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Author Topic: What is the science behind brainwashing?  (Read 4999 times)

Offline thedoc

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What is the science behind brainwashing?
« on: 02/12/2013 11:06:06 »
How can you tweak with people's belief systems to alter their viewpoints? And how has this been used in war and general society?
 Read a transcript of the interview by clicking here

or Listen to it now or [download as MP3]
« Last Edit: 02/12/2013 23:39:33 by chris »


 

Offline distimpson

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Re: What is the science behind brainwashing?
« Reply #1 on: 06/12/2013 15:06:36 »
How can you tweak with people's belief systems to alter their viewpoints?

it's quite easy: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/starsuckers/
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: What is the science behind brainwashing?
« Reply #2 on: 06/12/2013 16:08:13 »
We are born with no beliefs. We learn to believe whatever gives us comfort or prevents pain. So if we are offered greater comfort or worse pain, we can change our beliefs. 

Every society has had its share of brainwashing, from supporting a football team (a wholly irrational activity that can lead to all sorts of egregious behaviour) to believing in an afterlife that will be compromised if we don't submit to a paedophile or give a tenth of our income to support the priesthood. To some extent, societies are defined by their irrational beliefs and actions.
 

Offline cheryl j

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Re: What is the science behind brainwashing?
« Reply #3 on: 06/12/2013 17:08:32 »
In a book called The Rational Animal, Douglass Krendrick and Vladas Griskevicius discuss subconscious programs that the human brain runs in different situations when prompted by different stimuli. They argue that there are not necessarily different personality "types" but just one or more programs that get run more often, based on either the kind of situations a person ends up in a lot, or perhaps how successful those programs have been in meeting needs in the past.

Although this is not mentioned in the book, your question makes me wonder if perhaps "brain washing" might be exposing a person to continuous stimuli that keeps one particular program running over and over. For example, constant threats to physical safety or ego integrity runs, say,  the "social joiner/follow the herd/safety in numbers" program over and over, crowding out programs that make one want to separate, stand out, try something different, experiment, be independent.
« Last Edit: 06/12/2013 17:17:44 by cheryl j »
 

Offline distimpson

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Re: What is the science behind brainwashing?
« Reply #4 on: 06/12/2013 20:50:04 »
supporting a football team... societies are defined by their irrational beliefs and actions.

For example, constant threats to physical safety or ego integrity runs, say,  the "social joiner/follow the herd/safety in numbers" program over and over, crowding out programs that make one want to separate, stand out, try something different, experiment, be independent.

I would have thought these were some sort of "instinctive behaviors" like fight or flight. Manipulating instinctive behaviors would be a powerful means to elicit a response, it is my opinion that many of the social media sites work on this level, perhaps brainwashing is similar. But after reading the wiki entry it seems there may not be a consensus on what instinctive means:  "To be considered instinctual, a behavior must: a) be automatic, b) be irresistible, c) occur at some point in development, d) be triggered by some event in the environment, e) occur in every member of the species, f) be unmodifiable, and g) govern behavior for which the organism needs no training (although the organism may profit from experience and to that degree the behavior is modifiable)." Seems (to me) a rather ridged definition.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instinct
 

Offline cheryl j

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Re: What is the science behind brainwashing?
« Reply #5 on: 07/12/2013 14:25:41 »
Maybe that's why they invented the concept of the subconscious, because can we become partially aware of these responses, or override, or select between programs, and because some learned responses can become automatic as well.


A lot of the research in this area is based on "priming" experiments in which subtle cues are statistically shown to affect people's decisions. Priming experiments seem so silly, you almost wonder how anyone gets funding for them when you read the titles, and yet they generate some really interesting and often disturbing results about why people make the choices they do.

But getting back to the original question about brain washing, Stockholme syndrome is an interesting phenomenon, because it does seem so irrational. Here is a description of the event for which it was named:
On August 23rd, 1973 two machine-gun carrying criminals entered a bank in Stockholm, Sweden. Blasting their guns, one prison escapee named Jan-Erik Olsson announced to the terrified bank employees “The party has just begun!” The two bank robbers held four hostages, three women and one man, for the next 131 hours. The hostages were strapped with dynamite and held in a bank vault until finally rescued on August 28th.

After their rescue, the hostages exhibited a shocking attitude considering they were threatened, abused, and feared for their lives for over five days. In their media interviews, it was clear that they supported their captors and actually feared law enforcement personnel who came to their rescue. The hostages had begun to feel the captors were actually protecting them from the police. One woman later became engaged to one of the criminals and another developed a legal defense fund to aid in their criminal defense fees. Clearly, the hostages had “bonded” emotionally with their captors."


There are explanations involving evolutionary biology, as well as other kinds of psychology. There seems to be a gradual re-norming, in which the absence of abusive behavior, after intense exposure to it, is seen as an act of kindness.

