Top 5 Mind-Bending Facts About Brainwashing

Written by Michael Wynands

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Top 5 Facts About Brainwashing

Sit back, relax and don’t look away. We’re using this video to reprogram your mind. Welcome to WatchMojo’s Top 5 Facts. In today’s instalment we’re counting down the Top 5 Facts About Brainwashing.

From communist mind manipulation in the Manchurian Candidate, to models who can’t turn left, but can be turned into deadly assassins like Derek Zoolander, the nefarious practice known as brainwashing has held the attention of audiences for decades. But how exactly does it work in the real world?

#5: The Practice Was First Attributed To Communist China

When discussing “brainwashing”, there are a couple of things that need to be made clear - the science behind it is highly debated, as is the history of the practice. What we do know is that the term “brainwashing” was first popularized by journalist Edward Hunter. He used the term to describe what had been done to American POWs during the Korean War, and why some allegedly embraced communism. The term however, was a rough translation of “"xǐnǎo”, which means “to cleanse the mind” or “washing the brain”. In China, the term had already been used to describe the thought reform techniques employed by the ruling Communist Party of China as they attempted to unify the population under communist ideologies. In retrospective studies however, Hunter’s claim that American soldiers were “brainwashed” has largely been disproved.

#4: Brainwashing Is a Form of Torture

In order for someone to actually be considered the victim of brainwashing, outside ideologies, thoughts, attitudes and beliefs need to have been forcefully impressed upon them. But achieving such radical changes in the mind is no small feat. Essentially, you need to break a mind before you can reshape it. Only by repeatedly or constantly subjecting an individual to truly inhumane conditions and treatment can you break down the mind to the point where it will accept outside influence on such a fundamental level. And anything that’s going to break the human mind... is torture. Physical torture (inflicting pain upon the subject), psychological torture, (like sleep deprivation, isolation, etc) or some combination of both is typically used a means of wiping the mental canvas clean so that the person in control can begin the indoctrination.

#3: Brainwashing in 10 Easy Steps

Robert Jay Lifton is an American psychologist, who was among the first in the scientific community to study brainwashing. According to his 1961 book, there are ten steps involved in the process: 1. Assault on identity: Make them question who they are. 2. Guilt: Make them feel inherently wrong. 3. Self-betrayal: Make them feel that they’ve let themselves down. 4. Breaking point: A mental breakdown brought on by the cumulative effects of steps one through three. 5. Leniency: The brainwasher shows the newly broken victim compassion. 6. Compulsion to confess: Reaffirm guilt from this new perspective of kinship. 7. Channelling of guilt: Demonise the victim’s old life as the source of their guilt. 8. Releasing of guilt: By making their old life the source of guilt, they willingly choose to abandon those views and liberate themselves. 9. Progress and harmony: Present them with the new ideology to latch onto 10. Final confession and rebirth: the victim confirms their new identity by shedding any remaining guilt associated with their old values, and emerges... “reformed”.

#2: Not All Thought Changing Behaviour is Brainwashing

You see, there are many ways to change a person’s mind. When you give someone certain drugs, like scopolamine, you can manipulate them, or arguably, even control their mind. But you aren’t fundamentally changing their core values, and so, it’s not really brainwashing. The same goes for brainwashing yourself. There are countless self-help articles and videos online telling you how you can brainwash yourself out of bad habits. But while there are plenty of methods you can employ to recondition your mind to process and approach information differently, just by virtue of it being you yourself that is driving the change… it’s not brainwashing either. Although the word gets thrown around pretty casually, brainwashing is a distinctly extreme form of social conditioning that, realistically, few people have encountered or ever will.

#1: The Pardoning of a Brainwashing Victim

Now, to this day, people still debate the realities of brainwashing and it’s effectiveness. While some scoff at it as an excuse for acting out or committing crimes, there have been a number of well-documented cases of alleged brainwashing, and people willing to stake their reputation on the veracity of such claims. In 1974, Patty Hearst, the 19 year old granddaughter of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped by a radical left wing group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army. She was reportedly kept in isolation and psychologically tortured until (you guessed it!) she came to support the cause. She helped in a bank robbery, and was eventually arrested, tried and convicted. But her brainwashing defense caused quite the controversy. First, president Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence and had her released early. Then, in 2001, President Bill Clinton gave her a full pardon.

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