Brainwashing is a method of manipulating or influencing people’s own personal beliefs, thoughts, attitudes or actions in order to get them to believe what they had previously considered false. The word “brainwashing” originated from the Chinese term his nao, which literally means “to wash the brain.” Many people have different variations of what exactly they think brainwashing is, but all are generally the same, involving a powerful effort to manipulate the human mind. Brainwashing is said to have originated in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, by Chinese Communists. They used it as a way to politically reeducate the vast majority of the population of China, from peasants to intellectuals to soldiers. The technique was also used during the Korean War and in Vietnam on American prisoners. They attempted to convince the soldiers that they were fighting for an unjust cause and that they were wrong in fighting against such nice countries. These techniques were in fact very successful, as it has been found that one out of every three American soldiers was declared guilty of collaboration with Chinese authorities. It did work on many of the prisoners, however once they were back in their old environment for a while they completely forgot about what they were taught to believe in the other foreign countries. There are a variety of situations that brainwashing can occur in: cults, churches or other religious establishments, prisons, factories, political parties, psychiatrists, advertisements, and to prisoners of war camps. There are many different techniques for brainwashing, but all of them, for the most part, have the same basic approach. A physical and social environment that is carefully controlled must first be created in order to destroy any loyalties that the subject has that are not associated with the new organization being formed. They are isolated from all former associates such as their friends and their family. This causes the individual to become more vulnerable to threats and bribes because there is no one for the person to get emotional support from, making it harder to resist indoctrination, the actual implanting of new ideas. It has also been noted that verbal, mathematical, and perceptual abilities are impaired only after a week of confinement. Former sources of information like newspapers, magazines, radio, and television are also cut off. They are also forbidden from receiving letters from friends or family. During this process, it is taught that the previous loyalties that the individual had were wrong, and to develop total loyalty and obedience to the new organization. The subject is then forced to keep a strict daily schedule of eating, sleeping, and bathing, in order to replace any old routines performed in the past. The subject is often deprived of food and sleep and can even, at times, be physically punished for not cooperating with any of the guidelines that are set up. This is done because it has been found that suggestibility increases greatly during times of fatigue and especially illness. This is to display to the individual that it is necessary to cooperate or you will starve, be tortured, or maybe even die. However, he or she may also be rewarded at times, like with extra food, if they are cooperating particularly well. The subject is also taught that the amount of individual freedom attained depends on whether or not you successfully change your attitudes and beliefs. An informer system is also created in camp-type situations, such as prisons, with everybody spying on and informing against everybody else, in order to create a sense of distrust and suspicion amongst one’s peers. After the proper environment is set up, then the actual brainwashing process can take place. It generally consists of four main phases that may vary in order: emotional assault, calculated kindness and leniency, confession, and reeducation. The phases of emotional assault and calculated kindness and leniency often go hand and hand. The subject will be acted very harshly upon one moment and then they could immediately be acted friendly to, the next moment. This alternating treatment puts him in a state of confusion, a state where it is usually rather easy to implant new ideas in. The subject is also taught that if they ever do anything that is against or could cause harm to what they are being taught, then they are a criminal, and that they should always publicly and sincerely confess to these crimes. The subject is also socially pressured, by those who have successfully been brainwashed, into agreeing with what they are being taught. This is done by means of long interrogations in which those who have been successfully brainwashed try to persuade the individual by pleas, humiliation, harassment, or revilement. They are also continuously, publicly humiliated and harassed, which provided a constant state of bewilderment and chronic anxiety. The next area deals with confession. The subject is asked to partake in self-criticism sessions in order for them to explain how his past opinions and the opinions of others are totally wrong. They are forced to write and rewrite lengthy autobiographical essays describing in great detail all of the ways that they were wrong and how everybody else is wrong. They are also ordered to confess all of their past crimes and errors. This often results in feelings of guilt in the person. The subject is then finally reeducated with the new beliefs. Regular indoctrination sessions are conducted constantly. He is lectured to about every single aspect of his new beliefs and his new life for hours and hours a day, repeatedly and harshly. He is also ordered to read an extensive amount of material about it. He is shown how everything that he previously believed in is wrong and of the advantages of his new beliefs. He is made to believe that what he is being told is the only right way to live and that every other opposing belief is wrong and cannot be tolerated. The ability to brainwash someone depends on his individual personality. Most everyone has a breaking point when it comes to brainwashing. However, those with a strong sense of self or identity and who are strong-willed, independent people are less susceptible to its effects. These types of people can maintain their integrity and dignity for a longer period of time. Some are able to find meaning and value even when confronted with the stress of incredible suffering. Those who are easier to brainwash are those who are insecure and unconfident, or people who are easily persuaded and often times just “go with the flow” of things and do what everybody else is doing. These people, for the most part, are easy to break down physically and psychologically, and convince that they are wrong in what they currently believe in. Also affecting one’s ability to be brainwash are the subject’s past experiences in life and the effort made by the brainwasher.
