Thought Reform *
Lifton thought reform model
In his 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China, psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, M.D., describes eight coercive methods which, he says, are able to change the minds of individuals without their knowledge and were used with this purpose on prisoners of war in Korea and China. These include:
- Milieu Control. This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large.
- Mystical Manipulation. There is manipulation of experiences that appear spontaneous but in fact were planned and orchestrated by the group or its leaders in order to demonstrate divine authority or spiritual advancement or some special gift or talent that will then allow the leader to reinterpret events, scripture, and experiences as he or she wishes.
- Demand for Purity. The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection. The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here.
- Confession. Sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group. There is no confidentiality; members' "sins," "attitudes," and "faults" are discussed and exploited by the leaders.
- Sacred Science. The group's doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute. Truth is not to be found outside the group. The leader, as the spokesperson for God or for all humanity, is likewise above criticism.
- Loading the Language. The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand. This jargon consists of thought-terminating clichés, which serve to alter members' thought processes to conform to the group's way of thinking.
- Doctrine over person. Member's personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group.
- Dispensing of existence. The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group's ideology. If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the members. Thus, the outside world loses all credibility. In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also.
In his 1999 book Destroying the world to save it: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence and the New Global Terrorism, he concluded that thought reform was possible without violence or physical coercion.
 Margaret Singer's conditions for mind control
Psychologist Margaret Singer describes in her book Cults in our Midst six conditions which she says would create an atmosphere in which thought reform is possible. Singer states that these conditions involve no need for physical coercion or violence.
- Keep the person unaware of what is going on and how she or he is being changed a step at a time.
- Potential new members are led, step by step, through a behavioral-change program without being aware of the final agenda or full content of the group. The goal may be to make them deployable agents for the leadership, to get them to buy more courses, or get them to make a deeper commitment, depending on the leader's aim and desires.
- Control the person's social and/or physical environment; especially control the person's time.
- Through various methods, newer members are kept busy and led to think about the group and its content during as much of their waking time as possible.
- Systematically create a sense of powerlessness in the person.
- This is accomplished by getting members away from the normal social support group for a period of time and into an environment where the majority of people are already group members.
- The members serve as models of the attitudes and behaviors of the group and speak an in- group language.
- Strip members of their main occupation (quit jobs, drop out of school) or source of income or have them turn over their income (or the majority of) to the group.
- Once stripped of your usual support network, your confidence in your own perception erodes.
- As your sense of powerlessness increases, your good judgment and understanding of the world are diminished. (ordinary view of reality is destabilized)
- As group attacks your previous worldview, it causes you distress and inner confusion; yet you are not allowed to speak about this confusion or object to it -- leadership suppresses questions and counters resistance.
- This process is speeded up if you are kept tired -- the cult will keep you constantly busy.
- Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments and experiences in such a way as to inhibit behavior that reflects the person's former social identity.
- Manipulation of experiences can be accomplished through various methods of trance induction, including leaders using such techniques as paced speaking patterns, guided imagery, chanting, long prayer sessions or lectures, and lengthy meditation sessions.
- Your old beliefs and patterns of behavior are defined as irrelevant or evil. Leadership wants these old patterns eliminated, so the member must suppress them.
- Members get positive feedback for conforming to the group's beliefs and behaviors and negative feedback for old beliefs and behavior.
- Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group's ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors.
- Good behavior, demonstrating an understanding and acceptance of the group's beliefs, and compliance are rewarded while questioning, expressing doubts or criticizing are met with disapproval, redress and possible rejection. If one expresses a question, he or she is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them to be questioning.
- The only feedback members get is from the group, they become totally dependent upon the rewards given by those who control the environment.
- Members must learn varying amounts of new information about the beliefs of the group and the behaviors expected by the group.
- The more complicated and filled with contradictions the new system in and the more difficult it is to learn, the more effective the conversion process will be.
- Esteem and affection from peers is very important to new recruits. Approval comes from having the new member's behaviors and thought patterns conform to the models (members). Members' relationship with peers is threatened whenever they fail to learn or display new behaviors. Over time, the easy solution to the insecurity generated by the difficulties of learning the new system is to inhibit any display of doubts -- new recruits simply acquiesce, affirm and act as if they do understand and accept the new ideology.
- Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order.
- The group has a top-down, pyramid structure. The leaders must have verbal ways of never losing.
- Members are not allowed to question, criticize or complain -- if they do, the leaders allege that the member is defective -- not the organization or the beliefs.
