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on November 12, 2002
Peoples' data-processing capabilities are limited. In the information-dense world people are unable to critically review all the information they receive. In order to be adequate to the situation, they resort to so-called heuristics, simple cues or rules for solving the problem. Heuristics are based on peoples' previous experience in similar situations. Although relying on heuristics is sometimes a useful way of dealing with the onslaught of the decision-rich environment, basing our decisions primarily on heuristics can present some problems. First, heuristic cues that we possess may be false. Furthermore, a rule may be appropriate in certain situations but be misapplied in others. Another serious problem is that heuristics can be easily faked and manipulated. Knowledge of heuristics enables propagandists to control peoples' course of action.
The authors did a research of propaganda techniques and set four stratagems of persuasion:
1. You create favorable climate for the massage (called pre-persuasion). You subtly outline what picture has to be drawn in the end. Here you decide what way thoughts and perceptions of the audience will be shaped and channeled. Having established right basis for further discourse you secure the results you seek. At this stage you should identify some statements as axioms, i.e. `what everyone takes for granted' and `what everyone knows'. You attribute labels (positive or negative) to objects of further discussion, put black-or-white colors in non-disputable way. You use generalities to depict the situation - they are usually so ambiguous that you may change their meanings in the future. You use rumors and gossips.
2. You create a `source credibility', i.e. establish a favorable image in the eyes of the audience. The message must come from `experts' or `unbiased' and, of course, personally attractive communicators. Try to switch on the self-persuasion mechanism of the audience.
3. You create a message that focuses the target's attention and thoughts on exactly what you want them to think about. Research has identified at least five conditions that are likely lead to heuristics. Heuristics are most likely to be used when people do not have time to think carefully about the issue, when they are so overloaded with information that it becomes impossible to process it fully, or when they believe that the issues at stake are not very important. Heuristics are also used when people have little other knowledge or information on which to base a decision and when a given heuristics comes quickly to mind as they are confronted with a problem.
4. You create an emotion of the target that will help you channel thoughts of audience in right direction. Fear appeals are most effective when they raise high levels of fear and suggest a doable and effective responses (the authors also explain why sometimes fear does not work). Guilt: once we are filled with guilt, our thoughts and behavior are directed towards ridding ourselves of this feeling that's where propagandists take advantage of us. Feeling of obligation and indebtedness: large initial request and immediate concession by the requester invokes the norm of reciprocity -we concede. Feeling of commitment based on our desire to be self-consistent. For example, to `soften up' the target you make him involved in a much smaller aspect of the action. This serves to commit the individual to `the case'. Once people are thus committed, the likelihood of their complying with the larger request increases. Another way is to show uniqueness of the offer (scarcity sells). Use the `minimum group paradigm': You are on my side (never mind that I created the terms); now act like it and do what we say. Etc.
The book can be used by target audience to learn persuasion techniques and withstand or organize propaganda tricks. The book is entertaining, rich in vivid examples, and ... has everything to be a success in conveying authors' ideas. Instructive. Great read overall.
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on March 1, 2000
This is an excellent book which explains how the media, demagogues, politicains and marketers are able to gain compliance from their various publics. The use of lab studies and real world examples bring both theory and practice together. I have used this book for a class in propaganda since its first edition, and without fail students rave about the book in their course evaluations. It is a well-written book devoid of educationalese. This is an important book that provides the reader with genuine insight into a world of total propaganda and how as "cognitive misers" we allow ourselves to be manipulated.
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on May 15, 1999
