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Review ArticleDOI Number : 10.36811/ijpmh.2022.110014Article Views : 0Article Downloads : 0

Manipulation of Public Opinion by Outsiders: Reappraisal of an Old Doubt in the Field of Political Psychology

Saeed Shoja Shafti*

Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, New York, USA

*Corresponding Author: Saeed Shoja Shafti, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, New York, USA, Tel: Tel: +98 21 33401604; Email: [email protected]

Article Information

Aritcle Type: Review Article

Citation: Saeed Shoja Shafti. 2022. Manipulation of Public Opinion by Outsiders: Reappraisal of an Old Doubt in the Field of Political Psychology. Int J Psychiatr Ment Health. 4: 11-20.

Copyright: This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Copyright © 2022; Saeed Shoja Shafti

Publication history:

Received date: 27 April, 2022
Accepted date: 16 May, 2022
Published date: 18 May, 2022


Traditionally, there is a common and enduring suspicion among people of many developing countries that claims that lots of main happenings in their realms have been directed or persuaded, secretly, by alien planners of developed states, and hence they are innocent with respect to many domestic difficulties, because they have been burdened on them stealthily by foreigners. In the present paper, dynamic forces of the said cynicism have been analyzed from sociocultural points of view to see how outsiders from overseas can bring other countries’ people into the streets by their temptations and motivate them to riot, while we know that, logically, there is no magic, miracle or prophecy in the field of politics. For sure, this is an instance that deserves to be scrutinized more deeply in the field of political psychology. Moreover, the thinkable solutions for an accusation, which often remains unapproved, and many times may be driven from lack of national confidence, have been discussed briefly.

Keywords: Developing Countries; Developed States; Exploitation; Manipulation; Public Opinion; Outsiders; Conspiracies


Suggestion and suggestibility are not unknown issues in everyday life. Though many experts recognize suggestibility as the backbone of hypnosis, which was one of the first psychotherapeutic methods since the last epochs, and as the byproduct of dependence during psychoanalysis and other insight-oriented psychotherapies, which prevent patients from gaining true insight about their unconscious conflict, many of them in addition to common people have been unconsciously under the influence of that phenomenon throughout their lives. Maybe it can be acknowledged as a part of the learning process and a complementary part of education, which is transferred by parents, educators and settings.

Hence, it is a psychosocial characteristic, with both good and evil aftermath. But, in the present paper, another aspect of suggestibility is surveyed that can be recognized as its negative political aspect, which has faith in a misuse of susceptibility by outsiders for manipulation of public opinion and achievement of hegemony or illegitimate advantages. Such kind of distrust, whether right or wrong, is very prevalent among people of developing nations, who are customarily suspicious of the political purposes of politicians of developed countries, based on subjective formulation of inland history; a mistrust which is echoed maximally in the extremist groups and figures. In the present paper, dynamic forces of the said cynicism have been analyzed from sociocultural points of view. For sure, this is an instance that deserves to be scrutinized more deeply in the field of political psychology. Moreover, the thinkable solutions for an accusation, which often remains unapproved, and many times may be driven from lack of national confidence, have been discussed briefly.

Background: Suggestibility as a Psychological Trait

According to some scholars, suggestion is a process of communication that results in the acceptance and conviction of the communicated proposal, in the absence of rationally acceptable grounds for its approval [1]. Suggestibility, as well, is defined as a peculiar state of mind which is helpful to suggestion [2]. While suggestion refers to influential communication, suggestibility refers to differences in responding to suggestions under comparable circumstances [3]. So, suggestibility is the quality of being persuaded to accept and act on the recommendations of others. Also, one may fill in holes in certain recollections with false data given by another when remembering a situation or moment. Suggestibility uses signals to change recall: when the person has been insistently told something about an earlier happening, his or her memory of the incident adapts to the recurrent dispatch [4]. It seems that emotive people tend to be more open to ideas and thus more suggestible [5]. While suggestibility decreases as age increases [6], researchers have found that personal levels of self-esteem and assertiveness can make some people more suggestible than others [7]. On the other hand, some scholars believe that suggestibility means to conform openly to outlooks or the opinions of others, without the fitting personal approval or experience; namely, to show behavioral submission without private recognition or conviction [8]. In this regard, hypnotic suggestibility is a trait-like characteristic that reflects the general predisposition to respond to hypnosis and hypnotic propositions. Enquiry with standardized measures of hypnotic suggestibility has demonstrated that there is extensive difference among people with respect to hypnotic suggestibility [9].

