Mind control

Mind control theories are based on the premise that an outside source can control an individual's thinking, behavior or consciousness. Such theories have ethical and legal implications.

The mind control theories as applied to membership in cults assumes that no one would join such a group if he knew what he was getting into. The recruit is not to be held responsible for his actions, since he was "under control". Neither scientists nor sociologists generally consider this model a viable theory.

Theories vary as to the feasibility of such control and the methods used to attain it (either direct or more subtle). When these methods are used forcibly, most sources refer to it as "brainwashing" (a term originally applied during the Korean War to POWs held by Communist China and North Korea).

Clearly, many influences from the outside world influence people's minds, such as advertising, media manipulation, and propaganda.


Methods and theories

Personal Mind control

Some theories of mind control are based on personal use and achievement, such as the Silva Mind Control Method.

Hypothetical technologies of mind control

Hypothesized forms of mind control technology have included the use of drugs, hypnosis, Pavlovian conditioning, repetitive indoctrination, torture and subliminal stimuli. Government groups have actually experimented with all of these methods, with widely varying degrees of success.

Possible symptoms of schizophrenia (and sometimes of other forms of psychosis) include the belief that one is subject to external mind control, often by use of some form of technology. These often involve less plausible proposed mind-control technologies such as the use of microwave radiation or lasers to control thoughts, often by intelligence agencies and by secret societies.

However, others note that in fact these technologies do exist, in varying forms. ELF technology appears the most common and most well-documented. From the 1950s to the 1970s, both the Soviet Union and the United States carried out several experiments using ELF pulse transmissions to mimic human nerve impulses, in effect implanting certain states of consciousness -- particularly emotions -- by radiation. Scientists found that certain ELF frequencies, when transmitted in pulse mode, could induce emotions in subjects. Rauni-Leena Luukanen-Kilde, a former Finnish physician and a well-known ufologist and conspiracy theorist, sees many 'schizophrenics' as misdiagnosed victims of mind-control experiments. Physical implants discovered in the cerebral tissue of such 'schizophrenics' have allegedly substantiated such claims.

Some believers in mind control assert that no one has immunity to mind control: a person could just start talking to a someone on the street, and nearly instantly, he becomes a victim. Other sources believe that such mind control does not exist, and that attempts at mind control cannot subvert free will.

U.S. Government research into mind control

A CIA research program which included experiments on human participants, known principally by the codename MKULTRA, began in 1950, largely in response to alleged Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean uses of mind-control techniques (popularly known as "brainwashing") on U.S. prisoners of war in Korea.

The general consensus sees MKULTRA as a failure, although because most of the MKULTRA records were deliberately destroyed in 1973 by order of then-Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms, it is impossible to have a complete understanding of the more than 150 individually-funded research projects sponsored by MKULTRA and the related CIA programs.

Subliminal advertising


  • James Vicary coined the term "subliminal advertising" .
  • The publication in 1957 of Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders brought the term to the attention of the general public.
  • In 1973 the book Subliminal Seduction claimed that advertising made widespread use of subliminal techiques and could in theory be used as a form of mind control.


Does control of brain processes amount to mind control?

With intense modern magnets and the technique of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) or repetitive TMS (rTMS), researchers have succeeded in transiently suppressing certain thought processes — such as the conjugation of verbs — with fleeting magnetic pulses to specific areas of the brain. The technique has proved a valuable tool for testing hypotheses about the role and interplay between brain regions in particular cognitive activities and psychiatric symptoms such as depression.

The extent and viability of these capabilities as "mind control" remain controversial and disputed.

For example, antidepressant drugs and mood stabilizers have a definite effect on mood, through what is believed to be a direct action on the chemistry of the brain. However, most people would not say that this constituted mind control, and people on these drugs do not feel "controlled". This raises the question: if outsiders can control brain processes at the electrical or chemical level without this amounting to "mind control", where does free will lie?

Cults and mind control controversies

The term "mind control" evolved from theories of brainwashing after these theories had been found not applicable and discredited with regard to cults. (Note that sociologists and other experts often dispute about what constitutes a "cult".)

Some theorists maintain that merely by "milieu control" or censoring all information that might dissuade belief a group of manipulators may take control of the mind of a person who is otherwise free to end his association with the group (see especially Steve Hassan and Flo Conway).

In the anti-cult movement and Christian countercult movement mind control has the meaning of strong influence acquired and maintained by manipulation.

Some persons have claimed a "brainwashing defense" for crimes committed while purportedly under mind control (see Patty Hearst) or may sue their erstwhile captors after escaping from either a "cult" (religious mind controller) or "deprogrammer" (anti-religious mind controller).

According to James T. Richardson on his "Brainwashing" Claims and Minority Religions Outside the United States: Cultural Diffusion of a Questionable Concept in the Legal Arena, while heavy on theory, the mind control model is light on evidence:

The ACM 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 ACM counseling that they have been victims of mind-control.[1] (http://www.religioustolerance.org/brain_wa.htm)

Sociologists David Bromley and Anson Shupe consider the idea that "cult"s are brainwashing American youth to be "implausible".[2] (http://www.religioustolerance.org/brain_wa.htm)

Mind control and deprogramming

Opponents of some new religious movements accused so-called "cult"s of coercing recruits to join (and members to remain) via strong influence acquired and maintained by manipulation (see also anti-cult movement and Christian countercult movement). Many of these opponents advocate deprogramming as necessary to "free" the victim of a cult from mind control.

