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The APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC) was formed at the request of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1983. The APA asked Margaret Singer, who was one of the leading proponents of coercive persuasion theories, to chair a taskforce to investigate whether brainwashing or "coercive persuasion" did play a role in recruitment in New religious movements and other groups.

Before the taskforce had submitted its final report the APA submitted an amicus curiæ brief in a case pending before the California Supreme Court which involved issues of brainwashing and coercive persuasion. The brief stated that Singer's hypotheses were uninformed speculations based on skewed data. The APA subsequently withdrew from the brief, stating that its participation was premature in that DIMPAC had not yet submitted its report. Scholars who were co-signatories to the brief did not withdraw.

The final report of the task force was completed in November of 1986. The APA Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology (BSERP) rejected the DIMPAC report; stating that it lacked scientific rigor and an evenhanded critical approach to carry the imprimatur of the APA, also stating that it did not have sufficient information to take a position on the issues that DIMPAC was charged with investigating. The BSERP board requested that the task force members not distribute or publicize the report without indicating that the report was unacceptable to the the board and cautioned the taskforce members against using their past appointment to it to imply support or approval by BSERP or APA.

Singer and her professional associate sociologist Richard Ofshe subsequently sued the APA in 1992 for "defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy" and lost in 1994. Singer was subsequently not accepted by judges as an expert witness in cases alleging brainwashing and mind control.

Task force members

The task force members consisted of:[1]

Summary of report

The report was structured into twenty-two subsections:

1 Historical Background

2 Cults

3 Definitional Issues

4 Religious Cults

5 Types of religious cults

6 Harms associated with religious cults

7 Methodological considerations

8 The brainwashing/deprogramming controversy

9 Psychotherapy Cults

10 Literature review

11 Legal cases

12 Non-professional cults

13 Large Group Awareness Training

14 LGAT Historical Background

15 LGAT Review of the Literature

16 LGAT Conclusions

17 Analysis

18 The Continuum of Influence: A Proposal

19 Influence Continuum

20 Ethical Issues for Psychologists

21 Ethical Issues for Nonpsychologists

22 Recommendations

Ethical issues for psychologists

The task force began the "Ethical Issues for Psychologists" section by citing the preamble to the American Psychological Association's Ethical Principles of Psychologists, and emphasizing the need for the dignity of the individual, as well as the need for psychologists to increase the knowledge and understandings of themselves, human beings and human behaviour, and the nature of human interaction.

They contrasted the "self-development" and "caretaker" attitudes that psychologists often take when treating patients, and focused on the ethical aspects of changes and innovation within their profession.

Finally, the task force warned of the "dangers posed by the inappropriate use of deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control", and also stated that the danger is far greater when these techniques are utilized by untrained individuals or large group awareness training organizations due to their lack of professional qualifications.[1]

Ethical issues for non-psychologists

The task force stated that the growth of cults and large group awareness training organizations, particularly those that advocate "moral positions antithetical to the mainstream", contribute to a conflict that exists with regard to religious pluralism. Specifically, the need for a pluralistic society to maintain tolerance, balanced against totalism.

The task force goes on to focus on the challenge of establishing an "ethical consensus" between pluralism and "moral anarchy". They state that the "study of deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control in cults and large group awareness trainings" exemplifies the "unethical extreme of persuasive processes", and can serve as a fram of reference for the manner in which these groups attempt to influence public perceptions. They state that more research is required in order to understand how to integrate the body of social psychology and apply it to what they define as the "influence continuum."[1]


The three main recommendations of the task force focused on the areas of research, professional ethics and education, and public policy.


The task force put forth two recommendations in the area of research. First, they emphasized that psychologists should spend more time trying to understand indirect and deceptive social influence techniques. Second, they stated that this study of "deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control" should be accompanied by a study of how to resist/neutralize these techniques, as well as a way to treat those who have been harmed by them.[1]

Professional ethics and education

In the area of professional ethics and education, the task force encouraged the American Psychological Association to consider revising future versions of their ethical code; with respect to: "the ethical implications of deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control used in LGATs, innovative psychotherapies, and other settings."[1]

Public policy

With regard to public policy, the task force put forth two recommendations as well: First, they stated that psychologists must educate the public about the "deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control". Second, they noted that the increasing amount of litigation related to these techniques poses a threat to "consumers and ethical psychologists." They recommended that the American Psychological Association advocate stricter regulations; for "nonprofessionally run programs" which seek to change behaviour through the use of these techniques.[1]

Amicus curiæ

Before the taskforce had submitted its final report, the APA, together with a group of scholars, submitted on February 10, 1987 an amicus curiæ brief in an pending case before the California Supreme Court, involving issues of brainwashing and coercive persuasion related to the Unification Church. The brief stated that Singer's hypotheses were uninformed speculations based on skewed data. [2]. The brief characterized the theory of brainwashing as not scientifically proven and advanced the position that "this commitment to advancing the appropriate use of psychological testimony in the courts carries with it the concomitant duty to be vigilant against those who would use purportedly expert testimony lacking scientific and methodological rigor."

