“The Engineering of Consent:” Shareholder Confidence & Fear of Betrayal Lubricated by Deception

The Shareholder Activist - The Engineering of Consent: Shareholder Confidence & Fear of Betrayal Lubricated by DeceptionEngineering of Consent: A Recap

Bernay’s first foray into the formulation of the “engineering of consent” construct was published in essay form in 1947. He defined the engineering of consent as the art of manipulating the public who he contended “…were fundamentally irrational…who could not be trusted.” He masterfully linked ideas and products to their unconscious desires which Ernest Dichter, the father of motivational research, referred to as the secret-self of the American consumer. Consumer psychologists became the wizards who determined what we needed before we needed it.

Bernays and Dichter masterfully rationalized their work as they believed it helped create a stable society. They created techniques which molded both opinion and desire.

Consent is essential for governments and corporations to function, and thrive. It underscores a subtle form or partnering, whether we like it or not.


Confidence is the state of being certain that an assessment, a forecast, or a hypothesis is right, accurate, and on target. Couched within confidence is the conviction that a chosen course of action is the most effective. Security and safety are the feeling states that accompany confidence. Shareholder and consumer confidence are essential for driving markets and sustaining economies. Investment is co-dependent on confidence. The investor’s sense of financial health and well-being depend on his confidence in the sanctity and integrity of the markets and/or the product. Hence, there exists a critical interplay between what investors feel and think, and how they behave, especially in terms of where they place their money and for how long.

Trust, belief, and faith are the emotional drivers which mediate confidence. The neurotransmitter oxytocin literally inspires confidence. Our analytic brain mediates survival, defensive systems, and even on occasion a tad of paranoia for flavor. Awareness of one’s emotional drivers and state is central for shareholders especially when they are signing over assets to their money managers, and investing in publically owned companies. In order to exercise consent, shareholders have to have confidence in the stewardship of their companies.


Betrayal is the violation of confidence, or trust, which yields conflict between people, within organizations, and between individuals and organizations. Behaviorally betrayal is a break from previously practiced and/or decided upon norms. Plots twist and turn, and players are frequently betrayed through the course of market bubbles and cycles. Of course the issue of trusting one’s own judgments and convictions is raised, but the reliability and validity of the data presented to us must, ideally, be sacrosanct. The recent LIBOR debacle attests to this assertion, and problem.

Jennifer Freyd, a psychologist and editor of the “Journal of Trauma & Dissociation” coined the syndrome betrayal trauma. Individuals often repress the acknowledgment of harm by people they have relied on in order to survive. However, the memories are lodged in the brain’s amygdala, and psychological treatment, generally, is required for healing. Trauma is literally etched within the brain and experienced as emotional harm. Physical changes in brain chemistry occur as a function of emotional assault and distress.

Madoff’s victims, Enron’s employees, and countless others have experienced betrayal trauma.


Deception is intentional behavior which causes others to have false beliefs. Propaganda is an extreme form of deception whereby biased and misleading information is utilized to publicize or promote a specific point of view or political ideology. Interestingly, Bernays published a major treatise, “Propaganda,” on this subject in 1928, well before his essay on the engineering of consent.

Shareholders are especially sensitive to deception. They want, and warrant, the straight scoop from the companies they co-own. They expect investor relations specialists to be forthright, clear, smart, and practical. As we all know from the experience of life itself, data (“numbers”) can be easily manipulated and/or misrepresented. As a species we tend to believe what we are told and what we read. Human nature. Deception is a conduit for betrayal. It lubricates the machinations of the plot empowering the betrayer whose self-interest is omni present and all consuming. The narcissism-psychopathy spectrum is hard at work for this group of “ambitious” people.

Shareholder Awareness: Neuroscience Alerts

Savvy shareholder activists need to be aware of their neuropsychological “innards.” They need to pay attention to their instincts. They need to know that oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin literally run “through their minds” impacting everything they feel and think, and how they make decisions. Especially when it comes to money! It is strongly suggested that shareholders become familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s work. “Blink” is a classic text which focuses on our power of thinking (seemingly) without thinking.

Boards, managers, and employees that we partner with should be well aware of us, and we of them. We are all riddled with the same neurochemicals, in various degrees and combinations, which attest to our common humanity. We are all in it together. We all understand, hopefully, that money and trust are critical constructs in our society.

To contact Christopher Bayer directly, please email Christopher.Bayer@TheShareholderActivist.com.

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