If you want advice on how to be an effective and honest communicator, Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson have written an entire book about it, Age of Propaganda: the everyday use and abuse of persuasion (265 pages. W.H. Freeman and Company). Pratkanis and Aronson give their own accounts of how propaganda impacted their childhood. Aronson recalls how he felt about the "evil Germans" and "sneaky Japanese" while growing up in the 1940s. Pratkanis lost his naïveté when the Watergate scandal broke. He would later come to the realization that all politicians lie and cheat. The two authors attempt to educate the reader regarding propaganda and persuasion. Their goal is have the reader able to identify devices used, what makes them effective, and how to counteract their effectiveness without becoming a pessimist. All the chapters were enlightening; some stood out more than others and were able to give good "heads up" advice. The authors give the reader the inside track on how advertisers promote their products, a "buyer beware" sort of infomercial. Companies use words such as new, quick, easy, improved, now, suddenly, amazing, and introducing to sell their products. The authors further expose merchants by explaining how they make certain brands more accessible than others by placing them at eye level. Additionally, the consumer is informed that ads using animals, babies, or sex sell the product more successfully than advertisers that use cartoons or historical figures. The buyer is also cautioned on how merchants place products at the end of a supermarket aisle or near the checkout aisle; this strategy catches the consumer's eye and lures them into the "I gotta have it, can't live without it" frame of mind. The authors introduce the reader to a sociologist named David Phillips; the sociologist has made predictions which have been startlingly accurate. For one of his predictions, he had gathered information regarding deaths, which occurred after heavyweight championships. His research uncovered this information: homicide rates rose significantly after 3 to 4 days following a fight. He was also able to conclude that the victims were similar to the fighter beaten in the bout. For example, if a white male was beaten, then murders of young white males increased. The same was true if it was a black opponent. Many people believe the media plays a role in the actions of some people, but no thought is given to how a boxing match could have such an impact on the homicide rate. This study is eerie, yet fascinating. Pratkanis and Aronson inform the reader that instilling fear is often the way we are persuaded to act on an idea. Life insurance agents use fear in order that we purchase policies to "protect our loved ones." Doctors use fear to insure that we take out medication. Even dentists show graphic pictures of rotting teeth so that we will floss and brush daily. The book was informative and enlightening. It makes one stop and think about how society is constantly being persuaded to think and act the way we do, in a conformist mode. The authors accomplish their goal by enabling the reader to identify devices used and either "go with the flow" or "not be taken for a ride."
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on February 2, 2000
This insightful book explores the profound differences in decision-making over the last 2,500 years. Despite a penchant for social science jargon, the authors successfully translate a tremendous amount of current communications research on the creation and maintainance of belief systems into an accessible book. "Age of Propaganda" documents the rise of advertising, the decline of genuine public discourse, and the inherent dangers of ten second soundbites in determining our desires, needs, and goals. Further, they detail the unique difficulties in making a "rational" decision in a fast-paced, message-dense, mass-media culture. This provocative and disturbing book also paints a potentially bleak picture for America's democratic traditions. Fortunately, the authors provide readers with "an arsenal" of intellectual tools to decode messages and protect ourselves. As the authors conclude, "we must depend on our own knowledge of propaganda tactics and our own efforts to treat important issues as if they were truly important."
1111 comments42 of 49 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
This book was a real bother! I usually read a 300 page book in about two hours and am used to reading through them quickly and getting onto the next one. This book was so fascinating that I slowed down to make sure that I got every bit of information out of it that was available.
This book should be required reading for everyone who wants to know how they are being influenced by the marketing people, unscrupulous sales people, cult leaders, governments and others promoters of influence. It is a thorough course in how to spot an attempt to manipulate you and how you can analyse the situation to see if it is really something you want or not.
It has some of the most complete advice on how to examine an item and how to respond of any book on influence that I have read. On the "A" list of must-read books.
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Reading this book brought to mind a famous quote by Daniel Webster. It goes something like this: "If all my possessions were taken from me, with one exception, I would choose to keep the power of my words, for by it I would soon regain all the rest."
If you're interested in learning more about the power words and their ability to pursuade and influence, this is absolutely required reading.
The authors refer you to dozens of modern day examples and scientific studies - showing you what techniques work, and why. Many of the most effective secrets of persuasion used by government, corporations, and perhaps even your boss, are all revealed.
Be forewarned, however: You'll never look at a TV commercial, newspaper, magazine, or public official the same way again (I hope). Read it, and spread the word.
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on December 16, 2006
I am writing a thesis for a my master's on myths, and relating that to propaganda, which led me to this book.