It is claimed that being under the impact of suggestion, while it can be considered as displaying behavioral submission without personal reception or confidence, could hamper the independence, assertiveness or autonomy of a person, too [10]. Known instances of suggestible behavior in everyday life consist of contagious yawning and medical student syndrome. Placebo response is, also, believed to be based on personal differences in suggestibility, though partly. Suggestible persons may be more reactive to different forms of health practices, a response that sometimes seems to depend on the patient’s belief in the intervention more than on any other mechanism [11]. Suggestions can be categorized into two kinds: straight and subsidiary. Subsidiary suggestions arise when the implication is concealed, whereas straight suggestions ensue when the encouragement is not covered [12]. In addition to the said placebo effect and hypnotic suggestibility, interrogative suggestibility, as well, has achieved a lot of interest in forensic psychiatry, which explores how much a person will surrender to a suggestive query and how much that person will change his or her replies after the interrogator applies force on him or her. It is possible for people to create faulty memories or even give false confessions because they were “suggested” to do so [5]. Placebo effect and interrogative suggestibility are known as subsidiary suggestions, while hypnotic suggestibility is classified as a straight suggestion [13]. Studies propose that interior issues such as self-judgment, and exterior dynamics, such as the amount of info given and the interrogator’s behavior, can contribute to an individual’s level of suggestibility. Contributors with lower self-confidence were more probable to alter their replies after being pressured to do so [14].

In general, factors that can influence suggestibility include: personality traits (the personal features of the person receiving the suggestion, containing their predilection to conformity), situational factors (elements such as the significance and skills of the person who is communicating the suggestion, group pressure, and placebo response), usual and/or current states (motivation/attention, expectations, and atypical brain conditions), and lack of knowledge [15]. So, interrogative suggestibility (IS) is a specific kind of suggestibility that has been defined as the extent to which, within a closed social interaction, people come to accept messages communicated during formal questioning, as a result of which their later behavioral response is affected [3]. It is important to note that IS is associated with social, interpersonal (e.g., anxiety, depression, social desirability, self-esteem) [16-19] and cognitive (e.g., verbal and non-verbal verbal communication, intelligence, memory) [20] aspects. In general, low scores on IQ, high levels of trait anxiety, and low self-esteem are associated with higher scores on suggestibility [21]. IS in the elderly is also correlated with emotive/affective variables, such as worry and self-esteem, confirming its multifaceted nature [22].


As is well-known, accusations of being exploited by other states, especially by developed empires, is a longstanding and deep-rooted mistrust, especially among residents of unindustrialized societies. On the other hand, it is not deniable that what could be settled before by direct military attack, coup d'état, or colonization, today is not achievable readily due to high social, economic and political costs for the attacker. So, hidden forms of invasion are more favorable than older maneuvers, for avoidance of unwanted expenses. New technology, as well, has prepared the milieu for new kinds of intrusions and annexations, in addition to former modes. For example, the media, while a valued foundation for organizing public opinion and broadcasting of necessary news or guiding principles, can be an important mediator, as well, for causing false news, rumors and needless public worries. It is not deniable that a remarkable proportion of non-thinkers among the masses, who usually postpone pondering till the occurrence of mayhem or mishap, offer an appropriate background for starting a malevolent plot by any Machiavelli. Though the size of such a plot depends on the manipulator’s powers and aptitudes, the silliness of mobs may recompense for some of the schemer’s deficiencies. Nevertheless, disregard for organic causes of stupidity, other sociocultural reasons are conceivable, too, that let occurrence of merciless misuse.

