Are we all just puppets on a string? Most people would like to assume that they are free agents – their fate lies in their own hands. But they’d be wrong. Often, we are as helpless as a marionette, being jerked about by someone else’s subtle influence. Without even feeling the tug, we do their bidding – while believing that it was our idea all along.
“What we’re finding more and more in psychology is that lots of the decisions we make are influenced by things we are not aware of,” says Jay Olson at McGill University in Quebec, Canada – who recently created an ingenious experiment showing just how easily we are manipulated by the gentlest persuasion. The question is, can we learn to spot those tricks, and how can we use them to our own advantage?
Olson has spent a lifetime exploring the subtle ways of tricking people’s perception, and it all began with magic. “I started magic tricks when I was five and performing when I was seven,” he says.Are we always in control of our minds? As David Robson discovers, it’s surprisingly easy to plant ideas in peoples’ heads without them realising.