The success of 'House of Cards' - Season 2 out on DVD from Monday - has shown that our interest in the Machiavellian machinations of others is alive and enduring.
While other characters on the screen may move us with their compassion, honesty and warmth of spirit, it is the ruthless skill of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) at bending others to his will that leaves us awed and impressed.
How easy is it to control other people? We spoke to a top US psychologist, Susan Weinschenk, author of 'How To Get People To Do Stuff', who gave us her top five tips for making friends and being very, very influential...
1. Never underestimate the power of stories
People like to be consistent. They create a story for themselves, of who they are, how they got here, where they're going, and it can be hard to break that down. But if you can get people to do one small thing slightly differently from how they usually behave, it creates a crack in their persona, their self-perception, and with the right steering, they will then behave in all sorts of different ways. .
2. Include people in a group
Doing something in a group, particularly rhythmic activities like singing, dancing, sports of many kinds - releases oxytocins for everybody in that group is incredibly bonding. There is evidence of members of a choir's heartbeats moving into synchronicity. In 'House of Cards', one of the ways Frank influences Zoe so well is that he invites her to be part of his group, a special club.
3. Indulge the desire for mastery
Everyone has a desire to get better, to improve, to gain more knowledge. This is something borne into us from day one, and it's not dependent on reward, it just is. So if you encourage this in others, they will be more likely to bend to your will.
You can do this in three ways... 1) You need to give people autonomy. This can feel counter-intuitive, but people are happier if they have a sense of control. 2) Give lots of feedback. 3) Make sure there is an appropriate amount of challenge, not too difficult but not too boring. Frank's relationship with Zoe is all based on a challenge he sets her at the start. It keeps people motivated.
4. Play with tricks of the mind
There are two main modes of thought - one which is quick, intuitive, effortless, and the other which is more analytical. For the most part, people won't think very hard about what you're presenting them with, if it is something they are expecting, and they are more likely to go along with it. Don't create surprises, make it easy for people to accept. Make people not have to think too much.
5. Understand our basic instincts
These are... sex, food and fear. For everything we encounter, on some level, we are thinking only: Can I eat it? Can I have sex with it? Will it kill me? The other thing to understand is that we are all more motivated by fear of loss than by anticipation of gain. Frank Underwood understands this all too well, and uses it a lot on his targets, telling them, "If you don’t do it now, you may never get another chance.” And so they react and behave, exactly as he anticipated they would.
One last question for Susan - is it ethical to use these tools/tricks on other people? How much should we be able to bend other human beings' behaviour to our own ambitions?
"It's a dilemma that becomes more complicated, the more we learn about the brain," she agrees. "It used to be relatively simple, understanding that for every action there was a suitable reaction. Now, as we know more and more about how the brain works, the challenge is becoming what we do with that knowledge.
"Understanding exactly how people are influencing each other is only the beginning."
'House of Cards' Season 2 is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Monday 16 June. Trailer below...