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Brainwashing | Mind Control

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What is your position on brainwashing or mind control?

Many groups use unethical persuasion tactics in recruiting and retaining members. These methods can range from love bombing to scare tactics (imposing high exit costs, e.g. convincing a person that leaving the group means losing one's salvation).

While such psychological manipulation is a form of mind control, Apologetics Index does not hold the view that individuals who join - or remain with - cultic movements become irresponsible, mindless automatons, unable to think for themselves.

Rather, we regard Phillip Zimbardo's view on this issue as realistic:

A remarkable thing about cult mind control is that it's so ordinary in the tactics and strategies of social influence employed. They are variants of well-known social psychological principles of compliance, conformity, persuasion, dissonance, reactance, framing, emotional manipulation, and others that are used on all of us daily to entice us: to buy, to try, to donate, to vote, to join, to change, to believe, to love, to hate the enemy.

Cult mind control is not different in kind from these everyday varieties, but in its greater intensity, persistence, duration, and scope. One difference is in its greater efforts to block quitting the group, by imposing high exit costs, replete with induced phobias of harm, failure, and personal isolation.
Source: Phillip G. Zimbardo, Ph.D., What Is The Message Behind Today's Cults?Off-site Link
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On this subject, we recommend Steve Hassan's books, Combatting Cult Mind Control, and Releasing The Bonds: Empowering People To Think For Themselves

The issue of whether or not brainwashing exists is subject of an ongoing, highly contentious debate. Among those who discount the brainwashing theory are a handful of sociologists, many of whom have deservedly gained a reputation as cult apologists. Since they tend to defend cults, their views on the subject of brainwashing must be regarded as suspect at best.

We are glad that others, such as sociologist Benjamin ZablockiOff-site Link, take a more reasoned approach:

Social scientists seeking to debunk the brainwashing conjecture have often spoken as if extensive research has already been done on the behavior of cult participants and as if definitive conclusions could now be formed. And, indeed, there has been a great deal published concerning cults in the past ten years. However, a close examination of this vast quantity of writings shows that it is based upon a very skimpy body of actual data. Most of the best research that has been done consists of ethnographic monographs on single NRMs, and all of this remains to be synthesized. The few epidemiological or other comparative and quantitative studies have most often been based upon small sample sizes and unrepresentative samples. I also think some researchers have been naive in underestimating the ability of cults to put a favorable spin on research findings by "helping" social science investigators get in touch with subjects to be interviewed. At the other end of the spectrum, samples based upon psychiatric outpatient lists are similarly biased.
[...] My work on the subject as well as that of Richard Ofshe, Marybeth Ayella, Robert Cialdini, Amy Siskand, Roy Wallis, Philip Zimbardo, and others has never been directly confronted, much less refuted by sociologists of religion. Rather it has been defamed, ridiculed, or ignored. There has been a sophisticated and subtle form of intellectual bullying by an entrenched majority within the discipline of a small minority composed of both sincere scholars and academic opportunists.
Source: Benjamin Zablocki, The Blacklisting of a Concept: The Strange History of the Brainwashing Conjecture in the Sociology of Religion, Nova ReligioOff-site Link, Oct. 1997
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See also: What is your position on deprogramming or exit counseling?

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About This Page:

• Subject: Cult & Ex-cult Frequently Asked Questions
• First posted: Dec. 9, 1996
• Last Updated: Aug. 28, 2004
• Editors: Anton and Janet Hein-Hudson
• Copyright: Apologetics Index

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