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History holds a lot of interesting info about human mind that not fully accepted by scientists. Doesn't make it less important, some things lay outside of normal science, things out of a gray area, in all terms, ethical, scientific, moral.

Andrii Honcharuk, Blogger

September 7, 2017

19 Min Read

Instead of intro

Hello my name is Andrii Goncharuk, but you can call me Andy, I'm a game designer working in Ubisoft, and to be honest... I feel a little bit lost right now...

How can it be that with all this knowledge on how brain works, we are still not invented some sort of a mind control technique, or solve all our problems in world? Well, it’s not all certain to be honest, even scientist not clear about many things in that field. So here they are.

---   *disclaimer*   ---

There is more than just psychology, sociology and neurobiology that can help us to understand human(player) motivation. History holds a lot of interesting info about human mind that not fully accepted by scientists. Doesn't make it less important, some things lay outside of normal science, things out of a gray area, in all terms, ethical, scientific, moral.

---   *end of disclaimer*   ---

Imprinting and first impression.

For most of the people first impression is just a term that describe first overall feel about subject that we have, but behind that there is a whole science studying not only first impression but even more deep things like psychological imprinting and not only in humans but all animals. Imprinting and first expression in scientific terms have many things in common, one of which is that they both are theories, well developed and studied but theories, that make them lay on the border of what is accepted as conventional. We will start with imprinting since it has more scientific background and proved experiments on animals that at least show existence of this phenomenon in practice.

What is imprinting?

As wiki says: In psychology and ethology, imprinting is any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior. It was first used to describe situations in which an animal or person learns the characteristics of some stimulus, which is therefore said to be "imprinted" onto the subject. Imprinting is hypothesized to have a critical period.

Usual example on imprinting: ducklings following human straight after hatching, mistaking human for their mother, but this is happening not only to ducklings as you understand. Second usual example that easy to remember is first semi-sexual experience and I’m not talking about animals anymore, one of the theories that tries to explain humans weird fetishes is imprinting, so maybe your weird sexual tastes are just because of imprinting, at least Freud would definitely agreed on this one.

Back to games: in UI/UX there is a term of Baby Duck Syndrome. This syndrome denotes the tendency for computer(game) users(players) to “imprint” on the first system they learn, then judge other systems by their similarity to that first system. This is why we have conservatism and conventions in games and UX in general.

In broad terms this is why first impression really matters, but it’s just a theory. Or is it?

What is first impression in scientific terms?

Wiki: In psychology, a first impression is the event when one person first encounters another person and forms a mental image of that person. Impression accuracy varies depending on the observer and the target (person, object, scene, etc.) being observed.

Is it a thing?

Indeed it is. In broad terms first impression can be easily extrapolated to everything, not only humans. One of the evolutionary reasons why we have this system in a first place probably because previously in historic timeline there was a strong need to make a fast first impression about subject, is it going to kill us or not? And people who survived all the intercourses with deadly animals were ones who succeeded in making correct first impression, this is how we got it.

From neuroscience side, first impression formed in terms of milliseconds of seeing a target, website, game, loot drop or your nickname.

Experiments showed that negative impression can be formed bypassing neo cortex(where is believed your conscious are located), and it is important. For example: forming a negative(positive) feeling to a subject without  having any clear understanding or reasoning and adding reasons afterwards(even if they are not correct just to keep everything in control) are known as “Amygdala hijack” and mostly based on using triggers that connected to strong emotions (read player motivation part 1 to get more details on emotions).

Amygdala hijack is not only one example of how our life can be effected without our direct control, people were trying to “hijack” or control others since the dawn of civilizations.

Can it be used in our industry?

Yes it can be and should be, you need to always check what the first impression. It doesn't matter is it a game, a system, a product, or even an artifact with +10 to agility, first impression do matter.


One of the first examples that you can get from semi-scientific field about motivation and manipulation is hypnosis. Hypnosis is a state when you are focused on one narrow thing and have enhanced capacity to manipulations and suggestions from subject of attention.

Is it a thing?

Well, yeah, sort of, it is exist and there is many experiments around it but also lot of theories trying to explain that phenomenon, no solid proof on, how and why it is exist or how it work. Hypnosis is one of the examples of how weak human brain can be on terms of maintaining self control. While there is solid facts and examples of existence of hypnosis there is still strong debates on subject itself, how it works and why, and what is most important what are the boundaries of application.

One of the bright sides of hypnosis is that experiments showed: hypnosis requires complex preparations and usually an environment to be performed with high level of success, and also not all people can be  easily affected by it.

Can it be used in our industry?

