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Three Ways People Try to Manipulate You

Watch out for these common logical fallacies.

By Yinan Chen (gallery, image) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Source: By Yinan Chen (gallery, image) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In sales and marketing, politics, and our personal lives, people use logical fallacies to manipulate us. Their tactics can catch us off guard, confuse us, and make us react emotionally.

In a process similar to cognitive therapy, we can take charge of our lives by becoming aware of these fallacies and examining them to free up our thought processes (See Seligman, 1998).

Do any of these logical fallacies sound familiar?

1. False dilemma: Reducing your choices and all the possibilities in our multidimensional world to only two alternatives, either/or: all or nothing, right or wrong.

  • The sales crew in a men’s clothing store were told whenever someone came in to buy a dress shirt to hold up the shirt with two ties, asking “which of these ties looks better with the shirt?” More often than not, the customer also bought one of the ties.
  • Cindy’s college boyfriend proposed, then added, “If you really love me, you’ll drop out of school and work so that I can go to graduate school.” The false dilemma of love as self-sacrifice: either she loved him and would drop out of school or stay in school, which meant that she did not love him.

Don’t automatically choose one side of the false dilemma. Take a deep breath and look for other options.

2. Post hoc propter hoc: Seeing two events in close succession as cause and effect, a favorite of marketers and the cause of much superstitious behavior.

  • Andy hit a home run in little league wearing his favorite pair of socks. He’s now convinced that the “lucky” socks are responsible for his batting prowess.
  • And how many commercials have you seen with an Olympic athlete claiming to have eaten a particular breakfast cereal, somehow implying that eating that cereal will make you a champion too?

Don’t fall for this logical fallacy that confuses correlation with causation.

3. Red herring: An intentional diversion from the matter at hand, intended to throw you off topic. Presumably, this came from throwing out a smoked herring to distract a dog from following a scent.

  • Just listen to the news interviews these days. All too often when a journalist asks a politician a question, that person throws out a red herring. I’ve heard people questioned about possible Russian connections in the Trump campaign answer by referring to Hilary Clinton’s emails.

Don’t let red herrings and other fallacies confuse you and throw you off track. Use your new awareness to gain greater presence of mind and personal freedom.


This post is for informational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.


Seligman, M.E.P. (1998). Learned Optimism. New York, NY: Pocket Books. The cognitive process Seligman recommends for changing from pessimism to optimism involves a similar practice of examining our beliefs and the conclusions they lead to. See his discussion of Albert Ellis’s ABC model of cognitive therapy on pages 211-234.

For more about logical fallacies, see


Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.

Visit her web sites at and