Psychological operations (psych-ops or psy-ops) refer to the planned use of
psychological knowledge to influence the behavior of groups, organizations or populations.
Although associated with guerilla warfare, rebellion and subversion;
many marketing and political strategies include psych-ops
techniques ... including office
politics and social engineering.
An organization can protect itself from psych-ops manipulation
by recognizing the warning signs, defusing the tactics and convincing
members to commit to a common mission.
The methodologies developed to prevent psych-ops provides a
knowledge base for:
- leaders who wish to protect the interests of an
- executives considering major organizational change
- managers who wish to comprehend political realities
- people who wish to recognize organizational strategies
are labeled propaganda when someone judges that the action which
is the goal of the persuasive effort will be advantageous to the
persuader but not in the best interests of the persuadee (...) We can
study propaganda as we can study good and evil. We don't make the
judgments but we can study the phenomena so judged."
-- Roger Brown, Words and Things (1958)
1. military warfare by propaganda: tactics that use propaganda to try to
demoralize an enemy in war, usually including civilian populations
2. nonmilitary psychological undermining: the use of psychological tactics
to disconcert and disadvantage an opponent in an everyday or a business
context, for example, causing fear or anxiety
(Microsoft Encarta 2003.)
History of Psych-Ops
Psychological operations go back to at least the ancient Greek wars
and the fall of Troy (the Trojan Horse operation continues to affect computer
operations). More recently, the American Office of War Information
disseminated propaganda in the USA and abroad, and
the American Office of Strategic Service (OSS) provided psychological operations
against perceived or potential enemies. Other countries followed their lead.
Peacetime applications of psych-ops are perhaps most evident in political election campaigns.
Common techniques used to influence public attitude and opinion are:
- using radio and television to distort events
- manufacturing "news" in staged events
- recruiting and using opinion leaders and media
- adjusting appeals to group interests (e.g. trade
commercial interests, such as steel, oil, logging and railroad companies initiate
extensive psych-ops to develop public support for legislation favorable to their
interests. Similarly, civil rights and other movements may use low-budget
psychological operations - for example
protest marches, assemblies, picketing and sit-ins - often with much less
Psychological operations have maximum effect
with people who:
- have little education
- accept information uncritically
- benefit from the proposed change
- want to believe the propaganda
- do not wish to understand their own motivations
Psychological operations are also used by anti-nuclear groups, women’s
rights activists, pro-abortion and anti-abortion groups, gun-control
lobbies, supporters of capital punishment, senior citizen groups, and small political organizations.
advances of electronic media (e.g. internet and cell phones)
greatly expand the influence of psych-ops efforts.
Psychological operations are designed to change the attitudes, and activities of an organization. A common psych-ops goal is
to use propaganda to provide multiple opportunities for members of an
organization to identify with new or changed missions. Such organizational missions
may include takeovers,
mergers, changes of ownership etc
The identification with a mission can be
divided into systemic steps applying the hierarchy of logical types
described by Dr Gregory Bateson in "Logical Categories of Learning and
Communicating" (Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1972).
Further applications are inherent in the research of Dr Clare Graves, in his
studies of the evolution of organizational behavior.
Recruit influential people into a hierarchy with offers of
power, security and material rewards. (Such recruits may test and attempt to
exploit the existing leadership hierarchy.)
Find people who provide information that can be used
during a Psych-Ops campaign. Informants can be found or planted in critical
groups, or where resistance may be anticipated. (Such "spies" and "moles" are
heroes of many novels and movies.)
Create effective propaganda that changes attitudes
This is achieved if people identify with a new or changed mission.
Propaganda is used to extend this identification to increase popular support
for a mission and provide points of convergence for transformative action.
|The Institute for Propaganda Analysis
(IPA) was created in 1937 to alert the public to
political propaganda. The IPA identified seven basic propaganda tricks:
Name-Calling, Glittering Generalities, Transfers,
Testimonials, Plain Folks, Card Stacking, and Band Wagon.
According to Combs and Nimmo (1993), "these seven devices have been repeated
so frequently in lectures, articles and textbooks ever since that they have
become ... synonymous with the practice and analysis of propaganda."
Form Propaganda Teams by selecting and training persuasive, motivated people, who move within an organization and encourage
people to support the organizational mission. Trained Propaganda Teams
can provide a multi-stage persuasion program that integrates strategic planning
with organizational attitudes. Propaganda Teams can also provide feedback about
rumors and attitude changes. This role is fulfilled by secret police
in authoritarian societies.
Recruit established professionals - doctors, lawyers, managers,
etc, to participate covertly. Their authority influences
members of an organization towards a changed mission.
In some cultures, bribing officials is a normal, accepted way to get things
done. In the West, many people are bribed - although the risks are high and exposure
can be damaging. Western governments and major corporations often offer bribes
publicly. Publicized bribery is commonplace and difficult to attack.
Mass meetings may be
controlled through operatives placed or recruited in organizations such as
unions, groups or professional associations. Operatives can prepare a
mental attitude to be transformed into votes.
A small focused group can provide an impression of a wide popular backing
and motivate behavior change in thousands of people.
If infiltration, propaganda, covert influence and controlled
meetings are developed parallel to
strategic operations (e.g. press releases, lawsuits and stock market moves),
an order for fusion (coordinated completion of planned actions) completes a psych-ops mission.
Prevent Coercive Persuasion .
Defense against Psych-Ops
Protect your organization from psych-ops manipulation, influence
- meaningful adult education
- recognize and dissolve persuasion
- change organizational missions
- support new or changed missions
- develop trust between stakeholders
- socio-political leadership
Convince for Commitment
people with suggestion, fear or marketing provides short term agreement.
Convince people with integrity provides long-term commitment towards common
This workshop provides a
methodology for convincing people - in ordinary conversation - to a cooperative
effort or mission, while defusing attacks, delays and persuasion.