Stockholme syndrome may also explain why some women stay in abusive relationships.
 

Offline distimpson

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Re: What is the science behind brainwashing?
« Reply #6 on: 07/12/2013 20:06:37 »
I'm beginning to realize that “brainwashing” has a pretty wide range of states. Mild forms as in societal norms or pop culture marketing to very extreme situations as in captive abuse. Abruptly changing someone's fundamental beliefs that they have formed over a lifetime would be very difficult, I guess that is why torture is not very effective, or so I'm told. Over a more prolonged period, humans like all animals adapt as best they can, apparently people have been enslaved for years in otherwise free societies.
But getting back to the original question about brain washing, Stockholme syndrome is an interesting phenomenon, because it does seem so irrational.
This seems a lot like shock treatment, I can understand the “go with the flow just happy to be alive” initial response but it is harder to understand the long term effects. But having said that, my most profound memories are of traumatic experiences, some things you never forget or completely get over. It's hard for me to understand but you never know how you will react to a situation until you are in it for real.

I'd guess brainwashing (if that is the correct usage) is easier if a person did not have any opposing belief or no thoughts to begin with, assuming that is why children are so susceptible. It seems to me that most of the violence I've seen against women is learned behavior.
 

Offline cheryl j

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Re: What is the science behind brainwashing?
« Reply #7 on: 08/12/2013 08:22:40 »
I’m not sure if you mean learned behavior on the part of the abuser or abused, or both.

Like other kinds of antisocial behavior, a mixture of bad genes and a bad environment are a disastrous combination, but one or the other has a much weaker predictive value, or is not predictive at all. Not all abusive men come from abusive homes, and many who experience and witness abuse actively oppose it as adults. Likewise, statistically, most women who have been in an abusive relationship did not grow up in abusive home and do not suffer from significantly low self esteem, other than the feelings originating with the abusive experience itself.

Abusive, controlling partners are not generally immediately dislikable or disagreeable. The relationship often has a honeymoon phase that is pleasant and exciting, and the destructive personality traits can be well hidden for months. In the beginning the abuser has  an idealized vision of his partner whom he expects to fulfill all of his future needs and comply with any and every demand. Until he realizes that this is impossible, he is sweet and loving.

Abused partners often ignore  warning signs of possessiveness and control. The abuser may claim he is insecure because of other women who  hurt him in the past, a common story of abusers, which makes jealousy seem more acceptable and even illicit sympathy. Warnings signs are also ignored because of other positive qualities.  It's hard to conceive that someone who may be, for example, fun, good looking, interesting to talk to, humorous, creative, hard working, talented, enthusiastic, and even affectionate – could possibly be the same person who would grab someone by the hair and smash her face into the dash board of the car, shove her around, or give her a black eye. Television shows about domestic violence never associate any positive qualities with abusers, which makes abused women's behavior even more bewildering.

A gradual shift in thinking takes place, to where simply not being mistreated is interpreted at a kind act and the victim begins to believe that if she just didn’t do or say certain things to upset her partner, or tried harder to please him, or didn't have certain defects -  the relationship would go back to the way it was when they first met. She begins to believe that her partner’s unpredictable, explosive anger must be her fault, because she can see no other rational explanation for it, because there is no rational explanation for it. She might also want to believe that there might be a way to fix it or prevent it.

Finally, there is a loss of perspective, as the abused becomes more and more isolated. She avoid friends and family out of embarrassment, and because it appeases the abuser who pressures her to stay away from people who might interfere. And if frustrated family or friends break off contact, the abuser uses it as evidence that no one really cares about her but him.

In that respect, the gradual shift in thinking, the loss of perspective from isolation, the unrelenting intimidation, the inability to predict when and why the abuser will "explode", even things like deliberate sleep deprivation, have a lot in common with what people experience in cults. And in both cases, a year or so afterwards, people who have these experiences are amazed that they felt and acted the way they did, as if they weren't really themselves during the experience. In that respect I think it is more like brain washing than a type of learned behavior.

ps  (Sorry for my use of pronouns - I do realize that women can be abusive and controlling or exhibit personality disorders as well.)
« Last Edit: 08/12/2013 16:43:06 by cheryl j »
 

Offline distimpson

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Re: What is the science behind brainwashing?
« Reply #8 on: 08/12/2013 20:33:45 »
I’m not sure if you mean learned behavior on the part of the abuser or abused, or both.

Like other kinds of antisocial behavior, a mixture of bad genes and a bad environment are a disastrous combination, but one or the other has a much weaker predictive value, or is not predictive at all. Not all abusive men come from abusive homes, and many who experience and witness abuse actively oppose it as adults. Likewise, statistically, most women who have been in an abusive relationship did not grow up in abusive home and do not suffer from significantly low self esteem, other than the feelings originating with the abusive experience itself.