On March 24, 1987, the APA filed a motion to withdraw its signature from this brief, as it considered the conclusion premature, in view of the ongoing work of the DIMPAC taskforce. The amicus as such was kept because the co-signed scholars did not withdraw their signatures. Among them were: Jeffrey Hadden, Eileen Barker, David Bromley and J. Gordon Melton, Joseph Bettis, Durwood Foster, William R. Garret, Richard D. Kahone, Timothy Miller, John Young, James Richardson, Ray L. Hart, Benton Johnson, Franklin Littell, Newton Malony, Donald E. Miller, Mel Prosen, Thomas Robin, and Huston Smith.

APA memorandum - dismissal of DIMPAC report

On May 11, 1987, the APA Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology (BSERP) rejected the DIMPAC report because "the brainwashing theory espoused lacks the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur." [3]

The rejection memo was accompanied by two letters from external advisers to the APA that reviewed the report (the internal review of the APA was not made public). One of the letters, from Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi of the University of Haifa, stated amongst other comments that "lacking psychological theory, the report resorts to sensationalism in the style of certain tabloids" and that "the term 'brainwashing' is not a recognized theoretical concept, and is just a sensationalist 'explanation' more suitable to 'cultists' and revival preachers. It should not be used by psychologists, since it does not explain anything", and asked that the report should not be made public. The second letter, from Jeffrey D. Fisher, said that the report "[...] seems to be unscientific in tone, and biased in nature. It draws conclusions, which in many cases do not mesh well with the evidence presented. At times, the reasoning seems flawed to the point of being almost ridiculous. In fact, the report sometimes seems to be characterized by the use of deceptive, indirect techniques of persuasion and control - the very thing it is investigating". [4]

The BSERP board also cautioned the taskforce members "against using their past appointment to imply BSERP or APA support or approval of the positions advocated in the report" , and that they shound "not distribute or publicize the report without indicating that the report was unacceptable to the Board."[3]

The memorandum concludes with "Finally, after much consideration, BSERP does not believe that we have sufficient information available to guide us in taking a position on this issue."[3]

Impact of the DIMPAC report dimissal on court cases

On August of 1988, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals overturned the Kropinski v. World Plan Executive Council case, based on the lack of scientific support for the theories presented by Margaret Singer, Ph.D. during her testimony as an expert witness [5]

In 1989, the Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal of California, in the Robin George v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness case, rejected Singer's expert testimony on the basis that the brainwashing theory of false imprisonment was an attempt to premise tort liability on religious practices that the plaintiff believed to be objectionable, and that such premise was inconsistent with the First Amendment.[6]

In 1990, District Court Judge Lowell Jensen excluded her testimony in United States v. Fishman, because the Court was not convinced that the application of coercive persuasion theory to religious cults was widely accepted in the medical community and did not accept the coercive persuasion theory in the context of cults. [7]

In 1991, in the Patrick Ryan v. Maharishi Yogi case filed in the US District Court in Washington, DC , Judge Oliver Gasch refused to allow Singer to testify, based on the premises that Singer and Ofshe's theory did not enjoy substantial scientific approval and was therefore not admissible as the basis of expert opinion.[8]

Margaret Singer, et al. v. APA, et. al (RICO lawsuit)

When her findings were rejected by the APA's BSERP, Singer sued the APA and other scholars in 1992 for "defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy", under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), and lost in 1994. [9]

The lawsuit alleged that several top executives at the APA and ASA attempted to destroy their careers, charging that from 1986 to 1992 they resorted to improper influence of witnesses in state court litigations, filed untrue affidavits, attempted to obstruct justice in federal litigations, deceived federal judges, and committed wire and mail fraud. Ofshe and Singer said that these actions damaged their reputations as forensic experts in the fields of psychology and sociology in the area of coercive persuasion, preventing their testimony against cults, and specified acts of collusion between several of the defendants and cult groups.[10]

