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How Words Are Used To Manipulate The Unsuspecting

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Friday, December 22, 2023


Without a trained and vigilant eye, it's easy to get hoodwinked by bad actors out to subtly and deviously manipulate and control your thoughts, opinions and attitudes. The internet is rife with regular news and health information web sites and blogs that brazenly spew misleading headlines with sly and smart wording. Much of advertising is guilty of the same, all with the goal of getting clicks and cashing in Maria Konnikova, author of “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, gives a concise overview of the issues involved:  

"By now, everyone knows that a headline determines how many people will read a piece, particularly in this era of social media. But, more interesting, a headline changes the way people read an article and the way they remember it. The headline frames the rest of the experience. A headline can tell you what kind of article you’re about to read—news, opinion, research, LOL cats—and it sets the tone for what follows. 

"Psychologists have long known that first impressions really do matter—what we see, hear, feel, or experience in our first encounter with something colors how we process the rest of it. Articles are no exception. And just as people can manage the impression that they make through their choice of attire, so, too, can the crafting of the headline subtly shift the perception of the text that follows. By drawing attention to certain details or facts, a headline can affect what existing knowledge is activated in your head. By its choice of phrasing, a headline can influence your mindset as you read so that you later recall details that coincide with what you were expecting."  

In her book, “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes”, Maria Konnikova gives an excellent example: 

"In one of Elizabeth Loftus's classic studies of eyewitness testimony, participants viewed a film depicting an automobile accident. Loftus then asked each participant to estimate how fast the cars were going when the accident occurred - a classic deduction from available data. But here's the twist: each time she asked the question, she subtly altered the phrasing. Her description of the accident varied by verb: the cars smashed, collided, bumped, contacted or hit. What Loftus found was that her phrasing had a drastic impact on the subject's memory. Not only did those who viewed the smashed condition estimate a higher speed than those who viewed the other conditions, but they were also far more likely to recall, one week later, having seen broken glass in the film, even though there was actually no broken glass at all. 

"It's called the misinformation effect. When we are exposed to misleading information, we are likely to recall it as true and to take it into consideration in our deductive process. In the Loftus experiment, the subjects weren't even exposed to anything patently false, just misleading. All the specific word choices act as a simple frame that impacts our line of reasoning and even our memory. Hence the difficulty, and the absolute necessity …... of learning to sift what is irrelevant (and all that is media conjecture) from the real, objective, hard facts - and to do so thinkingly and systematically. If you don't, you may find yourself remembering broken glass instead of the intact windshield you actually saw."     

Robert H. Shmerling, MD (Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing) looks at four ways health study findings and headlines can be overstated:  

Were humans studied?  

"If a study finds that a drug is safe and effective for an important disease, that's big news. But what if all of the study subjects were mice? Leaving out this important detail from the headline exaggerates the study's importance." 

Too much drama  

"Dramatic terms such as 'breakthrough' or 'groundbreaking' are common in headlines about medical research. Yet true breakthroughs are quite rare. That's the nature of science: knowledge tends to accumulate slowly, with each finding building a bit on what came before." 

Going too far 

"Headlines often make a leap of faith when summarizing a study's findings. For example, if researchers identify a new type of cell in the blood that increases when a disease is worsening, they may speculate that treatments to reduce those cells might control the disease. 'Researchers discover new approach to treatment!' blares the headline. Sure, that could happen someday, but it's an overstatement when the study wasn't even assessing treatment." 

Overlooking the most important outcome 

"Rather than examining how a treatment affects heart disease, let's say, studies may assess how it affects a risk factor for it. A good example is cholesterol. It's great if a drug lowers cholesterol, but much better if it lowers the rate of cardiovascular disease and deaths. Headlines rarely capture the important difference between a 'proxy measure' (such as a risk factor) and the most important outcome (such as rates of death)." 

A list of the most effective and most used words in advertising: 










































What Are Advertising Words? (Advantages and Examples) https://ca.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/advertising-words#  

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Photo: https://www.yeetmagazine.com/manipulation-tactics-how-not-to-have-your-self-esteem-shattered/  

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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