply making casual interpersonal contact while interacting with someone. Touching their arm or shoulder briefly has been shown to make people instantly feel warmer toward you. While you often hear this advice in the context of dating and romance, it’s a powerful mind trick any time you’re trying to be perceived in a positive light. For example, a study conducted by the University of Mississippi and Rhodes College found that waitresses in a restaurant who lightly touched their customers received significantly larger tips.
There’s no true mind control, but you can use these real, actual mind tricks to give yourself some advantages. Just remember that other people are probably using these same tricks on you.