The results of brainwashing can be considered good or bad, depending on one’s personal beliefs. Those who go through processes of confession and reeducation for their religion are actually partaking in a type of brainwashing. However, they may find that this process helps them, so they see this as a positive form of brainwashing. With religions, people are threatened with the certainty that hell awaits unsaved sinners. Those at the church attempt to disrupt old ideas and thoughts with this, in order to introduce and maintain the gospel law or rules. To many, this form of brainwashing is a good thing, however, when the individual being persuaded by the church begins to separate himself from his friends and family, then it is considered to be a very negative form of brainwashing. When it comes to religion, there are negative aspects of the brainwashing that is sometimes involved. Some religions, especially when trying to convert somebody, attempt to induce a trance-like state upon the individual. This state of mind is created from using such physical means as scourging or beating, rhythmic dancing and drumming, and occasionally drugs. Another example of someone who finds the benefits of brainwashing is someone who believes that they are possessed by the devil. That individual may find relief and happiness in a particular voodoo ceremony that would “wash the brain and cleanse it” of evil spirits. Both the individual and his friends, family, and everyone else that is close to him would see the benefit in that particular form of brainwashing. Despite this positive effect, the practice of voodoo can have very severe negative effects when it comes to brainwashing. Sometimes in voodoo, someone who is very healthy may all of a sudden become extremely ill, simply because they are subjected to events that put a sense of fear and/or guilt into their minds. Another example of illness resulting from brainwashing involves those who have died after eating a particular food that was considered to be forbidden in their culture. This usually occurs when the victim does not know what he is eating until he has already digested it and then is told what it is. The particular food may be perfectly harmless to most people, but to the person that believes that it is poison, it can cause death. This can occur because the victim first goes trough a feeling of helplessness that is reinforced by the other members of his community by treating the individual as if he is already dead. This causes the victim to become very hopeless and an extremely strong kind of autosuggestion sinks in. Then, adrenaline is secreted in abnormally large amounts over a long period of time, damaging the walls of the capillaries. This allows fluid to pass into the surrounding tissue causing the volume of circulating blood to be reduced, resulting in a state of shock. This leads to the decay of the heart and the nerve centers, and eventually to death. It has in fact been found that mind control can bring about death. The most publicized case of brainwashing occurred in 1974, when Patty Hearst, a member of a well-known publishing family, was on trial for participating in the burglary of Hibernia Bank in California. She claimed that she was kidnapped by a group of young radicals who, over a period of months, eventually brainwashed her into joining their group and to participate in a few criminal activities. Three psychiatrists examined her for the defense team, and all of them believed that she had in fact been brainwashed by a group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). All of the psychiatrists had their own reasons to believe that Hearst was brainwashed. One of them stated that the members of the SLA had manipulated her mind by breaking her sense of identity and self, and that her confessions were typical of brainwashing victims. Another psychiatrist believed that it was very possible for the group to manipulate her mind because of the mistreatment and deprivation exhibited upon her. The other psychiatrist believed that Hearst’s cooperation with the SLA was a result of her fear of death, because they told her that if she did not do what they told her to do, then she would be killed. The prosecution claimed that Hearst was simply lying and that the SLA only kidnapped her because they knew that she was an angry, rebellious woman, who would, in all likelihood, would actually want to participate in their acts of terrorism. After a thirty-nine day trial, the jury found Hearst guilty of taking part in the robbery. The main reason for her conviction was that in most cases, after an individual is brainwashed, and then returned to their former environment, it does not take but a couple of weeks for he or she to return to his or her old self. This was found to be true in prisoners captured during the Korean War and in Vietnam. Hearst, on the other hand, continued to partake in the criminal acts for about ten months after she was brainwashed.During the late 1970’s, there were accounts of people trying to “un-brainwash” those who had joined extremist religious groups, or cults. This did not prove to be very effective. This process actually works on people such as prisoners of war who were unwillingly subjected to the brainwashing techniques. However, in these cases, those people willingly joined the cults and voluntarily participated in their daily rituals. They also actually believed in and agreed with the beliefs that the cults were pushing upon them.Brainwashing is a very complex topic that is not even close to becoming fully understood. We do know that there must be certain situations present for it to occur and that these situations are present in many different aspects of life. We also are aware of the different stages that one must go through in order to brainwash somebody. It has also been studied that the ability to brainwash someone depends on his or her personal characteristics. So whether you are totally against brainwashing or you think that it can be effective in some cases, there is definitely no denying that it is an interesting, complicated, and very elaborate area of psychology.