Opponents of deprogramming generally regard it as an even worse violation of personal autonomy than any (possible) loss of personal freedom attributable to the allegedly deceptive recruiting tactics of new religions. These opponents complain that targets of deprogramming are (1) victims of deception, (2) denied due process and (3) forced to endure more intense manipulation by their supposed rescuers than they encountered during their previous group membership.

Mind control and the Unification Church

Bob and Gretchen Passantin have written:

One good indicator of the non-existence of mind-control techniques is the ineffectiveness of NRM recruitment programs. "Eileen Barker documents that out of 1000 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..." [3] (http://www.religioustolerance.org/brain_wa.htm)

Tyler Hendricks, former president of the Unification Church, estimates approximately 100,000 people "moved into" the Unificaton 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%.

Taking Barker's figures with Hendricks' figures, it appears that less than 0.5% of people who stayed overnight became long-term members.

Mind control and faith

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. [4] (http://skepdic.com/cognitivedissonance.html).

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.

In a 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." [5] (http://answers.org/CultsAndReligions/mind_control.html)

American Psychological Association task force on mind control

The American Psychological Association (APA) in 1984 allowed Margaret Singer, the main proponent of anti-cult mind control theories, to set up a working group called Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods 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 and concluded that its kind of mind control theories, used in order to distinguish "cults" from religions, did not form part of accepted psychological science (American Psychological Association 1987). Although the APA memorandum only dismissed the theories of brainwashing and mind control as presented in the DIMPAC report — without prejudice to theories of influence and control other than those advocated by the DIMPAC committee - the results of the APA document proved devastating for the anti-cult movement[6].

In fact, the DIMPAC theories rejected by APA largely corresponded to the anti-cult position as a whole. 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 (Anthony & Robbins 1992: 5-29). Margaret Singer and her associate Richard Ofshe filed suits against the APA and the American Sociological Association (who had supported APA's 1987 statement) but they lost in 1993 and 1994.

In 2002 Dr. Philip Zimbardo commented on the request by former members of new religious movements (NRMs) to reconsider the APA's position on the possibility of mind control [6] (http://www.apa.org/monitor/nov02/pc.html)

Steve Hassan and his BITE model for cults

The term destructive mind control, as used by self-proclaimed expert on "destructive cults" and anti-cult activist Steve Hassan is part of his BITE model [7] (http://www.freedomofmind.com/resourcecenter/articles/BITE.htm). The BITE model advances a theory that mind control is a set of techniques to get control over people by manipulation and deception.

Hassan's critics argue that Steve Hassan uses the term "mind control" (for what they see as essentially a strong form of influence) only to justify the forcible extraction of believers from religious groups. They argue that Hassan does not merely say that fraudulent salesmanship persuaded the believers; he claims that these groups literally take away a victim's freedom of mind. For this reason an involuntary procedure must operate in order to "rescue" a "victim" from a "destructive cult", for "victims" may not realize their victimhood status and may resist rescuing. Hassan, after taking part in a number of deprogrammings in the late 1970s, distances himself from this practice and the criminal activities associated with that occupation and refers to his method as "strategic interaction".

Mind control in conspiracy theory

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 conpiracy's actions and, in some cases, cause the conspiracy theorist's intended audience from believing him.

The means by which victims are alleged to be controlled varies according to the nature of the theory: theories centering on existing governmental groups usually feature mind control via subliminal messages or other technological means, while theories focusing on secret societies such as the Freemasons and the Illuminati are more likely to involve supernatural or magical means, or particularly fanciful technology such as "mind control satellite]]s". Theories that involve the United States government frequently refer to MKULTRA. Radio waves are frequently claimed to be used for mind control: radio and television broadcast towers, and more recently cell phone towers, are often considered suspect.

J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye was rumored to be a device for FBI/CIA mind control at one time.

Mind control in fiction

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.

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.

In science fiction, fantasy and superhero fiction, mind control often appears as the means whereby a person literally seizes control of the minds of the victims to the point where not only their bodies come under direct control, but also their consciousnesses as well, so that they become puppets or slaves to the controller. Fiction often depicts this process taking place electronically; the trademark equipment of the Batman supervillain The Mad Hatter—headgear designed to put victims under his control when placed in direct physical contact with the head—furnishes one example of this. In addition, characters with powerful telepathic or psychic abilities, like Professor X and Jean Grey of the X-Men, can do the same with mental concentration against a target.

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.

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.

See also



  • Bromley, D.B., Shupe, A.D., Strange Gods: The Great American Cult Scare, Beacon Press, Boston, (1981).
  • Hadden, Jeffrey K., The Brainwashing Controversy (http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/cultsect/brainwashing.htm).
  • Introvigne. Massimo, “Liar, Liar”: Brainwashing, CESNUR and APA. (http://www.cesnur.org/testi/gandow_eng.htm) (Rebuttal to DIMPAC report)
  • Keith, Jim, Experiments in Mind-Control
  • Kilde, Rauni Leena, M.D., Former Chief Medical Officer of Finland Microwave Mind-Control (http://www.raven1.net/kilde1.htm)
  • Lifton, Robert J., Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (1961);
  • Passantino Bob and Gretchen. Overcoming The Bondage Of Victimization.A Critical Evaluation of Cult Mind Control Theories. (1994) Cornerstone Magazine. Available online (http://answers.org/CultsAndReligions/mind_control.html)
  • 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 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=PubMed&cmd=Retrieve&list_uids=11564316&dopt=Citation). Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 13(6), 713-720

External links

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