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Mind control is a general term for a number of controversial theories and/or techniques designed to subvert an individual's control of their own thinking, behavior, emotions, or decisions. While terms such as mind control have been called "merely more scientific-sounding terms for . . . brainwashing",[1] the term is actually more general and can cover subjects such as hypothetical neurotechnology that, it is claimed, might one day "hack" the human brain.[2]

Since the mid-1930s scientists have known that establishing a potential field across a neural cell membrane could cause it to fire artificially. Experiments especially with giant axons of ocean squid showed such artificial stimulation possible.

While discussion of these techniques are popular amongst cult critics, conspiracy buffs, and as a subject of speculative fiction,[3] any techniques of mind control that actually work would have real-world applications.

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Such applications, were they to exist, might include use by hypothetical religious cults, by governments as torture techniques used to obtain confessions, as psyops to break resistance movements, by the advertising industry to manipulate consumer habits, and by the public relations industry to manufacture consent or remediate corporate image in the event of a crisis.
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The feasibility of such control and the methods by which it might be attained (either direct or more subtle) are subject to debate among psychologists, neuroscientists, and sociologists. Also, the exact definition of mind control and the extent to which it might have any kind of influence over individuals are debated.

The different views on the subject do have legal implications. For example, mind control was an issue in the court case of Patty Hearst, and in several court cases involving New Religious Movements. Also, questions of mind control are regarding ethical questions linked to the subject of free will.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

The question of mind control has been discussed in conjunction with religion, politics, prisoners of war, totalitarianism, neural cell manipulation, cults, terrorism, torture, parental alienation, and even battered person syndrome.

Theoretical models and methods

Subliminal advertising

Main article: Subliminal message


One of the more serious sides of subliminal advertising is the fact that it is theoretically possible to control people's behaviour.[How to reference and link to summary or text] For example, if a drink company were to utilize it, anyone watching or listening to the advertisement may be compelled to purchase that drink for a supposedly unknown reason.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

  • James Vicary named the term "subliminal advertising" .
  • The publication in 1957 of Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders brought the term to the attention of the people of the world.
  • In 1973 the book Subliminal Seduction

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:[4]

  • 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.[5]

  • 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.

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."[6]

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 represet 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?"[7]

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.[8]

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.[9]

In the book, Hassan describes the components of the BITE model:[9]

  • 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:[10]

  • 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."[9]

Hassan, after taking part in a number of deprogrammings in the late 1970s, states that he is no longer involved in this practice.[11] and which eventually became completely illegal except in the case of minors.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

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."[12]

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:[13]

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.

Mind Control and the Battered Person Syndrome

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. (as well as by former Scientologist Robert Vaughn Young).

Social psychology tactics

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.

One of the most notable proponents of such theories is social psychologist Philip Zimbardo, former president of the American Psychological Association:

I conceive of mind control as a phenomena encompassing all the ways in which personal, social and institutional forces are exerted to induce compliance, conformity, belief, attitude, and value change in others. [1]
"Mind control is the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes. It is neither magical nor mystical, but a process that involves a set of basic social psychological principles."

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]:

  1. Depluralization: stripping away all other group member identities
  2. Self-deindividuation: stripping away each member’s personal identity
  3. Other-deindividuation: stripping away the personal identities of enemies
  4. Dehumanization: identifying enemies as subhuman or nonhuman
  5. Demonization: identifying enemies as evil

Cults and mind control controversies

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.

Scholarly points of view

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.

The medical journals The Lancet and The American Journal of Psychiatry have published favorable reviews of Steven Hassan's 1988 book Combatting Cult Mind Control.[2] [3] The latter review was written by psychiatrist Louis Jolyon West, a long time advisory board member of the International Cultic Studies Association and of the Cult Awareness Network.

James T. 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:

"The CCM movement has collected some information to support its belief that religious groups successfully employ mind-control techniques. But the data is unreliable. The information typically represents a very small sample size. It is not practical to obtain information before, during and after an individual has been in a NRM. Often, their data is disproportionately obtained from former members of a religious organization who have been convinced during CCM counseling that they have been victims of mind-control." [4]

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. [5]

Sociologist Benjamin Zablocki sees strong indicators of mind control in some NRMs and suggests that the concept should be researched without bias:

"I am not personally opposed to the existence of NRMs and still less to the free exercise of religious conscience. I would fight actively against any governmental attempt to limit freedom of religious expression. Nor do I believe it is within the competence of secular scholars such as myself to evaluate or judge the cultural worth of spiritual beliefs or spiritual actions. However, I am convinced, based on more than three decades of studying NRMs through participant-observation and through interviews with both members and ex-members, that these movements have unleashed social and psychological forces of truly awesome power. These forces have wreaked havoc in many lives—in both adults and in children. It is these social and psychological influence processes that the social scientist has both the right and the duty to try to understand, regardless of whether such understanding will ultimately prove helpful or harmful to the cause of religious liberty." (Zablocki, 1997)

Sociologists David Bromley and Anson Shupe consider the idea that "cults" are brainwashing American youth to be "implausible".[6]. Sociology professor Stephen A. Kent published several articles where he discusses practices of NRMs as regards to brainwashing [7], [8]

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 [9] 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."[14]

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.

