How does brainwashing actually work?



People throw around the world ‘brainwashing’ a lot but I still don’t know what it means. Is it a ‘repeated truth’? Is it certain mind tricks? Is it some kind of chemical thing?

Disclaimer: not looking to brainwash anyone but there’s a cult in my area that apparently ‘brainwashes’ people

In: Biology

So to understand brainwashing, lets take a look at a child. Children are easily influenced by what they hear. If you tell a child to look both ways before crossing the road, they will most likely follow.

This extends out to adults. Some adults join cults as the cult has made a very persuasive argument, or influenced them in some way. Some people join because they’re lonely and looking for a community, and some because they’re well, not too bright.

Brainwashing isn’t akin to how it’s portrayed in movies. It’s just using psychology on someone to figure out what they want and using that to manipulate them.

You have to be a sociopath basically. This is a person with no empathy for other people, who has learned to use what would normally be a disadvantage as a way to manipulate others. Because they have no emotional reactions to anything you say, they learn to fake it in conversation, and even start to pick up on ways to subtly influence you. There is no conscious in this person to stop them from abusing these exploits, so they only get better at it as time goes. Eventually, they gain the skills to orate random gibberish for hours, peppering in little inferences to decrease your self esteem until you get to the point where you question your own sanity. It is at this point where you are most vulnerable to the power of suggestion. In this way, they create willing slaves to magnify their own influence. It is basically a process of sophisticated abuse that breaks a person psychologically so they can be remolded.

Depends on what kind

The most common and systematic is brainwashing through trauma. Put the victim through terrible abuse and teach them to “go away.” If this happens frequently and intensely enough, you can carve out a second personality. When they reach this new ego, reward them. End the abuse and give them pleasure, treat them like royalty. After numerous sessions of this abuse, you can snap them back and forth between personalities with buzzwords, usually connected to the abuse. The buzzword will warn the brain that torture is coming, and without realizing it the victim will slip into the new personality and “go away.”

This is how you program people to do your bidding.

1. Cognitive dissonance. If there is a difference between your thoughts and your actions your thoughts will change to match your actions.

So you get someone to do something without a good reason. One they have taken even a tiny action they have given up their defenses.

So a Trump voter took a chance on him as an outsider etc. and took an action. Those people now confronted with the pain of that decision can about they were wrong and endure some mental pain or think that they were right and everyone is just it to get him for the lolz.

The original study had people stack pennies in the basement of a lab for a long time. Then asked them to help recruit for the study. Group A. Got paid $5 group B got paid $100. When they came back to get paid thry were asked about the stacking pennies. A said “it was interesting, I was helping science…” B said “that was boring.” A had no good reason to lie to other students so they believed their own lies. B got $100 to lie and so they didn’t believe their own lies.

So now image you’re a deplorable who gave Trump $50 and got in a fight at Thanksgiving over him… for no good reason. Now you BELIEVE!

Brainwashing is the act of bending the mind and will of another, or even many others to the effect the brain washer intended, with hypnosis as well as other metheds. Brainwashing can be used toward a positive or good end for the one being brainwashed. Such as changing negative behavior such as smoking, losing weight etc.

Braining washing can also be used for a negative result, but one that the brain washer might desire. Again hypnosis, and control of the one being brainwashed. is very effective. This area of brainwashing is very worrisome.

It should be noted that real brainwashing does not worth on anyone. It only works on certain types of people, who are, not coincidentally, the types of people that cults go after. Weak willed or vulnerable people generally. The majority of people can resist and it won’t work.

The basic process is to convince them that their way of thinking or live is wrong, then convince them that their only hope is to embrace whatever the brainwasher wants to teach them. It can involve torture, but doesn’t have to.

Stuff You Should know podcast did an episode breaking down the whole process, and another one on how cults recruit people that is also relevant.

To put it quite simply: brainwashing does not work.

The concept of brainwashing was first developed in the 1950s to explain why some American prisoners-of-war during the Korean War expressed sympathy for communism and then got expanded on during the anti-cult movement during the 1970s, but the evidence of its existence has always been shaky. More recent research has suggested that people join religious cults and terrorist groups for the same reason that other people join fanclubs or the Peace Corp or volunteer at the Food Bank: the feeling of wanting to belong and the feeling that you’re part of something bigger than yourself and doing something that really matters. To me, that’s a far scarier thought than mind control, but your mileage may vary.

Indoctrinating people into religious or political beliefs is very real and absolutely everyone does it to some degree, but there’s no guarantee that it will always work for everyone and it won’t ensure that everyone will always follow your orders without question. Actual religious and political movements are very, very prone to infighting and schisms, but if brainwashing worked the way it’s commonly supposed to, then that shouldn’t be possible. This also applies to the issue of trying to explain the existence of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes: if brainwashing actually worked the way it’s supposed to, then why did so many of them have secret police forces (the Cheka/NKVD/KGB and Gestapo, for instance) to suppress internal dissidents?

There isn’t. Brainwashing isn’t an actual thing and you kind of have to pick up a few different psychological conditions, plug them together in ways they can’t actually be plugged together, turn your head sideways, and squint, if you want to see it.

Basically there are all sorts of situations where people will behave in odd ways. People can fall victim to peer pressure when they are young and impressionable. People can make false statements when under duress or sleep deprivation. People can get beaten into feeling trapped in a situation when objectively they are not trapped in it. People can be held hostage in a situation where they start to identify with their captors.

But in the vast majority of instances if you take people out of the bad situation, give them something to eat, let them take a shower, let them get a good night’s sleep, they will pop right back to what they were like before these things happened (barring the expected impact from trauma). In rarer situations religious cults or cults of personality can form but that is much more about taking weak willed people and exposing them to a charismatic, powerful, practised, figure who gives them a semi-cogent philosophy and basically “convinces them” that he or she is right. This is way more about the pre-existing vulnerability of the victim then it is about some kind of brain washing method. 99% of people would never join a cult. But the 1% who would are going to fall victim to the first one they come across be that flat earth, selling herbalife shakes, or a religious cult.

Really though – if you want to convince people of something so that they believe it passionately, you need to make a really persuasive case for it. Drill it into them from when they are young, and make sure they don’t see any contradictory information. That’s the christian and communist playbooks.

Brainwashing can be as common and as subtle as the type of world viewpoint your society believes in. For example, some in the west believe that the Chinese are brainwashed by the media in China because the main media in controlled by the CCP. On the other hand, the same could be said of the news in America because it is very one-sided, vast majority of media is controlled by a handful of companies and gives viewers a certain view of the world.

Both are fair statements. If a particular piece of news is presented to viewers in either market, that particular piece of news could be presented quite differently depending on who is doing the reporting and what is their own personal / subjective bias as well as narrative they are coming from. This leaves viewers from one country with a very skewed view of the world that can be drastically different than viewers from another country.