Perception Management

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Microphones-2-.jpg This article is part of the Propaganda Portal project of Spinwatch.

Perception Management is a Propaganda technique that involves carefully altering the perceptions of a target audience to suit the objectives of the sponsor, and is an essential part of modern Information Warfare. The term originated within the U.S. Military as part of their Psyops program, describing how selective information is provided (or denied) to a target audience to influence their emotions, motives and objective reasoning in order to promote a change in behaviour that is favourable to the sponsor[1].

According to one author, Deception and Disinformation are important ingredients of Perception Management; getting the target audience to believe whatever the sponsor wants them to believe regardless of the truth or validity of the information being promoted[2]. As specified by the U.S. Department of Defense, Perception Management "combines truth projection, operations security, cover and deception, and psychological operations"[1].

Perception Management operations have become a mainstream part of information management procedures in a variety of modern organisations. Perception Management can be carried out as part of a wider international Public Diplomacy initiative between governments, or it can function as a tool of domestic Public Affairs communications between a government and its citizens. Many Public Relations firms offer Perception Management services to business clients, helping them shape the perceptions of stakeholders[2].

Examples of Perception Management

2003 Invasion of Iraq

In October 2003, The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and Knowledge Network conducted a public opinion poll analysing American perceptions about the reasons for going to war with Iraq.

The poll found that 27% of Americans incorrectly believed that Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) had been found. At one point, 22% even believed that Iraq used WMDs against US forces during the 2003 invasion. Prior to the war, 68% believed that Iraq played an important role in the attacks of 9/11, with 13% stating that conclusive evidence of Iraq’s role had been found. 31% expressed the mistaken assumption that world opinion was evenly split on the issue of support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and another 31% expressed the clear misconception that the majority of foreign publics favored it. Only 35% perceived correctly that the majority of international opinion was opposed to the decision to go to war with Iraq.

The PIPA’s study concluded that misconceptions were a function of; level of attention to the news, source of news, and political attitudes (planning to vote for George Bush). According to the PIPA analysis, people planning to vote for George Bush were nearly 4 times more likely to hold misconceptions. PIPA stated that “Fox [News] is the most consistently significant predictor of misperceptions.” In fact, regular Fox News viewers were 2.0 times more likely to hold misconceptions, but Fox was not alone; CBS was a close second at 1.8 times the norm.

Such misconceptions are not accidental, but result from U.S. Perception Management techniques that were used to shape and mold public opinion in order to generate support for a war in Iraq[3].



  1. 1.0 1.1 Department of Defense (2001), "Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms", Joint Publication 1-02, 12 April 2001 (As Amended Through 17 December 2003)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Emily Goldman(2004), National Security in the Information Age: Issues, Interpretations, Periodizations. London: Routledge
  3. Global Focus, Weapons of Mass Perception, Global Focus website, accessed 30 March 2015