Posts Tagged ‘manipulation’

Police Psychology | What You Can Learn from a 2-Year Old


Police Stress, women saying no

In police psychology, I have noticed that it is very difficult for people to say “no.”

In police psychology, I find a lot of officers who just can’t do it. There are very few things that toddlers know how to do better than adults. For instance, although sometimes when I’m driving I encounter cars that may as well have had the two-year-old behind the wheel, adults are fairly more competent than their young children when it comes to driving. I’d also rather have an adult monitor my bank account and finances than a child, and rather an adult ran the country than my nine-year-old daughter. You get the point. However, there is one thing that most children do better than their parents: saying “NO.” All you have to do is walk around the park and you’ll encounter countless voices erupting in that favorite word all parents long to hear: “NO.” When you tell your child its bath time, or they need to eat all their vegetables, or they need to get off the IPAD during mealtimes. How about when they can’t wear that outfit in public, or they need to be back by curfew, most children respond the same: “NO.” Damn I wish I could learn that more myself.

It’s funny how we seem to be expert “NO” sayers when we are young, but then we hit a point in our lives when saying that infamous word becomes ten times more difficult. In police psychology, I have many officers who are stressed out, overworked, working double shifts and still can’t manage to refuse to help. It’s funny how such a small word is so hard to master. It’s funny how saying “NO” can be associated with such a negative stigma of being uncooperative and intentionally difficult. It’s funny how Rodgers and Hammerstein so perfectly summed up our sentiments in Oklahoma: “I’m just a girl who can’t say NO.” And although many guys would like to meet such a girl, it’s really not funny. It’s not funny at all. When did we lose the ability to respectfully decline things we simply don’t have the time for? When did we start putting the need to please other people before our own sanity? Why must we overextend ourselves to the point where we are committed to way too many tasks at once—stretched thin, balancing a precarious juggling act? Why is that people in the helping professions and the policing professions, lose track of the word worst than anyone.

Police Stress | The Hardest Word to Say

kid tantrum, police psychology

I have noticed in police psychology that avoiding the word “no” can contribute to a lot of police stress.

Want to hear a police psychology situation? I had a police officer in therapy with me who was hit in his car by a drunk driver. He was having severe cognitive problem and PTSD, and will probably be disabled the rest of his life. His wife’s cousin calls and is with another police officer just having been lifted for minor-level drunk driving. He hasn’t talked to the wife’s cousin in years, in fact never liked him. He was being asked to vouch for him. He asked the cop to cut his wife’s cousin a break, despite it being the same situation that is causing him so much trouble. His wife wasn’t happy; he wasn’t happy. They found a new way to add to police stress. I was now dealing with a guy that had enough going on, but we added one more thing. And because of the PTSD, the officer can’t get it out of his head how he cut a guy he can’t stand a break, so he obsesses. More problems for me. (Notice, it always comes back to me. Hey, I should write about that.)

The truth is, many of us just feel guilty saying this two-letter word, especially to our friends, family, or people we care about or even should care about. So, instead, we agree and agree and agree until we are left feeling angry and resentful towards the people who put us in the situation. This becomes a problem because the people who ask you for favors oftentimes have no idea they are putting you in a difficult position.  They don’t think it is a big thing. (This is not to say that there aren’t people out there who will try to deliberately take advantage of you.) We need to relearn a lesson that we never should have forgotten. We need to teach ourselves to be okay with saying “NO” to people. We need to learn how to prioritize ourselves again—we need to learn how to be a little selfish. And police psychology has a bigger problem than most because we are the caretakers in the world.

Police Psychology| Why We Can’t Say “NO”

But that still begs the question: why? Why do we have such a hard time saying NO? I think one of the reasons is because people tend to be sociable and generous. It is an adaptive trait: the more communicable you are, the more people will want to interact with you. It is safe. It is easy. It also feels good when you do something for someone else. It can make them appreciative or complimentary of your talents and skills, and it can put them in your debt (in a sense). Saying “NO” seems too hostile and aggressive to many people—“How can I say no to Jim? He’s only asking me to give up one weekend for him.” We tend to overestimate the effect of this word. We tend to associate “NO” with antagonism and unfriendliness, and these aren’t favorable traits in society. Because of this, it almost becomes easier (at least mentally) to say “yes” because that is the safer response. However, that is a totally psychological misconception. If you say “no” to someone, chances are they will understand (and if they don’t, they’re definitely not worth your time). And they may tend to think through something before they ask again. We need to stop overestimating the power of this word and start accepting it for what it is–an admittance that we need to take care of ourselves.

