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How China brainwashed American POWs using a classic sales technique (atroche.org)
162 points by atroche on Sept 19, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 162 comments

Cialdini's book is one of the best and most readable pieces of popular science writing ever. It's fascinating from start to finish, frequently hilarious, and pretty hard to summarize because there's so much cool stuff in it.

The brainwashing scare from the Korean War is central to at least one classic movie, The Manchurian Candidate (1962). It was unavailable for 25 years, which rumor had it was because of its similarity to the JFK assassination (it's not that similar, really). If you like old thrillers and haven't seen it, see it—it's just great!

For the record The Manchurian Candidate was a book before it was a movie. I read the book once long ago but don't remember much about it. In contrast the imagery of the movie is very hard to forget.

I never read the book but apparently it was a favorite of JFK's and he was instrumental in getting the movie made. That explains how something so politically edgy could have come out of Hollywood in 1962—it had the President vouching for it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/14/movies/film-a-co-productio... <-- Contains Spoilers

Just a nit, but there was nothing special about Hollywood in 1962. Hollywood has always been a "cool kids" club, and JFK was right in the middle of it.

What we see over time is that various people are considered cool kids or not, and the cool kids all like one thing or another, but Hollywood in the 50s and 60s wasn't some kind of propaganda machine, although folks today make it out to be. It was just that's what all the cool kids were doing back then.

There was some really edgy stuff made in the 50s and 60s.

Also if anyone is thinking of watching the 2004 remake/'re-imgainging' … don't bother.

Yes. I thought Demme would do something interesting with it and was disappointed. The only thing I remember is Robyn Hitchcock's cameo as an arms dealer, and even that was bad.

I wouldn't categorize this as brainwashing. Or to be more specific: I wouldn't categorize the description in the blog post as brainwashing or torture.

To me, this looks more like some kind of group therapy since the POWs were not forced and the example statement they were asked to make ("The United States is not perfect.") is obviously a fact because nothing is perfect.

What I find interesting is to compare this to what is happening today in Guantanamo.

I mean they are trying to get information and cooperation, why always default to torture?

Well i think that stems from a indoctrinated hatred towards the captives. If you think rationally (albeit coldly/mechanically) you'd figure out that torture isn't that effective. In fact torture just makes the captives hate you more. So that makes your job even harder.

But if you could shake their beliefs... Show them the error of their ways. And they actually might help you stop the other terrorists.

But all that needs that you actually see the captives as human beings.

What I find interesting is that most terrorists are a product of brainwashing too. And i mean DELIBERATE brainwashing, not the kind of stuff you learn from society as you grow up. So why not fight fire with fire and deprogram them? Heck the violence actually reinforces their brainwashing that the captors are Evil people.

Saudi Arabia has apparently had considerable success deprogramming militants by engaging them in religious discussions.

Oh? I thought that militants in that region of the planet were programmed by religious discussions in the first place.

Maybe we do not share the same definition of what a "militant" is, in Saudi Arabia?

Perhaps if you can program militants using religious discussion, then you can deprogram them using religious discussion. Militants aren't EPROMs, they don't need UV light.

Articles on the Saudi deprogramming effort:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/06/get-out-... http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/magazine/09jihadis-t.html?...

And a more recent (PDF) review about why deprogramming mostly doesn't work:


Although Saudi Arabia's may be more effective. The reason is basically that terrorists aren't actually programmed using religious discussion, terrorists are programmed using monkeybrain ties to other terrorists. ObGwern:


A clever person might therefore attempt to use stronger monkeybrain ties to deprogram terrorists. Like the PLO did:


Very different from Guantanamo. It's almost like after Vietnam we decided there was only one way to get information out of people.

Brainwashing it is, torture it isn't. By combining both words in your comment, you show that you see them as going together or being one and the same.

I don't understand how you could possibly come to this conclusion.

I used both words together because it depends on how brainwashing is achieved if it qualifies as torture or not. (that's why I wrote "brainwashing OR torture")

If an American POW comes back to the US and says the US was the aggressor in the Korean War, he does not have an opinion, he has been "brainwashed". What kind of mental gymnastics do I have to perform to think this way. It's about a step removed from saying someone who denies Jesus Is Lord has been possessed by a demon. Or the same thing really.

