Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Persuade Like A Psychopath

One of the most effective ways to make someone do what you want is to persuade them that that is what they should do. It is known that psychopaths can be very persuasive, however there is a difference between persuading and manipulating. The former is a maieutic practice, it is a process which the audience is aware of undergoing, thus it makes people decide for themselves what is best, although it is up to the persuader to convince them about what is best. The latter, however, is a way to change people’s behaviour without them necessarily realising. So, what determines the distinction between being manipulative and being persuasive? Kevin Dutton, author of Split-Second Persuasion and a psychologist at Oxford University, studies psychopaths and has learnt from them how to effectively influence people in the following way:

1.     Simplicity: keep your message simple and easy to understand;
2.     Perceived self-interest: emphasise how the other person may benefit from the deal;
3.     Incongruity: find unexpected ways of delivering your message;
4.     Confidence: look confident, even if your facts are not on point;
5.     Empathy: connect with people’s emotions.

Psychopaths tend to be charming and good at applying this method to convince people to their ways of thinking. Using empathy might strike some as not being typical of psychopathic behaviour, however psychopaths are able to discern emotions through cues and they play with others’ emotions, even if they are unable to feel and are perfectly detached from the other person’s state of mind. Ruthlessness, another psychopathic trait, follows from lack of empathy, thus it is clear that manipulating others is not for the others’ benefit, but merely their own.
Being persuasive doesn’t have to be ruthless, it should instead involve finding a way to achieve what you want, but considering others’ needs and desires in the solution. Dale Carnegie’s bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People teaches how to be persuasive in a way that establishes relationships with other people. This method focuses on honesty and genuine human connections, which make people trust you and follow your way of thinking. Persuasion shouldn’t be manipulative, it can be effective even when you use others not merely as a means, but also as an end in themselves.

Dutton, K. (2017). Split-second persuasion [eBook - NC Digital Library]. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Dutton, K. (2012) Extended Interview on “The Wisdom of Psychopaths”

Carnegie, D. (1998). How To Win Friends and Influence People. London: Vermilion.

Perry, S. (2011). Retrieved 19 March 2018, from

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