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Why Did I Do That?

by Eldon Taylor


What are the principles of compliance that underpin the motivation for advertisements subliminally hiding sex and death symbols? How is each of us influenced in our decision making process by short cutting the rational thinking mind? This article will examine perceptual defense mechanisms, strategies of compliance, and mechanistic means to produce controlled responses.

Further, we'll consider the ethics of compliance. When is the technical use of compliance strategies necessary, appropriate and ethical? What is the fine line separating "exploitation" from doing a "good job" motivating people, selling product, or influencing those around us?


There are many psychological principles used to influence each of us every day. Some of these manipulative applications are direct and obvious, while others are so subtle as to be noticeable only to the trained professional. In fact, there is little that one encounters free of a compliance procedure. The reasons are obvious. If each of us can be made vulnerable then we can be made to act. We'll buy product, join clubs, even allow some stranger to put a bill board on our front lawns without a payment of any kind. Sound ridiculous?

Governments, social psychologists and merchandisers have long studied the methods of compliance. For even longer, these methods have been used to merchandise and herd the masses.

Human beings need a reason to act. History is full of accounts reporting the most unlikely of events. From the German attempt to eradicate the Jewish people to the mass suicide of the Jim Jones' followers, history shows people acting in the most unusual and bizarre manners. Why? They have a reason.

When I was much younger, I sold sewing machines and vacuum cleaners door to door. In those days, something called "bait and switch" was legal, or I should say, it wasn't illegal. This practice consisted of an offer just too good to be true. Let me provide an example. In the early 1960's credit depended upon deposit. Thus, one needed a down payment. In those days it was 10%. With credit freely available, the most difficult part of making a sale became the down payment. The company I worked for designed a sales system to obtain this down payment. How was this done?

Through different media, the customer would enter a contest. A drawing at the local grocery store, a "count the hidden faces" contest in the Sunday paper, and so forth. The first place prize was awarded, but everyone else won second prize. What was second prize? A coupon worth $170. on the purchase of a new zigzag sewing machine that was nationally advertised (usually in a popular home magazine) for only $199.99. So, for only $29.99 every second place winner could enjoy the many benefits of owning their own new zigzag sewing machine! Such a deal!

Here was the catch, however. The machine purchased for $29.99 was a piece of junk. However, in the trunk of the automobile was a new top of the line machine that advertised nationally for $499. By trading in the machine you just purchased, this best of all machines could be yours for only $299., and the ten percent deposit was already paid. Therefore, your payments would only be $10.00 per month. Hence, even though you only paid $29.99 for the first machine, you would receive its full nationally advertised price as the trade in value. Wow---what a deal! And believe me, this type of selling worked so well that eventually it became illegal. And by the way, I should point out that the national ads were placed only for this purpose. No one ever actually tried to buy one of these machines at the advertised inflated price.

Before I was twenty, I left the door to door sales game and went to work for a major retailer. They too used bait and switch tactics, but with a new language. An automatic dryer might be advertised for $88. The dryer was said to be "nailed down." This was another way of instructing the sales staff that the dryer was not to be sold. Oh, if the customer absolutely insisted, sell it. However, if you sold it, know that it was because you were an incapable salesperson. Therefore, you might consider another line of work. Sell too many of these $88. units, and you would be encouraged to work elsewhere. Not for selling $88. machines, of course, but for being so incompetent.

The retailer sold away from the "bait" using a technique called "selling up by selling down." For example, John Customer would be shown the most expensive dryer in the house with emphasis on all the added feature/benefits, saving the $400 price tag for last. Then, in an act of "honesty", the salesman might say, "You know, I'm not paid to talk you out of spending money, but I have a dryer over here that is new. It's last years model. Nothing is different. It's the same dryer as this years model. The console looks a little different. What's more, I can save you over a hundred dollars. The dryer does everything I have just shown you, but it costs over a hundred dollars less. Now it's up to you, would you prefer to spend the extra money and have this years model?"

Notice that the sales pitch does two things. First, it positions the customer toward compliance. This is accomplished using two principles of compliance. The salesman has acted in an honest way. He might even add, "I like you and didn't want to show you this dryer at first, because we only have one left. And I didn't want you to think that I was just saying that to pressure you into buying." John Customer has just received a false message of integrity, but few will respond to the message for what it is. Why? Because we all want to be liked and we all want a deal.