In our field of interest as management and game development and game design, hypnosis is not very useful, as long as you are not a master of it and can help your team to be more productive and bring you beer from time to time when you say trigger word.

One of the form of hypnosis, or rather more of a communication and some form of a psychotherapy is neuro-linguistic programming.

NLP or Neuro-linguistic programming.

Wiki strikes back: Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California, United States in the 1970s. NLP's creators claim there is a connection between neurological processes (neuro-), language (linguistic) and behavioral patterns learned through experience (programming), and that these can be changed to achieve specific goals in life.

Is it a thing?

As we know from two previous articles on human behavior (player motivation 1 and 2), in biological or rather neurobiological terms he is correct, different words have different mind-pictures and emotional "color" to it and affect our lives, like it, we or not.

Correct selection of a words can affect impression of a subject without, realisation about it, if you googled “Amygdala hijack” you know what I meant. But to be used correctly you need to know about cultural background of audience, tastes and language history, etymology of words and be 100% sure that words that you are going to use have distinct “color” in audiences minds and you know that "color" as well, or otherwise it will be misinterpreted.

Can it be used in our industry?

NLP in general, in current state, no. If we try to dig deeper, neuro-linguistic programming and it’s claims what it can do(or at least what people who sells books about NLP claims), we will found out that most of the stuff, lays in the field of supernatural, and way far from stuff that can be explained by neurobiology.

This is why NLP are overwhelmingly discredited scientifically. I do not 100% agree with this approach, it’s not scientific to discredit something that it is wrong in claims. In general terms, at least how NLP started, there is useful bits of information that could help you as manager or scriptwriter to develop your presentation skills further, just don’t expect fantastic results that NLP claims to have on people. Better try rethorics.

I suggest to read about it, but don’t give it much credit especially on claims what can it do to people, always be critical.

Currently NLP lays on a grey area of science because of it’s claims, because of it’s nature is not fully explained and grounded but mostly because of ethical questions. Most of the books about subject, are screaming: “Read this book to have power of mind control!”, well, if it was correct, government would ban them, because government doesn't need any competition in that field.

Mind control.

History is a weird place, on a first glance it;’s simple logical and one events lead to another, humans are simple and easy to follow and facts are always facts, and historical events are clear and simple, but then first class of history is over and crazy things starts to happen.

Governments of many countries, conducted tons of experiments in attempt to have ability to directly control minds of others or at least have a strong affect on them. There is Nazi’s Project Monarch or USA’s MK-ultra, Soviets experiment’s on parapsychology and mind control and many, many others. Most of the known are now blamed as unethical and crazy, because they are. And what is terrifying there is many others that are still unknown by this day.

Is it a thing?

Well, experiments as historical events are, but we can be sure that most of them are failed at least in field of mind control, they brought many other results for sure, but not the main one. It’s surprising but millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of people involved in this projects didn’t result in any success, but since so many resources were brought to tackle this “issue”, one question can rise:

Why we are not living in world of 1984 yet?

Surprisingly but one of the major reasons why we still not living in a totalitarian world with mind controlling government is because most of the mind control experiments failed. Why they failed? Well, for same reasons why alien invasion in The War of the Worlds failed, microbes. Most of the mind controlling experiments were aimed to hijack only one of two brains that we have, it’s easy to understand that… Wait what? Two brains?

Yup, second brain, well, technically it’s not a brain, but by the amount of neural connections, and power to influence and control our behaviour our “second brain” is inline with our usual one from basic natures offer.

If you interested I would suggest to watch this short video from AsapSCIENCE that briefly explains subject:

But this is not only one reason for sure, there is many other parameters to be included but one of the most interesting for us, because it shows how many hidden things are still can be found about human behaviour.

Most of the experiments conducted by secret services around the globe had usually more direct approach, because of nature of their needs, they tried to focus on individuals. But there is another approach that are less inducing but as results are showed much more effective at least on greater scale.

Crowd control and propaganda

Propaganda, fake news, manipulation of information are methods that existed for a long time. It’s easyier to control opinion and perception of a big crowd rather one person. In general, you just need to take care of sources of influence(magazines, people, books, media), when sources will be aligned with needed line of thoughts most of others will follow and rest will be forced to follow just because of pressure of conformism and power social connections.

Is it a thing?

More than you can think. People manipulation through control of information is a thing that used really often in our daily life by small and big companies and goverment, but not only just simple lie of a person to a group of people already can be considered as "manipulation". Today most of the big influential media companies work in same fashion as governments on propaganda, methods and techniques are same.

This is one of the reasons why usually when marketing team of a not big company trying to find what is trending and popular now, they actually seeking not what is popular because of human nature or actual needs but what become or made popular by most dominant and most influential media companies and influencers.