- The individual is always wrong -- the system, its leaders and its belief are always right.
- Conversion or remolding of the individual member happens in a closed system. As members learn to modify their behavior in order to be accepted in this closed system, they change -- begin to speak the language -- which serves to further isolate them from their prior beliefs and behaviors.
What's New with My Subject?
Steven Hassan's BITE model
In his book Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, mental health counselor and exit counselor Steven Hassan describes his mind-control model, "BITE". "BITE" stands for "Behavior, Information, Thoughts, and Emotions." The model has a basis on the works of Singer and Lifton, and on the cognitive dissonance theory of Leon Festinger.
In the book, Hassan describes the components of the BITE model:
- Behavior Control
- Regulation of individual’s physical reality
- Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals
- Need to ask permission for major decisions
- Need to report thoughts, feelings, and activities to superiors
- Rewards and punishments (behavior modification techniques positive and negative)
- Individualism discouraged; "group think" prevails
- Rigid rules and regulations
- Need for obedience and dependency
- Information Control
- Use of deception
- Access to non cult sources of information minimized or discouraged
- Compartmentalization of information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
- Spying on other members is encouraged
- Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda
- Unethical use of confession
- Thought Control
- Need to internalize the group’s doctrine as "Truth"
- Use of "loaded" language (for example, “thought terminating clichés"). Words are the tools we use to think with. These "special" words constrict rather than expand understanding, and can even stop thoughts altogether. They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous "buzz words."
- Only "good" and "proper" thoughts are encouraged.
- Use of hypnotic techniques to induce altered mental states
- Manipulation of memories and implantation of false memories
- Use of thought stopping techniques, which shut down "reality testing" by stopping "negative" thoughts and allowing only "good" thoughts
- Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism. No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate.
- No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, or useful
- Emotional Control
- Manipulate and narrow the range of a person’s feelings
- Make the person feel that if there are ever any problems, it is always their fault, never the leader’s or the group’s
- Excessive use of guilt
- Excessive use of fear
- Extremes of emotional highs and lows
- Ritual and often public confession of "sins"
- Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader’s authority. The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group.
Hassan writes that cults recruit and retain members through a three-step process which he refers to as "unfreezing," "changing," and "refreezing". This involves the use of an extensive array of various techniques, including systematic deception, behavior modification, withholding of information, and emotionally intense persuasion techniques (such as the induction of phobias), which he collectively terms mind control. He describes these steps as follows:
- Unfreezing: the process of breaking a person down
- Changing: the indoctrination process
- Refreezing: the process of reinforcing the new identity
In Releasing the Bonds he also writes "I suspect that most cult groups use informal hypnotic techniques to induce trance states. They tend to use what are called "naturalistic" hypnotic techniques. Practicing meditation to shut down thinking, chanting a phrase repetitively for hours, or reciting affirmations are all powerful ways to promote spiritual growth. But they can also be used unethically, as methods for mind control indoctrination."
Hassan, after taking part in a number of deprogrammings in the late 1970s, states that he is no longer involved in this practice. and which eventually became completely illegal except in the case of minors.
In Influence, Science and Practice, social psychologist Robert Cialdini argues that mind control is possible through the covert exploitation of the unconscious rules that underlie and facilitate healthy human social interactions. He states that common social rules can be used to prey upon the unwary, and he titles them as follows:
- "Reciprocation: The Old Give and Take...and Take"
- "Commitment and Consistency: Hobgoblins of the Mind"
- "Social Proof: Truths Are Us"
- "Liking: The Friendly Thief"
- "Authority: Directed Deference"
- "Scarcity: The Rule of the Few"
Using these six broad categories, he offers specific examples of both mild and extreme mind control (both one on one and in groups), notes the conditions under which each social rule is most easily exploited for false ends, and offers suggestions on how to resist such methods.
Social psychological conditioning by Stahelski
Writing in the Journal of Homeland Security, a publication of the ANSER Institute for Homeland Security, Anthony Stahelski identifies five phases of social psychological conditioning which he calls cult-like conditioning techniques employed by terrorist groups: [Stahelski, 2004]:
- Depluralization: stripping away all other group member identities
- Self-deindividuation: stripping away each member’s personal identity
- Other-deindividuation: stripping away the personal identities of enemies
- Dehumanization: identifying enemies as subhuman or nonhuman
- Demonization: identifying enemies as evil