The Manipulation and Exploitation of Emotions
Have you ever wondered how people and businesses and political parties can get otherwise intelligent people to do things contrary to their best interests? In this text I will illuminate some of the root causes of our most basic emotions and show how they can be purposely triggered repeatedly to achieve reliable results. With this information you can better spot attempts to manipulate your emotions and better prevent such attempts.
What are emotions?
What kinds of emotions we experience can vary widely but for the purpose of this text we will investigate the most common and most easily exploitable, namely fear, jealousy, hate, and love. There are numerous other emotions and numerous other ways to exploit them but the concept is the same.
Our emotions, like our memory, are strengthened by repeated use. For example, the more our fear emotion is evoked, the easier it is to evoke it again. Being frightened by the same thing repeatedly will eventually desensitize us to the fear response from that stimulus, but invoking fear from a new stimulus is still easier with each successful fright.
The strengthening of the emotion and ease of triggering it is caused by the increased number and the strength of the neurons in our brains stimulated by each emotion. This is similar to learning through repetition as we all do in our younger school years.
We experience emotional fatigue when the same emotions are triggered too often. Different people have different thresholds before fatigue sets in. The more emotional exploitation you can endure before becoming fatigued, the better candidate you are for those intent on exploiting it.
You have probably wondered why I selected this particular list of emotions to explain rather than some other list. If you did, then, good. There is some thought involved in which emotions best explain this phenomenon.
Fear is our most basic and most easily triggered emotion and as such is the most easily exploited. Typically, newborn babies do not experience fear. They can be startled by a sudden rush of sensation, such as loud noises, but there is no lasting emotion from the experience. As a child grows he learns that consequences follow events. It is the anticipation of the consequences that teaches a child fear.
The fear response does not require logic and, in fact, will often trigger contrary to logic. Most of us remember going through life with certain fears that we eventually realized were groundless. Some people can go their entire lifetimes with unfounded fears that they never successfully deal with. It is the fact this this emotion is so quick that we, as a species, have survived our history.
Fear is a repelling emotion. Its value is that it repels us from negative consequences.
It should be obvious from this that fear is the easiest emotion to induce and can be induced regardless of facts.
Unlike fear, jealousy is not a base emotion. This emotion requires thought. This emotion also requires fear as a catalyst. How does one become jealous? Jealousy comes from fear of having to do without. From fear it can evolve into greed where we demand that other do without just so we can benefit. At its most fundamental level, jealousy is just a short distance away from fear.
Where fear is a repelling emotion which repels us from harmful consequences, jealousy can start as repelling and can become more of an attracting emotion as it evolves into greed.
Anger and Hatred
These emotions are both by-products of fear so neither are base emotions. Where anger is a reactive emotion, hatred is a proactive emotion. Anger requires a certain amount of logic. It is only after we have decided what the consequences may be that we become angry over the cause.
Hatred, on the other hand, is an emotion based on fear of future actions and future and possibly imagined consequences.
Obviously both these emotions require some level of thought.
Love is typically associated with sensations associated with certain hormones in the bloodstream. A newborn baby may feel the emotion of love while cuddling with a parent or most commonly, while breastfeeding. The mother also typically feels the emotional bond.
There are also other hormones that trigger this emotion, some related to sexual intercourse such as oxytocin.
As most romantics will tell you, there’s more to love than physiology, and I agree. There is a huge amount of thought required to process the emotion of love outside the physiological level and that, though pertinent, is far outside the realm of this text.
Where the previous three emotions are typically repelling, love is attractive.
Comparing these four emotions, you can see that three are fear based and are strong due to their necessary role in keeping us alive. Still, in the long run, love can help us overcome all the other emotions and thus can be the strongest.
As we have seen, fear based emotions are repulsive so we try to avoid conditions that cause the fear. If the unethical exploiter can push the fear button in you and redirect your repulsion to another cause, your quick fear response will typically fire before you have had a chance to evaluate the real cause. If this happens more than once then the displacement to the new imagined cause will become more solid and easier to associate with that fear.
There is a multi-billion dollar industry that provides this exact service. We teach orators how to get the crowd worked up and riled up and all full of fear and tell the crowd, “it’s them, over there, who are causing the problem.” In such an emotionally charged environment such as a great speech or a rally, it’s easy to get caught up in the fear without realizing what’s causing it.
Once you’ve been lured in by the fear tactic, it’s an easy step for someone to not only say it’s them people over there, but let’s all hate and fear them. It’s easy to get a crowd riled up enough to go get the torches and pitch forks. It takes some skill to work the crowd up just enough to get them to take the fear and hatred home and act on it outside the rally.
As we’ve learned, people get fatigued from fearing all the time so the way to keep the fear fresh in the followers’ minds is to change the fear. This is why you will see leaders manipulating their people by swapping one fear for another at regular intervals. One great orator went from pushing the hate and fear buttons because of Jews, then it was because of those carrying bad genes (handicapped citizens), to fearing communism and then back to the Jews. Can you guess who this was? His tactics are obvious in hind sight.
To take another obvious example, notice how the American Republican Party induces fear of “illegal aliens are taking your jobs” or “the illegal aliens are breeding us out of existence” only to ignore this fear for a couple months while they’re ginning up fear of the socialists in the Democratic Party that we should all fear and hate, only to find that a few months later they’re preaching fear and hatred of abortion mongers and then it’s back to the illegals.
By bringing in fresh new fears regularly, those intent on exploiting our emotions keep up perpetually hooked on fear and hatred.
Just to be fair, the Democratic party uses plenty of fear tactics as well but since the Democratic voters don’t have over-stimulated fear neurons, the tactics don’t have the same impact. That’s why controlling Democratic voters is so often referred to as herding cats.
What You Can Do
All is not lost. There are things that you can do to minimize the impact these unethical fear merchants have on you. The first line of defense is the old rule of counting to 10. Don’t succumb to non-immediate fear without first stopping and taking a breath and counting to 10. Then, ask yourself if someone is trying to take advantage of your emotions.
Secondly, any time someone is trying to stir up your fear emotion, cover your wallet and get ready. A fear that comes from outside you, one that has been sold to you is almost certain to be manipulation. That means it’s time to really stop and evaluate and more than anything, research the facts that the fear merchant is peddling. This isn’t to say that all fear merchants are false. Sometimes people really do have to get others educated to the risks.
And, most importantly, realize that everyone is vulnerable to these tactics. Those who are the most vulnerable to unethical salesmen are those who feel they have nothing to fear. If you think you’re immune to the tactics, you’re the easiest target.