The second item the sales presentation accomplished was to focus John Customer's attention on less. Forget that this dryer is $249., or over $160. more than the advertised $88. dryer. No, the focus now is on less, over a hundred dollars less than the dryer capable of doing all the wonderful things John Customer and his wife want the dryer to do.

When I joined this retail organization, there were basically three defined components for training. They were knowledge (product knowledge), enthusiasm and motivation. What I found lacking was technique. Quickly my sales record attracted attention. I was promoted. Now I trained salespeople. Sales increased. Why? Because technique suggests there are rules by which one can position a person to comply with a request. Let me provide a few examples.

One of the principles of compliance is consistency. People like to be internally consistent and to appear externally consistent. Therefore, when a customer entered the appliance department with a question such as, "Do you have this refrigerator in harvest gold?", instead of simply answering the question, "Yes", the salespeople were instructed to convert the question into a close. This was done by stating a question, "Do you want it in harvest gold?" Of course most people responded with, "yes." Why? Because it is the only answer they could give without implying that they're simply wasting time, yours and theirs. Once this decision has been made and publicly stated, the need to remain consistent forces the individual to answer the next question, "Is Tuesday or Thursday better for delivery?" The sale is made. There is no need to talk about refrigerators and the customer has never been asked to buy. The sale is assumed from the question/answer method of alternative decision making. "Yes, I want it in gold and Tuesday would be better."

When I left the sales business I found myself in various intelligence, security and interrogation schools. Ultimately I became licensed as a deception detection (lie detector) examiner. In both my former capacities as an investigator and as a lie detection examiner, I have employed various compliance techniques in interrogation. Have you ever wondered, why on earth would someone confess to a crime that would lock them away for years to come? What would cause a person to give up evidence that convicted them? Let me show you something very simple which positions a person to commit perjury. It is intentionally designed to cause that same person to lie. Later it is used to control and direct this same person's need to prove their honesty, sincerity and justify the reasoning involved for committing a crime. It is the principle of little commitments lead to big commitments.

Imagine that you have come in for a lie detection test. The examiner looks you straight in the eye, a firm look followed by a warm smile, and says, "You didn't come here to lie to me, did you?"

Of course, you answer, "No."

The examiner continues, "So you intend to tell me the truth today?"


"Good, because you look like an honest person and I'm on your side. We can use this test to prove your innocence. You do want that don't you?"

"Yes." (After all, what else are you going to say even if you did the bad deed).

"Okay, I'm going to trust you. You look like a good person. I am going to cover all the questions that I will ask you today before I ever ask them in the test. I want to review them with you carefully, and if anything about that question bothers you, let's discuss it. Now that's important, because if it bothers you, I'll see it in the charts, and it's probably some little thing, maybe some outside thing that has nothing to do with this case. So be certain, if it bothers you, tell me. Okay?"


Okay now, you're not the kind of person that lies and steals. Right?"


"So, you wouldn't lie to someone that trusted you or steal from a person like that---would you?"


"Good. I am going to ask you today the following two questions. Did you ever lie to someone who trusted you? Later, I'll ask the question, "Did you steal anything, say between the ages of ten and twenty?"

The forgoing dialogue involves many principles of compliance. To the examiner, everyone lies to their mother, their father, their spouse or someone that trusts them, at some point in their lives. It is almost a certainty that everyone has stolen something, even if it's just small change from their siblings. The examiner has therefore placed the examinee in a position that can be easily exploited for more than one purpose. Why would this be the usual practice? We'll take a look at the principles of compliance for our answer, but first, allow me to digress and present what I often term as "cognitive engineering."

The idea in cognitive engineering is straight forward and contained in the name. "Let's engineer the cognitive process by altering fundamental beliefs." In behavioral circles this technology is called "cognitive behavioral therapy." The term was coined by Albert Ellis (1988). Ellis asserted that certain behaviors were the direct consequence of belief. His A-B-C model is most useful in conceptualizing both the theory and its implications. For Ellis:

A----------------------> B------------------> C
(Activating event) (Belief) (Consequence/ emotional & behavioral)

Thus, alter a belief and the event is interpreted differently while simultaneously altering the consequence. This simple diagram is most useful for understanding the force underlying the principles of compliance. Implicit in this simple model rests the the power of subliminal communication and its ability to activate or alter a belief.