The key here is the delta, not what opinions are right or wrong.

> compared to the POWs in North Korea, their beliefs had changed massively since they’d left home

The title does color the outcome by calling it brainwashing, but that word is not used in the actual article.

> What kind of mental gymnastics do I have to perform to think this way.

They probably used the foot-in-the-door technique on themselves.

Soldiers didn't have the internet. They didn't often get up-to-date newspapers and magazines. If they were lucky, they could sometimes get news/propaganda from shortwave radio, e.g., "Voice of America". Mainly they got news from their military and letters from home.

So go for a year or two like this in a horrific combat zone in an utterly foreign Asian country. Then get captured and spend a few years writing essays about Communism in a Chinese-run POW camp (if you're lucky).

It is both reasonable and compassionate that, when they get out, that individual should not be held to account for whatever documents they may have signed or political statements they may have made during that time.

Whether 'brainwashing' was complete fiction or not, it was a concept which let broken men put the past behind them and have a welcome return to their home country.


Convincing someone of something that later, under investigation, turns out not to be true, is not brainwashing.

I don't think there's any such thing as what the term "brainwashing" implies, but it is effectively a systematic form of mind control. If you can implant a thought and have it take hold, have the person own it and believe it and ultimately defend that position, that's pretty powerful. If you can do that in a systematic way, you can potentially get a large number of people to take actions that are in your own self-interest and not necessarily in theirs. Pretty heady stuff, there you have the foundations for a religion, a revolution. I think this type of thing is about as close to brainwashing as it gets.

The term "brainwashing" implies 'Asian,' 'Communist,' and/or 'cult.' It describes nothing.

I thought that brainwashing was a label applied to the technique used to convince someone. You can brainwash someone that holds strong convictions which are wrong to believe in the truth.

Brainwashing is a label applied to the mysterious techniques that communist foreigners and non-Christian religions use to convince someone.

Labels applied to the techniques used to convince someone are 'rhetoric,' and 'argumentation,' amongst others.

I thought america WAS the aggressor? (Korea isn't really near the US), and it was quite apparent the US wanted satellite states near russia/china, to potentially launch further attacks.

Also did the communists do a bad job in china? That is at most controversial... not "brain washed".

America was in almost no way the aggressor.

North Korea Invades South Korea on June 25th 1950. The UN, for probably the first,last, and only time, takes military action (at American behest and because the Russian's were boycotting the UN) led by a US General and primarily American troops. This force and the South Korean Army repel the North Koreans and drive into North Korea (which was suppose to hold open elections but didn't as part of unification), the Chinese enter the way as the UN forces approached (but did not cross) the Chinese boarder.

EDIT: This is not to say that the UN forces crossing the 38th Parallel was the best idea or that they were not happy to occupy North Korea or that they didn't have ambitions to do so from the outset , but aggressor is really a misleading term when they did not fire the first shot.

Nobody has explained to me why Korea was even divided up into the North and South in the first place. It should have been left to its own devices after the Japanese empire collapsed at the end of WW2. That is, the US/UN shouldn't have been occupying the South and the USSR/China shouldn't have been occupying the North. Seems to me that the fault should be assigned to all of those countries/organizations.

There's no such thing as "its own devices" for a country with no surviving government. All the various countries conquered by the Axis during World War II were occupied by various Allied powers with the intention of reestablishing them as independent countries. Poland and Czechoslovakia, to name two, were occupied solely by the Soviets and was set up as Soviet-controlled puppet states. Japan. to name another, was occupied solely by the United States and was reformed into a fairly pro-Western democratic country, complete with baseball.

Some countries were split into occupation zones between the Western allies and the Soviets. Germany was one. There were four occupation zones: British, American, French, and Soviet. The intention was for a new German government to be formed that would govern all four zones, but negotiations broke down and the Soviet occupied zone formed one government (German Democratic Republic, known as East Germany) and the Western occupied zones formed another (Federal Republic of Germany). This state of affairs continued until the fall of communism, when the East Germans more or less decided to join the Federal Republic giving us today's Germany.