Can it be used in our industry?

Well, yes it can be used, not the techniques by themselves it's unethical in some sort, but awareness of their existence and methods will allow you to filter out unnecessary information, to see what is forced and what is natural, what is true and what is not. In terms of developemnt and following trends in design, suggestion would be to follow trends when possible, but add a little bit of shift to implementation to make it personal and more useful for your game and your needs.

This is not very greyish area of science actually, but there is one thing that resides right on the other side of this. Study on egregors by esoterics and occult guys.

Can information control people?

Esoterics and other similar half-scientific half-occult groups, call of cthulhu groups, have one interesting common theme: egregors, ego informational being etc. it has many names, but most of the time basic concept and parameters are usually the same, and what most fascinating is that actually most of the parameters and outcomes of them correct, the only problem is how it is interpreted.

By definition in wiki: Egregore (also egregor) is an occult concept representing a "thoughtform" or "collective group mind", an autonomous psychic entity made up of, and influencing, the thoughts of a group of people. The symbiotic relationship between an egregore and its group has been compared to the more recent, non-occult concepts of the corporation (as a legal entity).

Truth is: if explanations are wrong it does not mean that observations are, it’s easy to misinterpret observations but you can't fight statistics, it’s same as proverbs most of them are generally correct but only because of statistics and common sense.

Sometimes, studying philosophy or watching weird videos on youtube you can face a term like simulacrum, in philosophy it is used to describe copy without original, “Anonymous” as concept or entity is a great example of simulacrum or egregor if you like to call it like that.

To be more precise egregor or simulacrum is like a website in tor network, it has many “mirrors” on many “computers”(minds) some of the minds hold more parts of it some of them less, but there is no original, only copies do exist, same with egregor.

Is it a thing?

In my personal opinion egregors do exist, but at least within my definition of egregor. From my point of view egregors don’t have anything in common with occult or mystic. I believe that egregor is a good word for a "viral idea" or a "concept" or "fictional entity" with certain parameters that make them a little bit more "powerfull" compared to simple ideas. Here is example, it is like website in internet hosted on several physical machines within “cloud”. This definition is actually much closer to what Richard Dawkins describe as meme.

Wiki: The term meme was coined in Richard Dawkins' 1976 book The Selfish Gene, but Dawkins later distanced himself from the resulting field of study. Analogous to a gene, the meme was conceived as a "unit of culture" (an idea, belief, pattern of behaviour, etc.) which is "hosted" in the minds of one or more individuals, and which can reproduce itself, thereby jumping from mind to mind. Thus what would otherwise be regarded as one individual influencing another to adopt a belief is seen as an idea-replicator reproducing itself in a new host. As with genetics, particularly under a Dawkinsian interpretation, a meme's success may be due to its contribution to the effectiveness of its host.

Can it be used in our industry?

It is used in industry already, and modern companies are now trying to get good use of it, and you will be surprised to know but there is special people already hired to create memes of popular games for marketing purposes.

Memes or egregors or simulacrums doesn't matter how do you call it are here they exist for a long time, but only now they become a separate thing to study. It is not accepted widely by science nowadays but it have affected our lives more than we would expect. Being aware of it and understand inner mechanics of this process is a vital thing if you want to understand human behaviour.

So what’s now?

In the end, there is many blank pages in human behaviour study, and I think it’s a good thing. But being up to date with all latest studies on human behaviour and motivation are important for our industry since we are working directly with it, motivation and behaviour.

What I really would enjoy if governments and corporations spend more time on educating and teaching people and creating good products instead of trying to cheat their way through dark schemes and techniques…


  • There is thing like imprinting, it’s like first impression but deeper.

  • First impression matter and sometimes it’s more important that everything else.

  • Hypnosis do exist but useless for our industry

  • Neuro-linguistic programming, good to know but not crucial, better study rhetoric

  • Mind control and human based experiments, dark pages of human history

  • There is more to our motivations than just brain, or brains to be precise

  • Propaganda is still a thing it’s just called differently

  • Esoterics have a lot of data based on observations but real problem with interpretations

  • Meme is a thing and you should study it, seriously...

Bonus level:

Here some examples of memes on popular Ubi games.




Imprinting (psychology)


'Imprinting' Causes Baby Ducklings To Believe That A Man Is Their Mother


First impression (psychology)


The Anchor Effect | Why First Impressions Really Do Matter


The psychology of first impressions


Amygdala hijack




Neuro-linguistic programming


Project Monarch




The USSR spent $1B on mind-control programs


You Have a Second Brain


Hitler’s Mind Control Experiments and How They Influenced Modern Propaganda








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