In an interview with the The Cult Observer, Michael Flomenhaf, a lawyer in the firm representing Singer and Ofshe, said that "All the facts are there. It's a very insidious thing, and it' s hard to believe that such institutions could have engaged in this behavior. This case had to be brought very deliberately because the nature of the complaints causes skepticism". He referred to the relationships of some the defendants as "incestuous". [11]

An article in the same The Cult Observer, describes a press release by Flomenhaf in which it is stated that besides the APA, other defendants named where Raymond Fowler (then APA chief executive officer); Leonard Goodstein (former APA executive director); Donald N. Bersoff (lawyer), Bruce J. Ennis (lawyer), Newton Malony (professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California), James Richardson (professor at the University of Nevada, Rodney Stark (professor at the University of Washington), Joan Huber (former president of the ASA and professor at Ohio State University), William D'Antonio (former ASA president and professor at the University of Massachusetts), and Dick Anthony, (resident of Albany, California, and writer on new religious movements. [12].

The court summons filed by Singer and Ofshe's lawyer described the APA's BSERP rejection of the DIMPAC report as a "rejection of the scientific validity of the theory of coercive persuasion".[13]

The case was dismissed by the court on the basis that the claims of defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy constituted a dispute over the application of the First Amendment to a public debate over academic and professional matters; that the parties may be be described as the opposing camps in a longstanding debate over certain theories in the field of psychology, and that the plaintiffs could not establish deceit with reference to representations made to other parties in the lawsuit. [14]

In a further ruling, James R. Lamden ordered Ofshe and Singer to pay $80,000 in attorneys' fees under California's SLAPP suit law, which penalizes those who harass others for exercising their First Amendment rights. At that time, Singer and Ofshe declared their intention to sue Michael Flomenhaft, the lawyer that represented them in the case, for malpractice.[15]

Comments on the lawsuit

This section is a stub. You can help by adding to it. In a press release by the "Deprogramming Survivors Network" of September 1993, Dr. Isaac N. Brooks Jr., its then national president, commented on the court decision stating that it "is another stunning victory for religious freedom and freedom of speech in America," and that "for years, Singer and others like her have engaged in a racket to profit from asserting false theories in courtrooms. Once again, they have been exposed." [16]

APA Division 36 resolution

APA Division 36 (then Psychologists Interested in Religious Issues, today Psychology of Religion) in its 1990 annual convention approved a resolution in which it was stated that there was no research that scientifically supports the assertion that non-physical persuasion such as "coercive persuasion", "mind control", or "brainwashing" is practiced by religious groups. The Executive Committee invited researchers to submit proposals on the topic. [17]

Use of the report

The report has been cited in a July 2006 conference in Melbourne, Australia, in which Professor Eugene Subbotsky stated: "controversial religious cults, manipulative psychotherapies and outbursts of religious fanaticism are on the increase"[18]. The report is also used as a reference text in psychology for Doctoral and post-doctoral students, at Brigham Young University's David O. McKay School of Education[19].

Comments on the report

The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements

The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements describes the DIMPAC report as a the result of the "professionalization of the Anti-cult movement" based on a broad-based effort to reconceptualize mind control theory so that it would pass muster with the judiciary and professional associations, as part of a campaign to gain professional legitimacy. It also asserts that the effort to was never completely successful, and that it was more successful in popular than scientific culture[20].

Andrew P. Bacus' statement delivered to the Illinois Senate Committee on Education

In a statement titled "Challenging 'Mind Control" in Illinois", Bacus refereed to Singer's theories as being "reviled by her peers" and that Singer's theories "continue to be viewed as sophomoric by her peers", and referred to the APA rejection as "research [that] has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of mental health professionals as not reliable." [21]

Dick Anthony's Pseudoscience and Minority Religions

Dick Anthony, in an article published in the Social Justice Research journal in 1999, writes that testimony based on brainwashing theory has been opposed as unscientific by relevant professional academic organizations and repeatedly excluded from American legal trials.[22]

