What is Brainwashing & Does brainwashing really exist?

“It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison, and yet not free –
to be under no physical constraint and yet to be a psychological captive,
compelled to think, feel and act as the representatives of the national
state, or of some private interest within the nation, wants him to think,
feel and act.”The nature of psychological compulsion is such that those who act under
constraint remain under the impression that they are acting on their own
initiative. The victim of mind-manipulation does not know that he is a
victim. To him the walls of his prison are invisible, and he believes
himself to be free. That he is not free is apparent only to other people.
His servitude is strictly objective.”

Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley, 1958

Brainwashing -Definitions according to the online edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary c. 2004.

Main Entry: brain•wash•ing

Pronunciation: ‘brAn-“wo-shi[ng], -“wä-

Function: noun

Etymology: translation of Chinese (Beijing) xina<hacek>o

1 : a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas

2 : persuasion by propaganda or salesmanship


According to Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia –

“brainwashing.” Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Scholastic Library Publishing, 2004 (June 18, 2004).


Brainwashing is the process of deliberately subjecting individuals to physical and psychological hardship in order to alter their thoughts, attitudes, and actions. It differs from other forms of persuasion or instruction, not only in the key element of coercion but in the radical intent to clear the mind totally of one set of ideas and replace them by another, often completely opposed set.

The term brainwashing is a literal translation of the Chinese: xi nao, referring to thought reform. When the Chinese Communists came to power in 1949, they sought to reeducate the intellectuals and middle classes by brainwashing techniques; they applied the same methods to prisoners taken during the Korean War.

The two aspects of brainwashing are confession of past crimes or errors, and reeducation to new beliefs. Prisoners are brought to confess by lack of sleep and food and other forms of intense physical discomfort, isolation from familiar surroundings, a prison routine requiring absolute obedience and humility, and social pressure from cell mates. The last includes mutual criticism and self-criticism sessions, which play particularly on the generalized guilt feeling that all people have to some extent. At the same time regular indoctrination sessions are conducted. The acceptance of the new ideas is again fostered by group pressure and the anticipated reward of freedom.

Improved understanding of psychology and neurophysiology have enabled modern totalitarian regimes to create extremely effective brainwashing programs. Some of their techniques, however, have been used for centuries.

Is the “Brainwashing” phenomenon real?
By Kathy Moya

Many, many years ago in my naïveté I would have said no, or at least concluded that brainwashing would only work on impressionable, susceptible minds.

However, since then my personal opinion is that brainwashing is indeed a real phenomenon, and it can work on all kinds of minds if carried out correctly.

Evidently, Allen W. Dulles (Director of the C.I.A. at the time), on April 25, 1956 thought brainwashing was real enough to have his staff conduct a study and send the results of the study to J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the F.B.I. at the time. This document was approved (with deletions in place) for release on 8 FEB 1984.

The actual title of this report was:


In the report, the first section is as follows:


Brainwashing, as a technique, has been used for centuries and is no mystery to psychologists. In this sense, brainwashing means involuntary re-education of basic beliefs and values. All people are being re-educated continually. New information changes one’s beliefs. Everyone has experienced to some degree the conflict that ensues when new information is not consistent with prior belief. The experience of the brainwashed individual differs in that the inconsistent information is forced upon the individual under controlled conditions after the possibility of critical judgment has been removed by a variety of methods.

There is no question that an individual can be broken psychologically by captors with knowledge and willingness to persist in techniques aimed at deliberately destroying the integration of a personality. Although it is probable that everyone reduced to such a confused, disoriented state will respond to the introduction of new beliefs, this cannot be stated dogmatically.

The next section is entitled


The following is a condensed version (in some cases it is the text in its entirety) of what I found in the document.There are progressive steps in exercising control over an individual and changing his behavior and personality integration. The following five steps (in the author of this site’s condensed version) are typical of behavior changes in any controlled individual.

1. Making the individual aware of control is the first stage in changing his behavior.

A controlled adult comes to recognize the overwhelming powers of the state and the impersonal “incarcerative” machinery in which he is enmeshed. The individual recognizes that definite limits have been put upon the ways he can respond.

2. Realization of his complete dependence upon the controlling system is a major factor in the controlling of his behavior.

The controlled adult is forced to accept the fact that food, tobacco, praise and the only social contact that he will get come from the very interrogator who exercises control over him.

3. The awareness of control and recognition of dependence result in causing internal conflict and breakdown of previous patterns of behavior.

Only an individual who holds his values lightly can change them easily. Since the brainwasher-interrogators aim to have the individuals undergo profound emotional change, they force their victims to seek out painfully what is desired by the controlling individual. During this period the victim is likely to have a mental breakdown characterized by delusions and hallucinations.

4. Discovery that there is an acceptable solution to his problem is the first stage of reducing the individual’s conflict.