Social beliefs are among the strongest beliefs of the individual. It is social beliefs that most often conflict with individual desires. It is social beliefs that provide the very fabric of social interest. Playing these beliefs, desires and conflicts, like a composer on a grand piano, is the merchandiser and profiteer. Social beliefs, selfish interest, and their conflict, form the bedrock of compliance principles.

A compliance principle is simply a stimuli which produces a socially acceptable response. It is precisely for reason that compliance principles are so powerful.

While not all authors agree on the designation or number of general compliance principles, there are ten important ones used on all of us each day that everyone should be alert to. They are: consistency, reciprocity, social proof, association, conditioning, liking, authority, scarcity, drives and justification.

In the beginning of this chapter I suggested that someone could engineer a situation where you would place a bill board on your front lawn without so-called quid pro quo (equal consideration). Robert Cialdini, in his most recommended book, INFLUENCE, tells a of just this. A group of homeowners were asked to sign a petition to "keep California beautiful" by a "volunteer worker." A couple of weeks later, these same homeowners were approached by a different "volunteer" and asked to place a billboard on their front yard advertising safe driving. The chief researchers, Jonathon Freedman and Scott Fraser, discovered that 76% of the persons who signed the petition were willing to display the billboard, as opposed to 17% who had never been asked to sign the petition. The first act of compliance, signing an innocent petition, apparently produced significant feelings of civic mindedness and involvement. This first innocent decision led to the second, for the vast majority, due to the need to be consistent, and the need to justify one's actions. Thus, a small commitment led to a larger one.

Studies have shown that the act of gift giving produces the need to reciprocate. I remember when "little green pigs" were sold this way. It was the practice of a certain vacuum cleaner company to give a one quart bottle of your favorite soft drink (Coca-cola, Pepsi, etc.) to everyone that answered their door. The pitch began with something like "I have a gift for you. Which of these drinks is your favorite?" Your choice was given to you and while the bottle remained in your hand, the sales team in your doorway, the next line came, "Have you heard of the little green pig?" From here on your answers only worsened the situation unless you truly desired to spend a large part of your evening hearing all about the vacuum cleaner to end all vacuum cleaners. Once the gift was accepted, a certain obligation was incurred. The least you could do was give these young people five minutes of your time to hear about the "little green pig."

Reciprocity is commonly used in many forms for compliance purposes. From the so-called "warm handshake" to the "free" everythings offered today, a gift extended implies a gift needed in return.

Social proof is the idea that where many agree, it must be right. Or, in the alternative, it must be good, desirable, and so forth. As a result, modern merchandisers enlist testimony after testimony from faithful satisfied users to sell us their wares. Carnival hucksters seed their audience with winners of the "big panda bear." Merchants of religion often sew the seeds of a mass conversion by enlisting an army of devoted followers to "come forth at varying intervals to create the impression of a spontaneous mass outpouring." (Cialdini, 1993).

Association seeks to link favorable feelings, attitudes, etc. with a product or aim. We all know of the politician with apple pie, babies and the American flag in the background. We have all seen advertisers place stunning men and women in the most unlikely of places, with the most unlikely of apparel, just to connect this image (usually sexual) with their product. However, as with all of these principles, there is much more than just the obvious. Take for instance a study that sought to measure the influence of major credit card logos on buying. This study, carried out by Richard Feinberg, showed that subjects were willing to spend 29% more on mail order items when a master card logo was present in the room. Another study by the same researcher showed that college students were more likely to give money to charity if the master card logo was present in the room. This despite the fact that credit cards were not accepted. Further, the statistical difference is striking. 33% of the students gave to charity where there was no credit card logo in the room while 87% gave when the logo was present. Just the association increased spending. (1986).

