Brainwashed: why a myth of mind control keeps us hooked

Updated: Nov 4, 2019

Mind control has us hooked.

Millions of otherwise intelligent people believe that we are susceptible to brainwashing.

The phenomenon of brainwashing remains to this day the basis of popular conspiracy theories that purport to explain how people are ideologically controlled.

Despite the popularity of these theories, there is no empirical or scientific evidence that proves that anyone can successfully engineer people who adopt radically different beliefs.

So why does this pseudoscientific theory that first appeared in the 1950s remain so attractive?

Let's take a detour through the tangled histories and stories of brainwashing to find out why.

Cold war mind control

The first use of the word "brainwashing" can be credited to a chinese term, xǐ năo (洗腦). The Chinese term literally translates as "to wash the brain".

In the 1950s, brainwashing referred to the "reconstruction" (改造 gǎi zào) or re-education of the so-called feudal (封建 fēng jiàn) thought-patterns of Chinese citizens raised under pre-revolutionary régimes. Brainwashing justified the supposedly benevolent techniques of coercive persuasion that the Chinese Communist Party would employ to subdue peasants and transform the nation from a crumbling feudal empire into a communist totalitarian state.

The term was also a pun that referred to the Taoist custom of "cleansing/washing the heart" (洗心 xǐ xīn), a ritual act. The pun captures the way in which, in Chinese culture, the term brainwashing is often used as a neutral concept that refers to teaching or a positive form of self-maintenance that creates social stability.

The story of how this euphemistic term for mental hygiene and a communist image of assimilation to modernity entered the English language has to do with the once secret Korean War (1950-1953) and the encounter between the United States military and the Chinese Communist Party supported People's Voluntary Army (PVA). The concept was appropriated from mandarin to describe those methods of 改造 that were allegedly applied by the PVA to the US Prisoners of War (PoWs) to create permanent behavioural and belief changes.

The theory of brainwashing was first developed by the American CIA, in an environment of cold war suspicion and a palpable need to weaponise intelligence, no matter how speculative or unevidenced. Brainwashing as an effective weapon against citizens and soldiers alike became a useful propaganda device to combat communism.

Ironically enough, the theory also began to work by dehumanising and marginalising anyone who was critical of the American government's ideologies. Brainwashing fears were propelled by reports that up to 21 American soldiers had supposedly collaborated with their captors, and had chosen to live in Mao’s China rather than return to the US.

These reports rattled the US army and government, and during the Korean War soldiers became subject to cold war fears.

Author of a book on American interrogation of Koreans, Monica Kim explains how the forces arraigned against the American soldiers became subject to mythical theories that had salience but almost no factual reality:

The American POW, under the specter of what the U.S. military referred to as “Oriental” brainwashing, thus became a cipher for American unease about how the fast-moving backdrop of capitalism, the Cold War, and a decolonizing globe was challenging the seemingly assured coherence of the American individual self.

Korean prisoners of war, Getty Images.

Edward Hunter, a CIA-supported journalist, wrote articles beginning in the 1950s and then books all premised on the idea of a complex conspiracy involving the mass re-education of civilians in Maoist China. His work was calculated to inspire fear of the Korean War enemy, the Chinese populace and the CCP, and then fear in the new Soviet enemy.

Hunter tried to dramatise the fight of soldiers against this menace, brainwashing. Crucially, Hunter may have lionised those who resisted, but he began the process that led to dehumanising the brainwashed, introducing a mental pathology in the populace that no one could eradicate without total physical and psychological war in response.

Edward Hunter's Brainwashing, 1956 (1959 edition).

By 1956, Hunter was describing brainwashing as part superstition, part soviet science, "like witchcraft, with its incantations, trances, poisons, and potions, with a strange flair of science about it all, like a devil dancer in a tuxedo carrying his magic brew in a test tube." (Hunter, Brainwashing (1956), 12, 3-4.)

The Russian behavioral scientist Ivan Pavlov became the forebear and founder of this new demonic force of brainwashing that could turn men into dogs that moved at a master's command. It became a common belief that all communists, chief among them the soviets, were engaging in such audacious social engineering that they were seeking to control human beings as if they were animals. A Dutch psychologist, Joost A. M. Meerloo, confidently claimed in a New York Times Magazine article in 1954:

It is accepted by Soviet theorists that just as animals can be trained and conditioned, so can man. The totalitarian wants to train and indoctrinate his fellow men in order to form a new society of conditioned human insects among whom every pattern of behavior is prefabricated.

