Triggers in psychology are a trigger mechanism: definition, features, how to fight

A trigger in psychology is a term that comes from mechanics and technology, literally meaning the launch of some mechanism after acting on a certain lever or hook. Regarding the human psyche, such an understanding may reflect the triggering of certain reactions of the nervous system, patterns of behavior, akin to uncontrolled reactions and automatisms.

A trigger in psychology is, in simple words, such a situation or a single action, a signal entering the brain (from any type of analyzer - melody, smell, taste, picture, touch) and switching thoughts and actions into an unconscious mode. Typically, such moments are closely associated with psychological trauma, less often with positive significant life moments, and then the concept of a trigger is used as such a moment in the current reality along with its stimuli, when in emotions, in the absence of a complete repetition of the situation, emotional experiences of a past traumatic experience or part of it are evoked. Those. a person can re-experience the horror of a threat to life when the wheels squeak, or fall into the panic experienced during rape when the light suddenly disappears; some cannot eat food or use the perfume that they had at the time of the death of a loved one, etc.

These memories and emerging unconscious reactions work due to the fact that human memories are not divided by the source of incoming information, but are stored in a holistic way, where sounds, tactile sensations, smells, words, actions, colors, temperature, volume are present. When at least some stimulus appears in the present time, the brain produces all the events associated with it - this is how we remember people and important places, we can conduct a retrospective of our life.

At the same moment, along with a simple melody, the brain can produce memories of a terrible accident that happened exactly when this song was played on the radio, or, conversely, of a victory at the Olympics, where this track was played for the first time. Depending on the eventful content of the past, to the same melody, someone may feel the luck of the moment of their entire life and invest all their money in the lottery, while others will hide in the farthest corner, expecting moral or physical harm. These examples concern extreme cases. In terms of spectrum, strength of influence and controllability, triggers are also different - some completely knock a person out of an adequate state (here we can even talk about post-traumatic disorder), others can be mild, feel like a slight change in mood and can even be easily analyzed and controlled.

What are psychological triggers

Previously, this term was used to diagnose psychiatric disorders in humans. A trigger in English is any part that activates a mechanism, or, simply, a trigger. By analogy, they also began to name any external factors (actions, phrases or words, situations, pictures, etc.) that caused an exacerbation of the disease or led to a painful reaction. For example, in a person suffering from claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces), the mere sight of closing elevator doors could cause panic, and even more so the need to climb in it.

Currently, this concept has begun to be used more widely, it has been adopted in various fields, and is now used with pleasure by psychologists, marketers, advertisers and even politicians. A trigger has come to be defined as any external signal or factor that causes a person to react spontaneously and perform certain expected actions.

How can people be manipulated using stimulus responses?

The influence of stimulus reactions is used most actively in areas where manipulation is one of the main instruments of influence: politics, advertising. Although an individual's experience is unique, there are several common points that are important for everyone:

  1. Fear. Fear-based incentives work flawlessly, but their use in marketing is unethical. Such advertising can scare away, causing unpleasant associations. Many brands use it by describing a customer's problem and immediately offering a solution. The purchase is presented as a way to get rid of the problem.
  2. The desire to belong in the company. The fear of being unnecessary and unaccepted by society is one of the most powerful. Often people buy goods taking into account not their own desires, but the opinions of others.
  3. The desire to emphasize one’s uniqueness. It runs parallel to the desire to be accepted. The individual is simultaneously afraid of becoming an outsider and disappearing into the crowd. That’s why it’s so easy to sell a product, focusing buyers’ attention on its uniqueness.
  4. Natural laziness. The survival mechanism that allowed humans to evolve includes laziness as a constant feeling. Poor nutrition quickly led primitive man to exhaustion, and laziness encouraged him to move less and save energy. A modern individual always has access to food, but the mechanism remains.
  5. Lack of time. The desire to save time is a strong incentive. The individual is afraid of being late, of missing out on an opportunity. Because of this, he often buys a product impulsively, without thinking about whether he really needs it.
  6. Expectation of pleasant emotions. When a purchase evokes pleasant emotions, the expectation of new sensations, pleasure, a person will unconsciously strive to buy again and again.

General stimulus reactions can be used for all categories of buyers. When advertising is aimed at a narrow audience (young mothers, owners of cars of a certain brand), more individual stimulus reactions related to the audience’s life situation are used.

