What chess and drug dealers can teach you about manipulation

Grandmasters and drug dealers share one trait: they are always one step ahead of their competitors.

Those that plan ahead are the best tacticians in the world. Grandmasters of chess, legendary generals, great world leaders, and mafia bosses all have one thing in common: they are always one step ahead of their opponents.

Each of us has the potential to plan ahead. In fact, it's difficult to envision a human being who didn't plan ahead of time at least some of the time. You've undoubtedly thought about what you're going to do tonight, and you know how you're going to get home. One of the characteristics of intelligence is the ability to plan ahead. Without it, we're just like a plant or a kid, captives to our instincts and reflexes.

What about the need of foresight in dealing with others? It's something that a new research from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine looked into. It demonstrates how much ahead of the game we are when interacting with — and manipulating — others.

A mental model

The issue with the world is that it is brimming with other people. Those folks, unlike you (obviously! ), are frequently unpredictable, independent, and infuriatingly unreadable. We'll never be able to get into their heads to know what they're thinking or what they'll do. But, as a social creature, it's hardly surprising that we've developed methods for calculating what other people are thinking.

This is referred to as "theory of mind," or the ability to put oneself in another's shoes. (People with autism may lack this capacity to varied degrees.) We learn about the theory of mind as we get older. Around 15 months old, children discover that other individuals have their own mental life, including their own desires, feelings, and so on, but they are still lousy at adjusting and adapting to this for a long. If a two-year-old sees another person in pain, for example, they will try to help them by giving them their favorite toy or object. They realize that others have feelings, yet they are unable to think about what the other person might want.

The majority of humans have a complex mental model. Here's an illustration: Let's pretend you and I are discussing something and you notice me looking at the clock. What assumptions or thoughts are running through your mind right now? Are you trying to bore me? Is it necessary for me to be somewhere? Is it true that the clock has a spider on it? People who "overthink" things frequently become lost and entangled in this complex game of speculative theory of mind. When a beneficial brain habit is taken too far, it becomes toxic, as it is with most things.

Always one step ahead of the competition

The latest study by Na et al. adds to the debate on how much we use this theory of mind while attempting to persuade or manipulate others. Mount Sinai researchers had 48 people sit in a brain scanner and play a "ultimatum game." They were divided into teams and told to share $20 amongst themselves. There were no rules at all in one version of the game. They were free to wrangle, negotiate, manipulate, and bargain as they pleased.

Two items were discovered as a result of the research:

First, they determined that the findings were consistent with persons who thought "two, three, or four steps ahead" of others, based on a computational analysis of all the completed games. In other words, if people had just thought one step ahead or acted on impulse, the results would have been drastically different.

Second, the brain scans demonstrated that activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex accompanied the choices made throughout the conversations. Most forward-thinking decisions are made using this portion of the brain. So, at least in terms of neurophysiology, manipulating others is similar to any other manipulation.

Every engagement is a chess match

D'Angelo utilizes the real world of drug selling to illustrate the laws of chess in a notable scene from The Wire. It works well, and we may now understand why. The findings of Na et al. reveal that when we try to persuade or control others, our brain functions similarly to when we play chess.

Every social contact is a chess game in which you try to get into someone's head to figure out what they're thinking or what they're going to do. It's a relationship's worst enemy and the source of a lot of strife. So, what if we can do it better? We all know chess has a lot of advantages, but can we add "makes you better at getting your own way" to the list? It is, indeed, time to dust off the chessboard.


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