Mind control, exit counseling, and deprogramming

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 a 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."[15]

Mind control and recruitment rates

Eileen Barker states that out of one thousand people persuaded by the Moonies [Unification 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.[10]

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).

Mind control and faith

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. [11]

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. [12].

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.

Counter-cult movement and mind control

In the Christian counter-cult movement there are several commentators who refute 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:

[...] the Bogey Man of cult mind control is nothing but a ghost story, good for inducing an adrenaline high and maintaining a crusade, but irrelevant to reality. The reality is that people who have very real spiritual, emotional, and social needs are looking for fulfillment and significance for their lives. Ill-equipped to test the false gospels of this world, they make poor decisions about their religious affiliations. Poor decisions, yes, but decisions for which they are personally responsible nonetheless. As Christians who believe in an absolute standard of truth and religious reality, we cannot ignore the spiritual threat of the cults. We must promote critical thinking, responsible education, biblical apologetics, and Christian evangelism. We must recognize that those who join the cults, while morally responsible, are also spiritually ignorant.[13]

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:

"The Passantinos are well known and respected evangelical writers. Consequently, their critique, which is rife with errors and misinterpretations, disturbs us very much and calls for a detailed rebuttal. [...]For us, theological considerations inform our understanding of the sociological and psychological destruction caused by cults, although others hold similar positions without considering theological issues. Cults distort one's perceptions both of natural reality (sociological and psychological) and spiritual reality. In the Christian tradition, the former is supposed to reveal the latter; therefore, those interested in spiritual issues must address both sides in order to minister adequately to former cult members.[14]

Legal issues

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.

Also in the court cases against members of Aum Shinrikyo regarding the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system the mind control defense was not a mitigating factor.

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.[16]

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" [15]

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) [1993] ECHR 20 (25 May 1993) [16]

Mind control against children in Parental Alienation

Stanley Clawar and Brynne Rivlin have claimed in Children Held Hostage: Dealing with Programmed and Brainwashed Children that many forms of mind control are used in Parental alienation by one parent against the other parent using both parents' children as unwitting weapons. This use of mind control is often devastating to children and follows them into adulthood by creating a chronic condition which the authors have named Parental Alienation Syndrome. (It should be noted that there is no medical or psychological recognition of PAS as an actual syndrome, and that the use of this term serves to reify the age-old practice of one parent turning the child against the other). The authors claim the mind control used in Parental Alienation often permanently damages or destroys the target parent's bonds with his or her children. While this is undoubtedly true in some cases, in others, the alienating parent may be in fact protecting the child from an abusive or inadequate parent. These kinds of disputes are complex and the use of a simplistic term such as PAS can distract from the uniqueness of each situation.

Mind control in conspiracy theories

Mind control is a common feature in many conspiracy theories, as it provides a mechanism by which an alleged conspiracy could maintain control over innocent people, prevent knowledge of the conspiracy's actions, or prevent the conspiracy theorist's intended audience from believing the theory's allegations.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

The means by which victims are alleged to be controlled varies according to the nature of the theory in which they are said to be used.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Theories centering on existing governmental groups or intelligence agencies usually feature mind control via hypnosis, subliminal messages or other technological means, while theories focusing on non-human entities, extraterrestrials, demons, invisible masters, and organised secret societies, such as the Illuminati, Freemasons, or Black Dragon Society, are more likely to involve supernatural or magical means, or particularly fanciful technology such as "mind control satellites".

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Theories that involve the United States government frequently refer to MKULTRA. Radio waves or microwave radiation are frequently claimed to be used for mind control; radio and television broadcast towers, and more recently cell phone towers, are often considered suspect.[17][unreliable source?]
 Other theories may involve the use of lasers, or other methods such as various trauma-based or electronic-based mind control (see here).[17][unreliable source?]

J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye was rumored to be a device for FBI/CIA mind control at one time, based on the apparent coincidence of Lee Harvey Oswald and Mark Chapman owning a copy.[original research?]