How psychological triggers work

Most people are accustomed to react unconsciously with their emotions and actions to external stimuli. Of course, there are a lot of influences, and they vary in significance for a particular person. Separately, it is necessary to mention the reflexes of the body, which a person does not control at all. All people equally begin to blink and close their eyes in bright light or clear their throat if something gets into the “wrong throat.” These reflex actions are not among those that we will consider in our material.

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Creating a trigger circuit can be compared to creating conditioned reflexes. You just need to take into account that a very important element of this mechanism will be the emotional component, and not just reinforcement through repeated repetition of “stimulation - response action”.

Triggers have the following features:

  • Individuality.
    Everyone has their own “triggers” hidden in their subconscious, which arose due to individual characteristics, lifestyle and as a result of upbringing in certain conditions and traditions. Therefore, people react completely differently to the same external signals.

    For example, one person is accustomed to smoking a cigarette after drinking his morning coffee, so even the smell of the drink immediately makes him want to smoke. And for another, the squeal of brake pads will immediately remind you of the disaster you experienced, and your body will shrink in horror.

  • Emotions is an integral part of the trigger.
    With the help of emotion, a trigger is integrated into a person’s behavior pattern. The “reaction + external stimulus” connection, supported by a strong emotion, is fixed very quickly and almost forever. It takes a lot of effort to change behavior that is imposed in this way. You understand that one more sweet pie is harmful to your health, but your hand reaches out on its own and it is very difficult to do anything about it.

    Emotions such as severe fear can literally paralyze a person, preventing him from acting. If a driver has been in a serious accident and has experienced fear for himself and his passengers, he may give up driving for a long time.

  • Embedding in sensory memory.
    Perhaps it would be too much if every external stimulus became a “trigger”. At the moment of impact, the sensory sphere must be involved. We can say that “good memory” in this case does not benefit a person, but harms it if the trigger is associated with some kind of negative emotion.
  • Responses
    Such an attitude towards a trigger is often spontaneous, it is very difficult to control it, and it happens that the individual does not understand what is happening. In very severe cases, when the “hook” was associated with strong negativity, a person can act in a distorted state of consciousness, with absolutely no control over himself and his actions.

    Throughout life, our emotional baggage is replenished with a variety of experiences, and triggers are not always associated with negative feelings; they often have a pleasant or neutral connotation. For example, if during your lunch break you are used to drinking tea and cake, then without sweets you will no longer want tea.

    For marketers, too, the connection between certain triggers and consumer actions has opened up a wide field of activity. The most frequently used marketing tricks do not carry a negative charge of emotions and do not become destructive to the human psyche.

Impact on the individual

If the response to the trigger does not cause a strong emotional experience and the individual experiences only mild anxiety or a vague feeling of anxiety. These sensations are not perceived as a problem. Severe symptoms of a stimulus response that come on suddenly and instantly can be a problem. When faced with a stimulus, the individual experiences:

  • lack of air;
  • pain, burning in the chest;
  • trembling fingers;
  • fainting state;
  • dizziness and nausea;
  • a sharp increase in pressure;
  • Strong headache;
  • feeling of fear, helplessness.

The stimulus response can be compared to a pain syndrome. It is often unpleasant and even dangerous to feel, but it shows that something is wrong with the body. A trigger is a symptom of a psychological problem. If a person did not have such a mechanism, he would not be able to recognize the problem.

Main types of psychological triggers

The concept of psychological triggers is relatively new, and experts have not yet adopted a unified classification. Here we will look at two main ones.

1. Triggers with positive and negative coloring

Triggers can be considered positive or negative with some degree of convention. For example, the sight of a pack of your favorite cigarettes makes you want to smoke. It is impossible to say that this is a useful reaction, but the action does not have a destructive effect on the human psyche. One of the most striking examples of the “trigger + reaction” combination in this group is the following, when a mother instantly wakes up from the crying of a newborn, although her sleep was sound and deep. The emotion associated with the trigger is not entirely positive, because the baby’s restless sleep causes anxiety and fear in the mother for his health. However, the action is beneficial for both parties.

According to the observations of psychologists, these kinds of stimuli rarely arise by themselves. But psychotherapists often use these techniques to study human reactions.

Unfortunately, negative triggers are encountered more often, and they can cause inappropriate actions or antisocial behavior. Their effect on the psyche is destructive. This relationship is based on the desire to face the strongest negative emotions. At this moment, a person is not able to control his behavior; ancient instincts, preserved, for example, at the R-level, come to the surface.