There was not a little fabrication going on in the attempts of Scientologists to synthesise the new purported textbooks in Soviet brainwashing. Their work coined the term "psychopolitics", but it didn't have a long shelf life. Brainwashing became just another popular fear that scientology could exploit, promising to create mental supermen who could resist the "mental healing" rays of the Soviets.

By 1953, thousands of American soldiers were calling for an end to the Korean War, may of them PoWs, and a handful defected to China, and many others in America were sympathetic to communism. The preferred way authorities explained the actions of their citizens and soldiers was caught up in warning against communist propaganda.

Mind rays may not have been involved, but it was brainwashing. Enemies and those under the thrall of brainwashing became variously the bewitched, robots, animals, and insects. No wonder that anticommunists and belligerents loved using the concept to describe the lurking pathology of communism. Soon even J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy were using the concept to describe how soviets were influencing American citizens, infiltrating every institution and facet of American life using mind control techniques. Ironically, the CIA were developing their own "brainwashing" techniques in a secret effort to combat communist psychological weapons as part of the MK-ULTRA project, and experimented with prisoners of war themselves. The CIA continued to fund these projects throughout the cold war despite its own investigators, Hinkle and Wolff, pointing out that communists had not developed brainwashing atomic bombs, and claiming that "there is nothing mysterious about personality changes" that result from "physiological deprivation". In contrast to the CIA's MK-ULTRA project, Soviet attempts to create brainwashing techniques had more to do with a return to magical thinking, Rasputin-era superstitions and the mysteries of telepathy. The Chinese Communist Party for their part thought of brainwashing as a sort of neutral attempt to teach others to adapt to party lines, with imprisonment par for the course in a kind of brutal confucianism, but they certainly never imagined the psychological depths to which CIA would take their concept.

Researchers Albert Biderman, Edgar Schein, and Robert Jay Lifton separately confirmed the CIA investigator's findings on brainwashing by the early 1960s when they interviewed former Chinese prisoners and PoWs and found that the CCP had simply employed age-old physiological deprivation and moral conditioning tactics involving expressions of evangelical fervour, and that responses to these were remarkably disparate.

Lifton and Schein demonstrated that no prisoners in Korea were strictly converted to communism, and most merely behaved as though they believed these ideas in order to avoid physical or other forms of punishment. They found that the predisposition of prisoners often led them to accept communist propaganda in part, rather than the effectiveness of the propaganda techniques, and that this part acceptance and other social circumstances explained why some defected. The effects of something approaching so-called brainwashing only appeared in a minority of cases, were unstable, and disappeared as soon as individuals were removed from coercive environments. These scholars convincingly demonstrated that the Chinese government had no techniques that could cause indoctrination in any way that one could associate with brainwashing.

The theory of brainwashing nonetheless persisted as it was popularised and became the subject of books and films. As with all things in the cold war, the term brainwashing became weaponised to explain civil matters.

From a term employed by the CCP to justify forcible indoctrination to a military term, brainwashing then found new applications to explain social forces that were threatening, as Monica Kim put it, "the seemingly assured coherence of the American individual self".

The concept of brainwashing lived on beyond right-wing and cold war accounts and began to be used popularly to characterise a huge array of social, religious and political influences, from education to television, and even became associated with psychiatry and other psychological therapies. By the time the film Manchurian Candidate (1962) was produced, based on Richard Condon's 1959 book, brainwashing was already a popular concept. Instead of standard social influence which could impact everyone and could be tested by research, brainwashing became an altogether more extreme phenomenon in which social actors became demonic outliers or subject to a completely dominate and extreme form of ideological conditioning.

James T. Richardson, professor emeritus of sociology and judicial studies, points out that brainwashing "has been used for decades as a social weapon against unpopular groups and causes since a CIA operative, Edward Hunter, first used it in the 1950s" (Richardson 2019).

Among these unpopular groups and causes were religious, political and social cults, minority social movements, that were coming to a new prominence. Brainwashing took on a new life in the 1960s and the counterculture.

Wicked Cults

Let's fast forward to 2019. Earlier this year, the Nxivm cult trial broke out across the media. The 58-year old self-help guru, Keith Raniere, co-funded Nxivm (pronounced nex-ee-umm) in the 1990s, and in 2019 he was facing charges such as sex trafficking and racketeering.

