Theories of mind control, thought control, or brainwashing claim that a person's mind can be controlled (either directly or more subtly) by an outside source.

Table of contents
1 Propaganda and overt persuasion
2 Mind control "technologies"
3 Cults and mind control
4 Brainwashing
5 U.S. Government research into mind control
6 Ordinary scientists just trying to control your mind
7 APA Task Force on mind control
8 Subliminal advertising
9 Mind control in fiction
10 Mind control as entertainment
11 References and external links

Propaganda and overt persuasion

With the onset of mass media like radio in the 1930s and later television, totalitarian regimes of the time capitalized on the new possibilities for manipulation and state propaganda. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda genius, pioneered most of the methods which are still used by modern spin doctors. "A lie repeated many times becomes the Truth" was one of his particularly effective insights. Ironically, spin doctors play a very important role in those democracies dependent on public opinion.

Totalitarian regimes use repression of freedom of speech to homogenize the population. Repression can range from simple censorship through character assassination to outright state sponsored murder. One notorious example is Stalin with his purges, but all governments, including the US government, have been known to use these types of repression. The modern world is in fact characterized by an unprecedented increase in the powers of all states, which can often be very oppressive.

People's minds are clearly influenced by many influences from the outside world, such as advertising, media manipulation, and propaganda, however they are generally aware of these influences. The remainder of this article is about mind control that occurs either without the knowledge, or without the consent, of the individual.

Mind control "technologies"

Hypothesized forms of mind control technology have included the use of drugs, hypnosis, Pavlovian conditioning, repetitive indoctrination, torture and subliminal stimuli.

One of the symptoms of schizophrenia (and sometimes other forms of psychosis) is the belief that one is subject to external mind control, often by use of some form of technology: these often involve less plausible proposed mind control technologies such as the use of microwave radiation or lasers to control thoughts.

Some believers in mind control assert that no one is immune to mind control: a person could just start talking to a someone on the street, and nearly instantly, he is a victim. Other sources believe that there is no such thing as mind control, and that free will cannot be subverted.

Cults and mind control

Many people believe that cults entrap or enslave members through mind control. A counter-cult deprogramming movement has developed to counter cult mind control, and has, in turn, been accused of using mind control techniques.

Deprogrammers have often been able to get judges to issue conservatorships authorizing them to rescue people. There is considerable disagreement about how cults actually operate.


According to Jeffrey K. Hadden, the concept of "brainwashing" first came into public use during the Korean War in the 1950s as an explanation for why a few American GIs appeared to defect to the Communists. Brainwashing consisted of the notion that the Chinese communists had discovered a mysterious and effective method of causing deep and permanent behaviorial changes in prisoners of war.

See also Professor Hadden's online article, The Brainwashing Controversy (see link at end of article).

The idea was central to the 1962 movie The Manchurian Candidate in which a soldier was turned into an assassin through brainwashing.

The two most authoritative studies of the Korean War defections by Robert J. Lifton and Edgar Schein concluded that "brainwashing" was an inappropriate concept to account for this renunciation of U.S. citizenship. They found that the Chinese did not engage in any systematic re-education. The Chinese were, however, able to get some of them to make anti-American statements by placing the prisoners under harsh conditions of deprivation and then by offering them more comfortable situations such as better sleeping quarters, better food, warmer clothes or blankets. Nevertheless, the psychiatrists noted that even these were quite ineffective at changing basic attitudes for most people. In essence, the prisoners did not actually convert to Communism. Rather many of them behaved as though they did in order to avoid the plausible threat of extreme physical coercion. Moreover the few prisoners that were influenced by Communist indoctrination did so as a result of motives and personality characteristics that existed before imprisonment.

Currently the concept of brainwashing is not used by most psychologists and social scientists, and the methods of persuasion and coercion used during the Korean War are not considered to be esoteric.

U.S. Government research into mind control

A CIA research program which included experiments on human subjects, known principally by the codename MKULTRA, began in 1950 and was motivated largely in response to alleged Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean uses of mind control techniques on U.S. prisoners of war in Korea.

The general consensus is that MKULTRA was a failure, although because most of the MKULTRA records were deliberately destroyed in 1973 by order of then-Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms, it is impossible to have a complete understanding of the more than 150 individually funded research projects sponsored by MKULTRA and the related CIA programs.

Ordinary scientists just trying to control your mind

With intense modern magnets and the technique of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) or repetitive TMS (rTMS), researchers have been able to transiently stymie certain thought processes--such as the conjugation of verbs--with fleeting magnetic pulses to specific areas of the brain. The technique has proved a valuable tool for testing hypotheses about the role and interplay between brain regions in particular cognitive activities and psychiatric symptoms such as depression. It's tempting to speculate what practical applications the technique and such insights might lead to: Is there a locus for lying and could one disable it on the witness stand? Could one zap away depression? Or accelerate certain kinds of mental performance?

APA Task Force on mind control

The American Psychological Association (APA) in 1984 allowed Margaret Singer, the main proponent of anti-cult mind control theories, to create a working group called Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC).

In 1987, the final report of the DIMPAC committee was submitted to the Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology of the APA. On May 11, 1987, the Board rejected the report and concluded that its kind of mind control theories, used in order to distinguish "cults" from religions, are not part of accepted psychological science (American Psychological Association 1987). Although the APA memorandum only dismissed the theories of brainwashing and mind control as presented in the DIMPAC report -- without prejudice to theories of influence and control other than those advocated by the DIMPAC committee - the results of the APA document were devastating for the anti-cult movement[6].

In fact, the DIMPAC theories rejected by APA largely corresponded to the anti-cult position as a whole. Starting from the Fishman case (1990), where a defendant accused of commercial fraud raised as a defense that he was not fully responsible since he was under the mind control of Scientology, American courts consistently rejected testimonies about mind control and manipulation, stating that these were not part of accepted mainline science (Anthony & Robbins 1992: 5-29). Margaret Singer, and her associate Richard Ofshe filed suits against the APA and the American Sociological Association (who had supported APA's 1987 statement) but they lost in 1993 and 1994.

Subliminal advertising


  • The term "subliminal advertising" was coined by James Vicary.
  • The publication in 1957 of Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders brought the term to the attention of the general public.
  • In 1973 the book Subliminal Seduction claimed that subliminal techiques were in wide use in advertising.
  • There is no evidence that subliminal advertising is effective, and the current consensus among marketing professions is that subliminal advertising is ineffective and can be counter-productive.

Mind control in fiction

Mind control has been a popular subject in fiction, featuring in books and films such as The Ipcress File, and The Manchurian Candidate, which has the premise that a man could be brainwashed into murder on command but retain no memory of the killing.

The TV series The Prisoner featured mind control as a recurring plot element.

George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four features a description of mind control, both directly by torture, and indirectly, in the form of pervasive mind control by the use of Newspeak, a constructed language which is designed to remove the possibility of even articulating subversive thoughts.

In science fiction and superhero fiction, mind control often is described as a means of how a person literally seizes control of the minds of the victims to the point where not only their bodies are placed under direct control, but also their consciousnesses as well to become puppets like slaves to the controller. This is often depicted electronically such as the trademark equipment of Batman enemy, The Mad Hatter, which is designed to put victims under his control when placed in direct physical contact with the head. In addition, characters with powerful psionic abilities like Professor X of the X-Men can do the same with mental concentration against a target.

Mind control as entertainment

Hypnotism has often been used by stage performers to make volunteers do strange things, such as clucking like a chicken, for the entertainment of the audience. More sophisticated mental tricks are performed by the British psychological illusionist Derren Brown in his televison programmes, Derren Brown: Mind Control.

See also:

References and external links