I meant both. This is surprising to me, I've only have a few instances to draw on growing up so I was under the impression that the apple didn't fall far from the tree. I'd mention another source of learned behavior is outside the family in teen peer groups, although not physically restrained it can feel like you are trapped and required to conform to a way of thinking, a few make it a life mission to leave it behind.
In that respect, the gradual shift in thinking, the loss of perspective from isolation, the unrelenting intimidation, the inability to predict when and why the abuser will "explode", even things like deliberate sleep deprivation, have a lot in common with what people experience in cults. And in both cases, a year or so afterwards, people who have these experiences are amazed that they felt and acted the way they did, as if they weren't really themselves during the experience. In that respect I think it is more like brain washing than a type of learned behavior.
No doubt, the longer it goes on the harder it is to leave, more and more strings, and there is a lot of fear and uncertainty it trying to leave, some of it unfounded but some not. You have to commend the folks that take the action to get out, a lot of bravery in my opinion.
 

Offline cheryl j

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Re: What is the science behind brainwashing?
« Reply #9 on: 08/12/2013 21:36:46 »
Yes, I would think the dynamics of street gangs, would be very similar to cults and abusive relationships. The display of violence towards other people and objects is a subtle but ever present message - this could happen to you, if you are disloyal -without the group, you are nothing.
« Last Edit: 08/12/2013 22:39:58 by cheryl j »
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: What is the science behind brainwashing?
« Reply #10 on: 09/12/2013 00:12:56 »
I picked up a very perceptive line - in fact the only line I heard - from a radio play. The torturer said to his victim "You will come to love me because I am the only person who can stop the pain". The I arrived at my destionation and switched the radio off, but it was worth hearing just for that.
 

Offline tkadm30

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Re: What is the science behind brainwashing?
« Reply #11 on: 28/12/2015 13:14:27 »
Fear-based conditioning works pretty well for religions. I believe fear have such an effect on the hippocampus and amygdala that it can repress higher forms of learning. Hence, brainwashing may be a emotional response to the stress generated from fear, were our cognitive functions and subconscious become infiltrated from the coercive persuasion.

The newly defined "war on terror" concept is a form of state-sponsored brainwashing. It's purpose is to create beliefs and thoughts about a so called war on terrorism, an artificial fairy tale to conditionate human intelligence on the motivations of war through fear-based narratives.

In fact, war generates more terror than brainwashing possibly could. To deprogram the mind from coercive persuation requires to learn and detect how cognitive infiltration works. Science is a good starting point to gather informations on the modalities of mind programming by providing a method to inquire on the origins of fear.
« Last Edit: 28/12/2015 14:19:59 by tkadm30 »
 

Offline cheryl j

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Re: What is the science behind brainwashing?
« Reply #12 on: 03/01/2016 07:38:56 »
Propaganda probably works in multiple ways. Just repeat something often enough and people start to give it more credibility, even if its been disproven ( like autism and vaccines.)
Or there's "availability bias" where people tend to over estimate the likelihood of things or events if they can easily call to mind an example. The more examples you flash in front of the public, the more persuasive it is, even if there many more counter examples or "non-occurrences".

I also think propaganda (or any kind of persuasion, even advertising) also takes advantage of  cueing certain behaviors that may be hardwired or evolutionary. In "The Rational Animal" Kenrick and Griskavicuis propose several basic behavioral "programs" humans run that make them more likely to act a particular way in certain situations. Their categories include "kin care, mate acquisition, mate retention, status, affiliation, disease avoidance, and self protection."
Propaganda, like convincing people that a certain group is a threat, seems to have employed cueing a lot of these - foreigners will attack you, violate your women, they may have weird diseases,  they will cost money and take jobs. Of course, the opposition appeals to some of these elements as well - pictures of refugee children remind us of our own, and cue our protective instincts. Either way, there's always a primitive, emotional element in persuasion when there isn't the time or inclination to cite actual facts.
« Last Edit: 03/01/2016 07:42:45 by cheryl j »
 

Offline tkadm30

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Re: What is the science behind brainwashing?
« Reply #13 on: 15/01/2016 12:04:38 »
Brainwashing or coercive persuasion is more dangerous than propaganda. Common sense and reasoning can overcome propaganda which is often promoted by authorities. For example the prohibition of cannabis is a form of state-sponsored propaganda to restrict access to natural medicine over synthetic drugs.

Peoples with poor maieutics skills can be victims of coercive persuasion. Hence, the Socratic method can stimulates critical thinking, which is a mental ability required to evade brainwashing.

Also, psychological warfare may use propaganda to test how populations respond to brainwashing/mind control.     
 

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Re: What is the science behind brainwashing?
« Reply #13 on: 15/01/2016 12:04:38 »

 

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