Seeing as this has always been a popular novel among intelligent and alienated young men, however, this coincidence of ownership is hardly surprising.[original research?]
Nevertheless, there is a large fringe literature on the supposed 'mind control' subtext of 'Catcher in the Rye' [18].[unreliable source?]

Some individuals imagine themselves to be victims; for example Dan Rightmyer, who has published under the pen name "Alex Constantine." [19] His books are published by a fellow traveller named Adam Parfrey, who runs Feral House.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Rightmyer claimed in a letter to the now-defunct "Mondo 2000" magazine that he repelled magnets from his head.[How to reference and link to summary or text] "For die-hard skeptics, I can offer this proof: Two of the leading child psychologists in the country once witnessed magnets repelled from my cranium. When I wrote a letter to Amnesty International about my plight (it was ignored), friends of mind [sic] were subjected to microwave attack...".[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Validity of claims

The perceived validity of conspiracy theories are highly subject to opinion and may often find themselves to be at the center of a debate.

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 There are almost always many arguments or instances of evidence indicating reasons to believe or disbelieve any such theory, and for this reason, it may be difficult to discern fact from fiction.[original research?]
 Proponents often find themselves with fewer supporters and are in the position to suggest that those in opposition maintain an "open mind" and allow themselves to consider what may seem contrary to one's prior knowledge.
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 Often the antagonists in this position may be relatively unresponsive and negatively poised towards such arguments.[original research?]
 Ergo, this is a controversial subject.[original research?]

Arguments for

In support of such claims concerning mind control, one note of worth is that the U.S. Secret Service's use of hypnosis and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)'s use of brainwashing has been confirmed in past court cases where testimony was conclusive and the agencies were decided as guilty.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Principles behind electronic-based mind control devices have been proposed.[How to reference and link to summary or text] A study in the 1930s concerning the neural cells of giant squid[20] showed that establishing a potential energy field across a neuron or neural cell membrane will cause it to fire. Although they are much larger in size, the brains of such squid are similar to humans and such experiments could potentially be applied the human mind.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Seventy-five years of understanding these facts lends support that devices could have been devised to affect human mental and bodily processes and functions using external energy sources.[original research?]

Arguments against

There are certainly those who discredit the notion of mind control as a secretive or conspirative tool.

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 Some conspiracy theorists have even been viewed by some as crazy or paranoid individuals who lack a convincing basis for their claims.
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 Others discredit conspirative claims in that they may be attributed to possible symptoms of schizophrenia or other forms of psychosis.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Mind control in fiction and popular culture

Mind control has proven a popular subject in fiction, featuring in books and films such as The IPCRESS File, and The Manchurian Candidate, which has the premise that controllers could hypnotize a person into murdering on command while retaining no memory of the killing.