One association seldom overlooked by advertisers is that of sound. Television producers use canned humor to punctuate comedy. Those of us old enough to remember the Marlboro television commercial, remember the theme from the movie, The Magnificent Seven. My own work has often concentrated in an area I call "audio cuing". Sound, particularly music, has long been observed to have affective power. In fact, Leonard Bernstein once said something like sound moves upon the primordial nature of a person in a non-discursive feeling way.

One of my own research projects, working with a Nevada company, involves the sounds a slot machine makes. For example, does the sound of money falling into a metal tray attract players? At this point, we think so. Are there sounds that will increase play time while leaving the player with a sense of having fun, even if they are losing money? We think so. Nevertheless, don't be too awful casual about even the most innocent of features that accompany a product or advertisement. The company's behind them spend billions annually doing what they do with very deliberate and skillful knowledge of what works on you.

Conditioning and association are combined by some authors (Cialdini, 1992) for obvious reasons. Take for example the credit card logo study. The association of credit card to pleasure, a principle of conditioning, is assumed. Indeed, when prior experience with a credit card is negative, the effects on spending are reversed. (Feinberg, 1990). I choose to separate these two principles simply because classical conditioning can and has been accomplished via subliminal stimuli. (For a complete discussion of subliminal conditioning see Subliminal Learning: An Eclectic Approach by this author). The principle of association implies at least some conscious recognition of the stimuli. Subliminal stimuli violates this assumption. In other words, although the stimuli is associated with a response, as with classical conditioning, the fact remains that the stimuli itself is unrecognized by the conscious mind. For example, when the faces of individuals are repeatedly presented subliminally to subjects, the subjects become more comfortable with the individual. Indeed, the more frequently the subliminal exposure the greater the liking for the individual when they later met. This despite the fact that subjects had no conscious awareness of the subliminally presented faces. (Bornstein, Leone, & Galley, 1987).

There are many forms of association that can be presented in such a manner as to bypass one's awareness. Not all of these forms are by definition subliminal. Additionally, there are perceptual defense mechanisms that figuratively serve at times to blindfold each of us. These basic mechanisms will be discussed later in this chapter. Suffice it to say, that as with the associations that are intentionally built into the advertisement, reviewed in the prior chapter, certain consciously undetected associations can operate on existing conditioning and be paired to produce new conditioning.

Liking is a fundamental principle in compliance. The more each of us identifies with another, feels comfortable with that other, the more compliant we are about their requests. In fact, this principle is so obvious that discussion seems ridiculous. However, there are a couple of nuances to the liking principle that not everyone is familiar with. One of these is the mechanical nature by which liking often operates. The new science of Neuro Linguistic Programming teaches the mechanical power of mirroring and matching. This is a process of simply imitating the speaking style, physical mannerisms and so forth of an individual. NLP, as the technology is often referred to, is now taught without discretion to everyone from sales organizations to health care professionals. This is a powerful technology that operates almost as mechanically as the typical knee jerk response. (For more information see Frogs into Princes by Richard Bandler and John Grinder). Since this book is not about compliance, per se', or NLP, for that matter, suffice it to say that the ability to build rapport, increase liking and so on is so enhanced by NLP technology that nearly every trained interrogator in the country has had some training in it.

Second, liking is enhanced and facilitated often under conditions of cooperation. We are all familiar with the common enemy strategy, or the politics make for strange bed fellows truism, but most are not aware of how subtle this process can be. Take for example a new cold or flu medication. How many times do we see a television commercial that opens with, "It's flu season and there is a new dreaded enemy virus. It's coming to your town! It may find you. Never fear, XYZ is here." First, the advertisement threatens with a new enemy and then makes a common distinction, a common enemy, out of the threat. Next the commercial promises relief, allegiance, from your friendly medicine. In fact, often, the rewards portrayed for becoming ill appear to outweigh the advantages in remaining healthy. In my view, this is an insidious abuse of compliance principles. I believe that advertisements of this nature sell sickness. In fact, I have often imagined a scenario to test this theme. Go to the American public with all the tools of compliance. Have an actor dressed like a doctor inform the public that a new disease has just been identified. The symptoms of this disease must be general, so they consist of tiredness, fatigue, restless sleep, lack of motivation, occasional headaches, some general aching especially in the back and limbs, sometimes dry skin and are accompanied by irritability and depression. Explain the disease as not formerly diagnosed, although very common. Further, enhance and embellish the explanation with estimates of the great numbers of people who may suffer from this disease and never be treated. Now, provide a simple reason for the disease such as an imbalance in chemicals produced by the thyroid which results in low normal body temperature. Show how slight changes in the body temperature affect the metabolism by directly influencing the proper operation of enzymes. Finally, offer the remedy as an affordable pill or liquid that will restore proper temperature to the body. Watch the good ol' folks in America rush to their pharmacy. You don't think it's possible? I do!