There are many types of manipulations used to try to get you to agree to do things you don’t want to do. Sometimes they just come natural to people, sometimes they are intended for manipulation. Let me give you a couple that are easy to remember. One is called “foot in the door” technique. This is when they start out by getting you to agree to something small, and once you agree to that, they ask you for a larger request. For instance, if someone asks you to sign a petition and you agree to that, they may follow that up by asking you to donate some money. This works because you are already thinking in your mind, “Wow, I’m such a great person,” or “Well, I must believe in this cause…” and so you are more inclined to comply with the larger request after this. Another technique is called “door in the face.” This is when someone asks you to do something big and you say no, so then they ask for a much smaller, reasonable request. In this case, many people are more inclined to say yes to the smaller request (which is often what they wanted you to agree to in the first place) because of something called the reciprocity norm: you did something nice for me (by reducing the request), so I’ll do something nice for you (by fulfilling the request). Be wary of these tricks. Learn a thing or two from your children.


3 Steps to Saying “NO”

  1. There are polite ways of saying no (meaning, there are ways of saying “no” without using this actual word): “Not today, sorry,” or “I can’t do that today” or “That doesn’t work for me now, I’m sorry.” It all depends on how you word your decline. Careful of these. Don’t offer an excuse as it creates an opportunity for them to re-word their request and ask you something else. When you turn someone down, say you can’t do it, and skip out on all the sugarcoating explanations.
  2. If it is just a time thing, offer an alternative time. Sometimes that will be enough to make them look elsewhere. “I can’t help you build a website until next month if that works for you.” Or I won’t have the time to help redo your bathroom until after the holidays. Keep a person limited and focus on your time as the important factor. You can’t make more time, so don’t let it disappear.
  3. If all else fails, point out the manipulation. Remember this old school psychological advice, the best way to weaken a defense is to point it out.   “Wow you’re trying real hard to get me to agree to fix your bathroom. It seems a little manipulative.” “Oh I see, if I agree to a small thing and you want more.” Now these may piss someone off a little, but chances are you are not going through life without pissing someone off. People get over stuff, in fact sometimes they even gain respect for you because of it.


Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.

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Police Psychology | Are You Being Manipulated?


A screenshot of the campaign video with the subliminal message "rats" in large letters.

Police psychology deals with media manipulation, like in the campaign video in which the word “rats” was subliminally written.

With the current feeling about racial issues in police psychology, perhaps we should review the research on manipulation and subliminal messages. If you graduated in the 80’s much of this might be new to you.


In 2000, there was a well-documented election scandal: in one of Bush’s campaign videos in which he discussed the Gore Prescription Plan, the word “rats” flashed across the screen following a picture of Al Gore. Following the discovery of this, a lot of media attention surrounded subliminal messages and how they affect our thoughts and behavior. Bush responded to the angry accusations saying first that it was a mistake and second that it was just a part of the word “bureaucrats” that had been formatted to appear in large letters on the screen. Suddenly, people were afraid that our thoughts would no longer be our own—that the choices we make would be controlled by external sources.


An Old Concept Mired in Falsehood


The idea behind subliminal messages dates back to 1957 when James Vicary, a market researcher, inserted two phrases into a movie: “Eat popcorn” and “drink Coke.” According to Vicary, this caused a marked increase in popcorn and Coke sales in the movie theaters. His claim: the messages he inserted into the movie (displayed for such a short amount of time that only our subconscious would have time to notice it) caused people to go out and buy popcorn and Coke. For years, this was believed to be true.   More recent studies have debunked this claim, proving subliminal messages are not as powerful as Vicary believed. (And in fact, Vicary came out with a statement that he made up some of his results as a joke. Sounds like he was doing a little marketing of his own!)