I can't say enough great things about this book. I relates all of the ideas to everyday occurances common to the "layman".

This book is great for research, and also just to learn how the world is really ran.

Get it.
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on June 17, 2009
I used to laboriously collect information I found on media influence. Age of Propaganda contains such a vast array of examples of the deplorable use of propaganda; arguably the cause of many of our woes as a society, that I now rely heavily on this book for research.

The chapters Words of Influence and Pictures in Our Heads are worth the price of the book alone. But it goes much further than that; examining emotional contagion, fear and guilt in advertising and even the psychology behind cults.

The latter subject is my one criticism of this book; I believe the stories of David Koresh were fabricated to demonize a group which was, simply put, massacred by perhaps not evil, but certainly clueless and inoperant government agents.

There are twenty one pages of references, so the contention by some that the book isn't backed up by enough evidence seems to me utterly misguided.
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on December 23, 2013
This is a common sense book that details the techniques used by the American political system to control the masses. America has never really been a very intelligent place, so it was always easy for corrupt leaders to swindle their way in.

Americans think they live in a democracy, but they actually live in a Corporate War State controlled by the media, corporations and the wealthy, which use indoctrination in schools, family, and work to shape selective minds. Massive subsides to bureaucracies keep tabs on information and people, made easy through technological developments and information storing in computers. Secret and clandestine foreign "centers of intelligence" (CIA, NSA) wage war with world economies and non-compliant leaders.

By giving the masses daily measured quantities of Propaganda, they are able to manipulate them and even use them towards their advantage (see The McCarthy Era - intense anti-communist suspicion). They use uninformative "news" casts (filled with sensational material), tabloid journalism, pornography, reality TV, fast food, identification with team sports, etc to shape impressionable and non-critical minds.

It's a pretty easy conquest, as most Americans aren't very able to distinguish that their brains are turning to mush, those who do think are quickly eradicated by the indoctrination system within or made into a non-threat.

Good book. Too bad no one will read it, except in Europe.
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on July 25, 2011
Though Elliot Arronson's 'The Social Animal' is an incredible book, and clearly paved the way, 'Age of Propaganda' is the single best, most consumeable book out there. It reads like a gripping novel, and engages the reader through use of examples from popular culture and well-known news stories.
The book is very easy to understand and relate to, which is perhaps why it works so well.

I have bought this book several times over the past ten or so years, and given it as a gift to friends interested in Psychology and pratical applications of Psych.
Every person I have given it to has not been dissapointed, and has eventually thanked me for the book.
I'm up to 12 different friends.

As I have bought the book many times, I have noticed that every version of the book is a little different. It took comparing a few different versions with my friends, but, I noticed that Pratkanis actually changes and updates the examples in the book.
This is presumably to help the book stay more relevant - it's a brilliant idea.

My only criticism of "Age of Propaganda" is the raw power of the work; after reading it, I felt that it could be used as a tool to defend against following blindly - or just as easially the reverse.
It's heady stuff, and, after you read it, you may think what I thought: "Wow - I wouldn't want this falling into the wrong hands."

Lastly - other reviews have mentioned a political agenda within this book - and - that is plainly false. While there are political examples (they are popular culture and news), they are used to explain specific social-psych techniques at work - and nothing more. Having read the book several times with several different editions, I have not noticed any political agenda or theme and I have seen several different sides of the political spectrum used as examples of technique. Further, as the examples are constantly changing, many of those comments and other reviews about 'political agenda' no longer even apply - as the examples have been updated with new political figures, presidents, political parties, and soforth.

The only agenda I have seen is the constant message throughout the editions:
"You don't have to be cynical - but be more skeptical."
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