Politically and on a national scale, such exploitations are commonly presumed to be enacted by dominant empires on fragile dominions, and the reverse is not naturally observable. Besides, even coequal empires, ordinarily, cannot manipulate each other. Accordingly, it is a one-way path, which has been cemented by winners’ assets and losers’ deficits. Some of the regional wars are suitable examples of endless conflicts between leading powers, which are settled far from their borders and are reflected in geopolitical conflicts elsewhere. Disregard to the rightness or wrongness of such clashes, the question is how a community can be influenced so ruthlessly that, deliberately or reflexively, it takes a wrong attitude against itself? Maybe the most important, though not enough, reason for protecting against exterior induction is sociocultural values. But, values can have a two-sided aspect, with simultaneous caring and harmful aspects. For example, exaggerated antipathy to foreigners, instead of logical carefulness, while it could be protective in ancient epochs, may promote inland resistance and peripheral brawls, at this time, due to interior needs or outdoor circumstances, respectively. It is interesting that, though psychodynamic factors galvanize the political outlooks and mindset of politicians [23] (Table 1), the present debate is about the political attitude of masses, on a national scale.

General beliefs about non-nationals are comparable, a bit, to subjective cordiality with regard to their own guests. Kindheartedness facilitates rapport and friendship, and hostility creates animosity and vengeance. Today, the globalized and digitalized universe may demand new definitions of fellow citizens and fatherland. Working outside the country, the multi-nationality of citizens, growing intercontinental interactions, satellite media and social media have upgraded subjective social knowledge, and by modifying personal insight and judgment, have challenged all places that have accessibility to modern technology, deep-rooted traditionalism. In such a situation, xenophobia, on a national scale, can inevitably instigate cultural encounters between the brainy class of society and governing elites, in the short-term, and welfare-related conflicts between masses and decision makers, in the long-term.

In addition, former sociopolitical battles or monetary difficulties can critically amplify the said in-house conflicts. On the other hand, noticing social injustice, whether real or illusory, social hopelessness, racial or sectarian hatred, youngness of population, high rates of unemployment, dissociation between people and leaders, messy financial scheme or chaotic political economy, weak currency, lack of resources of energy, small proportion of industrial production, fragile human capital, frail social scholarship, feeble defense force, low average of intelligence and analytic thinking, pathetic patriotism, low average of sociopolitical insight and judgment among common people and lack of experienced political leaders are among causes that may make the public opinion ready for installation of outsiders’ induction. Since the judgment of lay people is usually more based on their apperception and short-term inner wishes than analysis of peripheral realities and long-term anticipates, the induction of malevolent intrigues by smart aliens or enemies, too, usually starts by injection of satisfying fantasies into the said breach. But, an amalgamation of different illusions, in various social groups, for making and motivating a huge mass is materialized by the said socioeconomic factors, which may unintentionally push the outsider’s conspiracy ahead. On the other hand, these influencers may act discretely.

For example, in the last decades, some of the Marxist regimes, with a presumed class-less social order, a socialistic economy and established public welfare, which were based on social needs and the classic definition of freedom in Marxian glossary, have collapsed melodramatically due to internal political conflicts, in spite of presumed social justice. So, the said inclusive and nationwide economic justice was not apparently enough for the stoppage of outsiders’ manipulation, and extra dynamics, which the associated leaders were blind to, were still active. Though some of such systems were the outcome of domestic revolts or coups d'état and for achievement of munificent upshot, the historical memory of masses about past events and aspirations is not the same through different generations. So, the radical concepts could have lost their worth later because new concerns could have substituted them after the stabilization phase; preoccupations with different levels of importance in the minds of people and leaders. For the same reason, polling and opinion sampling is an important instrument for checking public opinion, which is a reflection of people's socioeconomic status, too.