Authority, authority, authority. Rings kind of like the adage regarding the secret of retail success: location, location, location! Everywhere one turns today, it is the authority that instructs, the authority that informs, the authority with which we come to trust our very lives. What was the world possibly like before there were so many different authorities?

In the 1960's, Professor Stanley Milgram performed an experiment that most of us have at least heard of. Milgram arranged for volunteers to deliver electric shock to other so-called volunteers (research cohorts) in voltage amounts up to 450 volts. Even when the subject receiving the shock protested with cries of pain and warnings of a heart condition, so long as the authority, the research scientist in his white coat, insisted upon more shock, the volunteers delivered it. The authorities power was so awesome as to produce physical evidence of severe psychological conflict in some of the volunteers who obediently carried out the instructions to deliver more voltage. (1963).

Cialdini relates the research findings of Hofling, Brotzman, Dalrymple, Graves & Pierce, as reported in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 1966. In this study 22 separate nurses' stations were phoned by researchers. The nurse answering the phone was instructed by the caller, who represented himself as a doctor, to administer 20 milligrams of the drug, Astrogen, to a patient. In 95% of the cases, the nurse carried out the instruction although she had never met, seen or before spoken with the doctor. Further, the drug prescribed by the researchers was not on the approved drug list of the hospital, and the dosage was twice that of the maximum daily dose (10 milligrams) clearly printed on the container. (1992, p.183). Now, before you become too alarmed, the researchers stopped the nurses before they actually administered the drug. Okay, but somehow that doesn't make me feel too awful comfortable. The nurse is a trained professional who under orders from an authority somehow subverts all of her training and blindly follows instructions. That's disturbing!

Everything in the world is sold to us on the basis of authority. We must rely on authority at some time in our modern society. Yet blind reliance is absolute ignorance. Fortunately, more and more people are becoming suspicious of authorities.

Scarcity is the oldest sales line any of us have ever heard. This is the last one, better make up your mind. Act now, limited quantity. Don't delay, don't miss out. Time is limited, sale ends blank day. Hurry---first come first serve. These are but a few of the scarcity statements we all find in advertisements for everything from pickles to pantyhose. Why is the compliance principle of scarcity so powerful? In a word: greed!

There is an adage that applies here, "The grass is always greener on the other side of the pasture." Everyone wants what they don't have, at least until they have it. Rare, scarce, and so on equal value for most. Of course, the social proof is also evident here. The greater the demand, the scarcer the product. The product must be good or it wouldn't be in such demand.

No one wants to miss out on a deal. Everyone has heard of some once in a lifetime deal that was missed or passed over. Scarcity drives prices up and motivates consumers to spend. However, not all scarcity is a matter of limited time, short supplies and so on. No, there is another kind of scarcity that is also promoted by manipulators of compliance principles.

When I was conducting interrogations the scarcity of honesty was often invoked. After all, honesty knows no such thing as percentages. It either is or is not. Like fidelity, most people are not interested in a spouse that is 90% faithful. The missing 10% will get you every time. Promoting the idea that it is difficult for a person to be honest, while identifying the rare honesty of the examinee, positions a person to perform honestly. By contrast, promoting the idea of clarity as a rare factor in the decision process, increases both the possibilities for rationalization (justification) and the tolerance for error. Scarcity, like the other principles of compliance, has many subtle varieties not so easily seen through even by the trained individual.

Still another tactic of scarcity is the "no longer available" notion inherent to such ideas as banned. Book publishers know that one of the best ways to sell books is to find some group to ban the book.

