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Amplification principle


Principles > Amplifying principle

Principle | How it works | So what?



Making something appear more significant (or insignificant) than it really is.

How it works

Often, in persuasive situations, we seek to direct the attention of the other person towards points that support our argument and away from points that reduce our argument. We thus both amplify the supporting points and attenuate (the reverse of amplifying) other points.

Turning up and turning down the volume

Just as you can turn up and turn down the volume on your hi-fi, so also can you amplify or attenuate individual points to suit your purpose.

Amplifying may include such activities as:

  • Pointing out elements that play to the other person's needs, values and goals and otherwise focusing their attention.
  • Showing evidence of how other people have benefited.
  • Contrasting the benefits of a proposition with alternative actions.
  • Using emphasis in language to stress key words, making them stand out.
  • Frequently repeating the message.
  • Providing confirming experiences.
  • Expanding the truth to include things which are not so true.
  • Exaggeration, framing small things as being bigger than they actually are.

Attenuating may include activities such as:

  • Distracting the person away from these elements.
  • Decreasing the person's investment in alternatives.
  • Reframing the situation to exclude alternatives.
  • Closing off concerns, for example using objection-handling techniques.
  • Hurting the person when they see alternatives so you can then rescue them with your proposition.
  • Trivializing those things that might count against our argument.
  • Discounting future events as not so important at the moment.
  • Mentioning something briefly in the middle of a long speech, letting it get lost in the detail.
  • Framing yourself as an authority so you can criticize and trivialize non-supporting elements.

Forced choice

A way of biasing options when offering or discussing a choice is to both amplify the choice you want the other person to make and to attenuate the choices that you do not want them to make.

A managed truth

Amplification and attenuation need not include deliberate lying, but they do manipulate the truth, hence the famous phrase about a politician being 'Economical with the truth'.


We understand size and importance through contrast of related items. In this way, one thing can be made to seem bigger by reducing those things around it. This is one reason some people put down others in order to feel better about themselves (when they actually feel inferior and unable to raise their real opinion of themselves).

Natural amplification

Amplification happens naturally through our lives. We take notice of the things that we like and ignore those which are less comfortable. We do more of things we are good at and so get better at them. We generally focus on pleasure and avoid pain and in doing so amplify our attention and learning in areas which are most comfortable.


Things can be amplified by adding multiple amplifications, such that the overall impact increases. In this way, many small things can add up to effects such as 'death by a thousand cuts'.

Note that compounding is often non-linear, such that the relative amplification of several methods used together is not the same as that where they are used at separate times. There can be effect of diminishing returns, where each amplification adds less and less. There can be an overwhelm effect, where too much amplification suddenly has a big effect. There can also be a reactive betrayal effect, where un-noticed benefit is gained from small amplifications, but when people realize you are using a deliberate amplification they become indignant and react against you.

Compounding can also be used with attenuation, though even more care may be needed here to avoid it being noticed.

So what?

So first identify those things that support your argument and also those things that detract from it. Then find ways of amplifying the good points and attenuating the bad points. Aim to keep them both truthful and subtle - as with all methods, if the other person feels you are being less than honest they will not trust you or your arguments.

See also

Attention principle, Availability Heuristic, Distraction principle, Using repetition, Intensifiers, Using emphasis, Slippery Slope, Generalization, Amplificatio, Amplification Hypothesis


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