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Journal Article

Manipulating Public Opinion: The Why and The How

Edward L. Bernays
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 33, No. 6 (May, 1928), pp. 958-971
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2765989
Page Count: 14
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Manipulating Public Opinion: The Why and The How
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Abstract

Public opinion, narrowly defined, is the thought of a society at a given time toward a given object; broadly conceived, it is the power of the group to sway the larger public in its attitude. Public opinion can be manipulated, but in teaching the public how to ask for what it wants the manipulator is safeguarding the public against his own possible aggressiveness. The method of the experimental psychologist is not as effective in the study of public opinion in the broad sense as is that of introspective psychology. To create and to change public opinion it is necessary to understand human motives, to know what special interests are represented by a given population, and to realize the function and limitations of the physical organs of approach to the public, such as the radio, the platform, the movie, the letter, the newspaper, etc. If the general principles of swaying public opinion are understood, a technique can be developed which, with the correct appraisal of the specific problem and the specific audience, can and has been used effectively in such widely different situations as changing the attitudes of whites toward Negroes in America, changing the buying habits of American women from felt hats to velvet, silk, and straw hats, changing the impression which the American electorate has of its President, introducing new musical instruments, and a variety of others. Group adherence is essential in changing the attitudes of the public. Authoritative and influential groups may become important channels of reaching the larger public. Ideas and situations must be made impressive and dramatic in order to overcome the inertia of established traditions and prejudices.

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