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Manipulation methods and techniques

The art of influencing other people’s behaviour arouses a great deal of emotion and controversy. On the one hand, who would resist the temptation to use certain manipulative techniques - of course for a good cause and in exceptional circumstances? On the other hand, who would not want to explore the secrets of psychological manipulation in order to effectively defend oneself against it?

What is manipulation and what are manipulation techniques?

Manipulation (Latin manipulatio - maneuver, strategem, trickery; manus - hand, manipulus - palm) - is the type of influence on an individual or a group of people with an aim to induce them to unconsciously but voluntarily carry out the intentions of the manipulator 1.

. Usually the aim of the manipulator is to achieve his or her own benefits, much less is it an action taking into account the welfare of others. Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence. 

 How do we become manipulated?

People who are manipulated are not aware that any form of influence is being used to influence them. They believe that the actions taken are a result of their own initiative and that they themselves have decided to execute them. This increases commitment and significantly raises the level of motivation to achieve the goal. If something is ‘yours’, you are much more willing to make an effort and incur various costs associated with achieving it. Therefore, in order to persuade the other person to undertake certain actions, it is good to give him or her the possibility of choosing at least some elements of your plan on his or her own - be it the method of execution, the selection of tools or anything else. It is important that the person in some way identifies with the goal and identifies it as his or her own - this is one of the bases of psychomanipulative influence. 

 Mechanism of psychological manipulation

A skilful manipulator is perfectly aware of the mechanisms of human action. He or she also knows that not every method will work withh every victim. The skill of exerting influence includes many different competencies - human resource management, knowledge of the importance of human needs and desires, knowledge of the principles of leadership and negotiation, and perhaps the most important - the ability to arouse emotions. A person’s emotions are responsible for his or her behaviour and ability to make decisions independently. Under the influence of emotions, our ability to perceive reality is strongly distorted and we focus mainly on the stimulus we have experienced, which has caused a particular emotion, and on our reaction. We then act very impulsively. We are not able to make a realistic assessment of all the aspects involved in our action, and we can easily fall prey to the manipulator’s influence. Manipulation of a person’s mood is an extremely effective method of influence (Isen, Levin 1979, Dolinski 2000), as proven by numerous experiments and studies. After all, we all know that putting someone in a good mood is enough to make them more willing to comply with our request - right?

If you put someone in a bad mood first and then suddenly surprise them with something pleasant, they are more likely to be submissive. This opens up the possibilities for manipulation. The research of Prof. Dolinski (Dolinski, Nawrat 1998) has shown that subjecting a person to mood manipulation is extremely effective. By putting someone on an emotional swing, we cause a state called unreflectiveness, which in turn leads to submissiveness and susceptibility to influence. A person who is subjected to a fearful stimulus and then suddenly feels relieved (withdrawal of the stimulus) is in the state of emotional chaos and finds it extremely difficult to assess the situation realistically. Due to the sense of a sudden relief they are inclined to make significant concessions and obey. This technique is called an emotional swing or the good cop/bad cop method because of its effective application during interrogations.

Manipulators often use more complex interactions based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow believed that in order to fulfil higher-order needs (belonging, respect and recognition, self-fulfilment) lower-order needs, such as physiological or safety, must first be satisfied. The basis for a person’s motivation to act will be the satisfaction of his or her needs. A skilled manipulator will perfectly recognise the unsatisfied needs of a prospective victim and use this knowledge to achieve his or her goals. Evoking a need stimulates an impulse for action in a person. Converting a ‘whim’ into a concrete need also produces excellent results. By rationalising the need for its satisfaction, a person gets rid of the feeling of dissonance caused by giving in to temporary and irrelevant whims. Instead, he or she feels a specific and essential need has been satisfied. This technique is often used in commerce and advertising, but it will also work well in other circumstances.


Although our knowledge of the mechanisms of succumbing to psychological manipulation is growing, this does not protect us from being influenced. Each of us may sometime fall prey to a manipulator. Techniques aimed at inducing submission and achieving the manipulator’s aims are used by individuals, but also by large corporations and even institutions, which is particularly evident in totalitarian states. Dictators are very keen to use manipulative methods in the process of gaining power, but also in governing and subjugating citizens. Very similar techniques, extremely sophisticated, are used by sects in recruitment processes. 

Children are also very good at manipulating those who are the closest to them in order to achieve their personal aims. We are subject to manipulation and we also use manipulation more or less consciously on a daily basis in various situations and relationships in order to ensure the best possible outcome of our actions. This is one of natural goal-achievement strategies applied by human beings. However, it is important to be aware of one’s own actions and to use common sense in order not to harm the other person on the path leading towards your goal. 


1 R. Cialdini, Influence: Science and Practice (2008).

Reference literature

  1. Cialdini R. B. Influence: Science and Practice. Allyn and Bacon, 2008.
  2. Doliński, D. i Nawrat, R. (1994). Huśtawka emocji jako nowa technika manipulacji społecznej. "Przegląd Psychologiczny", 34, 27-50
  3. Doliński, D. (2005). Techniki wpływu społecznego. E. Biernacka (red. ), Huśtawka emocji (s.200-218). Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Scholar.
  4. Guszyła, K. (2007). Czy grozi nam potop? Wpływ huśtawki emocji na uległość wobec komunikatów perswazyjnych. "Psychologia Społeczna", 2 01 (03) 42–51.

About the author

Agnieszka Bartczak, MA – employee of the Institute of Applied Psychology at the Jagiellonian University Faculty of Management and Social Communication. Her research interests include psychology of work, organisation and management, in particular professional procrastination, professional tasks and their correlation with different work regimes, job crafting, counterproductive behaviour and managing human resources in remote work.