Power of Persuasion: An Exploration of the Social Engineering Concepts That Affect Our Behavior

Let’s talk about some important social engineering concepts that can have a big impact on our behavior and decision-making. From Cunningham’s law to the Streisand Effect and beyond, these ideas can help us better understand how we make choices and how we can make more informed decisions. So without further ado, let’s dive into these fascinating concepts and see how they can shape our behavior and the world around us.

Cunningham’s Law

Cunningham’s Law states that “the best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question, it’s to post the wrong answer.” In other words, the more incorrect or controversial an idea is, the more likely it is to attract attention and discussion. This can lead to the spread of misinformation or biased perspectives, as people are more likely to engage with and amplify ideas that challenge their beliefs or beliefs held by others.

For example, if someone posts an incorrect claim about a historical event on a social media platform, it may be shared and discussed more widely than a more accurate account of the event.

Streisand Effect

Streisand Effect refers to the phenomenon of attempting to suppress or hide information having the unintended consequence of publicizing it even more. This can happen when someone tries to remove or censor information from the Internet, but the attempt itself attracts more attention and leads to the information being shared even more widely. A famous example of the Streisand Effect is Barbra Streisand’s unsuccessful attempt to have photos of her beachfront home removed from an online database of California coastlines. The legal action she took to have the photos removed ended up drawing even more attention to them and the database.

For example, if a politician tries to suppress a damaging video or story, the efforts to remove it may draw more attention to the information and lead to it being shared even more widely.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias that occurs when people overestimate their own knowledge or ability in a particular area. This can lead to overconfidence and poor decision-making, as people may not seek out additional information or seek help from others when it is needed. The inverse of the Dunning-Kruger Effect is the impostor syndrome, where people underestimate their own abilities and feel like they are not qualified or capable.

For example, someone who is not well-versed in finance may overestimate their ability to invest wisely and make poor investment decisions as a result.

Lindy Effect

Lindy Effect is a concept that states that the longer a trend or idea has been around, the longer it is likely to continue. This can be seen in things like technology, where older technologies tend to be more reliable and have a longer lifespan compared to newer technologies. It can also be applied to cultural phenomena, where long-standing traditions or beliefs are more likely to endure over time.

For example, older technologies like the telephone or the television have been around for decades and are likely to continue to be used for the foreseeable future.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out or pay more attention to information that confirms our preexisting beliefs and biases, while discounting or ignoring information that contradicts them. This can lead to a lack of objectivity and a narrow-minded perspective, as we are more likely to accept information that aligns with our beliefs and disregard information that challenges them.

For example, someone who believes that vaccines are dangerous may only seek out information that supports this belief and disregard information from reputable sources that shows the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

Hick’s Law

Hick’s Law, also known as the Hick-Hyman Law, states that the time it takes for a person to make a decision increases with the number of options available. This can lead to decision paralysis or a lack of confidence in decision-making, as people may struggle to weigh the pros and cons of multiple options.

For example, if a menu at a restaurant has 20 different entree options, it may take a customer longer to decide what to order compared to a menu with only 5 options.

Brandolini’s Law

Brandolini’s Law, also known as the Bullshit Asymmetry Principle, states that it is easier to create misinformation or spread false ideas than it is to debunk them. This is because it takes time and effort to thoroughly research and fact-check information, while it can be relatively easy to create and disseminate misinformation.

For example, a politician may make a false claim about a policy issue, and it may take significant effort to research and fact-check the claim, while the initial false claim can be easily and quickly disseminated.

Cultural Parasitism

Cultural parasitism refers to the adoption of elements of one culture by another culture without proper understanding or appreciation. This can lead to cultural appropriation or a lack of respect for the origins and significance of the borrowed elements.

For example, a fashion designer using traditional Native American designs in their clothing line without acknowledging the cultural significance of the designs or obtaining permission from the appropriate cultural group.

Luxury Beliefs

Luxury beliefs are the idea that certain products or experiences are desirable or necessary because they are perceived as being exclusive or high-end. This can lead to a focus on status and material possessions rather than intrinsic values or meaningful experiences.