Drives are the basic built in needs of the species. In psychology, human drives are often referred to as the four "F's." The drives are: fight, flight, feeding and f---let's say the propagation of the species. I like to think that human drives have evolved, especially since the advent of modern merchandising and deferred payment. Consequently, my view incorporates five "f's," or five forces. The fifth "f," I call the fifth force. What is the fifth force? Simple: MORE! Add to food, fight, etc., the fifth force, more! No one has enough. Everyone wants more. More has somehow become a sought after quality. It isn't just a matter of quantity. Today the word more equals power, prestige, status, peace of mind, and so on. More now means quality as much as it means quantity.

Compliance experts know how to tap into and use these drives just as they do with the principles of compliance. Indeed, I recently caught part of a program on television while flicking my remote to get away from a commercial. In a sort of pseudo-scientific way, an actress presented herself in a short skirt and tight top to passers-by leaving a mall. She asked various men to assist her in carrying her bags eight blocks. They all agreed to help, even one witha bad back that was only planning to go one block. So what's new about that? Birds and the bees, right? Exactly. Still, when this same actress dressed differently, padding her garments to appear fat, she was unable to enlist the aid of anyone. Again, so what? That's sad, but it shouldn't come as a surprise. Correct? However, there was one other factor that was blatantly obvious. When the actress put on her "fat" clothes, her entire demeanor changed. Apparently, she had a stereotype in her mind and that must have been of a repugnant personality. In her short skirt, the facial expressions and body language portrayed not just sexuality, but vulnerability.

When a compliance practitioner wishes to persuade someone in a manner that is not obvious, tactics employing drive related strategies will invariably invoke vulnerability, non-dominance, loyalty, and so on. If it's scary (flight), violent (fight), filling/fulfilling (food), and/or sexual, it sells. If all of the above can be combined, sales soar! If a product is really none of these things, then associating it with them will enhance sales and product image. In fact, Cialdini reports a study conducted by Smith and Engel where "men who saw a new-car ad that included a seductive female model rated the car as faster, more appealing, more expensive-looking, and better-designed than men who viewed the same ad without the model". (1992, p.156). Further, these same men, when questioned about the ad and their response, denied the possibility that the seductive female had anything to do what so ever with their rating of the automobile.

Justification is the principle that acts on the rule that extenuating circumstances can justify radical actions. Indeed, a tenant of our jurisprudence system allows for just this. That is why there are such acts as justifiable homicide, self-defense, etc. This principle is probably the most often over-looked compliance tool. However, an excellent example of its power exists in an older television commercial. The viewer sees a woman performing the many tasks of an absolutely frantic day; shopping, cleaning, caring for the children, banking, and so forth. At the end of the day, she (a very beautiful and seductive woman) relaxes in her bath covered by bubbles. The commercial advertises a bubble bath and ends with the statement, "Let XYZ product take you away". It's an excellent commercial and employs more than one compliance principle. Still, it is the notion of justifying indulgence that makes this commercial so powerful. How else do you sell bath bubbles?

Now there is a very important note to all of this. Being informed does not necessarily remove one from the power of these principles. The fact is, the principles obtain most of their power on the basis that they operate automatically. That is, their power does not arise as a result of thinking a matter over. No, indeed, Cialdini refers to the automatic response as "click, whirr." (1992). This automatic behavior is considered by social scientist to be necessary, expedient, and efficient in most instances. Further, by definition of automatic, the normal cognitive processes are bypassed. This has been called "judgmental heuristics" and it is prevalent in much of human behavior. (Cialdini, 1992). Simply being aware is therefore not enough to avoid the grips of a compliance operation.

Earlier I alluded to the role of perceptual defense mechanisms in exploitations of a non-conscious, subconscious and unconscious nature. It should be pointed out that these mechanisms are vital to our self interest as well as the general species interest. So vital are they, that they accompany the human condition in much the same manner that genes do. In other words, they have evolved with the human animal. Further, it is the very existence of these defense mechanisms that underlie the fabric of compliance principles and give rise to their ability to be automatic. Indeed, I would suggest that defense mechanisms are the building blocks of compliance principles while society is the architect. Our own families, peers, etc. are the brick masons, carpenters, and so forth. As such, defense mechanisms, like compliance principles, are essential and necessary elements in individual and social well being. In this sense, the technicians use of these mechanisms and principles defines the inherent "good" or "bad" usage thereof. Therefore, in certain instances, there exists an ethical imperative requiring the skillful use of compliance principles. For example, use of these principles by a health care practitioner is appropriate. It is equally appropriate in marketing provided there are no misrepresentations. Advertising moves product, and that moves the economy, and that is good. However, employing these principles to sell product while surreptitiously using imagery, such as subliminal embeds which may increase hostility and violence, is not only unethical, it's irresponsible. In fact, I would argue that the continued "tweaking" of the human psyche and manipulation of the human condition could eventually erode the very fabric of our social order.