Allison Mack, well-known as an actor on the television show about superman, Smallville, was accused of blackmailing women into acting as sex slaves for Raniere.


The path to Keith Raneire's conviction was littered with astonishing stories. The hollywood luminaries that Nxivm attracted ensured that these stories had front page billing in America's papers. During the trial, the sensational testimony attracted attention to Nxivm as a "sex cult" that brainwashed its members. The nation's papers did not hold back. An article from New York Times claimed to show us "How a Sex Cult Leader Seduced and Programmed His Followers". According to the sensational piece, "Former Nxivm members testified they were brainwashed into being branded and assigned to have sex with him”.

If a jury considered this testimony, they may be led to believe that Keith Raniere somehow programmed his followers to act like robots, and their act of branding themselves would strictly speaking be Raniere's own cruel act. No degree of responsibility could fall to followers of a cult leader, even to Allison Mack, could it? This is not in anyway to excuse the culpability of Keith Raniere, who was found guilty of a number of charges, but the bias in this testimony and in accounts of wicked cults like Nxivm is typical of the problem with accepting theories of brainwashing.

As James T. Richardson points out, "the “brainwashing” thesis is unscientific and therefore is generally not admissible in trial testimony." Brainwashing testimony is also screened from juries by judges because such testimony is powerfully biased and contains powerful appeals on its audience. The inclusion of this testimony in the Nxivm case without the jury being able to consider it is now standard practice for judicial process, but much of the media interpreted this as some kind of cover up or dismissal of the testimony of victims.

Major papers such as Vice, Daily Beast, and even The New York Times all employed the brainwashing concept in their coverage of the trial.

In his National Review post on the Nxivm trial, Kevin D. Williamson offers a critique of the way that major news providers referred to brainwashing. The trouble with the concept of brainwashing, according to Williamson, is that it has no scientific basis and is used as a euphemism for mind control:

“Brainwashing” is right up there with “recovered memories,” “multiple-personality disorder,” homeopathy, chiropractic, reiki, the anti-vaccine movement, and the terror of GMO vegetables in the catalogue of voguish nonsense that has made its way at least partly into the mainstream of American life.

Williamson continued with another post explaining that "There is no such thing as 'brainwashing'", bemoaning the authoritarianism and pseudoscience that people seem susceptible to in an effort to escape individual responsibility.

If we backtrack to consider the history of how we came to vilify cults, or minority religions and social movements, in some cases for good reason, we encounter the Patty Hearst trial. Brainwashing became a standard part of the lexicon of cults both political and religious after the infamous court case involving Patty Hearst in the 1970s. Hearst was the heiress of a wealthy publishing magnate, and her trial attracted national and international attention. In 1974, the 19-year-old Hearst had been kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, or SLA. Led by Donald DeFreeze, the SLA began its life in University tutorials but grew to recruit minorities, extremists and radicals and sought to wage a incite a guerrilla war against the U.S. government and destroy capitalism.

Hearst's testimony that she had been kidnapped, beaten, raped and indoctrinated before joining the SLA to commit an armed robbery became positive proof in the public mind that brainwashing existed. Although the brainwashing defence - a new variety of mental illness defence - was used, Heart was convicted by a jury. She would be later pardoned by President Carter.

The unresolvable tensions between victim and perpetrator testimony, the judicial system's emphasis on individual responsibility, and the desire to hold leaders of minority movements accountable led to a growing belief in the concept of brainwashing and a new respectability amongst experts.

Following the Hearst trial, several psychiatrists, such as UCLA Professor Louis J. West and John Clark, began to apply theories of brainwashing to not just political movements but also new religious movements. Margaret T. Singer, a clinical psychologist in Berkeley, California, shot to prominence as a brainwashing expert, providing expert testimony in a number of trials of members of religious groups. Her position was initially established in several articles, including "Coming Out of the Cults" in Psychology Today.

Singer relied on discredited theories brought forward by the CIA, and claimed that cults rely on "techniques that in some respects resemble the political indoctrination methods prescribed by Mao Tse Tung during the communist revolution and its aftermath from 1945 to 1955 in China." ( West and Singer 1980: 2348). This was the only empirical evidence that Singer presented, despite her expertise as a clinical psychologist.

