Preventing Persuasion

17.05.2016 |

Episode #8 of the course The psychology of persuasion by Jake Teeny


One of people’s greatest interests in understanding the psychology of persuasion is learning how they can prevent it from happening to them. And fortunately, just as researchers know how to create convincing content, so too have they recognized ways to ward against it.

One of the first things you can do to prevent being persuaded is to recognize that someone is trying to persuade you. Automatically, when we become aware that someone is intentionally trying to influence us, we become more leery of what they have to say—in which case, this heightened scrutiny only approves of the most merited arguments.

Although this simple awareness is useful for resisting persuasion, there is an even stronger technique one can employ called inoculation theory.

This method was derived from the biological perspective on preventing disease. Inoculation theory works just like its medical counterpart—give the patient a weak dose of the virus so their body can fight, overcome, and develop an immunity to the disease.

In persuasion, this works by presenting yourself with an argument in favor of your opposition and then taking the moment to counter-argue it. Even if the argument you’re generating for the opposition is weak, generating and then refuting it makes you more resilient to persuasion—both on that specific topic as well as others!

Simply demonstrating to yourself that you can devise a counter-argument makes you feel confident in your efficacy (the personal belief of capability) to resist persuasion.

However, if you’re arguing with a skilled debater, you may want another trick to help you resist persuasion: shake your head as they speak.

In social psychology, there is a process called embodiment, whereby your physical actions and behavior inform your psychological processes. For example, research has shown that people who are nodding their heads (moving up and down) are more persuaded by a message than people who are shaking their heads (moving left and right).

We grow up learning that nodding means “yes” and shaking means “no,” so when we enact these behaviors physically, it influences our reception of the incoming persuasive message.

So if you’re shaking your head while another person tries to convince you, not only will you be less convinced by what they’re saying, but you’ll also be signaling to your persuader (if they’re there in person) that you remain unconvinced. And research shows that if a persuader believes they’re not being very convincing (as denoted by your shaking head), they start to become even less persuasive.

But how do you prevent yourself from being persuaded when you aren’t even aware you’re being persuaded? First, you need to learn how such subconscious and indirect persuasion can even take place.

Wacky tip: If you want to become less persuaded of an idea, try writing the statement with your non-dominant hand. But wait—why?


Recommended book:

“Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy” by Martin Lindstrom


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