A brief review of the mechanisms is now appropriate. First, however, let me remind the reader that the information offered here on compliance principles is but a fragment of the data available. It is intended only as an overview designed to be facilitative in understanding the why's behind certain forms of manipulation.

The basic perceptual defense mechanisms follow:

1. Denial. As implied by its name, this mechanism is simply one of denying. Often the denial occurs through projection, that is, projecting blame or fault onto another. We can see this mechanism at work when insincere compliments are accepted as genuine. Since each of us has a basic desire to be liked, we may deny the possibility that we are being "stroked." In the alternative, the skeptic may deny a sincere compliment.

2. Fantasy formation. This mechanism creates a perceived reality out of fantasy. If motives cannot be satisfied in the objective external world, they may become a perceived reality in a dream world. Some psychologists suggest that the appeal for much of our entertainment is oriented to satisfying our fantasies for adventure, affection, and security.

3. Introjection. This mechanism allows one to place blame on oneself. This self-directed blame or punishment defends against disappointment or disillusionment in another. For example, a child feels unworthy of the parent's attention because the parent pays no attention to the child. It is often this mechanism that perpetuates the acceptance of authoritarian guidance even when it persistently has erred in the past. A subtle, yet pervasive form of this mechanism, goes like this, "I'm not smart enough. I must have misunderstood something."

4. Isolation. This mechanism involves the avoidance of connecting associations to related ideas that produce anxiety. One set of data is isolated from an associated set: birth is isolated from death, war from mourning, nuclear arsenals from murderous horror, and so on. If you think back to the blonde and the automobile rating, the men rating the automobile had isolated the blonde from the formation of their rating. To acknowledge otherwise would be is self threatening. Therefore, it is easy to see how this mechanism can be used in the pairing of associations that have no natural relationship such as birth and death.

5. Projection. Simply stated, this mechanism allows one to project blame or responsibility onto another. Further, it provides the ability to project intention, attitude, etc. onto another. Take the actress who in her short skirt was able to enlist the aid of nearly every male passerby. What do you think their fantasy formation information projected onto the actress had to do with their willingness to heft heavy packages for a great distance? Indeed, there can be a fine line between normal and pathological projection, for many rapist have the attitude that the victim "really wanted it".

6. Regression. This mechanism is common during serious illness. Essentially, one regresses to an earlier age, usually as a dependent, where he felt safe and comfortable. The individual usually returns to an earlier stage of development where someone else assumed responsibility and where fewer, simpler, and more primitive goals existed. This mechanism is intimately involved with approaches such as the one taken in the bubble bath commercial discussed earlier. It is also involved in the "flu-ads" as well as some of the "gusto" advertisements. Pampering, spoiling, care free desires and so on are the elements of ad campaigns that appeal to this mechanism.

7. Repression. This mechanism censors or prohibits memories, associations, and adjustments from conscious awareness. Like an invisible filter, this mechanism prevents the conscious mind from "seeing" painful memories and "stymied" motives. Personal experiences ranging from embarrassment to cruelty are often subject to the lens of repression. Social enculturation plays a significant role here likewise. For example, it can be asserted that one of the reasons one fails to see a large penis in a bourbon ad, is simply relative to the dirty mind argument. To see the penis entails admitting to a dirty mind. So, don't see it, or at least repress the awareness from the conscious mind.

As an interesting aside here, I remember showing a slide of a Playboy magazine advertisement to a group of inmates at the Utah State Prison. The ad portrayed a beautiful woman in her birthday suit holding a Christmas wreath. Through the middle of the wreath was a banner that said, "Give him ideas for Christmas." The wreath was made up of penis heads, vaginas and so forth. Yet not one inmate recognized them as other than funny looking holiday nuts, until they had been shown what they were looking at.