The True Power of Subliminality


Yet, while these two examples may be extreme and not worthy of concern, subliminal messages can still affect our lives in other ways. For example, colors may have an unconscious affect on our moods. Colors in the red spectrum tend to elicit feelings of warmth that range from love and comfort to anger. Colors in the blue spectrum tend to elicit feelings of coolness, ranging from calmness to sadness. In addition, the color of presidential candidate’s ties is designed deliberately to demonstrate different things, like power, or authority, or wealth. A second example of how subliminal messages may still play a role in our lives is in social psychology. A famous study was done in which it was demonstrated that when people are complimented by other individuals, even if they know the compliment is fake or it is only being said in order to manipulate them into doing something, they are still inclined to believe the compliment if they want this person to like them. Another study further demonstrated this idea: studies show that you should compliment a pretty girl on her taste, and compliment a plain girl on her looks (I don’t know if the same goes for men). In both cases, the individuals believe the compliments because they want to believe them. And going back to color, clothing in the color red has been shown to make men more sexually attracted to women. I guess they look more like Ferraris or something.


The reality: subliminal messages are really only useful as they can prime your behavior in a certain direction. For example, if you are thirsty and you are in the mood for soda, if a Coke bottle flashed across the screen at a rate too fast for you to consciously notice it, you may be more inclined to pick Coke over other soda options when you go get a drink. However, this is a time-limited effect, meaning if you have immediate access to Coke, then you are more likely to choose that drink over others, but if you need to go out to the store to go pick it up, the effects of the subliminal message might wear off by that time and you are no more likely to pick Coke over another type of soda. Thus, subliminal messages work best under highly controlled lab conditions, when you are already inclined toward that thought or behavior or when the access to target behavior is immediate. This doesn’t make it sound like we need to be worried about subliminal messages in police psychology and police stress. And yet…

Does the Media Control our Thoughts?


Do we need to be worried about the media controlling the election, or the media controlling the public’s perception of the police? Certainly in terms of subliminal messages, we need not fear this type of control unless it is a point of sale situation. That’s why they put stuff at counters of stores. Subliminal messages are not true manipulation, but rather they help push you in the direction in which you were planning on going anyway. If people want to believe cops are abusive to citizens, they can believe that based on a report. If people want to believe their country is the greatest in the world, subliminal message will tell them that. They do not cause a change in attitude; rather, it stimulates and reinforces your own beliefs. But even if subliminal messages do not have overt control over you that does not limit the power of the press. The media can still control the election and the public’s perception in terms of restricting what it shows. In fact, in police psychology, we are concerned about media manipulation. Certain websites and news reports will exclusively demonstrate examples of police brutality or the failings or accomplishments of the government. Does that make what they are showing a true representation of reality? Not really. But if you want to believe that it does, then it will for you.

Police psychology: simple steps3 Steps for Avoiding Subliminal Influence


  1. Research. Knowledge is power—if you don’t want the media to control your thoughts and opinions, then you need to research these topics on your own. Read both sides of every story. The more you research, the greater sense you will have of the reality of the situation, and the less likely you will fall into subliminal influence traps.
  2. Know Your Source. Everyone has an agenda. Know who you are dealing with when you get information and what their motivation is in the situation. The desire of most sources of information today is to first gain, and then hold a person’s attention. Some news outlets have started sensationalizing stories instead of reporting what is happening. Some internet sites have come to making outlandish claims to keep your attention.  Don’t get frustrated that you can’t get a straight story and get angry about it. Accept it, and use it in your own favor.
  3. Enjoy. In graduate school, many many years ago, we used to talk about the elegant solution. The elegant solution came from a combination of not letting anything get you too upset but still caring about outcome. Frankly, nothing is more entertaining than someone trying to manipulate you to think in their fashion. I have heard the same statistics used on both sides of an issue like gun control. I have had people try to convince me that abortion is the major issue of a presidential election. I never made the connection that how a person stands on Roe vs. Wade should determine who makes decisions about al-Qaeda or ISIS. Pretty girls, hunky men, fast cars, money, girls that were men, men that were girls, all the drippings to get my opinion swayed to one side or another or purchase a product. It is meant to be the entertainment in your life, the manipulation dance, or opera, or rock concert so you’d better enjoy it now instead of getting emotional. I need to remind myself of this one every day. THE ELEGANT SOLUTION.

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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