2001 Amitrani, Di Marzio article

In 2001, Alberto Amitrani and Raffaella Di Marzio, from the Roman seat of the GRIS (Group for Research and Information about Sects), 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 represet the whole association. They quote Benjamin Zablocki, professor of sociology and one of the reviewers of the rejected DIMPAC report, as writing in 1997 that people were "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 quoted Benjamin Zablocki from a personal email: "In my opinion, the DIMPAC committee went too far in the other direction by asking the APA to affirm that brainwashing in religious cults was a proven psychological fact. It was for this that they were censured. It is not true that the APA affirmed the contrary, that brainwashing was disproved. Instead, the APA argued that it could not go along with EITHER SIDE in this matter. I would say that neither side got what it wanted from the APA. As an organization representing ALL psychologists in the USA, it took a proper agnostic position that no final decision could be given at this time".[23]

APA's 2002 Annual Convention

In 2002, at the APA's 2002 Annual Convention in Chicago during the panel session "Cults of hatred", Alan W. Scheflin, professor of law at Santa Clara University, stated that "Extreme influence [such as mind control and cults] has remained dormant in the field of psychology". He went on to state that it is a legitimate field of study and that psychology needs an organized response to it, saying: "We need to stop this germ from spreading."

The panelists also called for the APA to form a new task force to "investigate mind control among destructive cults." Panelists included Deborah Layton, survivor of the People's Temple mass suicide/murder at Jonestown, Steven Hassan, Cynthia F. Hartley, Stephen J. Morgan, a faculty member with the American Management Association/Management Centre Europe in Brussels, Belgium, and then APA President Philip Zimbardo[24]

