How to spot when you are being manipulated: Critical Thinking

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Critical thinking is often seen as an elite subject. It is especially taught at private grammar schools, it is a favourite for Oxford and Harvard applicants, and it has its roots in the education of classical Greece and Rome.

However, critical thinking is empathically not just a pet subject for the rich. Critical thinking is one of the only ways that exists to find out the truth

To this day, police at crime scenes are still taught to ask one of the key critical thinking questions: Cui bono (who profits?) from a situation. This provides a list of suspects with motive.

Critical thinking is especially important because most people in the world are trying to manipulate you. Corporations and companies want you to buy their products. Politicians want you to vote for them. Celebrities want you to pay attention to them. All of these people get more profit if you like them.

Here are some examples of people trying to manipulate you, by appealing to things you care about:

woman with pink hair holding baby

Photo by Max Goldberg/Iowa State Daily, 2016. Subjects unknown.

Politicians don’t really like babies.
 

When politicians go near children, it is not because they actually like them, it is a PR exercise to make them seem more relatable. Politicians know that voters like babies, so want to be seen to like them too. Regardless of whether the candidates like babies, they are supposed to talk to them, hold them and interact with them. Donald Trump, who is a candidate for president in the US election this year, famously explained at a conference how much he loved babies, before asking for a crying baby to be removed in 2016.

bp beyond petroleum logo

(Most) companies don’t really care about the environment.
 

When companies pretend to care about the environment in order to make customers like them, this is called green-washing. The aim of all companies is to make the most profit possible. Big companies cause huge damage to the environment each year. One example of this is BP, trying to manipulate you into thinking they care about the environment. In reality, in 2010 they were responsible for the worst accidental marine oil spill ever known.

dove self-esteem project

(Most) companies do not really care about social issues.

 

Recently an approach called corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become popular among companies. The idea is, if companies appear to be acting ethically, that they will get a better reputation and in the long term, more customers. This has the effect of doing some good in the world, but it is an act, and companies are doing it to manipulate you. One example of this is Dove trying to manipulate you into thinking that they care about girls’ self-esteem in girlhood. In reality, the cosmetics industry holds a considerable responsibility for the lack of self-esteem in western society.

Those are just three examples. People will try to manipulate you like this every day of your life. Critical thinking is the way we can become aware of this and combat it.

Here at the Academy for Distance Learning we offer a   University Preparation Package  which covers Critical Thinking (how to spot manipulation) and Academic Writing (how to write without manipulating others). Learn from the comfort of your home!

By Lee Raye

Lee is a PhD candidate at Cardiff University with degrees from Aberdeen and Oxford. He has written two books, digitalised another and written several academic papers. He has been interviewed by National Geographic and presented papers at eleven different national and international conferences and seminars. Lee’s native language is English and, if asked, he is always happy to help students with their English spelling and grammar.

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