Here’s a link to a provocative (and disturbing) short video of a hypnotist (my word) flipping pro-choicers to pro-life in minutes. I judge it to be real because the persuasion technique is solid gold. I’ll tell you how he did it after you watch.
I’ll explain the steps he used. These are not necessarily in order.
Step One: Choose your subjects carefully
Notice that the subjects were on the young side. Young people are easier to flip because they haven’t had as long to harden their opinions and to make those opinions part of their core self-image. The hypnotist’s method would usually fail with people over fifty. (I assume, based on what I know of persuasion.)
Step Two: Pre-suasion
Read the book Pre-Suasion by Robert Cialdini to see how mentioning one topic (in this case the Holocaust) can bias you for an unrelated topic that you discuss right after. The trick is to put the pre-suasion immediately before the persuasion. You don’t want time to pass. The immediacy is what makes it work. You want topic A to conflate in your brain with topic B, even if they are unrelated.
Obviously you need to pick your priming topic carefully, and that isn’t always obvious. In Cialdini’s book he discusses a study that says people are more likely to vote Republican immediately after seeing an image of an American flag. That wouldn’t have been obvious to me. But in the 180Movie.com video it is a bit easier to see why the hypnotist chose the holocaust as his primer before discussing abortion.
The hypnotist shows us his technique with a word-play game. He asks his subjects to spell the word “shop.” Then he immediately asks them what they do when they see a green light. They reflexively say “stop” because he primed them with the word “shop.” (The correct answer is that green lights mean go, not stop.) The hypnotist accomplishes two things with this question. He first makes the subjects start to doubt their own common sense, which helps if you want to change a mind. But it is also a wink to the trained persuaders watching the video. He is showing us his technique.
As I have told you in this blog before, persuasion works even if you know the technique and recognize it as it is happening to you.
Notice also that the hypnotist chooses the holocaust because it has maximum emotional impact and he can describe a bulldozer scene that is chilling and visual. He also uses trial jury legend Gerry Spence’s method of putting them in the imagined scene so if feels personal.
For maximum persuasion you want high visual content and high emotional content. The hypnotist maxed out on both. (This guy is not a beginner.)
Step Three: Make them convince themselves
The hypnotist asks questions and lets the subjects talk themselves into changing their opinions. If he directly challenged their beliefs they would just harden in their resistance. But he gives them encouragement and the freedom to do it on their own. That freedom is an illusion. He is changing their minds for them.
I use this method a lot.
Step Four: Get them to say “baby”
The hypnotist tries to lead the subject into calling a fetus of any age a “baby.” He does that by showing sonograms of a fetus just a few weeks old. Remember that our visual sense is our strongest. Seeing eye-indications on the fetus makes us think of a human. It makes us assume life. It’s a reflex.
Then he asks the subject to fill in the answer to the following question:
“It’s okay to kill a baby in the womb when…”
That’s triggers the subjects to become pro-life at that moment.
Step Five: Move them from certainty to doubt.
Some subjects probably didn’t say “baby” when prompted, so the hypnotist takes another path. He asks them if they would blow up a building if they didn’t know for sure whether or not there was a living person inside. Of course the subjects say no.
Then the hypnotist connects the dots. You can’t be 100% certain there is no “life” in a fetus, even at a few weeks from conception. It is unknowable.
The subjects in the film give up at that point and express pro-life sentiments.
Notice that “blow up the building” is super-strong visual imagery. That is good technique.
Step Six: Make them say the new opinion out loud
The hypnotist makes his subjects state clearly and publicly their new position as pro-lifers. Cialdini’s book Influence teaches us that once you commit to a stance it becomes hard to change your mind. So as soon as the hypnotist got the conversion he wanted he locked it in by making them proclaim their new position in public.
Step Five: Ignore the failed attempts
I assume the video leaves out any failed attempts. This isn’t the sort of thing that works every time. It leaves the viewer with the idea that pro-choicers are just confused. All they need is two minutes of explanation and they will flip.
The reality is that most people are locked into their positions on abortion. The hypnotist in this video is crazy-good, but you can’t flip most people that quickly.
Still, the fact that it can work at all should tell you that everything you ever thought about human rationality was wrong.
Update: Some of you asked what method could be used to flip someone from pro-life to pro-choice. That’s harder because the emotional argument is heavily biased to one side. (You can’t top a dead baby-maybe.) And emotion is a big part of persuasion. The Persuasion Filter predicts a long term trend toward restricting abortion rights simply because that side of the debate got their persuasion right, finally.
My own view on abortion is that men like me should sideline themselves on this topic and let women decide what situation is most credible and tolerable. I’ll follow their lead. I add nothing to the quality of the decision. (The financial dimension is a separate question.)
On a totally unrelated note, what is the most useful and entertaining book you have ever read?
Author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big