Korea was a similar case. There was no Korean government--it was a Japanese possession since 1910--so, with the intent of punishing Japan and giving the Korean people self-determination, it was temporarily occupied by the Allies until they could set up a democratic government. It was partitioned between the Soviets and the Americans, who, as in Germany, formed opposing governments. And then the North invaded the South--and that's where the war began.

> was reformed into a fairly pro-Western democratic country, complete with baseball

Actually, baseball has existed in Japan since the 1870s. It was in no way a post-WW2 phenomenon.

> Korea was a similar case...

I don't see how dividing up a country among the victors makes any sense, either in the case of Germany or that of Korea. What exactly did they expect to occur after a couple decades had passed?

The expectation was that dividing Germany or Korea would be a temporary measure until a democratic government was formed. It was never intended to last even one decade. In Germany, three out of four occupied zones signed up for the democratic government which was formed in 1949, only 4 years after the end of the war. The agreed-upon plan was for Germany and Korea to form single, democratic governments, rendering the occupation zones a temporary measure. The fact on the ground was that the Soviets had millions of troops on the ground and surrendering all of Korea, or all of Germany to Stalin would have had grave consequences. No one likes being a divided country, but presumably the South Koreans prefer not being part of North Korea and the West Germans preferred not being part of the DDR.

In Germany's particular case, many of the allies were comfortable with the notion of dividing Germany anyway, since at least that way the Germans wouldn't start trying to conquer the rest of Europe again. But it wasn't the agreed plan, nor was it feasible to salvage the whole country as a democracy, either, nor did it seem wise to let Stalin have the whole country.

The problem at the time was the Allied Powers (the Western non-Axis powers and the Soviet Union) were not united about how to resolve the issue of the sovereignty of Korea after the end of World War II. Germany was divided, over in Europe, for much the same reason, but there wasn't an invasion across the line of control between the Soviet occupied zone and the Western occupied zone in Germany, as there was an invasion from North Korea to South Korea in 1950. Perhaps if Stalin's plan had succeeded in Korea, an invasion of western Europe would have followed.

History is written by the victors.

North korea didn't believe the UN/US (i.e. Non-koreans) should be deciding the fate of their country. (I am in no way defending the current North Korean regime).

I completely understand a sovereign nation attacking a 'puppet state' in order to unify it.

(to respond to the grand parent as well) If the Russians were 'boycotting' the UN, then it wasn't the UN, it was just "The Allies".

North Korea's fate was decided by the Soviets just as much as South Korea's was by the US. There were even Soviet pilots flying in the North Korean air force in the Korean War. The Soviets didn't have the ironclad control over North Korea that they had over Eastern Europe, but they certainly weren't any less involved than the US was in the South.

That's a pretty good point. They were essentially both puppets of the large powers, and the war pretty much a proxy war.

But that makes the POWs change of attitude less brainwashy and more 'informed' in my opinion.

How could you even make that statement?

Say what you will about the US, but I think the results of a Stalinist / Maoist mashup speaks for itself. It is and was pretty obvious who the agressor was in Korea -- the Soviet tanks rolled into North Korea weeks before the Japanese surrender specifically to grab Korean territory. The Northern attack on the south was very clearly a land grab.

It was a whole bunch of nations, united.

Are you suggesting that an alliance (between nations) is equivalent to the United Nations?

Eh yes.

Soviet Russia was a founding member of the UN.

An excellent understanding of the UN is in Churchill's "THE SECOND WORLD WAR" books.

Just like a good alliance of powers = Allies :)

To me, this sounds like "The neighbors were not united about which parent should get custody of the children when they divorced." I cannot fathom why we all would be involved in an internal dispute. And the USSRussia would have invaded western Europe...where the US & allies had set up many military bases?

"Communism" was the "terrorism" of my parents' generation...

Change "custody of the children" to "meth lab" and you'll suddenly understand why the neighbors have an interest in what happens at that other house.