Also, despite the fact that most people live in the grey zone of political affairs, this is the radical groups that usually determine their destiny. In a democratic system, the majority of passive people can decide by polling the favorite place of activists, active groups, and political parties in their community, if ready with a suitable amount of sociopolitical insights, because polling of illiterate or unaware persons can be influenced easily by misleading propaganda and turns into a boomerang. Conversely, since autocratic systems cannot restructure themselves based on polling or other democratic policies, and usually there is a palpable divergence between regime and people, they are always penetrable to outsiders’ influence. This principle may explain why, contrary to the said socialist or communist regimes, many of the social democratic administrations have been impenetrable towards foreigners’ inspirations, though they are not among great powers and, hypothetically, they have been accused of being revisionist and far from classic revolutionary theory. Then again, in the present complicated situation of political affairs, the existence of sophisticated, experienced and truthful political figures for analyzing domestic and universal events, and watchful evaluation of internal deficits and external threats, is so inevitable that wishing independence, liberation and safety without that is more an illusion.

Hence, since outsiders usually misuse surviving schisms, sealing social breakups is the main task of every regime. Systems that ignore or postpone indispensable care for understandable or incomprehensible reasons prepare the framework for outsiders’ manipulation. Many times the costs of the aforesaid repairs are far lower than the expenses of later mayhem, which create new kinds of difficulties and obstacles, per se. Thus, blindness of regimes towards social problems due to fiscal powerlessness or structural inflexibility is the most important device for interlopers’ intervention. According to evidence, security organizations and militarism cannot guarantee survival of the system if their goals are constantly opposing public desires and requirements. Many times, induced pseudo-narcissism [24], which is the fabrication of a made-up immensity, may impair their judgments so drastically that they cannot discriminate between realities and fantasies. This provides the best milieu for the said invaders. Lack of knowledge about domestic physiognomies, social organization, and existent subcultures, lack of democratic foundations for providing proper feedback or assigning proper surrogates or options, excessive gap between working-class, middle class, and upper-class, disproportionate suppression, mistrust to political leaders, and skepticism about domestic newscast, may easily, through bringing hopelessness and helplessness, lead to reflexive faith into strangers’ newsflash and propaganda. On the other hand, based on the measured socioeconomic indexes, every Machiavellian or exploiter can analyze the political condition of the target society, and predict the possible misfortunes, and check the potential breaks between the targeted regime and associated inhabitants. While authoritarian systems are intrinsically uncompromising, and offer the critical gap between existent problems and plausible solutions, and thus give advantage to hard-hearted exploiters, there are many liberal democratic or social democratic societies, which, though presently are not among superpowers, are shielded against outsiders’ intrusions.

Unfortunately, although moral principles demand worldwide justice and respect in political affairs, the course of Darwinian natural selection is not in line with the idealistic or humanistic perspectives. Power demands necessities, which should develop into hegemony, if its survival is needed. Hence, this is a ceaseless duel between weaker realms and stronger kingdoms, and between the toughest states, as well, for the attainment of hegemony. Due to a remarkable mismatch between technological and socioeconomic indexes, which are nearly totally in favor of developed nations in comparison with developing realms, and the necessity of intercontinental relations, which are now under the impact of globalization, a persistent need for getting various kinds of help from developing societies is existing, which warrants the potential supremacy of advanced countries. The said supremacy can be employed by old pupils, debtors, spies, double-dealers, betrayers, extreme internationalists, persons who may accomplice with the outsiders based on retaliatory viewpoints, or people, who are unaware about the foreigners’ intrigues but act unconsciously in accord with their conspiracies. Also, the emotionality of ordinary people may play an important role in this regard, a sensitivity which can be damaging if not polished with sensibility.

