Brainwashing: Authoritarian Persuasion Techniques


How does brainwashing happen? Discover here the techniques of coercive (authoritarian, interventionist, repressive…) persuasion that can change a person’s beliefs.

There are many films that tell us about brainwashing, such as those that show us how in Vietnam the communists brainwashed American soldiers. However, brainwashing is best understood if it is called coercive persuasion. The latter consists of having an influence on a subject by submitting it. This type of persuasion is the strongest and most invasive. It is generally practiced by sects, totalitarian states, or, among others, terrorist and kidnapping organizations.

Brainwashing a person, or better said, practicing coercive persuasion, is not easy. For an individual to change their entire belief system as well as their way of thinking and acting, different techniques must be used. These coercive persuasion techniques can be divided into four types. Environmental techniques. Emotional type. Cognitive type. And finally those that induce dissociative states.

Brainwashing 3-with hearts
Brainwashing; Bound and gagged with a ribbon that has hearts on it in the modified version. Original=Cesar Leal Jiménez; Bearbeitung=Christian Rahn, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How is brainwashing going?

This technique was first used in the 1950s by American journalist Edward Hunter, about the treatment of American soldiers taken prisoner in Chinese camps during the Korean War.

Brainwashing techniques were already studied in the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead and are used by abusive parents and spouses, self-proclaimed therapists, some gurus and religious leaders, secret societies, revolutionaries and dictators and are aimed at to control people and manipulate them into adopting a certain behavior, apparently of their own free will.

These techniques do not resort to fantastic weapons or other exotic powers, they are based on the understanding of the human spirit and the desire to exploit it. By better understanding these techniques, you will learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones from them.

Environmental-type techniques

The techniques of this type intervene on the entourage or the environment of the subject. They go through control and manipulation. Their goal is to weaken resistance in order to facilitate persuasion. Some of the environmental type coercive persuasion techniques are:

Isolation: This makes persuasion more effective, and consists of removing the subject from the physical, social and physical world. In other words, to completely isolate it.
Control of information: The control and manipulation of information is a form of isolation. If the subject has less information, he will therefore have fewer alternatives when making a choice, and his thinking will be less critical.

Creation of a state of existential dependence: this technique consists in making so that the existence of a person depends on another person, generally a leader. It is for the leader to satisfy the primary and secondary needs of the subject, until creating a total dependence.
Psycho-physical weakening: physical weakening is associated with psychological weakening, which, in turn, implies a weakening of the capacity to resist persuasion techniques.

“For superfluous products, we resort to mechanisms of propaganda, marketing and persuasion to induce people to consume and to believe that the superfluous is necessary for them, that it is a secret source of happiness” -Leonardo Boff- (Leonardo Boff, born as Genézio Darci Boff, is a Brazilian theologian, philosopher writer, and former Catholic priest known for his active support for Latin American liberation theology)

Emotional techniques

Motives are emotionally conditioned. Thus, if we manage to influence emotions, these will in turn influence motivations, and themselves on behaviors. Below we present two coercive persuasion techniques of an emotional type:

Emotional activation of pleasure: this consists of generating pleasant emotions in the subject. This technique is used to attract followers, to capture their attention.
Emotional activation of fear, guilt and anxiety: through the use of rewards and punishments, emotional responses of fear are established. Of guilt and anxiety. These emotions foment dependence and submission.

Read also: Berlin Wall and History From its Rise, Fall and Reunification

Cognitive-type techniques

This type of coercive persuasion techniques are mediated by the previous techniques. A subject who is physically weakened and feels guilty is perfect for carrying out cognitive persuasion. We describe some of these techniques below:

  • Denigration of critical thinking: this consists in making the subject believe that his own thoughts are not valid, in repressing and denigrating them.
  • Use of lies and deception: this technique consists of distorting reality and information through occultation, lies or deception.
  • Asking for condescension: Establishing groupthink or conforming to what the group decides is another possible strategy. In other words, it’s about developing a habit of compliance and submission.
  • Identification with the group: identity must be collective. Thus, each individual loses his own personality to adopt that of the group. This pressure can lead individuals to de-individualize and lose certain identity factors that set them apart.
  • Attention control: By manipulating the presentation of stimuli, one can control the attention given to the points of persuasion.
  • Control over language: By controlling language, one can diminish freedom. By deleting the words, certain questions or opinions can be avoided.
  • Alteration of the sources of authority: once all the principles of authority of a person are destroyed, one exposes oneself to total authority. This authority figure collects all the power and the others are subject to it.

“Men can only deal with each other in two ways: by means of weapons, or by means of logic. Force or persuasion. Those who know they cannot win using logic have always ended up resorting to arms.”
-Ayn Rand-

Techniques for inducing dissociative states

Dissociation corresponds to those trance states that arise from the intensification of an experience. These states lead to the momentary loss of consciousness and identity. They are more likely in totalitarian environments. In addition, these states of consciousness make followers more vulnerable. This is why they can be controlled by limiting the options available to them. And reducing their ability to assess them.

To conclude, coercive persuasion, also known as brainwashing, consists of manipulating the environment to weaken subjects. From there, the cognitive and emotional persuasions will change the way they think and feel. Eventually, this will lead them into trance states in which it is easier to persuade.

Sources: PinterPandai, HowStuffWorks, Smithsonian Magazine, Psychologist World, Oxford University Press

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