The paucity of evidence to prove brainwashing was staggering, given the confidence with which these theories were presented to the public. Perry London provides a review of fifteen years of psychological literature covering 1400 journals in 29 languages and found no "no empirical studies" of the brainwashing concept that Singer and others had theorised.

Since the 1980s, according to Melton, "the academic community-including scholars from psychology, sociology, and religious studies-have shared an unanimous consensus that the coercive persuasion/brainwashing thesis ... is without scientific merit".

This consensus was consolidated in critiques of books like Conway and Siegelman's Snapping: America's Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change (1978), which had popularised the concept of brainwashing and the idea of a kind of pathology among cult members. Books such as these continued to popularise brainwashing theories even as psychiatry and psychology researchers such as Marc Galanter were exposing the concept as flawed and unevidenced.

A comprehensive refutation of Margaret Singer's views is provided by Dick Anthony in "Religious Movements and 'Brainwashing' Litigation: Evaluating Key Testimony" that appeared in the second edition of the textbook, In Gods We Trust: New Patterns of Religious Pluralism in America (1989). Anthony's arguments became critical to ensuring that Singer's expert testimonies in trials were discredited.

James R. Lewis and David G. Bromley were the first to rigorously test theories about cults proposed by Singer, Conway and Siegelman and others, and using a solid empirical base in their study of ex-members, found that most of the symptoms of brainwashing that the writers had theorised could be attributed to the effects of leaving groups, and were exacerbated by the dramatic environment of anti-cult deprogramming and social reactions to cults.

Their work, "The Cult Withdrawal Syndrome: A Case of Misattribution of Cause" (1987), actually turned the spotlight onto the anti-cult movement, which employed most of the coercive techniques that they attributed to cults. After their work, considering people who converted or left religious environments as brainwashed and in need of treatment became no longer acceptable.

In the 1980s a grassroots movement against cults had shot to prominence, as networks of parents organised to fund the work of new "deprogramming" experts who employed everything from consensual to coercive and violent and criminal methods such as kidnapping, force and torture to convince the supposedly "brainwashed" to "snap out of it".

Groups such as CAN (Cult Awareness Network) or CAA (Cult Awareness Association) were made up of parents and ex-cult members who often claimed they had no other choice but to employ deprogramming, as authorities were not taking their complaints seriously enough. In allegedly rescuing cult members, CAN applied many of the same techniques of coercive persuasion that were used in some of the cults they sought to break up, and they rarely accepted the notion that cult members had chosen to convert to an alternative life.

Brainwashing was used and refined as an ideological device and legal defence over many years, successfully wielded by these anti-cult movements and self-appointed "deprogramming" experts to justify their fight against minority religious groups.

It was only a series of lawsuits in the 1990s that ensured that coercive deprogramming activities represented by deprogrammers like Rick Ross and Ted Patrick largely ended, and CAN was even declared bankrupt as a result.

Ironically, it was Scientology, the organisation that popularised brainwashing in the 1950s, and that was criticised by CAN as a cult, that ended up buying CAN in 1997, presumably as a way to control their critics.

Despite the evidence and the tangled histories of cults and anti-cult movements, renewed attention in the media to brainwashing frequently occurs due to the emergence of former cult member testimonies, statements and books. Former cult members like Alexandra Stein, Steven Hassan and Diane Benscoter are still claiming that the brainwashing thesis has validity.

Benscoter was a member of the Unification Church movement (also known as the "Moonies"), and in a TED talk in 2009 even claimed that cults were able to 'infect' the brain. She felt confident, with absolutely no research to confirm her opinion, that neuroscience should be able to detect a brainwashed brain suffering from a neural virus.

Steven Hassan, another ex-Moonie, continues to speak and write about mind control, whether in cults or in terrorism.

In the light of sensational experiences that seem to pose challenges to the American way of life, or undermine the whole idea of individual subjecthood, it is no wonder that the idea of cults like the sex cult Nxivm as products of brainwashing - rather than, for example, pseudoscientific self-help culture and social manipulation - has remained an attractive story in the media.

These stories are sure to inspire fresh calls to deprogram vulnerable members of society or police new religions as cults. There's actually little empirical difference between programming and deprogramming. As Brian Dunning puts it: “Deprogramming is really just brainwashing under another name, and equally ineffective.”

Brainwashing as a myth of power

You have heard this story before. Kids, the vulnerable, or just the prey among us, are being brainwashed. Permanently turned into robots supporting evil forces.