8. Sublimation. This mechanism redirects basic drive mechanisms. Sublimation is simply the substitution of acceptable behavior to satisfy basic motives that might be met equally well in a primitive sense by some form of unacceptable social behavior. Aggression motives, for instance, are often met by sports activities. The process of sublimation is to find avenues in which basic motives may be satisfied in a manner acceptable to the individual and society. This mechanism is most useful in the effective use of associations, especially those of a sexual nature. A sports car, for example, can be made into an acceptable social sexual experience.

In addition to these eight mechanisms, there are several miscellaneous escapes and defenses that some theorists consider as contributing to the basic perceptual defenses outlined above, all for the purpose of showing each of us only what we want, or can psychologically afford, to see about ourselves and the world around us.

Compliance professionals are very aware of both the principles and the perceptual defenses outlined in this chapter. Perhaps now, the real power of the advertisement shown in chapter one is just a little clearer.

It would be a gross over sight to leave the subject of compliance without discussing altered states of consciousness, also referred to by professionals as, "states of heightened suggestibility." In my earlier work, Subliminal Communication, I outlined some of the ways in which advertisers, religious organizations, popular movements, etc. employ suggestibility techniques discovered and developed in the field of hypnosis. The intent here is not to redo that material, but simply to reinforce the awareness of its use. The reader should be advised that music rhythms, eye elevations and fixations, flashing sequences of a light intensity difference, and so have hypnotic effects. Indeed, the practice of NLP discussed earlier, was itself a discovery credited Milton Ericson during his hypnotic research. Suffice it to say, if you feel like you're in a light trance when you're watching television, you don't hear your spouse speaking to you, and so on, you probably are.

One of the favored techniques of many hypnotherapists is "indirect suggestion". This is a powerful means to bring about compliance. It operates chiefly through internal decisions. A very simple form of this exists in alternative decision closes. For example, the salesmen never asks for the sale, he simply turns the contract around, and says, "Do you wish to use your pen or mine?" A hypnotechnician may have one imagine a magnet on their forehead and another in the palm of the hand. In an attempt to produce an arm levitation, a common induction procedure, they ask the subject to sense the magnets and decide, "Is the magnetic force stronger from the hand to the head or from the head to the hand?" In other words, which is the strongest magnet? The decision does not matter, the outcome is that a magnetic force has been acknowledged, Internal consistency requires that the two forces will pull the hand to the head. Wa-la, the hypnotist has control of one's body.

One last note. Although I am adamantly opposed to the misuse of these techniques, I nevertheless feel that the use of these methods is inevitable and unavoidable. However, I also feel that to level the playing field, so to speak, the consumer, user, or person on the other end of the technique, is entitled to the same knowledge the compliance professional has at their disposal.


There are numerous compliance principles that influence decisions. These principles activate automatic processes that position a person toward compliance. Compliance professionals use these principles to gain their ends, sell merchandise or evangelize converts.

There are perceptual defense mechanism which inhibit or prevent the processing of certain types of information. The operation of these defense mechanisms explains why so-called subliminal print advertising can present blatant sexual material that goes undetected. The only defense against these principles and mechanisms is information. I sincerely hope that you are now just a little more informed.


Bornstein, R.F., Leone, D.R., & Galley, D.J. (1987). The generalizability of subliminal mere exposure effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 1070-1079.

Cialdini, R. B. (1992). Influence: Science and Practice, third edition. Harper Collins, New York, N.Y.

Ellis, Albert. (1988). How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything-Yes, Anything. Lyle Stewart, New York, N.Y.

Feinberg, R. A. (1986). Credit cards as spending facilitating stimuli. Journal of Consumer Research, 13, 348-356.

Feinberg, R. A. (1990). The social nature of the classical conditioning phenomena in people. Psychological Reports, 67, 331-334.

Milgram, s. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67, 371-378.

Taylor, E. (1988). Subliminal Learning: An Eclectic Approach. R K Book, Big Bear City, CA

Taylor, E. (1990). Subliminal Communication. R K Book, Big Bear City, CA

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