Mind control is a broad range of psychological tactics able to subvert an individual's control of his own thinking, behavior, emotions, or decisions. The concept is closely related to hypnosis , but differs in practical approach.
There are a number of controversial issues regarding mind control and the methods by which control might be attained (either direct or more subtle) are the focus of study among psychologists, neuroscientists, and sociologists.
The question of mind control has been discussed in relation to religion, politics, prisoners of war, totalitarianism, black operations, neural cell manipulation, cults, terrorism, torture, parental alienation, and even battered person syndrome.
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.
Robert W. Ford, a British radio operator who worked in Tibet in the 50's, spent 5 years in Chinese jails. He published a book entitled "Captured in Tibet", describing and analyzing thought reform to which he was harshly subjected.
A report on brainwashing and mind control presented by an American Psychological Association (APA) task force known as the APA Taskforce on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC), chaired by Singer, was rejected in 1987 by the APA's Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology (BSERP) as lacking "the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur." and cautioned the task force members to "not distribute or publicize the report without indicating that the report was unacceptable to the Board."
In 2001, Alberto Amitrani and Raffaella Di Marzio, from the Roman seat of the Group for Research and Information about Sects (GRIS) published an article in which they assert that the rejection of the report should not be construed as a rejection of the theories of thought reform and mind control as applied to New Religious Movements, and that the rejection by one division of the APA does not represent the whole association. They quote a personal e-mail from Benjamin Zablocki, professor of sociology, from 1997 in which Zablocki told the authors "many people have been misled about the true position of the APA and the ASA with regard to brainwashing", and that the APA urged scholars to do more research on the matter. They also write that they have reason to believe that the APA still considers "psychological coercion" to be a phenomenon worth investigating, and not a notion rejected by the scientific community. They also write "Otherwise, why would people such as Margaret Singer, Michael Langone, and others considered to be 'anti-cultists' contribute to APA Conventions and be respected in other prestigious professional bodies as well?
Writing in 1999, research and forensic psychologist Dick Anthony noted that the removal of Singer's brainwashing concept from the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) "would seem to indicate that the American Psychiatric Association, like the American Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, has repudiated Singer's cultic brainwashing theory because of its unscientific character." Anthony also noted that Singer's testimony had also been repeatedly excluded from American legal trials.
In the book, Hassan describes the components of the BITE model:
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:
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 Releasing the Bonds, Hassan describes an approach that he calls the "Strategic Interaction Approach" (SIA) in order to help cult members leave their groups, and in order to help them recover from the psychological damage that they have incurred. The approach is non-coercive and the person being treated is free to discontinue it at any time. He writes: "The goal of the SIA is to help the loved one recover his full faculties; to restore the creative, interdependent adult who fully understands what has happened to him; who has digested and integrated the experience and is better and stronger from the experience.
In 1998 the Enquete Commission issued its report on "So-called Sects and Psychogroups" in Germany. Reviewing Hassan's BITE model, the report said that:
Thus, the milieu control identified by Hassan, consisting of behavioural control, mental control, emotional control and information control cannot, in every case and as a matter of principle, be characterised as "manipulative". Control of these areas of action is an inevitable component of social interactions in a group or community. The social control that is always associated with intense commitment to a group must therefore be clearly distinguished from the exertion of intentional, methodical influence for the express purpose of manipulation.
A very different explanation of the control some groups have over their members is by associating it with Battered person syndrome and Stockholm syndrome. This has been done by psychologists Teresa Ramirez Boulette, Ph.D. and Susan M. Andersen, Ph.D.
A contemporary view of mind control sees it as an intensified and persistent use of well researched social psychology principles like compliance, conformity, persuasion, dissonance, reactance, framing or emotional manipulation.
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:
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.
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]:
Subliminal advertising was proposed around 1960 as a means for organized mass control of human behavior. The allegations has since then fallen out of the common debate, because there are few reports that subliminal advertising has any real effect in the way advertisers may wish.
Some of the mind control models discussed above have been related to religious and non-religious cults (for debates regarding what is a cult, see the article). There is debate among scholars, members of new religious movements, and cult critics whether or not mind control is applied either in general or by any particular group.
(Please add a description of current and past international mind control programs involving citizens without consent, such as Voice-to-Skull V2K, neural monitoring, group stalking, directed energy, etc.)