We are talking about spontaneous manifestations of wild aggression, violence, and the desire to dominate, including sexually. A person, on the one hand, overcomes his fear or despair, on the other hand, he himself becomes aggressive and dangerous to others. It is known that the cry “We are burning” can turn an ordinary group of people into a crowd gripped by wild fear.

This classification cannot be considered complete and without shortcomings, since many psychological triggers are not included in either the first or second groups. Advertising creators often use certain incentives in their work, and we will talk about this later. They cannot be treated as purely positive or negative; the assessment will be influenced by point of view or specific circumstances. Marketers constantly use an attractive image of a successful life to increase demand for a product. But what exactly is being advertised and whether people will actually benefit is another question.

2. Separation depending on the type of stimulus

Any external object or phenomenon of the material world can become a “signal light”. For classification, we divide them into several groups.

  • The first is the view of buildings, houses, visits to native places, nature, as well as life circumstances and incidents that have a strong emotional overtones and are associated with certain memories.
  • The second involves verbal triggers. Words contain great power that penetrates deep into consciousness, and this impact is more intense than real objects from the first group. And it’s hard for us to imagine that in many words there are hidden “hooks” to which we react without realizing it.
  • The third group is sensory type stimuli - this is everything that we hear, see, and feel with the body.

What all these stimuli have in common is that they belong to products, so to speak, of the external world. But there are also such connections when the trigger that triggers a mental reaction is a dream, a sudden memory or unclear dreams and daydreams - something that our own brain generated.

Classification according to the nature of the external stimulus

Since the topic is still poorly understood, researchers do not yet have a unified classification of psychological triggers that all psychologists would adhere to. For now, triggers can only be divided into 3 conditional groups:

  • external situations - objects, situations that provoke an emotional reaction;
  • sensory stimuli - any sounds, smells, colors strong enough to stimulate the nervous system;
  • words - affect consciousness on a par with real objects, and often even stronger.

The stimulus reaction is provoked by memories, dreams, daydreams, and deterioration of mental state. Consciousness, trying to survive an unpleasant situation, constantly fixates on them. The individual is forced to live them again.


Getting some kind of trinket, even unnecessary, but for free - that’s cool. In advertising, in order to obtain client data, support, and regular customers, they use this technique.

Examples of popular freebie traps:

  • subscribe and take 5 lessons for free;
  • register, buy 500 MB of disk space, get 100 MB for free;
  • for every 500 rub. purchasing a pencil or eraser as a gift;
  • 3 products for the price of two - hurry up.

Sound familiar? Such triggers can be found not only offline, but also in online store articles.

Research shows that sales levels increase by at least 15–30%.

Now my personal example. So I bought beads in bulk for 300 rubles, I have 1.5 kg of accessories on hand. How to sell? In order to buy in batches, and not in 10 g bags, I am launching a promotion: “For every 100 g of beads (10 packs) I give 10 g.”

Now try to come up with an interesting promotion for stationery? Share your results in the comments.

We give a feeling of uniqueness

People are strange creatures. On the one hand, everyone strives to be like everyone else, on the other, to stand out, to surpass in some way.

What will help you feel special:

  • VIP accounts;
  • access to closed sites, parties, classes;
  • items produced in limited quantities, for example, 10 or 100 pieces.

The desire to possess this product and get into an inaccessible place will be higher. Creating artificial limits will allow you to increase the price. And the client is ready to pay 2-3 times more for exclusivity.


Everyone is afraid of something: going broke, losing a loved one, getting sick, getting fat. The list of fears can be continued endlessly.

This trigger will be useless if you don't research your target audience. Let's take pregnant women as an example. What are they afraid of? Harm the child, give birth to him unhealthy, get sick with something.

Even by searching, you can understand what scares expectant mothers. They often look for information about nutrition, courses, and exercises. Why? They don’t want to get fat, get sick, or get complications. We boldly cram all this into selling texts. The result is a killer cocktail that will work to retain attention and attract pregnant women.

Fascinating story

On TV and from newspapers we learn how not the most beautiful paintings, useful things go under the hammer at auction for millions. Why? Yes, they have a story or an owner whose life is a fascinating book.

You can cleverly attribute an interesting past to a product.

This is what two copywriters from America did. They bought 200 things cheap at a flea market. For each of them, having come up with their own story, they increased their profits by 270 times. For example, a yellow bear cub was sold for $51. Although its real price is $1.

How to captivate the reader:

  • add a little drama, comedy or action;
  • Don't overdo it, leave room for realism.

Try to come up with a story for any item in your room. Did it work out? Tell us about it in the comments.