Nefarious types, governments, cult leaders, terrorists, schools, advertisers, and even our own society, can all brainwash us. They can draw on a set of sophisticated and proven techniques.

No science supports the brainwashing hypothesis. Brainwashing can work as a conspiracy theory, a black and white story that enforces and legitimates moral revulsion and a world in which we are overwhemed by a select group of mastermind enemies.

Rather than an effective critique of power, brainwashing provides magical thinking that disempowers and dehumanises or magically absolves responsibility.

Playing to our own superiority bias, it turns the spotlight onto entire populations and defective individuals. It is a story of power that completely fails to show how power can work universally and empirically.

Examples of brainwashing appear to pop up regularly, and a scan of recent media has some doozies:

  • Rishard Matthews recently called it quits on the NFL because the league was brainwashing him.

  • According to the Washington Post, China is brainwashing Uighur children. While this case is closest to the classic theory of brainwashing, and placing an ethnic minority in camps to be reeducated should be condemned in the harshest possible terms, it's the pseudo-scientific communism of the CCP that must make a committed group within the party think such an audacious project of social engineering can actually work and do anything other than make Uighur children terrified and traumatised.

  • Apparently, in the United States, it's another bunch of lefties who are trying to brainwash kids in schools. Luckily, President Trump is on to it. He's long been convinced that ISIS is brainwashing young, impressionable people through the internet, "the word is brainwashing", and only the freedom to bear guns can save us. Ironically, what may unite radical conservatives in the United States with lefties real and imagined who believe in brainwashing, is the belief that brainwashing actually exists and that the hypothesis requires no falsifiability to be believed.

  • Among vegans and animal rights activists, one often hears that those who eat animal products or indeed use animals in any way are programmed or brainwashed. Gary Yourofsky, Emily Moran Barwick (bite size vegan) or Gary L. Francione among others represent this line of thinking that seems to justify the use of extreme rhetoric.

It's worth repeating at this point that there is no science to support the popular concept of brainwashing. There is also a scholarly consensus in sociology, psychology, psychiatry and the judiciary that it does not exist. But wherever we look in popular culture or the media, brainwashing is a popular concept.

Mind-control, mass indoctrination, and programming: all these concepts name the way in which power can lurk, hidden, and dominate us in inexplicable ways. Individuals, groups, and sometimes entire countries suffer from brainwashing.

On the one hand, this is a comforting story. It seems to tell us that there is an obvious problem with the way that power works. It's not complex. There's an obvious single wrongdoer, the brainwasher, whose black and white evil has been transmitted like a virus.

The positive aspect to this is that we can find a cure: we can fix the spread of this mental contagion by bringing the brainwashed in for treatment, transforming them into individual subjects again who represent the liberal individual. They aren't responsible for their actions, so we can fix their brain, cure the disease, or deprogram them. Perhaps we can find a vaccination and no one needs to be brainwashed ever again.

On the other hand, brainwashing is a story of terror. It's a story that always threatens our sense of self, the autonomous individual liberal subject. It's a story that threatens to dehumanise entire populations of people who have been brainwashed.

It's the story that always matters for the concept of brainwashing, rather than the accuracy of the analysis.

And that's because it's a certain way of thinking about how power works. A magical, uncritical way: ignore how we know power actually works, how evidence shows us social influence actually happens, and find an inexplicable concept that can be never be falsified.

Several scholars of brainwashing suggest why such a flawed theory has such a widespread use, hooking readers with dramatic stories:

  • Timothy Melley explains the popularity of brainwashing theories as related to the tensions between American liberal individualism and Marxism, and the need to explain ideological conditioning without referring to Marxist theories. This required a "crude form of sociological thinking" to compete with the imagined spectre of communism.

  • Another theory explaining why brainwashing has become so popular or "gained considerable currency among the public" is because "it provides a convenient and 'sensible' account for those who are otherwise at a loss to explain why individuals are attracted to 'deviant' and 'menacing' groups" (Snow and Machalek 1984).

  • According to James T. Richardson, brainwashing is "a handy social weapon to use against any group that you're not happy with or any unpopular group.... It automatically defines them as being outside the pale of civil society." The concept can be used to simplify and vilify.

  • Others as we have seen suggest that brainwashing is a way of dramatising, reducing and managing the complexity of power in the modern, globalising and decolonising world.

