Journal #3 - Chapter 18

Chapter 18 goes into detail about how propaganda was used and how it connects to psychology. In the beginning of scientific psychology, it was then possible for educated people to use certain findings of this new science. They used it to influence the minds and feelings of others by methods not usually recognized as persuasive. This can be well intended but can also be harmful—it can even go as far to go against someone’s freedom of choice, as the author says. He goes on to even say that the people persuaded can become “mindless creatures” who just go along with what anyone says, like a sheep following the herd.

Apparently, this type of psychology or “abuse” of it started in the early 90's, “The Age of Propaganda”. It was not just political topics either, propaganda was any kind of communication with a point of view to sway someone’s opinion and have them think it is their own. The use of psychological knowledge to persuade covertly is quite common in advertising, and people are being manipulated and influenced more than they realize, usually.

Ernest Dichter was the key figure in motivational research and used the psychoanalytic theory to form hypotheses that he would go on to test later in interviews, questionnaires and sample ads. He then stated that successful advertising agencies manipulate human motivations and desires, making them then desire something they never even thought about before.

In an experiment based off of classical conditioning theory, there were subjects who saw a certain color of pen paired with either pleasant music or not so pleasant music—when they had to choose between the two they normally went with the color that was paired with the pleasant music.

Despite all of this, the author explained that there is actually “nothing to fear”, almost cancelling out what he said earlier and calling it all “utter nonsense”. In the Age of Propaganda, Pratkanis and Aronson reported on their examination of more than two hundred academic papers on subliminal messages. In most of them they found no evidence that showed these kinds of things influence behavior and went as far to say that the ones that did were either “fatally flawed” or cannot be reproduced. 

There was an article in Advertising Age that came out in 1984 that stated James Vicary (a market researcher) admitted to the fact that his original experiments were fake to increase customers in his failed marketing business. He announced that he put out certain messages flash quickly throughout the movie in regard to buying coca cola or popcorn, without the audience even realizing it. Then he said within 6 weeks coca cola sales had gone up 18.1%, along with popcorn by 57.7%-- all of this was a lie. 

The author of this book is very good about not showing bias or his true opinion on matters, since in the beginning of the chapter I thought he felt one way about this topic—on how we can easily be influenced and manipulated—to then saying how it is all actually “nonsense.” So, it does show both viewpoints and developing more of an understanding of the two sides.


  1. Hi Rachel, you did a great job explaining this chapter. When I tried reading it, I got a little confused and your post actually explained it really well. Great job!


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