Does brainwashing work? How? Who is more susceptible?


Via Brain Candy: Science, Paradoxes, Puzzles, Logic, and Illogic to Nourish Your Neurons:

No, it doesn’t usually work. You can take off the tin foil hat now:

In the case of many Korean War prisoners, brainwashing proved to be more playing along to avoid torture than actual conversion to communist values.

When it does work, what does it involve?

No matter the intention and results, the method remains largely the same: The first and most important requirement is absolute control of the victim. No longer can the victim depend on him- or herself to fulfill basic needs; instead he or she needs you. Then dehumanize them stripping away the self by systematically denying every descriptor—gender, profession, ethnicity, ideology, etc.—that the victim uses to define him- or herself. Eventually nothing of the victim’s self remains but the intense notion that the self is bad. At this point, offer an alternative: communism, cultism, desperadoism? Anything, really. And this system offers salvation: “Look, it’s not you that’s bad, it’s your mistaken beliefs.” And choosing the new beliefs allows the victim to rebuild a new, very different self.

Who is most susceptible? Those who are rigid in their beliefs:

Interestingly, soldiers who originally had rigid belief systems were more likely to flip and adopt communism, while soldiers whose original beliefs were flexible were more likely to bend their beliefs while in captivity and spring back to their original values once released.

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