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The Manipulative Power of Candy
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 01/18/2016

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The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Below is a classroom exercise that I initially conducted on Halloween 2012 for the CJC 102 class for Gogebic Community College.

Manipulation is all around us. Print and electronic media are chock full of examples of companies and individual trying to get you to buy a product or endorse a candidate. Some deem it persuasion. Others may call it marketing. Whatever its name, it is all about convincing others to do your will.

Often, an instructor’s design is to turn the floor over to the students and allow them to buttress points in the lesson with their own personal experience. Yet, classroom participation is always a challenge. Even when one had a room full of extroverts, there may be slow days and pervasive quiet. Every facilitator will eventually come to the conclusion that sometimes we need to bribe in order to get results.

Let’s not elevate this to the point crossing into the realm of impropriety. I am simply suggesting that a little treat goes a long way. Do not underestimate the manipulative power of candy.

This classroom exercise needs very little in terms of preparation. All that is necessary is a talking point for the group. In terms of materials you will need a small bag and a few pieces of candy each for every participant. However, inside one of the bags will be placed an unobtrusive marker of some sort. This could be a number written inside or in the bottom of the bag. Or, one could put a quarter or an index card in the bag.

First you introduce your concept. For example if the topic is manipulation or persuasion:

“Once, I was vacationing in Florida. I remember that as a time when many people used strong persuasive measures on me. Their goal was to sell me a time share. They matched me with a sales person who seemed to reflect my demographic. This sales person brought in a parade of “supervisors” who used concepts like family values, economic value and luxury. They also included a tour of a resort, discount tickets to a local theme park, a breakfast and steadily drop in the price of the time share. The price literally dropped thousands of dollars during the course of the two hour presentation…”

Then you tell the class to think about a time where they recognized someone trying to convince them. Let them know that their example can be subtle, blatant, or even ham-handedly ridiculous. It does not even have to be a direct contact – a commercial or pamphlet will do. I found that telling each student to write some notes on an incident of manipulation in which they were involved works well. Give them a few minutes to do so. When each person reports, they have notes.

Then, present each person with a bag of candy “as a gift”. Of course, the person with a marker on the bottom or inside of the bag will be the first person to report their example of manipulation. This exercise is like a lottery or winning a door prize when you have a number taped under the seat that you randomly select.

When the first person has related the tale of handling, she or he is told to select a “volunteer” from the class to go next. This fosters a bit of playfulness and empowers speakers to appoint someone the instructor may not have selected. And it goes on. The good news is that everyone gets the sweet gift of candy and some or all can support the lesson with tales of their own.

As tales are told, the instructor can write a one or two word descriptor of the style of manipulation used. Of course, some will see the exercise as manipulation. Spoiler alert: It is manipulation. In fact, do not be surprised if someone reports that a time they were persuaded/manipulated was when this classroom activity started.

The timing of this can impact the effectiveness. For example, conducting this before lunch or in mid-afternoon might yield better results, as the incentive for a snack is greater at those times. Directly after lunch is not necessarily a good idea, as the classroom may be too bloated to enjoy a treat.

I conducted this exercise for the first time during a class that fell on Halloween. All of the simple gift bags had a few mini candy bar within. One of those bags had a small, plastic snake in keeping in the spirit of the holiday.

Before I field tested this, someone suggested that I add a note in one of the gift bags that said “you are my favorite student.” This, she reasoned, would give a lesson in division and favoritism. In the postmortem, the student who randomly selected the bag with the message admitted that he felt manipulated when he read it. In other words, his radar was on. It was noted that he chose the bag quite randomly. However, this introduced a classroom talk about how favoritism is a form of manipulation.

At the American Jail Association conference in 2013, I gave away a horse shoe key chain in the bag of candy to gentleman pictured below. He rendered an excellent tale of manipulation to the class.

The cynical and untrusting may unfairly label this as exploiting a weakness for sweets in order to force participation. I prefer to think of it as fostering a willingness to share in the education process by using universally beloved confections. And if you think that this is manipulative, we can talk about it over a snack.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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