  • The TV series The Prisoner featured mind control as a recurring plot element.
  • In the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange, later adapted into a film by Stanley Kubrick, the "Ludovico Technique" is a form of mind control that causes the subject, in this case the thug anti-hero Alex, to feel sickness and pain whenever he has a violent or anti-social impulse.
  • Mind control (telepathic hypnosis) is a prominent psionic gift in the Scanners movies. It is used by the Scanners to escape imprisonment in the first movie, and to sometimes control others in the subsequent films.
  • George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four features a description of mind control, both directly by torture, and indirectly, in the form of pervasive mind control by the use of Newspeak, a constructed language designed to remove the possibility, Sapir-Whorf-wise of articulating or of even thinking subversive thoughts.
  • The Jedi mind trick is a prominent plot device in the Star Wars saga.
  • There has also been a rapidly growing genre known as erotic mind-control, where the controller's motivation is to control victims for the controller's own pleasure, although this is often described as resulting in pleasure for the victims as well. Most such stories are published only online as they are written by amateur writers as a hobby.
  • The Illuminatus! Trilogy pokes fun at conspiracy theorists' assertions of pervasive mind control. The best known example for the book is the fnord, a word that the populace at large has been programmed since birth to not consciously notice, but to associate with a sense of fear and general unease; it is supposedly inserted into published works on current events, such as magazines and newspapers, but is absent from advertising, leading people to avoid knowledge of the world and to be obedient consumers.
  • In the MMORPG World of Warcraft, players of the priest class gain the ability to mind-control other humanoid characters, gaining full control over their actions for a short period. (Due to interface limitations, priests cannot do anything else while controlling a target.)
  • Preacher units in Populous: The Beginning as well as priests in Age of Empires are able to take control of an opponent's units (in fact, this is their primary function in both games). Although this is not mind control, but rather preaching to the enemy so that they willingly convert sides.
  • In Konami's stealthy title Metal Gear Solid for the PlayStation, Psycho Mantis, a rogue special forces member with powerful telepathic abilities, subtly controls a small army, and on several occasions completely dominates a single person's movements and speech.
  • In "The Matrix", a chemical was injected into Morpheus to make him reveal access codes.
  • The character Yuri in the Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 is an extremely advanced telepath with the capability of completely controlling the actions of others. There is one flaw, however: a mind-controlled person can be seen to be showing strain against Yuri's power, culminating in sweating, stammering and memory loss. Later in the game expansion Yuri's Revenge, he leads an entire faction with several mind controlling units included.
  • The Dark Archon, a unit in the computer game StarCraft, has the ability to psionically mind control other units, indefinitely taking complete control of them.
  • In Midway's Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, the player's character Nick Scryer can perform mind control.
  • Michael Crichton's "Terminal Man" has doctors implant a simple computer into the brainstem of a man who suffers from impulsive violence. The plan is to stimulate certain nerves to ease the violent impulses. Instead, the violence becomes even more irresistible.
  • In Bionicle storyline, a Kanohi mask called Komau allows the user the power to control minds of beings.
  • In the anime, movie and video game series Street Fighter 2, Vega (known as M. Bison in the US) uses his "Psycho Power" to brainwash and corrupt street fighters across the world into joining his criminal organization known as Shadowloo, turning them into remorseless killing machines fully under his control.
  • In the movie Control Factor, an unsuspecting "everyman" slowly realizes he is an unwitting guinea pig being used in a mind control test. If successful, the test will then expand to behavioral control of an entire population.
  • In comic books, Professor Xavier, the leader of the X-Men, can read and control people's minds.
  • The progressive/heavy metal band Queensrÿche uses mind control as the central theme of their 1988 album Operation Mindcrime.
  • In the movie Conspiracy Theory, Mel Gibson plays as Jerry Fletcher, a cab driver and a conspiracy theorist who coincidentally hits a truth involving a secretly government-funded mind control program, as it turns out Jerry himself is one of the subjects of the program.
  • The late Russian psychic, Wolf Messing, was said to be able to hand somebody a blank piece of paper and make them see money or whatever he wanted them to see.
  • Jim Halpert is another fictional character to prominently use mind-control for personal gain.
  • The House of the Scorpion is a Sci-Fi book in which people have computer chips implanted in their brain, allowing them to only do what they are 'programmed' to do. These people are referred to as 'Eejits'.

See also: Mind uploading

Mind control as entertainment

Hypnotism has often been used by stage performers to make volunteers do strange things, such as clucking like a chicken, for the entertainment of audiences. The British psychological illusionist Derren Brown performs more sophisticated mental tricks in his television programmes, Derren Brown: Mind Control.

As of March 24th 2007 a US company called Emotiv began launching a mind control device for video games based on Electroencephalography. It was reported by Wall Street Journal's Don Clark on MSNBC.[18]

See also

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:



  • José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado
  • George Estabrooks
  • Joseph Goebbels
  • William Sargant


  • Homokaasu
  • Invaders from Mars (1953 film)
  • Candy Jones
theory of conversion exit tactics
coercive persuasion
love bombing
mind control
personality alteration
religious conversion
thought reform
exit counseling
intervention (counseling)
post-cult trauma

