The Human Desire to Belong Leads to Our Submission to Manipulation

Take a second and imagine you’re shopping in the mall. You and your group of friends walk through the mall and laugh about all the things you really can’t afford but wish you could. Window after window and shop after shop, you see all the cool stuff you just don’t have. You all walk into a clothing store.

Colossal price signs scream at you “50% off” and “Buy 2, Get 1 Free”. The rational side of your brain tells you that you probably shouldn’t buy anything. You told yourself before you left the house that you wouldn’t crack open the wallet. However, you end up buying three of the same items. And it’s probably not just because it’s “Buy 2, Get 1 Free.” If you looked around the store and saw other people buying, it probably seemed like the acceptable and popular thing to do at that exact moment.

Manipulation is evident everywhere. Through television, music, books, the Internet and almost everything else in society, manipulation is prevalent. Whether it’s for better or for worse, the power of manipulation gets used in every facet of society. Some companies use manipulation in ways you probably wouldn’t even believe.

But, with all these varying types of manipulation, what’s the strongest one? It seems time and time again that the strongest form of manipulation is when someone is able to use one of our strongest human desires — the power to belong, and derive fundamental meaning from that belonging — against us.

Peer Pressure

It’s something you hear about all the time. Teens getting pressured into drinking, sex, and other activities. Even though teens face a vast amount of peer pressure, this pressure continues into adulthood. Ever feel like you need to belong? How about at work?

If people stand around eating, you may feel awkward if you stand there not eating. Why? You internalize an innate feeling of thinking you don’t belong. If you end up taking a piece of cake, you may feel better automatically. You’re doing what everybody else is doing.

Simplifying the Situation

Life is complex. It has so many intricacies and nuances that it’s difficult to describe. People spend their entire lives trying to define “life.” Philosophers wrestle with this question and out of all the theories, the one that’s clear is that life is messy. But, people don’t prefer messy things. In fact, people prefer things when they’re simple.

So while we search for this all-important meaning, we simultaneously prefer when someone can give us an easy fix to our feelings of not having a place in society, in this world.

This fix tends to play to our preference for dichotomous thinking. Humans revel in this type of thinking. That’s why books and articles that promise to change your life in a certain number of steps are so appealing. While simplifying situations isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s a lot easier to manipulate a person if they only think they have two choices. A quick fix for our feelings of disconnection and loneliness is appealing, but not realistic.

Your Emotions Get Used as Tools

Ever heard of the phrase “playing to your emotions?” It’s a popular saying that has weight to it. When someone plays to your emotions, they grasp the emotional level of the audience. They drum up the emotional aspect of a given situation and try to use it to their advantage.

Sales people often use your emotions against you by employing techniques like mirroring, which is when someone mirrors only one of your movements about 2 and a half seconds after you do it. As a result, you will naturally start to feel like you connect more to this person. You will identify a “sameness” with them that isn’t actually there. Humans appreciate that feeling of being understood and belonging. As a result, we may be more inclined to respond positively to the message being thrown at us.

Molding Your Brain

The brain changes. You may have learned that the brain is something that is solid and doesn’t change. However, new evidence shows that the brain continues to change throughout a lifetime. So, when you get bombarded with a ton of information, your mind reflects that.

Subconscious influences are everywhere. In movies, specific music may sway your brain to feel particular ways about characters. Symbols and pictures may trigger certain feelings inside you. Whichever strategy gets used, subconscious manipulation occurs all the time.

We can’t always help our innate tendencies, but try to gain understanding of the messages that you take in.