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The difference between influence and manipulation and the reasons for these behaviors

I am often astonished by the way these terms are used, whether in articles by bloggers or vloggers of varying quality, or in the literature and research in social psychology and clinical psychology, particularly the very trendy one on narcissism, whether it be the question of narcissistic personality or narcissistic perversion disorder.

This misunderstanding in the use of these terms led me to wonder.

Of course, there is an etymological difference between the two terms, but that is not the subject here.

In my opinion, we must focus on the meaning of these words, since they are used as a qualifier for an action.

For the Larousse dictionary, influence is the fact of an “Action, generally continuous, that something exerts on something or someone” and manipulation would be the “Action of directing the conduct of someone, of a group in the direction that one wishes and without them realizing it”.

This would imply that the fundamental difference between influence and manipulation is that the victim be or become aware of it.

Context would therefore also seem to play a role in being able to identify influence or manipulation through the examples offered: an example of political manipulation in one case, and television influencing youth in another.

Concepts that are intermingled in the collection of expressions using the term influence, we find; “subjected to a manipulation of ideological, psychological order.” Moreover, the use of the term “ideological” also refers to politics, which is in the collective unconscious undoubtedly correlated to manipulation.

In the case of the Larousse, the supposed boundary between the meanings of the two terms becomes tenuous if it still exists at all.

It is worth noting that the Petit Robert dictionary does not make this distinction.

I consider this distinction to be totally without logic, since there are many situations where one influences the other without them realizing it.

What about the influence of the sounds and sensations felt when the fetus is in the womb and which participate in the elaboration of its construction?

What to think of a first-grade teacher who, in order to ensure the motivation and investment of her students, introduces a system of good points for each good answer or good behavior, thus beginning the construction of the scaffolding and conditioning by preparing the future implementation of the grading system of school productions in order to support the competition, which will become the poor and surely never questioned engine of the motivation of the students during their entire studies.

Here we are in cases where the victim is not aware of it and is not conscious of it. Is it then a question of manipulation?

Given the examples you should be shocked at the use of the term manipulation to describe the source's action.

The dimension of the source's will is not addressed, although to some extent it is important. That said, the source may want to consciously influence or manipulate a victim, so this cannot be a distinguishing criterion.

It seems difficult to make the distinction between these two terms stand on this notion of consciousness alone, but if one is shocked at the idea of using the term manipulation in these examples, we may have put our finger on the problem.

Wouldn't the difference simply reside at the level of the representation and the subjective and suggestive projection of the word rather than at the level of the meaning?

Influence has an image of lightness, almost sometimes a component of “ignorability”, when manipulation has that “je ne sais quoi” of intolerability.

And it is perhaps here that the question of the etymology of the two words could be interesting in order to understand what in our history has made the word “manipulation” go over to the dark side. After all, we can quickly find an example since it is the one that was used to characterize the effects of Nazi propaganda on the German people, for example.

In both cases, it is an action on someone to ensure that something develops in a certain way, to generate something or a change and mainly (if not only) a behavior, even if it goes through different phases upstream, such as a change of idea.

Let me explain: when you want to trigger or change a behavior, advertisers or mass-marketing thinkers usually try to act on thoughts and opinions, which is why we talk about public opinion or “thought-provoking”, an important data for politicians. History has shown us that these processes can be effective. However, and it is funny to point this out, recent research in social psychology shows that this is not the most effective method, the one that will provoke change in the greatest number of people. Instead, it seems that the best way to change behavior is to “lead by example”, to show what others are already doing or thinking. Where possible, creating a competition would also work well. The behavior we seek to generate through mimicry, the desire not to be the last, or the desire to belong to the group will do the rest, to name just three processes.

One interesting example: a hospital was struggling to get its nurses to wash their hands when entering and leaving each room. So, they put up counters all over the place, counting the number of times everyone washed their hands and creating and showing rankings. The frequency of handwashing exploded, to the benefit of all patients.

The mere fact of giving information, whether it is “wash your hands every time to avoid spreading diseases in the hospital” or of the type “we must recycle, because it is better for the environment, the planet that we will leave to our children” is not enough to generate behaviors in a large number of people or to modify them. On the other hand, it would have been demonstrated (I don't have the source of the study) that it would be enough to display an Olympic medalist sorting his waste as an advertisement for the craze for “selective sorting” to increase massively, whereas the only information (stated above) would have a very weak impact.

If we try to change someone's mind, it is not simply for the beauty of the gesture or an all-consuming altruism in the best of cases, we generally have an interest in it, which, of course, goes beyond politics and is expressed in our daily lives.

It is this interest, the motor that pushes, naturally or not, instinctively or not, consciously or not, to influence others, regardless of the nature of the underlying intention.

It may be a need to control one's environment, to bend the other to the rules of our education, to feel listened to, to reassure oneself or to convince oneself that one is right, and this may go as far as generating a banal or important change in behavior: that the other person ends up thinking like us on a certain subject or that he stops leaving something lying around, that he shows us attention or a certain expected respect, or that he corresponds better to the image that we want to make of him or that we project on him. The motivations can be numerous as well as the expected changes in behavior varied.

The individual uses different techniques and some are more or less gifted, but that is not the point.

These examples obviously only concern daily life, however, whatever the context, the relationship is the same, the individual tries to influence or manipulate someone to satisfy himself.

Moreover, in both the private and public spheres, when this attempt fails, it can lead to conflict

These conflicts are an indicator and a confirmation of self-interested action, because we do not enter into conflict over things that do not affect us, have no stake in them, or are not important to us.

If we assume that the process of influence or manipulation has the same origin linked to the satisfaction of an individual or a group, the same action and a similar type of finality, then the two words designate the same thing.

The only difference between the words “influence” and “manipulation” then only exists in the collective unconscious, itself influenced by history, and the connotation of the referentials of the types of unacceptable behaviors to which the word “manipulation” can be associated, seeming to create a difference in the gravity of the process. It is as if there were a fusion between the acts that the process sought to promote and the process itself. However, the type of effects that these two words are used to describe are identical and in any case cannot be calibrated or differentiated on the notion of severity of the effects, which is perfectly subjective and often impossible to determine with accuracy.