Perhaps, the said characteristic can be accounted for as the main public vulnerability, which is influenced deeply by sociocultural and historical backgrounds. Furthermore, the predominance of the number of young people in every society, as amateurish members, may predispose that society to sociopolitical chaos, especially if the society’s deficits have become more exciting than its assets by decided political agitators or rivals. Since radical criticism and bluffing is always easier than crucial resolution of social problems, which are usually a mixture of real, imagined and contrived difficulties, therefore social agitators, in accomplice with schemer outsiders, purposely or unintentionally, can misguide the public opinion by a series of shared considers that are joint lightly, not profoundly, between the said campaigners and masses. So, the informational gap between insurgents and hoi polloi provides the necessary fuel for deceitful manipulation of unaware disciples. In the same way, lack of patriotic principles and illiteracy regarding in-house challenges prepares the background for outsiders’ tricks. Anyhow, though injustice and hegemony in international political affairs is not acceptable, whether morally or diplomatically, unfortunately, it will not be dismissed basically unless filling of the aforesaid gap between socioeconomic and technical indexes becomes likely.

On the other hand, in the present era, a sense of duty and commitment between regimes and their people is a reciprocal issue and an unfair relationship can lead to disloyalty. Though from a Neo-Darwinian or sociobiological perspective, altruism is inherent in the gene pool of kinfolks, families, and people, on a national scale, human beings are different from insects and birds, and can think more abstractly than animals. Therefore, repeated carelessness or injustice by governments can induce, sooner or later, animosity and vindictive feelings in desperate people, who are agitated, unhappy or moody due to learned helplessness, particularly in the present globalized world. Domestic loyalty is not free of charge, and demands the least possible amount of care, like any solder in war, who demands food, weapons, armaments and shelter, if his commanding officer expects him or her to fight sacrificially, earnestly and heroically. An obvious system cannot expect faithfulness from neglected citizens. But, outsiders, too, cannot induce their desired ideas or motivations that are inconsistent with the folks’ basic beliefs. So, they choose mottos, which are graspable for ordinary people and comparable to common criticisms, though incorporated with specific intentions. So, again, only democratic and compassionate policies may lessen the sightlessness and inflexibility of rigid systems and decrease the risk of infidelity. Citizens who feel sincere ownership of the dominant system try to save it, not to surrender it. This indicates the importance of community participation in management of administration. The statesmen must not forget that their superior position is always parallel to an internal wish in ordinary inhabitants to see, sooner or later, supervisors’ downfall, disregard to difficulties of executive tasks. Whether such a wish is based on Freud’s Oedipus complex or subjective internal complexes, on rational judgment or foolish outlooks, the outcome is the same for administrators.

Therefore, community participation in sociopolitical affairs and taking responsibility for nationals may be a remedy for the said wish. As a last point, while in despotic systems, governments and people are widely divergent, in democratic systems they are corresponding. Governments and people, who do not recognize the rule of political games and do not respect each other, mutually and genuinely, must prepare themselves for final dissolution and collapse.


Political race is not different from other kinds of competition, particularly when the rivalry is for acquisition of hegemony and vital resources. Unfortunately, political competition, usually, does not have conjoint winners, and the benefits are divided between winners and losers. Winners, too, typically, include states with better assets and capabilities. Supremacy is not basically dividable, and the more dominant states can determine the destiny of other countries if their leaders and people are oblivious. Striving, unison, cognizance, and sensible domestic strategies may reduce the vulnerability of suspicious populations against existing or imaginary foes, who wish to manipulate public opinion for self-seeking exploitation.

Hyper-abstractly, universal social order has some resemblance with routine positions, like policymaking of parents and compliance of children, supervision of bosses and passivity of workforce, and commanding of chief officers and obedience of soldiers. Magnitude, which is a more abstract term than merely having wealth, can be mesmerizing for people who have lost their poise due to lack of assets or hard luck. Nevertheless, though resisting floods is not easy for defenseless and separate people, many floods can be coped effectively, if defended jointly and sensibly. Conjoint benevolence between regime and people is the best buffer in the presence of every factual or fictional invasion or evil design; if not, then no opportunist outsider renounces free gains or easy exploitation.