What would you have proposed? Leaving Korea in a state of complete anarchy until they somehow sorted things out?

The Allies destroyed whatever government Korea had. Without someone to step in to keep the roads maintained, the local cops on their beat, and the courts running, the country would have otherwise collapsed. So of course you step in and try to set up elections so the people in the country can vote in a new constitution and a new government, and then you leave. Unless you're Stalin, in which case you pick some crazy guy, install him as a dictator, and call the country a "Democratic People's Republic" to make it look legitimate. You'd think no one would fall for that, but you did.

We couldn't occupy them like we did Iraq?

I just want to see Korea reunited.

All the countries that occupied Iraq agreed on how to rebuild the country. That wasn't the case in Korea. No one in South Korea wants to reunite Korea badly enough to live under a hereditary Stalinist dictatorship, nor does said dictatorship want to give up power, so the situation is at a stalemate.

umm.. a few of Americas lackeys came along for the ride as it was politically expedient. Despite this governments fell. Iraq was America's mess and a few unfortunates followed them on down. I'm not sure there was any agreement on rebuilding, it was, and still is a catastrophic mess. Nothing other than embarrassment should be felt over the humanitarian disaster this adventure was.

I agree with all of that. The fact that the invasion was mostly unilateral is exactly why Iraq wasn't divided after the war, which was my entire point.

Sorry, I see that now. Thanks.

It's like this. You control half of a country. Your Rival controls the other half. Now you both announce to release your half to form a single country but who should rule? If you let your Rival decide, you can bet it's gonna be "his man" and thus in all future dealings, the country would be his ally. Your rival thinks the same way. Hence the dispute. So even if you WANT to be nice and leave it, how can you be sure that the guy who ends up ruling the place isn't your rival's man? So you have a huge reason in staying around and make sure nothing of the sort happens.

Conclusion: Divided States

Nobody's explained it to you? OMG! How you can you have been tortured so?

Did you consider spending 10 seconds on wikipedia? No. But you still felt it necessary, even after recognising your ignorance, to vomit forth your opinion.

...all that is wrong with the world...

Let me give you a tl;dr: the North Koreans started it by rolling over into South Korea, McAuthur went too close to the Yalu in the counter attack, Chinese entered the war, Truman fires McAuthur. Stalement ensues, borders preserved, Kim Jong Un has ex-girlfriend executed.

The communists of the 50s were busy starving their own people in great leaps forwards, in the 60s they innovated on that with a cultural revolution; Mao finally dies; China didn't start to stabalize until Deng brought back capitalism.

I love the rationalization people have to use to explain China's economic success. If what Deng brought was capitalism, then Obama is an anarcho-libertarian.

What was behind China's economic success then? (not snark, genuinely interested in hearing your thoughts)

As far as I know Deng did advocate a more open and free policy when it came to the markets, not in very concrete terms but certainly in veiled terms like "pragmatism" and "we must do whatever works" [1]. I'm not saying Deng made China a Randian libertarian's wet-dream but it seems he did push for free markets a little bit.

[1] http://www.pbs.org/heavenonearth/leaders_thinkers_zedong_xia...

What was behind China's economic success then? (not snark, genuinely interested in hearing your thoughts)

Imitating the free-enterprise model of Hong Kong and Taiwan, decades after those territories had far outpaced China in prosperity. And one of the great advantages China has enjoyed in economic development, as compared to several other territories, is the large number of people who can communicate in local languages (various forms of Chinese) but who grew up without communist influences on their primary and secondary education. "Compatriots" from Taiwan and Hong Kong, and also "overseas Chinese" from many places in southeast Asia played a crucial role in boosting China's economic growth through direct investment after the beginnings of system reform in 1978. (Basis of knowledge: I began studying Chinese during the Cultural Revolution, and have met quite a few people from outside China who have invested over there, after investment began to be permitted.)

Cost friendly labor market and the huge potential domestic consumer market itself.