It is characteristically reported by victims of brainwashing that this discovery led to an overwhelming feeling of relief that the horror of internal conflict would cease and that perhaps they would not, after all, be driven insane. It is at this point that they are prepared to make major changes in their value-system. This is an automatic rather than voluntary choice. They have lost their ability to be critical.

5. Reintegration of values and identification with the controlling system is the final stage in changing the behavior of the controlled individual.

A child who has learned a new, socially desirable behavior demonstrates its importance by attempting to adapt the new behavior to a variety of other situations. Similar states in the brainwashed adult are pitiful. His new value-system, his manner of perceiving, organizing and giving meaning to events, is virtually independent of his former value-system. He is no longer capable of thinking or speaking in concepts other than those he has adopted. He tends to identify by expressing thanks to his captors for helping him see the light. Brainwashing can be achieved without using illegal means. Anyone willing to use known principle of control and reactions to control and capable of demonstrating the patience needed in raising a child can probably achieve successful brainwashing.I think it is important to note that right here on the document is a note that the following section was


The next section


A description of usual communist control techniques follows.


There are at least two ways in which “interrogation” is used:
a. Elicitation, which is designed to get the individual to surrender protected information, is a form of interrogation. One major difference between elicitation and interrogation used to achieve brainwashing is that the mind of the individual must be kept clear to permit coherent, undistorted disclosure of protected information.

b. Elicitation for the purpose of brainwashing consists of questioning, argument, indoctrination, threats, cajolery, praise, hostility and a variety of other pressures. The aim of this interrogation is to hasten the breakdown of the individual’s value system and to encourage the substitution of a different value-system. The procurement of protected information is secondary and is used as a device to increase pressure upon the individual. The term “interrogation” in this paper will refer, in general, to this type. The “interrogator” is the individual who conducts this type of interrogation and who controls the administration of the other pressures. He is the protagonist against whom the victim develops his conflict, and upon whom the victim develops a state of dependency as he seeks some solution to his conflict.

2.Physical Torture and Threats of Torture.

Two types of physical torture distinguishable more by their psychological effect in inducing conflict than by the degree of painfulness:

a. The first type is one in which the victim has a passive role in the pain inflicted on him (e.g., beatings). His conflict involves the decision of whether or not to give in to demands in order to avoid further pain. Generally, brutality of this type was not found to achieve the desired results. Threats of torture were found more effective, as fear of pain causes greater conflict with the individual than does the pain itself.

b. The second type of torture is represented by requiring the individual to stand in one spot for several hours or assume some other pain-inducing position. Such a requirement often engenders in the individual a determination to “stick it out.” This internal act of resistance provides a felling of moral superiority at first. As time passes and his pain mounts, however, the individual becomes aware that it is his own original determination to resist that is causing the continuance of pain. A conflict develops within the individual between his moral determination and his desire to collapse and discontinue the pain. It is this extra internal conflict, in addiction to the conflict over whether or not to give in to the demand made of him, that tends to make this method of torture more effective in the breakdown of the individual personality.


Individual differences in reaction to isolation are probably greater than to any other method. Some individuals appear to be able to withstand prolonged periods of isolation without deleterious effects, while a relatively short period of isolation reduces others to the verge of psychosis. Reaction varies with the conditions of the isolation cell. Some sources have indicated a strong reaction to filth and vermin, although they had negligible reactions to isolation. Others reacted violently to isolation in relatively clean cells. The predominant cause of breakdown in such situations is a lack of sensory stimulation (i.e., grayness of walls, lack of sound, absence of social contact, etc.). Experimental subjects exposed to this condition have reported vivid hallucinations and overwhelming fears of losing their sanity.

4.Control of Communication.

This is one of the most effective methods for creating a sense of helplessness and despair. This measure might well be considered the cornerstone of the communist system of control. It consists of strict regulation of the mail, reading materials, broadcast materials, and social contact available to the individual. The need to communicate is so great that when the usual channels are blocked, the individual will resort to any open channel, almost regardless of the implications of using that particular channel. Many POWs in Korea, whose only act of “collaboration” was to sign petitions and “Peace appeals,” defended their actions on the ground that this was the only method of letting the outside world know they were still alive. They stated that their morale and fortitude would have been increased immeasurably had leaflets of encouragement been dropped to them. When the only contact with the outside world is via the interrogator, the prisoner comes to develop extreme dependency on his interrogator and hence loses another prop to his morale.

Another wrinkle in communication control is the informer system. The recruitment of informers in POW camps discouraged communication between inmates. POWs who feared that every act or thought of resistance would be communicated to the camp administrators, lost faith in their fellow man and were forced to “untrusting individualism.” Informers are also under several stages of brainwashing and elicitation to develop and maintain control over the victims.

5.Induction of Fatigue

This is a well-known devise for breaking will power and critical powers of judgment. Deprivation of sleep results in more intense psychological debilitation than does any other method of engendering fatigue. Fatigue, in addition to reducing the will to resist, also produces irritation and fear that arise from increased “slips of the tongue,” forgetfulness, and decreased ability to maintain orderly thought processes.

