“brainwashing,” mind control, cult conversion, and deprogramming Cult Persuasion
Roots of Cultic Researchin FICTION • Brave New World • 1984 • Manchurian Candidate • Clockwork Orange
Roots of cultic researchIN REAL LIFE • POW camps in the Korean war: emergence of the term “brainwashing” • “When Prophecy Fails: Festinger, Riecken, & Schacter’s 1956 analysis of an end-of-the earth cult • 1960’s: popularity of Hare Krishnas and transcendental meditation
Modern day cults: a sad, brief chronology • 1978: Reverend Jim Jones and 900 followers, including children, commit suicide in Jonestown Guyana by drinking cyanide-laced punch. • 1991: a Mexican minister and 29 followers suffocate after he instructs them to keep praying and ignore toxic fumes filling the church. • 1993: At least 80 Branch Davidians, followers of David Coresh, perish in a fire and shoot-out with the BATF at their compound in Waco, Texas. • 1993: 53 Vietnamese tribal villagers commit suicide with primitive weapons in the belief they will go straight to heaven. • 1994: 67 members of the “Order of the Solar Temple,” cult are found burned to death in the French alps in Switzerland and in Quebec, Canada. • 1995: Shoko Asahara& Aum Supreme Truth released Sarin gas in five Tokyo subway stations killing 12 people (one dying a year after the attack) and sickening more than 5,500 others. • 1997: 39 members of the “Heaven’s Gate” cult, led by Marshall Applewhite, commit suicide in California. They die so they can join the Mother Ship following the Hale-Bopp comet. • 2000: More than 900 members of a reclusive Christian doomsday cult in Africa were murdered by their leaders. Many burned to death, others were buried in mass graves. • 2003: Members of the Raelians, a cult founded by Claude Vorilhonnow known as "Rael" claimed that with the assistant of Clonaid, a human cloning company, they had cloned two or more infants.
Prevalence of cults and cult activities • Some estimates suggest there are over 5000 cults in the U.S. alone (including militia groups, extremist religions, and new age sects) • The new millennium rekindled interest and membership in cults. • Some estimates suggest upwards of 185,000 converts per year • Not all cults are religious or spiritual in nature. Modern cults include large group-awareness trainings, psychotherapy, business, political, and "New Age" groups
Difficulty of defining cults precisely: One person’s cult is another person’s religion “cult” is a pejorative term, usually used by one group to brand another. Singer & Lalich (1995): “a cultic relationship is one in which a person intentionally induces others to become totally or nearly totally dependent on him or her for almost all major life decisions, and inculcates in these followers a belief that he or she has some special talent, gift, or knowledge.” What is a “cult?” Definitional considerations:
More problems with defining cults • What is the difference between a “cult” and a “social movement,” or an “extremist group” or a “club.” • Which, if any, of the following are cults? • Unification Church (“moonies”) • Church of Scientology • Mormonism • Amish • the Manson family • Masons or Shriners • Militia groups • Hell’s angels • Suicide bombers • Fraternities • Amway • Trekkers and Trekkies • Boy Scouts of America
“brainwashing,” a misnomer • People can’t be “brainwashed.” There is no science of brainwashing that allows people to be programmed, deprogrammed, or reprogrammed like a computer. • A cult convert has to be a willing participant in his/her conversion. He or she may not be aware of a persuasive effort, but he or she has to go along with the process. • Cults use the same basic techniques of persuasion as other persuaders, but in addition, they rely on many unethical strategies • Cults employ many strategies at once; physical isolation, ego-reinforcement, sleep deprivation, deception, etc. • Cults control the physical environment of members as well (that is why cults often live away from the rest of society in a compound, commune, etc.
Robert Lifton’s (1987) 8 marks of mind control • milieu control: control of the environment, communication, access to information • Mystical manipulation: the leader gets to reinterpret events and history as she/he sees fit. • demand for purity: society is corrupt, members must be purified. The desire to become mentally and physically pure makes members susceptible to guilt, fear, and other moral appeals used by the leader. • cult of confession: control of shame and guilt; members must confess any wrongdoing to the leader, including mental infractions • sacred science: reliance on dogmatic principles; the leader has all the answers. Only the leader is privileged to know the absolute truth. Robert Jay Lifton
loading the language: reliance on thought-restraining phrases and language; serves to isolate members from the outside world and constrict members’ thinking • doctrine over person: the cause’s doctrine takes precedence over the individual. Members’ character and identity have to be reshaped. • dispensing of existence: Outsiders are unworthy unless they join the group. Members fear being expelled from the group. Lifton’s 8 marks…continued http://www.csj.org/studyindex/studymindctr/study_mindctr_lifton.htm Go to the above link for more detail on Lifton’s 8 marks of mind control
How it starts: • Windows of vulnerability: targets are most susceptible during an emotional crisis (divorce, death of loved one, serious illness, etc.) • target’s judgment may be confused, impaired • target is looking for an answer to life’s problems • Befriending the target • Ingratiation strategies (compliments, flattery, especially about sources of insecurity) • Lure of forming a serious or close relationship • Invitation to attend a meeting or retreat • isolation from friends, family • control over environment • Difficult to leave • Deception: withholding the true identify of the group, withholding the purpose of befriending another, etc. Recruitment techniques: the cult conversion process
Psychological techniques of persuasion • Unconditional positive regard • “love bombing,”group hugs, etc. • Meditation, chanting, and other mind-numbing techniques • Peer group pressure • Pressure to conform, be part of the group • Verbal abuse • Confession • Fear, guilt appeals • Sacrifice; personal, financial • Loyalty tests • Demonizing (doubts are the Devil at work)
Physical techniques of persuasion • Physical isolation • Sleep deprivation • Fasting • Control of the person’s time (rigorous schedule, no free time) • Loss of privacy • Constant praying or witnessing of beliefs to the group • Repetitive motion (chanting, dancing) • Hallucinations (via hyperventilation, hallucinogens, chanting, etc.) • Body manipulation • Extreme dress codes • Loyalty tests
The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display zealous, unquestioning loyalty • The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members • The group is preoccupied with bringing in money • Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged, or even punished • Mind-numbing techniques like chanting, speaking in tongues • denunciation sessions are used to suppress doubts about the group or its leadership • The leadership dictates in great detail how members should think, feel, act. (permission to come and go, where to live, how to discipline children, etc. • The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status. The leader is considered the Messiah • Extra-biblical revelation: God communicates directly to the group’s leader. Warning Signs: Checklist of cult characteristics For more information, see Dr. Margaret Singer’s excellent book, Cults in Our Midst (1996).
The group exhibits a polarized “us-them” mentality. Outsiders are evil and must be shunned. • The group’s leader is not accountable to any authorities, inside or outside of the group • The group teaches that its ends justify the means (such as collecting money for phony charities) • The leadership induces guilt, fear, in group members in order to control them • Members’ subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family and friends, and to give up personal goals in the interests of the group • Social encapsulation: Members are encouraged to live with, or socialize with the group exclusively More warning signs
Beware of the “self serving bias” • Most people think they are above average • Smarter, more attractive, funnier, etc. • People tend to think they are immune to cult influence • “I’m too smart to be duped by a cult” • “People with low self esteem join cults” • Only 5 to 6 percent of cult members demonstrate major psychological problems prior to joining a cult (Singer, 1995). • Once involved, it can be difficult to take one’s exit • psychological commitment/cognitive dissonance • the need to save face • the vast majority of cult recruits are normal, productive people • the single most important defense against cult influence is the realization that we are all vulnerable A warning and advice: