As soon as deprogramming became widely
publicized, social and behavioral scientists began criticizing its
scientific premises as well as its ethical propriety. Bromley and
Shupe (1981: 211) observe, "The centerpiece of the anticultists'
allegations is that cults brainwash their members through some
combination of drugging, hypnosis, self-hypnosis, chanting or
lecturing, and deprivation of food, sleep, and freedom of thought.
If this argument were true, the new religions would not have such
a sorry recruitment record, the defection rate among those who do
join would not be so high as it is, individual members could not
be counted upon to work with the zeal they do, and ex-members
would not be able to recall in such exquisite detail how they were
brainwashed. Social scientists have largely repudiated the concept
of brainwashing as the anticultists have used it. Certainly it is
possible to break people down physically and psychologically
through coercive techniques. But there is no evidence that people
so abused will show the kind of positive motivation and commitment
that converts to the new religions manifest."
There are at least seven major flaws with the programming or
First, it is not clear that effective
non-biological techniques for controlling a person's mind exist at all,
and the chief classic case of alleged brainwashing of American prisoners
in the Korean War resulted in few if any successes (Schein et al. 1961).
Second, a very high proportion of people who attend
some activities at new religious movements fail to join (Barker 1984).
Third, substantial numbers of long-term members of
new religious movements leave of their own volition (Bainbridge 1982,
1984a; Wright 1983).
Fourth, many researchers have carried out long-term
observational research inside a variety of new religious movements,
including all those frequently accused of brainwashing, and their
reports do not fit the brainwashing model (Bainbridge 1978; Taylor
Fifth, sociologists have developed some highly
plausible theoretical models of how people join new religious movements,
and they all combine several factors, notably the motivations of the
individual and the structure of social relations around the individual,
so there seems no need for the brainwashing hypothesis.
Sixth, the concept of brainwashing seems designed
as a rhetoric to discredit new religious movements and to excuse the
individual of any responsibility for joining them. Thus it has the
effect of legitimating action against the group or individual that in
any other context would be considered a violation of civil rights
(Bromley 1983; Kelley 1983).
Seventh, the brainwashing rhetoric is
"anticollectivistic and antitotalistic." (Richardson and Kilbourne
1983), assuming that a mentally healthy person must be autonomous and
failing to recognize the importance of religion and community in human
society (Hargrove, 1983).