Mind-Control FAQ

Q&A on the First Question



    qnote.gif (173 bytes) Mind-Control FAQ

         grsqrsm.gif (85 bytes) Q&A on Q1

    qnote.gif (173 bytes) Sporgeries FAQ









Definition of Mind-control and basis for the statement that the vast majority of scholars who studies the cult mind-control issue think that there is no ground for such a theory.

From: (Bernie)
Date: Sat, 31 Jul 1999 19:02:49 GMT
Message-ID: <>

In article <>, <> says...

What is cult mind-control?

The cult mind-control theory holds that "cults" recruit and maintain members within their group by annihilating their power of choice or free will. The reason this is referred to here as "cult mind-control" and not simply "mind-control" or "brainwashing" is that anti-cultists believe that cults can achieve this without the use of physical coercion. Check any of the anti-cult sites for the way they think this is achieved (deception, exhaustion, etc). Others, among which the vast majority of scholars who studied this question, think that there is no ground for such a theory and that it merely amounts to a fear-inducing and superstitious belief.

On 31 Jul 1999 00:41:52 -0700 Warrior <> wrote:


1) What is your definition of brainwashing?

Basically, as used in the cult context: what annihilates the power of choice or free will of others. Note that this is not necessarily my definition (I hardly have a definition for something that doesn't exist), only what has been used by anti-cultists to justify their abuses. For example, from the famous Ted Patrick interview with Play Boy Magazine:

PLAY BOY: "But, again, aren't you the one who is abusing people's freedom? Aren't you the one who is depriving them of their First Amendment rights?"

PATRICK: I will fight and die to protect the First Amendment. That is what I am fighting for. I believe a person should have the right to worship the way he pleases, but when someone destroys your free will and your ability to think and takes your mind, you don't have any more rights. They have destroyed your human rights and your constitutional rights. And I haven't broken the law. These people have been rescued, not kidnaped, and we have a law of justification that states that a person is justified in committing an apparently illegal act in an emergency to prevent a greater harm, if it is the lesser of two evils. We now have conservatorship laws to give parents custody of their children when they are in that state of mind. Those laws didn't exist before I started what I am doing.

For that matters, exact definitions for cult mind-control by anti-cultists have been notoriously evasive. Diane Richardson notes:

I'm not even going to try to dig out Margaret Singer's definition of the terms she uses interchangeably in her book -- brainwashing, psychological coercion, and though reform. She devotes 30 pages of her book "Cults in Our Midst" to the subject but fails to provide definitions for any of these terms.

Indeed, Singer held a broad and evasive language in her public writing, while stepping much further in court testimonies: (link doesn't work anymore)

While quoting her mentor Edgar Schein, [Singer] largely avoided discussions of two key issues: the necessary element of coercion involved in the process of coercive persuasion and the issue of the overriding of the free will of people upon whom the persuasive techniques are used.

However, in her court testimony she consistently moved beyond her published articles to assert that social and psychological techniques had been used by the new religions on their members, and that these techniques had effected the members ability to think clearly and make decisions, but went on to assert that, in fact, the end result of the process was (a) the overpowering of the person's free will in making critical decisions and (b) the group's gaining control that was virtually total. Singer's articles offered several possibilities of interpretation. One, the social influence approach, accepted that new religions, just as other groups, influenced members, and that cults simply did it somewhat more. The other, known as the robot theory, from the use of that term by Edward Hunter, suggested far more. That the free will of the person had been inhibited and that they actually remained a member of the group against their will because they were controlled by the group.

While a cursory reading of Singer's writings through the 1980s could reach the conclusion that she was simply articulating a social influence approach, the articles served to provide a foundation from which the so-called "robot" theory could be asserted in court. This latter assertion was essential if court cases directed against new religions were to have a claim of action that justified the multi-million dollar judgments that were being sought. Thus, it was in the depositions and court transcripts that what became known as the "Singer hypothesis," the application of the "robot theory" of brainwashing to cults was largely articulated, and it became necessary to consult these documents to create a full respond to her thought.

Diane used Hassan's "definition" as a basis for her arguments in April 1997. Maybe you should check this thread out, available on DejaNews. It's fairly comprehensive. The whole mind-control issue has already been debated to death right in this forum, and most of it has been done in this April thread (in addition of many others):

Leafing through Steve Hassan's book, it's difficult to find a real definition of what he means by the term "mind control." Here's the closest thing to a definition I can find in his book.

From "Combatting Cult Mind Control," p. 54:

"While cult mind control can be talked about and defined in many different ways, I believe it is best understood as _a system which disrupts an individual's identity_. The identity is made up of elements such as beliefs, behavior, thought processes, and emotions that constitute a definite pattern. Under the influence of mind control, a person's original identity, as formed by family, education, friendships, and most importantly that person's own free choices, becomes replaced with another identity, often one that he would not have chosen for himself without social pressures."