"Capitalism" means private ownership of capital. 30% of industrial and service sector assets in China are stated-owned: http://blogs.worldbank.org/eastasiapacific/state-owned-enter.... About 45% of the industrial sector is state-owned, down from 70% in 1999 (still more than two decades after Deng left office, and more than a decade after China's economic boom began). The profit share of the state owned enterprises is even higher: 43% of industrial and business profits in China yield from state owned enterprises: http://thediplomat.com/2013/06/19/reforming-chinas-state-own....

In a purely definitional sense, China is at best a hybrid economy now, and was a primarily communist economy long after its economy started booming.

Even to the extent that China's economy is ostensibly privately owned, the government still exercises tremendous control. For example while the banks are joint stock companies, and thus reflect substantial private ownership of equity, the Chinese government still owns the majority of the shares in many of them giving them tremendous power over those banks.

I don't think China can be fairly called a "capitalist" economy. It's a managed economy where the managers have allowed the free market to allocate resources at the lower levels, while the central government directs broader, longer-term economic objectives.

Time frame is an essential factor for assessing if it's a success. In 5 years? 10 year? 20 years? 50 years? What if the previous level was actually very high, say 50%, and the job was to increase from the low level 10% to 15%? With different time frames for evaluation, even someone do not have in-depth knowledge of a topic, she/he could still have some facts to raise valuable questions which can lead to an answer closer to the truth, if there is any we can find eventually. Sorry to not answer your question directly, but I think a different angle might be a better start point.

Shenzhen and the Pearl Delta region...the Yangtze River delta region, they were all opened up as SEZs under Deng.

You can mostly thank DXP for all the cheap chinese junk that Walmart started selling in the 90s.

Capitalism is part of the progression to communism. You have to have generated capital in order to distribute it. Marx saw communism as a progression from capitalism, not a genesis form of government in and of itself.

China had the unfortunate luck of being left in ruins when it becoming "Communist". Deng rebooted the whole thing, it remains to be seen whether they will continue communism into the future. To call it "capitalism" is a bit rich (no pun), given all major industries are owned by the government (the people).

The 50s they also brought health care to vast majority of the population. The 60s they increased literacy across the country by simplifying the language, and standardising education.

Should we both just keep cherry picking information to paint our own narrative, or admit this isn't a black and white subject?

I live in China, it is the most capatalistic country I have lived in. If there is any socialism left, it is quite hidden to me.

It's a bit of a false dichotomy (as I tried to explain earliar).

It isn't capitalism vs communism. Capitalism is a form of economy, communism is form of government. The mix of those, I believe china call it: "Socialism with chinese characteristics".

The fact primary industry and exports are state owned is a big tick for: Communism. That's true, regardless what you see living there.

(People making money and doing business is not anti-communism, it is where the money goes that makes it "communist").

Isn't the famous Deng quote: It doesn't matter what color the cat is, as long as it catches the mouse.

Primary exports are not owned by the government, that is mostly private. Primary imports in natural resources domestic oriented businesses might be state owned, as are companies that produce primarily for the domestic market (like SOE JV car manufacturers). All those little factories that produce for export are very private.

The communist party doesn't really follow any tenants of Marxism at all. Most are only concerned with propping up their families and embezzling enough money to send their kids to a nice school abroad that doesn't suck.

> Most are only concerned with propping up their families and embezzling enough money to send their kids to a nice school abroad that doesn't suck.

You've just described "people in power" world wide. It isn't unique to communism, or china.

A huge amount of their economy is state owned[0]

That alone is a tenant of marxism. I'm not particularly interested in "true scotsman" style argument regarding is China 'really communist', as you can easily make the case that the U.S isn't technically a democracy, but it doesn't get us anywhere. It's just an argument of semantics.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_State-owned_enterprises...

None of those SOEs export. China's economic success is inspite of the SOEs, not because of them. Private companies subsidize SOE success through higher prices paid to them (with no other option given their monopoly statuses).

China is basically an aristocracy at this point, more so than other countries with corruption. Communist ideology plays little role in politics beyond little red book pissing contests that the left and moderates occasionally get into.

Communism is a revolutionary socialist movement to create a classless, moneyless and stateless social order [...] Wikipedia

... I'm not sure how that differs/contradicts/contributes to anything said thus far. Did you have anything to add?

