Brain washing which entails coercive persuasion to eradicate former beliefs and institute in their place new beliefs, has been widely linked to the emergence of cultic groups. Concerns on the motivating factor behind an individual’s acceptance to join a cultic group have been the subject of research and controversies from numerous studies. From these studies it can be surmised that the justification of an individual’s decision to join cultic groups could either be serious family problems and non family related issues, or relational issues with both family and peers.
In addition, individuals with a high predisposition to crises and those who have had put up with the absence of a father during their childhood were also found to be more susceptible to join cultic groups. In social psychology, cult development and brain washing are interrelated issues that often attract disputes. Brain washing is often used to denote the process by which individual persons are influenced through a process that is manifested intentionally and through systematically applied techniques that are not only traumatizing, but are also aimed at instilling obedience through ideological resocialization (Dawson, 2003).
Through the use of coercive persuasion, former beliefs are eradicated and new beliefs instituted in their place. It may also comprise manipulation of an individual’s social influence systematically (Kaplan & Hellen, 2005). Its existence in the field of social psychology is a widely disputed topic due to the fact that it is not a recognized theoretical concept, but rather a sensationalist’s explanation that is used in reference to cultists and revival preachers.
Not only do parties disagree on whether social process that attempt to influence individuals coercively exist, but the existence of their social outcome, which entails that individuals become influenced contrary to their will, is also an issue that elicits concern (Taylor & Taylor, 2005). Critics of the brain washing perspective argue that it presents a simplistic perspective to be employed by those intent on locating effective social weapons to counter disfavored groups.
They therefore, contend that any perceived relative success on those efforts aimed at achieving social control should obscure the fact that the notion of brain washing lacks a scientific basis to support the exposed opinions. Despite the negative attributes levied on cults, they also carry intrinsic advantages. One such merit is that they are seen as channels of transition to individual members. Even though members do not always belong to cults on a permanent basis, the experience they have while in cultic groups is often an exhilarating one, as they often recount (Wilson & Cresswell, 1999).
Proponents of cultic movements often cite clinical studies done on the psychological effects of becoming a member of a cultic group as the basis for favoring these groups. According to these studies, becoming a member of a cultic group has a therapeutic effect rather than a harmful effect. Other studies carried on cultist practices have also shown that what may be regarded as psychopathology of religious or spiritual nature may be a means for spiritual growth and expression of religious affiliation and religious stage (Kaplan & Hellen, 2005).
The notion of brain washing may also be a subtle form of behavior control which entails a system of reward or punishment for action. Education is a noteworthy example of behavior control mechanism targeted at achieving a desired behavior (Dawson, 2003). When behavior modification techniques are employed in a loving, caring and consistent manner, a change of behavior often results without feelings of resentment. On the contrary, perversion of behavior control techniques results in damage to emotions and psyche. Cults use a perverted form of behavior modification that ultimately damages the emotions of the individual.
Through cognitive dissonance, cultic groups are able to remain strong even in the face of a failure of their predictions (Taylor & Taylor, 2005). Social psychology espouses that cult development is founded on a basic premise of cognitive dissonance which explains why some cult adherents tend to become even stronger and resolute when their predictions fail. These individuals often find ways of coping psychologically with the experienced failure and they dissociate from the failure through: control of behavior, control of thoughts, and control of emotions.
These three elements are interdependent, implying that when one is eliminated the others cease to operate effectively. Moreover, when the three elements are altered, the affected individual goes through a complete change (Wilson & Cresswell, 1999). Behavior control entails management of a person’s physical reality which involves such aspects as an individual’s place of residence, employment, what an individual eats and where he or she sleeps (Kaplan & Hellen, 2005). It explains why most cults impose stringent schedules for its members.
In extreme cases, a cult member can willfully participate in his punishment, believing that he deserve it! Thought control, on the other hand, involves thought indoctrination of its members to the extent that members manipulate their own thought processes. An ideology held by the cultists is internalized as the correct ideology and forms a set of belief system through which information received by an individual member of the cult is filtered and processed before either being rejected or accepted.
Through the use of a unique and specific language member’s’ thought processes are regulated in a manner that alienates them from a non cultic groups (Wilson & Cresswell, 1999). Another mechanism employed by cultic groups is the thought- stopping techniques, which involves the use of mediation, singing, chanting or concentrated praying, which harbors an individual’s ability to test the reality. The person desists from blaming the group and shifts the blame to him in the event of a problem (Taylor & Taylor, 2005). On the other hand, emotional control involves manipulation of an individual’s range of feelings.
Control is achieved through the propagation of guilt and anxiety. The fear of being ostracized by cult leaders if a member is not seen to be adhering to the practices of the cult is created. Moreover, use of phobia indoctrination that elicits a panic reaction in an individual, helps ensure the individual remains in the cult, every time the individual thinks of leaving the group (Dawson, 2003). Another component of cognitive dissonance is information control which involves managing of the group member’s source of information.
This is founded on the basic premise that denying people information needed to make sound judgment is usually expected to render them incapable of making those changes. This notion is widely employed in cultic groups, resulting in psychological chains that lock away its adherent from realities in the society (Kaplan & Hellen, 2005). Susceptible Groups Of particular concern to the field of social psychology is the motivating factor behind an individual’s acceptance to join a particular cult.
Numerous studies surmised from persons who formerly belonged to cult groups have in many occasions found a link between their joining cults and serious family and non family problems (Dawson, 2003). Typical issues such as a history of poor relationships both with individual’s family and peers were characteristic of these individuals. In addition it was also noted that young individuals with a high predisposition to crises also tended to join cults (Taylor & Taylor, 2005). Still other studied note that those who have had to put with the absence of a father during childhood and who face a myriad of challenges often join cults.
These observations have also been found to be consistent with a study that indicated that non converts tended to hold less authoritarian values compared to new converts to cults. Cults have been discredited with fostering, regression, paralysis of thought and dislocation of reality. The negative characterization of cults may however, be a result of interviewing former cult members , who may have left due to dissatisfaction, and who are thus predisposed to give negative views (Taylor & Taylor, 2005).
Reference Dawson, L. L. (2003). Cults and new religious movements: a reader. New York. Wiley-Blackwell. Kaplan, J. , & Hellen, L. (2002). The cultic milieu: oppositional subcultures in an age of globalization. New York. Rowman Altamira. Taylor, K. , & Taylor, K. E. (2005). Brainwashing: The Dream of Mind Control. New York. Oxford UP. Wilson, B. R. , & Cresswell, J. (1999). New Religious Movements: Challenge and Response. Belmont, CA. Routledge.