For example, the belief that owning a luxury car is a status symbol and a necessary part of a successful lifestyle.

Decoy Effect

The decoy effect is a phenomenon where the presence of a third option influences our choice between two options. For example, if we are deciding between Option A and Option B, and a third option, Option C, is introduced that is similar to Option A but less appealing, we may be more likely to choose Option B. This is because Option C serves as a “decoy” that makes Option B appear more attractive by comparison.

For example, if a customer is deciding between two different cell phone plans, and a third plan is introduced that is similar to one of the options but less appealing, the customer may be more likely to choose the other option.

Incentive Bias

Incentive bias occurs when our decisions or behaviors are influenced by the presence of incentives or rewards. This can lead to a focus on the reward rather than the task or goal itself, and can affect our decision-making in unexpected ways.

For example, an employee may be more likely to complete a task efficiently if they are offered a bonus for doing so.

Reciprocity Bias

Reciprocity bias refers to the tendency to want to return a favor or pay back a kindness. This can lead to a sense of obligation or a desire to maintain balance in relationships, even if it goes against our own interests or values.

For example, if a colleague does a favor for us, we may feel obligated to do something for them in return.

Mimetic Desire

Mimetic desire is the idea that we desire things because we see others desire them. This can lead to a desire for things or experiences simply because they are popular or fashionable, rather than because they align with our own interests or values.

For example, wanting a certain brand of clothing because it is popular or fashionable, rather than others because it aligns with our personal style or values.

Risk Aversion

Risk aversion is the tendency to prefer lower risks or certain outcomes over higher risks or uncertain outcomes. This can lead to a reluctance to take chances or try new things, as people may prefer to stick with what is known or familiar.

For example, someone may choose to invest in a low-risk, low-yield savings account rather than a high-risk, high-yield stock.

Uncertainty Aversion

Uncertainty aversion is similar to risk aversion, but specifically refers to a dislike or fear of uncertainty or unknown outcomes. This can lead to a desire for control or predictability, and a reluctance to embrace change or uncertainty.

For example, someone may avoid traveling to a new place because they are uncomfortable with the uncertainty of the unknown culture and environment.

Social Proof

Social proof is the idea that we are more likely to adopt a belief or behavior if we see others around us doing the same. This can be driven by a desire to fit in or be part of the group, and can lead to a lack of individuality or critical thinking.

For example, if we see a group of people laughing at a comedy club, we may be more likely to find the comedy funny as well.

Fredkin’s Paradox

Fredkin’s Paradox is the idea that if we could predict the future with complete accuracy, the future would not unfold as predicted because our actions would be influenced by the knowledge of the prediction. This highlights the complexity and unpredictability of human behavior and decision-making.

For example, if we knew with certainty that a natural disaster was going to occur, our actions to prepare for or evacuate the area may change the outcome of the event.


Status-seeking is the desire to improve or enhance one’s social standing or reputation. This can be driven by a desire for recognition or respect from others, and can lead to a focus on material possessions, accomplishments, and appearance.

For example, someone may purchase designer clothing or drive a luxury car in order to appear successful or wealthy to others.

Evolutionary Mismatch

Evolutionary mismatch is the idea that our evolved behaviors and tendencies may not always be well-suited for the modern world. This can occur when the environment or circumstances we are facing do not match the conditions that shaped our evolutionary history.

For example, our tendency to seek out high-calorie, fatty foods may have been advantageous in a time when food was scarce, but in today’s world of abundance, this tendency can contribute to health issues like obesity.

Metcalfe’s Law

Metcalfe’s law is that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users on the network. This concept can be applied to social networks, communication networks, and other types of networks where the value increases as more people join the network.

For example, a social media platform with 1 million users will have more value than a platform with 500,000 users, because the value increases exponentially with each additional user.

In conclusion, understanding the various social engineering concepts that can influence our behavior and decision-making is crucial for making informed and reasoned choices. By recognizing the impact of these concepts, we can become more aware of our own behavior and the ways in which we are influenced by external factors. Whether we are seeking to improve our own decision-making or trying to understand the behavior of others, a deeper understanding of these social engineering concepts can be a valuable tool.

Jaidip Subedi