In this week’s spotlight I wish to discuss psychographics. For a long time sellers of wares and ideas have relied on demographics for their targeted marketing efforts. Demographics reveal the statistical data of a population, especially those showing average age, income, education, and so forth. So if the target audience is female between the ages of 20 and 40, it is demographics that identify where to go with advertising dollars—whether the ad is designed to peddle a product or win a vote.
Now by way of further identification, we add the science of psychographics. Psychographics uses demographic information to determine the attitudes and tastes of a particular segment of a population. Essentially psychographics seeks to discover the so-called five big traits referred to in the acronym, OCEAN. Those five are: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion/introversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.
Breaking each of the five down, we can understand why they are important to those who wish to convince us of our likes, desires, and needs. Openness refers to one’s desire for new experiences as well as providing a measure of creativity. Conscientiousness is the measure of care taken in life. Extroversion/introversion is the assessment of sociability—are you comfortable in crowds or do you prefer to be in smaller groups and/or alone? Agreeableness evaluates the dimension of kindness and caring. Are you empathetic and do you sympathize with others? Finally, Neuroticism considers how you handle emotion. Are you stable or do you yell at others when upset? How do you react in stressful situations?
Okay, now gather this information from the demographic you seek most to exploit and you theoretically have everything you need to know in order to persuade them, and this is exactly what Cambridge Analytics did for President Trump’s campaign.
In the words of professor Jonathan Albright, “This is a propaganda machine. It’s targeting people individually to recruit them to an idea. It’s a level of social engineering that I’ve never seen before. They’re capturing people and then keeping them on an emotional leash and never letting them go.”
In my book, Gotcha! The Subordination of Free Will, I dedicated a chapter to exactly this sort of metadata engineering, and the devices are not only becoming more sophisticated, but also much more widely deployed. The strategy behind social engineering, or the engineering of consent as Edward Bernays titled it in his essay of 1947, remains that of, “control of the masses,” but the tactics are ever evolving. You should know this.
Remember today’s spotlight the next time you answer some silly quiz—the kind ostensibly designed to inform of you of what Hollywood figure you’re most like, or what animal you are, or what characteristic is your strongest, etc. You are providing information that can, and undoubtedly in some way be used to win your consent.
The goal is ultimately to get you to do what they want you to do because you think it’s both your idea and a good one. And once again, I ask you my two favorite questions, “What was your last original thought?” and “Is this free-will?”
As always, thanks for the read and I’d love your thoughts on this one.
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusions