Systematic effort to destroy an individual's former loyalties and beliefs and to substitute loyalty to a new ideology or power. It has been used by religious cults as well as by radical political groups. The techniques of brainwashing usually involve isolation from former associates and sources of information; an exacting regimen calling for absolute obedience and humility; strong social pressures and rewards for cooperation; physical and psychological punishments for noncooperation, including social ostracism and criticism, deprivation of food, sleep, and social contacts, bondage, and torture; and constant reinforcement. Its effects are sometimes reversed through deprogramming, which combines confrontation and intensive psychotherapy.
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The term was coined by Edgar Schein in 1961 in relation to his study of Chinese POWs' indoctrination. According to Schein, the essence of coercive persuasion, ..., is to produce ideological and behavioral changes in a fully conscious, mentally intact individual. Schein notes that elements of coercive persuasion exist in many areas of human endeavor such as college fraternities, established religion, social rehabilitation programmes, the armed forces, and other conventional institutions. Schein also suggests that the popular image of brainwashing as entailing "extensive self-delusion and excessive [mental] distortion [...] is a false one."
Martyn Carruthers has the following definition: "Coercive persuasion attempts to force people to change beliefs, ideas, attitudes or behaviors using psychological pressure, undue influence, threats, anxiety, intimidation and/or stress. (Coercive persuasion has been called mind control and brainwashing.)
In academic fields, the terms coercive persuasion, coercive psychological systems or coercive influence are often used interchangeably.
Some scholars such as Michael Langone or J.K. Ungerleider use the term coercive persuasion in the same sense as brainwashing, thought reform or mind control and connect it to methods of cultic groups in acquiring and retaining members. This view is disputed by scholars such as James Gene and Bette Nove Evans , among others, while the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion stated in 1990 that there was not sufficient research to permit a consensus on the matter and that "one should not automatically equate the techniques involved in the process of physical coercion and control with those of nonphysical coercion and control". A similar statement was made by the American Psychological Association in 1987 when they rejected the report produced by the "APA taskforce on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control" (DIMPAC))., stating that "the brainwashing theory espoused lacks the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur." See also Brainwashing controversies.
In the cases of Molko vs. Holy Spirit Association and Wollersheim vs. Church of Scientology, coercive persuasion was connected by the plaintiffs to the legal concept of undue influence.
Tactics mentioned in describing coercive persuasion can include everyday methods like hard sale tactics or environmental control like described by Robert Lifton.