2) What is the source of your claim that "the vast majority of scholars who studied this question" think there is no grounds for cult mind control?

You can find a very good summary of the historical background for this controversy in the introduction made by Gordon Melton to his upcoming book gathering the main documents about studies conducted on this topic. The APA position, the Molko-Leal case, and the Fishman case, have pretty much settled the issue altogether at the academic and legal level.

Here are some excerpts from Melton's introduction to that effect: (link doesn't work anymore)

"As these opinions became known at the end of the 1970s, they produced a storm of comment and through the mid 1980s the issues were fully aired at various scholarly gatherings, and a significant scholarly consensus that the brainwashing model used by Singer and her colleagues was woefully inadequate emerged. That consensus, most clearly stated in the negative responses to the report that Singer and her colleagues would prepare for the American Psychological Association, would in turn be injected into the court process in the late 1980s and lead to the rejection of the "Singer hypothesis" by U.S. courts and a series of reverses by the Cult Awareness Network and indeed the whole anti-cult movement in the 1990s.


Through the early and middle 1980s, the brainwashing controversy generated hundreds of papers and several books. After considering all of the arguments put forth by the exponents of the Singer Hypothesis, and listening to the counter arguments, one point of overwhelming consensus had emerged, that brainwashing was an inadequate model for understanding the dynamics operative in new religious movements. That consensus was best stated in several documents that appeared as the decade drew to a close and was capped in the U. S. Federal Court decision in the case of U.S. v. Fishman. The events leading up to Fishman were launched in 1983 when the American Psychological Association (APA), the major professional body of psychologists in the United States formed a task force to study the theories of coercive persuasion as advocated by Margaret Singer.


London drives home the failure to provide supporting evidence of such a unique theory as that offered by Singer and Ofshe, one that has been almost uniformly rejected in the scientific literature. In this regard, he conducted an independent search of the previous fifteen years of psychological literature covering 1400 journals in 29 languages. His search yielded "no empirical studies" supportive of her position and only a modest number of speculative/ theoretical articles. London's work drove another nail in the coffin into which the Singer hypothesis had been placed by the APA and then by Anthony's work. Echoing Anthony, he concludes most forcefully, "... that what I have called the Robot Theory, meaning any theory of social influence processes and/or irreversible social influence processes and/or subversion of the will as a result of these social influence processes, does not present an argument which is generally accepted in contemporary scientific psychology.


The APA documents further stated the scholarly consensus of the inadequacies of the coercive persuasion hypothesis as developed by Singer and applied to new religious movements.


Since the late 1980s, though a significant public belief in cult-brainwashing remains, the academic community-including scholars from psychology, sociology, and religious studies-have shared an almost unanimous consensus that the coercive persuasion/brainwashing thesis proposed by Margaret Singer and her colleagues in the 1980s is without scientific merit. To date, no one has come forward to refute the arguments, especially those advanced by Dick Anthony a decade ago, nor has the situation that Perry London found concerning articles providing an empirical base for the theory been reversed. Through the 1990s, it has been difficult to locate any scholar in the English-speaking world who has been willing to attempt a defense of it, and even Singer herself has appeared to back away from her earlier position. After the fall of the Cult Awareness Network, only one American organization, the American Family Foundation, continued to offer any support for the coercive persuasion argument. Early in 1999, a second organization, The Leo J. Ryan Foundation, has emerged to fill the vacuum left by the former CAN. Almost all of the small cadre of scholars in North America who have persisted in their belief in the brainwashing theory are affiliated with one of these two organizations.

3) How many scholars did you study in order for you to conclude, as you apparently do, that a "vast majority" reject a belief  in brainwashing?

I didn't count, but I am ready to bet it's more than you :-) I have been reading on and off various things for the last 20 years. Maybe if you check the various mind-control related documents and threads I have webbed on my site, you may have an idea (and more is to come).

4) In other words, what is the total number of scholars who have studied this subject, and what is the total number of scholars who do not accept the existence of brainwashing as you define it in number one?

From what I read it's the overwhelming majority, although I doubt anyone has the precise figures. My estimate would be something along 20 to 1, or much more. See the comments of Gordon Melton right above, more precisely the London't study. And if you cared to investigate the issue yourself you would find that there are plenty of documents available to support this point. Again I quote Diane from the mind-control thread of April 1997:

My sources of information right now are all taken from the shelves of Bobst Library, New York University's main library. I could probably post excerpts from 200 paper debunking the "mind control" theory for every one paper supporting it. Even that ratio is wrong . . . perhaps it's more like 2000 debunks for every supporting paper.

5) Do you know whether the "vast majority" define brainwashing the same as you define it?

The definition around which the debate centers is the kind that have been used to deprive cult members of their rights, i.e., the Robot Theory. That's what I use. It's the definition, explicit or implicit, that has been used by anti-cult activists to justify their actions, and the one tackled with by those who debunked their theory.


Mind-Control FAQic_top.gif (764 bytes)Sporgeries FAQ