6. Control of food, water and Tobacco.

The controlled individual is made intensely aware of his dependence upon his interrogator for the quality and quantity of his food and tobacco. Studies of controlled starvation indicated that the whole value-system of the subjects underwent a change. Their irritation increased as their ability to think clearly decreased.

7. Criticism and Self-Criticism.

These are mechanisms of communist thought control. Self Criticism gains its effectiveness from the fact that although it is not a crime for a man to wrong, it is a major crime to be stubborn and refuse to learn. Many individuals feel intensely relieved in being able to share their sense of guilt. Those individuals however, who have adjusted to handling their guilt internally have difficulty adapting to criticism and self-criticism. In brainwashing, after a sufficient sense of guilt has been created in the individual, sharing and self-criticism permit relief. The price paid for this relief, however, is loss of individuality and increased dependency.

8. Hypnosis and drugs as Controls.

There is no reliable evidence that the communists are making 3widespread use of drugs or hypnosis in brainwashing or elicitation. The exception to this is the use of common stimulants or depressants in inducing fatigue and “mood swings.”

Other Methods of control, which when used in conjunction with the basic processes, hasten the deterioration of prisoners’ sense of values and resistances are:

a. Requiring a case history or autobiography of the prisoner provides a mine of information for the interrogator in establishing and “documenting” accusations.

b. Friendliness of the interrogator, when least expected, upsets the prisoner’s ability to maintain a critical attitude.

c. Petty demands, such as severely limiting the allotted time for use of toilet facilities or requiring the POW to kill hundreds of flies, are harassment methods.

d. Prisoners are often humiliated by refusing them the use of toilet facilities during interrogation until they soil themselves. Often prisoners were not permitted to bathe for weeks until the felt contemptible.

e. Conviction as a war criminal appears to be a potent factor in creating despair in the individual. One official analysis of the pressures exerted by the ChiComs on “confessors” and “non-confessors” to participation in bacteriological warfare in Korea showed that actual trial and conviction of “war crimes” was overwhelmingly associated with breakdown and confession.

f. Attempted elicitation of protected information at various time during the brainwashing process diverted the individual from awareness of the deterioration of his value-system. The fact that, in most cases the ChiComs did not want or need such intelligences was not known to the prisoner. His attempts to protect such information were made at the expense of hastening his own breakdown.

The next section of the report is called


Mentioned in this section are pressures which may vary in order, but are all necessary to the brainwashing process:

1. A feeling of helplessness in attempting to deal with the impersonal machinery of control.

2. An initial reaction of “surprise.”

3. A feeling of uncertainty about what is required of him.

4. A developing feeling of dependence upon the interrogator.

5. A sense of doubt and loss of objectivity.

6. Feelings of guilt.

7. A questioning attitude toward his own value-system.

8. A feeling of potential “breakdown,” i.e., that he might go crazy.

9. A need to defend his acquired principles.

10. A final sense of “belonging” (identification).

By the end of the brainwashing process a qualitative change has taken place within the prisoner. The brainwashed victim does not consciously change his value-system; rather the change occurs despite his efforts. He is no more responsible for this change than is an individual who “snaps” and becomes psychotic. And like the psychotic, the prisoner is not even aware of the transition.

The next section covers how our military and governmental personnel should be trained in order to resist brainwashing. If you wish to read this you can read the copy of the report in the PDF file link below.

The final section


The application of known psychological principles can lead to an understanding of brainwashing.

1. There is nothing mysterious about personality changes resulting from the brainwashing process.

2. Brainwashing is a complex process. Principles of motivation, perception, learning, and physiological deprivation are needed to account for the results achieved in brainwashing.

3. Brainwashing is an involuntary re-education of the fundamental beliefs of the individual. To attack the problem successfully, the brainwashing process must be differentiated clearly from general education methods for thought-control or mass indoctrination, and elicitation.

4. It appears possible for the individual, through training, to develop limited defensive techniques against brainwashing. Such defensive measures are likely to be most effective if directed toward thwarting individual emotional reactions to brainwashing techniques rather than toward thwarting the techniques themselves.

This document was completed on 15 August 1955.

Here is the first page of the CIA document, the rest is in the PDF file below.



MEMORANDUM FOR: The Honorable J. Edgar Hoover

Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation

SUBJECT : Brainwashing

The attached study on brainwashing was prepared by my

staff in response to the increasing acute interest in the

subject throughout the intelligence and security components

of the Government. I feel you will find it well worth your

personal attention. It represents the thinking of leading psychologists, psychiatrists and intelligence specialists, based

in turn on interviews with many individuals who have had

personal experience with Communist brainwashing, and on

extensive research and testing. While individuals specialists

hold divergent views on various aspects of this most complex

subject, I believe the study reflects a synthesis of majority

expert opinion. I will, of course, appreciate any comments

on it that you or your staff may have.


Allen W. Dulles




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