Definition of Manipulate

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Most everybody will define manipulate  on a broad level very similar. Which is basically the act of persuading for ones own gain.

While researching the definition of manipulate i found many resources that basically define it the same, each resource will use different words to describe and by learning different descriptions of the same idea, one may get a different understanding of it.

Like finally looking at the same thing from a different angle or point of view.

For starters, visiting Merriam-Webster will define manipulate as:

ma·nip·u·late verb \mə-ˈni-pyə-ˌlāt\

Definition of MANIPULATE

transitive verb
: to treat or operate with or as if with the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful manner
a : to manage or utilize skillfully
b : to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage
: to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose”

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While each of the 3 definitions can apply, numbers 2a and 3 best describe the term. has similar results:

ma·nip·u·late   [muh-nip-yuh-leyt]
verb (used with object), ma·nip·u·lat·ed, ma·nip·u·lat·ing.
to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner: to manipulate people’s feelings.
to handle, manage, or use, especially with skill, in some process of treatment or performance: to manipulate a large tractor.
to adapt or change (accounts, figures, etc.) to suit one’s purpose or advantage.

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Free Dictionary has a few more:

ma·nip·u·late (m-npy-lt)
tr.v. ma·nip·u·lat·ed, ma·nip·u·lat·ing, ma·nip·u·lates
1. To move, arrange, operate, or control by the hands or by mechanical means, especially in a skillful manner: She manipulated the lights to get just the effect she wanted.
2. To influence or manage shrewdly or deviously: He manipulated public opinion in his favor.
3. To tamper with or falsify for personal gain: tried to manipulate stock prices.

1. (tr) to handle or use, esp with some skill, in a process or action to manipulate a pair of scissors
2. to negotiate, control, or influence (something or someone) cleverly, skilfully, or deviously
3. to falsify (a bill, accounts, etc.) for one’s own advantage

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while each source has at least 3 definitions, some have more. For example medical results (manipulating a fetus) which i have omitted (and probably should have here).

Each basic dictionary type definition of the term manipulate when dealing with people seem to only include “devious” or “unfair” results, but this isn’t necessarily always true.

Wikipedia will obviously go into much more depth to define manipulate, so I finally ended up at Psychological manipulation:

Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics.[1] By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at the other’s expense, such methods could be considered exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive. Social influence is not necessarily negative. For example, doctors can try to persuade patients to change unhealthy habits. Social influence is generally perceived to be harmless when it respects the right of the influenced to accept or reject it, and is not unduly coercive. Depending on the context and motivations, social influence may constitute underhanded manipulation.

learn more about Psychological manipulation

Wikipedia results define manipulate as a social influence, and has much more information including:

  • Requirements for successful manipulation
  • How manipulators control their victims
  • Vulnerabilities exploited by manipulators

And much more. Wikipedia references George K. Simon,  a best selling author and received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 1985. Read about his first book In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People

While there is a never ending supply of articles and books that define manipulate, these are good places to start.

additional resources: