The field of social engineering deals heavily with human motivation. In order to influence people’s behavior and feelings, it is useful to be familiar with some basic theories and research on this subject. As motivation is a vast topic, we are only highlighting a few simple ideas and studies in this blog.
Emotion can play a large role in the formation of a person’s motivation. When asked by researchers, subjects report a more positive view of their life when it is sunny and a more negative view when it is rainy. Something as simple as the weather can impact perspective enough that the difference between sunny or rainy skies can change a person’s view of his or her life. This effect is clearly temporary, but the way people feel in the moment impacts how they think and act then.
Researchers have shown us that a good or bad mood can effect whether or not people think they are more or less likely to win. Our emotions point us in certain directions and when we feel good, we are more likely to think we can succeed. Bad moods lead us to believe we will be less fortunate.
Positive and negative affect have also been shown to influence whether or not individuals believe good or bad things will happen them. Research participants that have been shown positive news articles will overestimate the likelihood of pleasant events and a diminished caution for risk. Conversely, the subjects shown negative articles consisting of both fatal and nonfatal accidents are likely to overestimate the frequency of negative events and perceive an increased sense of risk.
The more you pay attention to the way people feel, the more information you have to work with. Creating smart pretexts and being personable can definitely be helpful in the social engineering field, but don’t forget to pay attention to simple details like a person’s mood and what that can mean to you.
This topic ties in nicely with Chris Hadnagy’s new book, Unmasking the Social Engineer: The Human Side of Security.