Table 1: Defense mechanisms that may motivate attitude of politicians.



On a nonpsychotic level, projection involves attributing one’s own unacknowledged feelings to others; it includes severe prejudice, rejection of intimacy through suspiciousness, hypervigilance to external danger, and injustice collecting. Projection operates correlatively to introjection, such that the material of the projection derives from the internalized but usually unconscious configuration of the subject’s introjects. At higher levels of function, projection may take the form of misattributing or misinterpreting motives, attitudes, feelings, or intentions of others.

Passive-aggressive behavior

Aggression toward an object expressed indirectly and ineffectively through passivity, masochism, and turning against the self.


The control of affects and impulses by way of thinking about them instead of experiencing them. It is a systematic excess of thinking, deprived of its affect, to defend against anxiety caused by unacceptable impulses.


A justification of attitudes, beliefs, or behavior that might otherwise be unacceptable by an incorrect application of justifying reasons or the invention of a convincing fallacy.


The introjection of a loved object involves the internalization of characteristics of the object with the goal of ensuring closeness to and constant presence of the object. Anxiety consequent to separation or tension arising out of ambivalence toward the object is thus diminished. If the object is lost, introjection nullifies or negates the loss by taking on characteristics of the object, thus in a sense internally preserving the object. Introjection of a feared object serves to avoid anxiety through internalizing the aggressive characteristic of the object, thereby putting the aggression under one’s own control. The aggression is no longer felt as coming from of a sense of guilt in which the self-punishing introject is attributable to the hostile-destructive component of an ambivalent tie to an object. Thus, the self-punitive qualities of the object are taken over and established within one’s self as a symptom or character trait, which effectively represents both the destruction and the preservation of the object. This is also called identification with the victim.


Identification, which plays a crucial role in ego development, may also be used as a defense mechanism under certain circumstances. Identification with the loved object may serve as defense against the anxiety or pain that accompanies separation from or loss of the object, whether real or threatened. If identification occurs out of guilt, the person identifies for self-punitive purposes with a quality or symptom of the person who is the source of the guilt feelings. The mechanism of identification with the aggressor, first described by Anna Freud, may also be enlisted as a defense mechanism.


The excessive attempt to manage or regulate events or objects in the environment in the interest of minimizing anxiety and solving internal conflicts.


The unconsciously determined limitation or renunciation of specific ego functions, singly or in combination, to avoid anxiety arising out of conflict with instinctual impulses, superego, or environmental forces or figures.


The vicarious but constructive and instinctually gratifying service to others, even to the detriment of the self. This must be distinguished from altruistic surrender, which involves a masochistic surrender of direct gratification or of instinctual needs in favor of fulfilling the needs of others to the detriment of the self, with vicarious satisfaction only being gained through introjection.




The realistic anticipation of or planning for future inner discomfort: Implies overly concerned planning, worrying, and anticipation of dire and dreadful possible outcomes.


The elimination of directly pleasurable affects attributable to an experience. The moral element is implicit in setting values on specific pleasures. Asceticism is directed against all “base” pleasures perceived consciously, and gratification is derived from the renunciation.


The gratification of an impulse whose goal is retained but whose aim or object is changed from a socially objectionable one to a socially valued one. Libidinal sublimation involves a desexualization of drive impulses and the

Placing of a value judgment that substitutes what is valued by the superego or society. Sublimation of aggressive impulses takes place through pleasurable games and sports. Unlike neurotic defenses, sublimation allows instincts

To be channeled rather than dammed up or diverted. Thus, in sublimation, feelings are acknowledged, modified, and directed toward a relatively significant person or goal so that modest instinctual satisfaction results.


The conscious or semiconscious decision to postpone attention to a conscious impulse or conflict.


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