Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control

Overview

The term 'brainwashing' was first recorded in 1950, but it is an expression of a much older concept: the forcible and full-scale alteration of a person's beliefs. Over the past 50 years the term has crept into popular culture, served as a topic for jokes, frightened the public in media headlines, and slandered innumerable people and institutions. It has also been the subject of learned discussion from many angles: history, sociology, psychology, psychotherapy, and marketing. Despite this variety, to date there ...

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Overview

The term 'brainwashing' was first recorded in 1950, but it is an expression of a much older concept: the forcible and full-scale alteration of a person's beliefs. Over the past 50 years the term has crept into popular culture, served as a topic for jokes, frightened the public in media headlines, and slandered innumerable people and institutions. It has also been the subject of learned discussion from many angles: history, sociology, psychology, psychotherapy, and marketing. Despite this variety, to date there has been one angle missing: any serious reference to real brains. Descriptions of how opinions can be changed, whether by persuasion, deceit, or force, have been almost entirely psychological.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...a fascinating book whose content tends to linger long after you have put it down. Definitely a must-read for those in the social psychology field and all other psychologists interested in this area." —Doody's
Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Nicholas Greco IV, MS, BCETS, CATSM (Columbia College of Missouri)
Description: This extremely thought-provoking book examines the mystery and reality of brainwashing from both a social psychological and neuropsychological perspective. The book takes a serious and empirical stance to inform the reader from all sides.
Purpose: The purpose is to shed the necessary light on a topic which has unfortunately become parlor humor. In fact, the book proposes brainwashing to be real and worthy of scientific attention given the technological and scientific advances we have made. The book is interesting and the objectives are clear, concise, and worthy of the reader's attention.
Audience: Intended generally for those with a background in psychology, some members of the lay public may be able to benefit and find this book highly captivating. The author is a research scientist and appears highly credible.
Features: The examination of brainwashing is complex yet thorough. The historical perspectives of the Cold War, the CIA, and Communism give the reader a full circle perspective. The book examines religion, politics, advertising, media influences, the military, mental health, the legal system etc. The case examples are hard to put down and focus the reader's attention and further elaborate on the various topics of discussion. There is a strong philosophical stance that can lead to questions about freedom and autonomy.
Assessment: Quite a fascinating book whose content tends to linger long after you have put it down. Definitely a must-read for those in the social psychology field and all other psychologists interested in this area.

4 Stars! from Doody
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780192804969
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/15/2005
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Kathleen Taylor is a research scientist in the physiology department, Oxford University. In 2003 she won first prize in both the THES/OUP Science Essay competition and the THES Humanities and Social Sciences Writing Prize.

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Table of Contents

1. The birth of a word

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2005

    Will strongly influence your ideas on brainwashing

    Beginning with the stories of brainwashed American soldiers in the Korean War and ending with positive suggestions on how to avoid brainwashing, the author of this book takes the reader through a fascinating and very informative overview of the subject. Avoiding long-winded philosophical musings on free will and determinism, she instead supports her case on the reality of brainwashing with what is known about the human brain via research in neuroscience. The book is rich in information and gives the reader an understanding of to what degree the human mind can be controlled and manipulated. The author gives several examples of mental manipulation, all of these being quite frightening scenarios. Through her discussion of neuroscience, the author dispels any notion of the Cartesian `diamond minds¿ metaphor that has plagued Western thought for the last four centuries. Indeed, if the claims of contemporary research in cognitive neuroscience are correct, then the human brain is indeed a very dynamic object, sometimes undergoing radical change. As an example of this, the author quotes the `phantom limb¿ scenario. Altering personal identity however is impossible if the proponents of the diamond mind are correct. The author again though gives evidence to the contrary, this evidence coming from what is known about the brain. In the process of doing this, she gives an interesting introduction to what she calls the `schematic self¿. This concept is motivated by the fact that human beings seem to take on a variety of different `identities¿ depending on the social situation in which they find themselves. These roles or `schemas¿ include a collection of behaviors, and the thoughts, attitudes, and emotions that accompany them. These schemas can contain beliefs that are incompatible however, especially if they are correlated with different situations that individuals find themselves in. This incompatibility helps to explain the somewhat perplexing or contradictory behavior that is observed in many people. There is a temptation to label an individual as a `hypocrite¿ when having observed him acting in one situation, he behaves totally different in another, this behavior being seemingly at odds with the behavior in the first situation. Therefore, the author concludes, it should not surprising that brainwashing can work, given this capacity for variation in the `self.¿ Readers interested solely in scientific explanations will of course demand that the author justify this schema theory with evidence from neuroscience. She does so, and concludes that the schemas are patterns of connections between neurons, and that the stronger the connections, the more automatically the schemas will be triggered under the activation by certain stimuli. Some of these stimuli might be subtle, such as those arising from advertising. These might strengthen the ¿weak¿ schema, but the individual does not experience it as a change in self. However, stimuli resulting from the use of force act to change the strong schemas. Brainwashing by force thus may radically change the individual¿s strongest beliefs, and the author again gives evidence from neuroscience that supports the assertion that this can indeed happen.

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