The concept of brainwashing dramatises an ongoing tension between individual subjecthood and environmental influence. In situations of judicial or forensic process, this tension takes on an extreme shape.

The idea of collective responsibility or shared guilt is difficult to stomach, even when the analysis of social influence suggests a more complex story. The story of a simple evil is far easier to understand and often more convincing if we convince ourselves that an entire group of people has been brainwashed by a leader. That fixes the blame on only a few and on a problem we can heal, with a fresh bout of mental rays, perhaps.

Apart from anything else, brainwashing is a myth that has had us hooked from the start.

Why we should reject brainwashing theories

If it is not enough that there is no science that supports brainwashing and that we give way to magical thinking when we use this false theory, we should consider that brainwashing theories have pernicious effects. Not only do these theories destroy a clear sighted analysis of how social change actually works, they have contributed to significant "moral panic" in public concerns about religious and political minorities, and even legislative overreach.

According to Rebecca Moore, a scholar of religious studies whose sisters and nephew died in the Jonestown Massacre, the theory of brainwashing is "pseudoscientific, ignores research-based explanations for human behavior and dehumanizes people by denying their free will." It's hard to argue with her if we consider how brainwashing grants some people free will - the brainwashers - and denies free will to those people who then become moral robots. There's another reason why brainwashing is a theory we should reject, and that's because it distracts us from actually identifying the way in which totalitarian governments, religions but also industrial-military complexes, institutions and even schools enforce power and actually spread ideology by making use of human behaviour.

Scholars now employ the concept of coercive persuasion, among other social influence techniques, to track a similar set of techniques in totalitarian political and religious communities. 4Cs, coercion, conditioning, conversion and cognitive dissonance are all good starts in explaining why people adopt radical or seemingly deluded views, and they are testable theories that do not require a single source of social influence. Sociology and psychology offer universal theories that are multicausal. We are all exposed to these social and psychological forces in different ways, and no one can wield them predictably, and certainly not in a way that means an individual can dominate others without themselves being exposed to these forces. Social conformity and preference falsification may explain so-called brainwashing behaviour as well as any other theories. The devil is always in the empirical detail and the analysis.

Occam's principle suggests that brainwashing is an explanation that we do not need to even entertain. We don't need a special theory of mind control to explain why dogmatic views develop, or how teachers, parents and friends or our environment, technology and genes influence us.

Other theories are more pedestrian and based on individual cognitive bias, but more solidly based in empirical evidence. The "weird" beliefs that we hold that are structurally self-validating may be among the most persuasive, as researchers like Maarten Boudry and Johan Braeckman argue, not because they brainwash us, but because we resist critique and defend them.

From time to time, new concepts are invented to be tested in court, such as "mental slavery", but inventing concepts that distinguish evil "cults" from benign religions is nonsensical. New religious movements can appear to inspire unspeakable acts and their leaders and members can commit crimes, but that does not mean there is something existentially evil about new religions.

An exception in the field, American Psychiatric Association's official manual of mental disorders still lists "brainwashing" and "thought reform" as possible root causes for a dissociative disorder, a type of disorder that is said to affect one's memory and sense of identity. But this is a legacy of the cold war psychiatry and has never been empirically confirmed. And brainwashing testimony and defences persist in the judicial system despite their not being any scientific evidence to support them.

The concept of pseudoscience doesn't make sense if we abandon the idea that we aren't conditioned by our environment. People are caught in a tension between freedom and loss of free will, but it's a false dichotomy in many respects. The drama of the concept of brainwashing emerges when the individual liberal subject faces the oceanic horrors of surrendering to the enemy, such as in the experience of the PoWs in Korea. We like to think we have free will, but we don't have one that is free of social, environmental and genetic influences, and we overstate the case if we think this means we can't make decisions. It just means we make conditioned decisions. Nonetheless, we are hooked by the idea that one person or specific groups have the complete free will to hold it over all of us. That's brainwashing, and pseudoscience. In the end, beyond any counterintuitive but I think important and complex argument about free will, there's just no empirical evidence that proves the concept of brainwashing, and concepts that can't be falsified need to be abandoned.

Brainwashing still remains a seductive concept, even for otherwise intelligent people, despite being the last century's version of witchcraft: a magical force of evil that radically transforms people.

Very little value will be lost if the jargon of brainwashing is removed from public life.

It's time we abandoned the pseudoscience of brainwashing.


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