Most of us associate brainwashing with covert Cold War spy operations and old black and white movies. But brainwashing techniques are used far more commonly than you would think, and in the modern day world.
People who want to manipulate a person or a situation will often use brainwashing so that they can have the upper hand, but before we start to examine what kind of brainwashing techniques they use, what exactly is brainwashing?
What is brainwashing
Brainwashing is a process by which a person or group uses underhand methods to persuade others to the will of the person who is manipulating them.
But where does honest persuasion stop and brainwashing start? There are many forms of persuasion used today, particularly in politics. For example, a simple way of persuading a crowd to go along with your instructions is to firstly state a couple of things that provoke a ‘yes’ response, then add things that are true facts, and finally suggest what you want them to do:
“Are you fed up with paying too much at the gas stations? Are you sick of rising healthcare costs? Do you want to see an end to austerity? Well you know that the government has stated that austerity will continue, they will not stop rises in fuel and they are overseeing the highest costs in healthcare since the Second World War! If you want change vote Democrats.”
You wouldn’t call these brainwashing techniques, more like subtle persuasion, so what are the techniques used by manipulators?
Here are the most common ones to look out for:
The first tactic to be used in brainwashing is typically to isolate the victim away from their friends and family. The reason for doing this is so that the victim only has the manipulator to talk to, to get their information and ideas from, and they do not have to worry about any third party coming in and questioning what’s going on.
Attacks on self-esteem
Now that the victim has been isolated, he or she has to be broken down so that the manipulation can start rebuilding them in the image they desire. A person can only be brainwashed if their manipulator is in a superior position to them. These attacks could be in the form of ridiculing or mocking the victim, or intimidation.
Another way a manipulator will try and brainwash their victims is by mentally torturing them. They could tell the victims lies and then embarrass them with the truth in front of others, or they could bully their victims by badgering them and not allowing them any personal space.
Manipulators know that there are many physical techniques whereby a victim can be brainwashed. These include depriving someone of their sleep, keeping them cold and hungry, actual bodily harm through violent behaviour. There are also other more subtle ways that a manipulator can use, such as keeping noise levels up, having lights that flicker on and off all the time, and lowering or raising the temperature in the room.
Studies have shown that if you play a repetitive beat, most ideally one that ranges from 45 to 72 beats per minute, you can induce an extremely hypnotic state. This is because that repetition is very close to the rhythm of the beat of a human heart. This rhythm can alter your consciousness until you have reached what is known as an Alpha state, where you are 25 times more suggestible as you would be in a Beta state.
Only allowing contact with other brainwashed members
By only allowing contact with those who are already brainwashed, the manipulator is creating a situation whereby peer pressure comes into play. Everybody wants to be liked and accepted, especially if they are the new member of the group. Adhering and promoting what the other members are saying and doing means that they will be accepted.
Us vs. Them
Again, this is all about being accepted into a group, and the best group as well. By saying that there is an Us and a Them, the manipulator is immediately offering the victim the chance to choose which group they want to belong to. Their goal is now to achieve absolute obedience and loyalty.
This is a tactic whereby the victim is drawn into the group by physical touching, sharing intimate thoughts and emotional bonding, all through excessive affection and constant validation.
These are just a few ways in which a person can be brainwashed, and if you think it is easy to get them back into a normal state, you might be interested in one study by neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor. After reviewing the neural effects of brainwashed victims, she discovered that they had more rigid neural pathways than others. This could suggest that this is why brainwashed people find it hard to rethink their situation once they have been brainwashed.