While the majority of scholars in the study of religion reject theories of mind control (e.g., Massimo Introvigne and J. Gordon Melton), it is often accepted in psychology and psychiatry (e.g., Margaret Singer, Michael Langone, and Philip Zimbardo) and in sociology the opinions are divided (e.g., David G. Bromley and Anson Shupe contra, Stephen A. Kent and Benjamin Zablocki pro). Most scholars have either a decided contra or a decided pro opinion; there are few who advocate a moderate point of view.
James T. (Jim) Richardson, professor of Sociology and Judicial Studies at the University of Nevada, writes in his "Brainwashing" Claims and Minority Religions Outside the United States: Cultural Diffusion of a Questionable Concept in the Legal Arena that, while heavy on theory, the mind control model is light on evidence:
James Richardson, also states that if the NRMs had access to powerful brainwashing techniques, one would expect that NRMs would have high growth rates, while in fact most have not had notable success in recruitment. Most adherents participate for only a short time, and the success in retaining members has been limited. In addition, Thomas Robbins, Eileen Barker, Newton Maloney, Massimo Introvigne, John Hall, Lorne Dawson, Anson Shupe, David G. Bromley, Gordon Melton, Marc Galanter, Saul Levine and other scholars researching NRMs have argued and established to the satisfaction of courts and relevant professional associations and scientific communities that there exists no scientific theory, generally accepted and based upon methodologically sound research, that supports the brainwashing theories as advanced by the anti-cult movement.
Sociologist Benjamin Zablocki sees strong indicators of mind control in some NRMs and suggests that the concept should be researched without bias:
Sociologists David Bromley and Anson Shupe consider the idea that "cults" are brainwashing American youth to be "implausible".. Sociology professor Stephen A. Kent published several articles where he discusses practices of NRMs as regards to brainwashing
In 1984 the American Psychological Association (APA) requested Margaret Singer, the main proponent of mind control theories, to set up a working group called the APA taskforce on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC).
In 1987 the DIMPAC committee submitted its final report to the Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology of the APA. On May 11, 1987 the Board rejected the report. In the rejection memo it is stated: "Finally, after much consideration, BSERP does not believe that we have sufficient information available to guide us in taking a position on this issue.".
There are two interpretations of this rejection: one side (e.g. Amitrani and di Marzio 2000 and Zablocki 2001) see it as no position on the issue of brainwashing, the other (e.g. Introvigne 1997) sees it as rejecting all brainwashing theories.
Philip Zimbardo, who teaches a course on the "The psychology of mind control" at Stanford University, wrote that "Several participants [in a presentation called 'Cults of Hatred'] challenged our profession to form a task force on extreme forms of influence, asserting that the underlying issues inform discourses on terrorist recruiting, on destructive cults versus new religious movements, on social-political-'therapy' cults and on human malleability or resiliency when confronted by authority power.
Recently, there are indications that some members of both sides are willing to start a dialog as, for example, in the 2001 book "Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field". Additionally, professor of Sociology Eileen Barker was invited to speak at the 2002 yearly conference of the International Cultic Studies Association. And J. Gordon Melton and Douglas Cowan were invited to speak at a conference sponsored by the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions.
Opponents of some new religious movements have accused them of being cults that coerce recruits to join (and members to remain) by using strong influence over members that is instilled and maintained by manipulation (see also Anti-cult movement, Opposition to cults and new religious movements and Christian countercult movement). Such opponents frequently advocate exit counseling as necessary to free the cult member from mind control. The practice of coercive deprogramming has practically ceased. (Kent & Szimhart, 2002)
Opponents of deprogramming generally regard it as an even worse violation of personal autonomy than any loss of free will attributable to the recruiting tactics of new religious movements. These people complain that targets of deprogramming are being deceived, denied due process, and forced to endure more intense manipulation than that encountered during their previous group membership.
Steven Hassan, who began his career as a deprogrammer, criticizes deprogramming in his book Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves. He writes that "Deprogramming has many drawbacks. I have met dozens of people who were successfully deprogrammed but, to this day, experience psychological trauma as a result of the method. These people were glad to be released from the grip of cult programming but were not happy about the method used to help them.
Eileen Barker states that out of one thousand people persuaded by theUnification Church to attend one of their overnight programs in 1979, 90% had no further involvement. Only 8% joined for more than one week and less than 4% remained members by 1981, two years later.
Tyler Hendricks, former president of the Unification Church, estimates that approximately 100,000 people "moved into" the Unification Church as full-time members from the 1970s to the 1990s. Membership in the church was 8,600 in 2004 (counting only those who joined as adults and excluding the children of members). This is an attrition rate of 93%.
