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Brainwashing: can you control someone's thinking?

Brainwashing: can you control someone's thinking?

May 1, 2024

A large number of people use the concept of brainwashing to refer to a wide range of phenomena that involve the use of persuasion to modify the behavior of other people, particularly against their will. However, from psychology, brainwashing has been questioned because of the ambiguity of its definition. Let's see what is meant by brainwashing and what precedents exist.

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What is brainwashing?

The concept of "brainwashing" is very close to "mind control". It is an idea without strict scientific basis that proposes that the will, thoughts and other mental facts of individuals can be modified through persuasion techniques, with which unwanted ideas would be introduced into the psyche of a "victim" .


If we define the concept in this way, we see that it bears a marked similarity with another more typical of the vocabulary of psychology: that of suggestion, which refers to the influence that individuals can exert on the mental contents of others (or on the own, in this case we speak of autosuggestion). However, the term "suggestion" is less ambitious.

Although the idea of ​​brainwashing is not entirely wrong, this popular concept has some unscientific connotations that have led many experts to reject it in favor of more modest ones. This has been helped by the instrumental use of the term in legal proceedings, especially in disputes over the custody of minors.


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Examples of brainwashing

It is common for complex phenomena such as suicide terrorism to be explained by many people through the concept of brainwashing, especially in cases where subjects are seen as young and influential people. Something like that it applies to sects, to religions , to conduct during wars or to radical political ideologies.

Regarding the latter case, it is worth mentioning that brainwashing has been used mainly in attempts to give a simple explanation to events related to violence, such as the massacres that occurred in the context of Nazism and other types of totalitarianism.

Subliminal advertising is another fact that we can relate to the idea of ​​brainwashing. This type of promotion, which is prohibited in countries like the United Kingdom, consists of the inclusion of messages that do not reach the threshold of consciousness, but are perceived automatically.


On the other hand, frequently Psychology itself has been accused of being a brainwashing method . Particularly well known is the behaviorism of Pavlov and Skinner, criticized by other experts and in works such as "La Naranja Mecánica". Psychoanalysis and techniques such as cognitive restructuring have received similar rejection samples.

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History and popularization of the concept

The concept of brainwashing emerged for the first time in China to describe the persuasion to which the Chinese Communist Party subjected the opponents of the Maoist government. The term "xinao," which literally translates as "brainwashing," was a play on words that referred to the cleansing of the mind and body promoted by Taoism.

In the 1950s the Government and the United States Army adopted the term and they applied it to justify the fact that some American prisoners had collaborated with their captors during the Korean War. It has been argued that its objective might be to limit the public impact of the disclosure that chemical weapons had been used.

Subsequently the Russian historian Daniel Romanovsky claimed that the Nazis had used brainwashing techniques (including reeducation and mass propaganda programs) to promote their ideas in the population of Belarus, in particular the conception of the Jews as an inferior race.

However, the popularization of brainwashing is mainly due to popular culture. Before "La Naranja Mecánica" appeared the novel "1984" by George Orwell , in which a totalitarian government manipulates the population through lies and coercion. Sauron's mind control in "The Lord of the Rings" has also been associated with brainwashing.

Vision from psychology

Psychology usually understands the phenomena attributed to brainwashing through more operational concepts and more limited scope, such as persuasion and suggestion, within which hypnosis is encompassed . In these cases, changes in behavior depend to a great extent on the autosuggestion of the subject from external stimuli.

In 1983 the American Psychological Association, the hegemonic body in the field of psychology, commissioned clinical psychologist Margaret Singer to lead a working group to investigate the brainwashing phenomenon. However, they accused Singer of presenting biased data and speculation and the project was canceled.

It can not be stated categorically that brainwashing exists as an independent phenomenon because of the ambiguity of its formulation. In any case, many authors argue that the use of powerful persuasion techniques It is evident in contexts such as the media and advertising ; however, it is convenient to avoid topics.


10 Ways You Can Use Mind Control In Everyday Life (May 2024).


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