See also

References and footnotes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Report of the APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control, November 1986., Margaret Singer, chair; Harold Goldstein, National Institute of Mental Health; Michael Langone, American Family Foundation; Jesse S. Miller, San Francisco, California; Maurice K. Temerlin, Clinical Psychology Consultants, Inc.; Louis Jolyon West, University of California Los Angeles.
  2. APA Brief in the Molko Case, from CESNUR website, [APA later withdrew the organization from the brief], 1987
    [t]he methodology of Drs. Singer and Benson has been repudiated by the scientific community, that the hypotheses advanced by Singer were little more than uninformed speculation, based on skewed data and that "[t]he coercive persuasion theory ... is not a meaningful scientific concept.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 May 11, 1987, APA MEMORANDUM available online
  4. APA memo and two enclosures
  5. District of Columbia Court of Appeal, case 853 F.2d 948, Kropinski v. World Plan Executive Council.
    "Kropinski failed to provide any evidence that Dr. Singer’s particular theory, namely that techniques of thought reform may be effective in the absence of physical threats or coercion, has a significant following in the scientific community, let alone general acceptance.
  6. Robin George v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness of California, District Court of California Appeals, August 1989, case cited in Lewis, James R. The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements, pp.194, ISBN 0-19-514986-6
  7. Boyle,Robin A., Women, the Law, and Cults: Three Avenues of Legal Recourse--New Rape Laws, Violence Against Women Act, and Antistalking Laws, Cultic Studies Journal, 15, 1-32. (1999) in reference to United States v. Fishman, United States District Court of California, CR–88-0616; DLG CR 90 0357 DLG
  8. Jane Green and Patrick Ryan v. Maharishi Yogi, US District Court, Washington, DC, 13 March 1991, Case #87-0015 OG
  9. Case No. 730012-8 Margaret Singer v. American Psychological Association, Court order
  10. Cultologists sue social science associations; Margaret Singer, Richard Ofshe, American Psychological Association, American Sociological Association, Ncahf Newsletter, Vol. 15 ; No. 6 ; Pg. 2; ISSN: 0890-3417, November, 1 1992
  11. Dr. Margaret Singer and Dr. Richard Ofshe Sue Associations, The Cult Observer, Vol. 9 No. 8, 1992
  12. Experts on Cultism Sue Academic Associations. The Cult Observer, Vol. 9 No. 8,1992
  13. Margaret Singer and Richard Ofshe v. American Psychological Association and others before the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of Alameda, January 31, 1994, Summons, 110, p. 31).
  14. Case No. 730012-8, Margaret Singer, et al., Plaintiff v. American Psychological Association, et. Al., Defendants
    "This case, which involves claims of defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy, clearly constitutes a dispute over the application of the First Amendment to a public debate over matters both academic and professional. The disputant may fairly be described as the opposing camps in a longstanding debate over certain theories in the field of psychology. The speech of which the plaintiff's complain, which occurred in the context of prior litigation and allegedly involved the "fraudulent" addition of the names of certain defendants to documents filed in said prior litigation, would clearly have been protected as comment on a public issue whether or not the statements were made in the contest of legal briefs. The court need not consider whether the privilege of Civil Code 47 (b) extends to an alleged interloper in a legal proceeding. Plaintiffs have not presented sufficient evidence to establish any reasonable probability of success on any cause of action. In particular Plaintiffs cannot establish deceit with reference to representations made to other parties in the underlying lawsuit. Thus Defendants' Special Motions to Strike each of the causes at action asserted against them, pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure 425.16 is granted."
  15. Allen. Charlotte, Brainwashed! Scholars of Cults Accuse Each Other of Bad Faith, December 1998. Available online
  16. Controversial psychologist's complaint thrown out of New York U.S. District court, PR Newswire, Washington Dateline, September, 03 1993
    "The Deprogramming Survivors Network issued the following: The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York recently dismissed psychologist Margaret Singer's suit alleging a conspiracy by the American Psychological Association (APA) to destroy her reputation. Singer and her colleague, sociologist Richard Ofshe, had sued the APA, the American Sociological Association (ASA) and 12 individual scholars and lawyers under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Their suit charged that the two organizations and 12 individuals conspired to ruin their credibility as "expert witnesses" in lawsuits concerning new religious movements, thus preventing them from earning personal income. In dismissing Singer and Ofshe's complaint, Judge Lawrence M.McKenna found that "the amended complaint in the present case simply cannot sustain a RICO claim ... no 'pattern' of racketeering activity can be discerned from the acts alleged." "The decision is another stunning victory for religious freedom and freedom of speech in America," said Dr. Isaac N. Brooks Jr., nationalp resident of the Deprogramming Survivors Network, an organization formed to eradicate religious kidnapping and deprogrammings by pushing for criminal prosecutions of deprogrammers. "For years, Singer and otherslike her have engaged in a racket to profit from asserting falset heories in courtrooms. Once again, they have been exposed."
  17. PIRI Executive Committee Adopts Position on Non-Physical Persuasion Winter, 1991, in Amitrano and Di Marzio, 2001) The Executive Committee of the Division of Psychologists Interested in Religious Issues supports the conclusion that, at this time, there is no consensus that sufficient psychological research exists to scientifically equate undue non-physical persuasion (otherwise known as "coercive persuasion", "mind control", or "brainwashing") with techniques of influence as typically practiced by one or more religious groups. Further, the Executive Committee invites those with research on this topic to submit proposals to present their work at Divisional programs."
  18. Magical thinking in contemporary societies: effects, mechanisms and implications. Eugene Subbotsky, A symposium proposal for the XIXth Biennial Meeting of ISSBD, July 2006, Melbourne, Australia
  19. "Advanced Seminar in Agent Psychology: Learning and Teaching in the Latter-days", Brigham Young University, David O. McKay School of Education, January 2006, Doctoral and post-doctoral students.
  20. Anson Shupe, David G. Bromley, and Susan E. Darnell, The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements, Chapter 8 Vicissitudes of Success and Failure , pp.195, James R. Lewis (ed.) (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004)
    "The professionalization of the ACM was accompanied by a broad-based effort to reconceptualize mind control theory so that it would pass muster with the judiciary and professional associations that adjudicated the standards for knowledge as well as account for “walkaways” and address the growing opposition to mind control theories from NRM scholars. [...] In a campaign to gain professional legitimacy, ACM-connected psychologists sought the support of the American Psychological Association for mind control ideology. In 1983 a task force, the Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC), was established to report to the APA's Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility (BSERP). ACM members dominated the task force. When a report was submitted three years later, BSERP concluded that it lacked scientific rigor and rejected it. [...] Overall, the effort to revamp ACM ideology was never completely successful, although it was more successful in popular than scientific culture.
  21. Bacus, Andrew P., Challenging 'Mind Control" in Illinois. Illinois Senate Committee on Education, December 7, 1993.
  22. Anthony, Dick, Pseudoscience and Minority Religions: An Evaluation of the Brainwashing Theories of Jean-Marie Abgrall, Social Justice Research, Springer Netherlands (1999), Volume 12, Number 4
  23. "Mind Control" in New Religious Movements and the American Psychological Association, Amitrani Marzio and Raffaella Di Marzio, Cults and Society, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2001
  24. Dittmann, Melisa, Cults of Hatred: Panelists at a convention session on hatred asked APA to form a task force to investigate mind control among destructive cults., Volume 33, No. 10, November 2002, Melissa Dittmann, pg. 30, American Psychological Association, Monitor, "Avaliable online"

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