Billy Graham, one of the most prominent evangelists of the last century had only an average of 1% of the attendants of his evangelizations heed the altar call at all. Follow-up work after evangelizations shows that only 10% of the people responding to an altar call actually do join a church. Therefore successful Christian evangelizations resulted in a longterm success rate of 0.1%, as compared to the 4% of Barker's observation. And these 0.1% do not become full-time missionaries as in the Unification Church. (Langone, 1993).
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a statement in 1977 related to brainwashing and mind control. In this statement the ACLU opposed certain methods "depriving people of the free exercise of religion". The ACLU also rejected (under certain conditions) the idea that claims of the use of 'brainwashing' or of 'mind control' should overcome the free exercise of religion.
Leon Festinger based his theory of the cognitive dissonance, a component of Hassan's Mind Control model, on his observation that the faith of most members of a UFO cult was unshattered by failed prophecy. .
Barrett who is affiliated with CESNUR and Eileen Barker, whom some anti-cult activists consider cult apologists, wrote that logical arguments are irrelevant when trying to persuade some members to leave a movement due to the certainty that they have about their faith, which he sees as not confined to cults, but also occurring in some forms of mainstream religion. He also wrote that some members do not leave the movement even though they realize that things are wrong. See also Leaving a cult.
In the Christian counter-cult movement there are several commentators who reject mind control as a factor in cult membership, and membership in both Christian and non-Christian cults as a spiritual or theological issue.
In an article by the evangelical Christian writers Bob and Gretchen Passantino, first appearing in Cornerstone magazine, titled Overcoming The Bondage Of Victimization: A Critical Evaluation of Cult Mind Control Theories they challenge the validity of mind control theories and the alleged "victimization" by mind-control, and assert in their conclusion:
In a rebuttal to the Passantino's article, a protagonist of the counter-cult movement, Paul R. Martin, Ph.D. et al. in his Overcoming the Bondage of Revictimization: A Rational/Empirical Defense of Thought Reform, (first appeared in Cultic Studies Journal 15/2 1998), writes:
Some persons have claimed a "brainwashing defense" for crimes committed while purportedly under mind control. In the cases of Patty Hearst, Steven Fishman and Lee Boyd Malvo the court rejected such defenses.
Starting from the Fishman case (1990) (where a defendant accused of commercial fraud raised as a defense that he was not fully responsible since he was under the mind control of Scientology) American courts consistently rejected testimonies about mind control and manipulation, stating that these were not part of accepted mainline science according to the Frye Standard (Anthony & Robbins 1992: 5-29). Margaret Singer and her associate Richard Ofshe filed suits against the American Psychological Association) (APA) and the American Sociological Association (ASA) (who had supported APA's 1987 statement) but they lost in 1993 and 1994.
The Frye standard has since been replaced by the Daubert standard and there have been to court cases where testimonies about mind control have been examined according to the Daubert standard.
Some Civil suits where mind control was an issue, were, though, more effective:
In the case of Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology of California the court states church practices had been conducted in a coercive environment and so were not protected by religious freedom guarantees. Wollersheim was finally awarded $8 million in damages. (California appellate court, 2nd district, 7th division, Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology of California, Civ. No. B023193 Cal. Super. (1986)
"During trial, Wollersheim's experts testified Scientology's "auditing" and "disconnect" practices constituted "brainwashing" and "thought reform" akin to what the Chinese and North Koreans practiced on American prisoners of war. A religious practice which takes place in the context of this level of coercion has less religious value than one the recipient engages in voluntarily. Even more significantly, it poses a greater threat to society to have coerced religious practices inflicted on its citizens." "Using its position as religious leader, the 'church' and its agents coerced Wollersheim into continuing auditing even though his sanity was repeatedly threatened by this practice... Thus there is adequate proof the religious practice in this instance caused real harm to the individual and the appellant's outrageous conduct caused that harm... 'Church' practices conducted in a coercive environment are not qualified to be voluntary religious practices entitled to first amendment religious freedom guarantees
In 1993 the European Court of Human Rights upheld the right of a Greek Jehovah's Witness Minos Kokkinakis, who had been sentenced to prison and a fine for proselytizing, to spread his faith, though the court sought to define what it regarded as acceptable ways of sharing one's faith. However, in a dissenting judgment, two judges argued that Kokkinakis and his wife had applied "unacceptable psychological techniques" akin to brainwashing. KOKKINAKIS v. GREECE (14307/88)  ECHR 20 (25 May 1993)