E-mail newsletter - how to entice

Email marketing is one of the best ways to increase sales. But like any powerful weapon, it can work against you if you write your email incorrectly.

The title is short. No more than 50 characters. You need to create intrigue, scare or awaken greed in the client. Don’t make boring headlines like “we sell vacuum cleaners in Russia, come to us.”

I looked through my inbox and found some interesting headlines:

  • Everything is connected! – no hints, it’s interesting to find out what it’s about;
  • Name, you made a mistake in the layout - why, I didn’t do anything;
  • Name, you were with us and forgot something - you need to open the letter, otherwise you suddenly lost something important.

How to write the main part:

  • do not impose;
  • trade fears, offer to solve the problem of your target audience;
  • write as if you are working with each person personally.

Don't try to write a dry letter with the name of the organization. Conversational style is the best.

In the face of a common enemy

People are united not only by love, but also by hatred. Remember how nice it is to discuss your boss with your colleagues. He finds fault with everyone and overwhelms them with work. You feel united because you have a common enemy - your boss.

An enemy can be not only a person, but also shortcomings and problems. A classic example that unites women in the gym is excess weight. It adds up quickly, you just have to be lazy and eat the pie.

How to use a trigger in copywriting? Identify the enemy, offer powerful weapons against him.

A simple solution to your problems

Everyone wants to find a universal, simple solution to their problems. Our task is to offer the product as a lifesaver.

How to describe a product on a presentation or website:

  1. Describe your target audience. The description should not be about the crowd. The expressed desire of a majority in one person. For example, Vasya or Masha.
  2. We talk about the problem in the client's words. Don't write in abstruse words. The client will not be able to try on the image on himself.
  3. We offer a product as a solution to a problem, showing its advantages.

I made a diagram for example:

  1. Natalia. She is a freelancer. Travels everywhere, goes to visit relatives. Lives in the outback.
  2. It is possible to get from the airport from my aunt to her house if she catches the last 19-hour bus. She gets paid on WebMoney, so she can’t always pay a taxi.
  3. What are we advertising in this situation? A new suburban taxi service that accepts e-wallet currency or an exchanger that cashes out money in 5 minutes is perfect here.
  4. Bottom line. Natasha will get home on time and save money.

This is one of the best triggers. Every target audience has problems. We need to find them, get into the very heart.

Everyone wants something new

A person quickly gets tired of the old things. It has been proven that if nothing is updated in his life, despondency and depression sets in.

A novelty gives birth to an image in your head of something cute, fresh, and interesting. I want to touch her.

Be careful. Sometimes novelty can show inexperience or poor quality of products.

Apple is aware of this human frailty. Have you noticed that a new iPhone comes out every year? Do you think it’s a coincidence or do the creative department have so many ideas in their heads? No. This is a marketing ploy.

Try it and you won't be able to refuse

A cool video editor costs $200. An amateur will not want to spend that kind of money. How to convince him? Seduce with a demo version of the program.

When a customer enjoys a product, he becomes accustomed. The greater the dependence, the higher the chances of buying.

In mobile and car dealerships, potential buyers are allowed to see and touch the product. A person feels how nice it is to own an item and, without hesitation, puts money into the cash register.

Everyone wants to be like the majority

Man is social. He is afraid of being judged by society and trusts it.

Simple phrases like: “35,012 people are already using this program,” “1,500 students increased their income by 80% after the training.”

When we scroll through online courses, we see reviews on the site, attractive statistics and believe them.

From expensive to cheap

Everything is learned by comparison - this principle also works in copywriting.

If a client first sees a suitcase for 7,000 rubles, and then for 2,500 rubles, what will happen? He'll buy it. The price will seem affordable.

This is how paid accounts are promoted. At the top they indicate the coolest, most expensive one, and at the bottom the cheapest one.


When we were children, why did we ask our parents and teachers everything? Because they trusted them, considered them authorities. If you want to know how to get benefits and get a divorce without going broke, who should you turn to? That's right, to a lawyer or lawyer.

If you are a person from the street, no one will order a consultation or buy training, you must become an authority. How to do it:

  • post reviews;
  • write useful articles on your specialty;
  • Tell us about which professionals you collaborated with and where you worked.

If your place of work is not a large company, but an incompetent agency, it is better to remain silent.

A clear example of how an authoritative trigger works is a toothpaste advertisement. Remember those friendly dentists who recommend buying a product. Perhaps this is an artist in a white coat; he did not show us his diploma. But at the subconscious level we trust.

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