Further reading

  • Cialdini, Robert B., Influence: Science and Practice, Allyn & Bacon, 2000.
  • Alberto Amitrani and Raffaella di Marzio: "Mind Control" in New Religious Movements and the American Psychological Association, Cultic Studies Journal Vol 17, 2000.
  • Bromley, D.B., Shupe, A.D., Strange Gods: The Great American Cult Scare, Beacon Press, Boston, (1981).
  • Clawar, Stanley, and Rivlin, Brynne, Children Held Hostage: Dealing with Programmed and Brainwashed Children, ABA, 2003.
  • Glasser, William, WARNING: Psychiatry Can be Dangerous to Your Health, Quill, 2004.
  • Hadden, Jeffrey K., The Brainwashing
  • Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World#Brave New World Revisited, 1958, 1965 essays
  • Intelligence Now
  • Kramer, Joel, and Alstad, Diana, The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, North Atlantic, 1993.
  • Singer, Margaret et al.: Report of the APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control, November 1986 (DIMPAC report) [21]
  • Introvigne, Massimo, “Liar, Liar”: Brainwashing, CESNUR and APA (Rebuttal to DIMPAC report) [22]
  • Keith, Jim, Experiments in Mind-Control
  • Kent, Stephen, Brainwashing and Re-Indoctrination Programs in the Children of God, The Family CULTIC STUDIES JOURNAL Volume 17 (2000)
  • Kent, Stephen, Brainwashing in Scientology's Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), 2000, Hamburg, Behörde für Inneres, Arbeitsgruppe Scientology und Landeszentrale für politische Bildung property=source.pdf (pdf)
  • Kent, Stephen and Szimhart, Joseph: Exit Counseling and the Decline of Deprogramming, Cultic Studies Journal 1/3, 2002
  • Kilde, Rauni Leena, M.D.: Microwave Mind-Control[23]
  • Langone, Michael: Recovery from Cults (book), 1993
  • Lifton, Robert J., Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (1961);
  • Lifton, Robert J., Destroying the world to save it: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence and the New Global Terrorism, (1999);
  • Martin, Paul R. et al.: Overcoming the Bondage of Revictimization: A Rational/Empirical Defense of Thought Reform in Cultic Studies Journal 15/2, 1998 [24]
  • Passantino Bob and Gretchen. Overcoming The Bondage Of Victimization. A Critical Evaluation of Cult Mind Control Theories. (1994) Cornerstone Magazine. [25]
  • Ramirez Boulette, Teresa and Andersen, Susan M.: Mind Control and the Battering of Women, Cultic Studies Journal 3/1 (1986) [26]
  • Ross, Colin A., Bluebird : Deliberate Creation of Multiple Personality by Psychiatrists, Manitou Communications (December 6 2000) ISBN 0-9704525-1-9
  • Schein, Edgar H. et al., Coercive Persuasion (1961)
  • Shapiro, K. A. Pascual-Leone, A., Mottaghy, F. M., Gangitano, M., & Caramazza, A. (2001). Grammatical distinctions in the left frontal cortex. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 13(6), 713-720 [27]
  • SSSR Resolution on New Religious Groups
  • Stahelski, Anthony: Terrorists Are Made, Not Born: Creating Terrorists Using Social Psychological Conditioning, Journal of Homeland Security, March 2004 [28]
  • Young, Robert Vaughn: Toward a new model of "cult mind control" (2000) [29]
  • Zablocki, Benjamin, The Blacklisting of a Concept. The Strange History of the Brainwashing Conjecture in the Sociology of Religion, Nova Religio, vol. 1/1, October 1997
  • Zablocki, Benjamin, Towards a Demystified and Disinterested Scientific Theory of Brainwashing, in Benjamin Zablocki and Thomas Robbins (ed.), Misunderstanding Cults, 2001, ISBN 0-8020-8188-6
  • Zimbardo, Philip Mind Control: Psychological Reality or Mindless Rhetoric? in Monitor on Psychology, November 2002 [30]
  • Zimbardo, Philip: Understanding Mind Control: Exotic and Mundane Mental Manipulations in Langone, Michael et al.: Recovery from Cults (book), 1993, ISBN 0-393-31321-2

External links


  1. BBC News The mystery of mind control By Brendan O'Neill Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 May, 2004, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK accessed 2007-01-26
  2. Discover Magazine Issues October-04 The Myth of Mind Control accessed 2007-01-26
  3. See, Manchurian Candidate
  4. Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China, Robert J. Lifton, 1956
  5. Cults in Our Midst: The Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden Menace, Margaret Thaler Singer, Jossey-Bass, publisher, April 2003, ISBN 0-78796-741-6]
  6. May 11, 1987, APA MEMORANDUM available online
  7. "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
  8. 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
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, Steven Hassan, Ch. 2, Aitan Publishing Company, 2000
  10. Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, Steven Hassan, Ch. 4, Steven Hassan, Aitan Publishing Company, 2000
  11. Refuting the Disinformation Attacks Put Forth by Destructive Cults and their Agents
  12. Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, Steven Hassan, Ch. 3, Aitan Publishing Company, 2000
  13. Final Report of the Enquete Commission on "So-called Sects and Psychogroups" New Religious and Ideological Communities and Psychogroups in the Federal Republic of Germany
  14. Mind Control: Psychological Reality or Mindless Rhetoric? Philip Zimbardo, Monitor on Psychology, Volume 33, No. 10, November 2002
  15. Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, Steven Hassan, Ch. 3, Aitan Press, 2000
    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...A deprogramming triggers the deepest fears of cult members. They have been taken against their will. Family and friends are not to be trusted. The trauma of being thrown into a van by unknown people, driven away, and imprisoned creates mistrust, anger, and resentment.
  16. 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."
  17. Mind Control
  18. (2007). Video Mind Control Device. URL accessed on 2007-03-25.

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