Tell me: how many of these (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_largest_companies_o...) are privately owned?

I can't wait til I get to downvote

> Also did the communists do a bad job in china? That is at most controversial... not "brain washed".

Controversial? Good lord, Mao's Great Leap Forward killed between 23 and 42 million people in just a few years.

Only by a very loose definition of "kill" - that is, by looking at total population numbers. And overall, the communist regime saved many more people from starvation (you can also see this in the total population numbers).

Starvation was common before communism (this is second hand "communist propaganda" from my father, probably originally from a similar source to the information the Korean POW's were given), but it wasn't concentrated into a few years like in the great leap forward.

The Great Leap Forward - 1958 to 1961.

The Korean War - 1950 - 1953.

Until the Great Leap, Mao had done a fantastic job. Life expectancies shot up by about 15 years, as he dismantled feudalism, and established a relatively functional and stable state. Then he undid all the good he'd done, in the 1958, sending life expectancies back to ~35. Then things improved again, when Deng and co managed to contain Mao a little better (though they sometimes had ... issues).

tl;dr - Mao had done a fantastic job, up to 1958, which was well after the Korean War ended.

You're right. I completely confused the Korean war dates. Egg. Face.

Okay, so Mao could be argued to be a bad idea, but there was and has been a lot of communism since Mao.

Could you say the same for Deng Xiaoping (also a communist)?

At the time of the Korean war, China was still in the Mao period. From any sane point of view at that time, communism was horrible for China.

Post-Mao, well... Hua was a disaster and Deng was never a good communist. Mao himself accused Deng of being a capitalist and banished him to the countryside in the 60s. Once he finally gained power and brought back mild capitalism (really, market socialism), it still took 20 years for China to really get going.

This is over simplistic and wrong. Mao used purging to get rid of others building power within the party. It had nothing to do with whether they were Communist (many good communists were purged).

Sane points: Education, Health, both improved under communist rule.

If you define "the communists" as "the Chinese communist party", then judging from China's development they've done a fine job. This was not quite true during the 1950's, when the head of the communists was Mao.

It's also questionable to define the economic system of Deng's China as "communist" in the same way as Soviet Russia and, say, Cuba.

Also did the communists do a bad job...

Compare West and East Germany. Compare North and South Korea. Compare Mainland China and Taiwan. And once you've done those comparisons ask yourself about what kind of job the communists have done. Many millions dead. Many more millions in poverty. That's the job they've done.

If you want understand what communists did in China it's better look on other numbers. For example, rise of life expectancy was incredible (especially if you look at comparable country like India) http://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&c...

Child mortality http://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&c...

Brad Delong an economist at UC Berkeley once gave a good prsentation on the comparison between communist and market economies.


What about comparing mainland and Taiwan? I don't think there exists an obvious conclusion from this comparison if you look at status quo. If you are judging based on the situation before 2000s, I agree with you that there is an obvious conclusion.

Per capita GDP in terms of PPP

US: ~$50000 Taiwan: ~$39000 EU: ~$35000 China: ~$9000


That's right, lets take our Western-pro-US measuring stick out and measure china against it in order to show they are not as "successful".

China's goal posts are not in the same spot as the US's.

What measure do you propose we use to compare mainland China with Taiwan?

Taiwan is still well ahead of the P.R.C. both in economic development and personal liberty.

Of course they are, Taiwan is a small country that is supported by the only superpower left. (another example of such a country: Israel)

Where do you think that the economic development of Taiwan would be if it wasn't backed by the US? And where do you think they will be in 20 years, with China constantly rising in power and influence.

I don't think it's controversial to say that they'll probably be part of China, considering that there is even political support for that in Taiwan.

"Brainwashing" isn't a precisely defined word. I believe the word is often used to describe persuasion via psychological vulnerabilities. In this sense, the article is correct in calling the technique a form of brainwashing.

Interestingly enough, it comes from the Chinese word 洗脑 (xǐnǎo), literally meaning to "wash brains", which was used to describe the 1984-like attempts Mao used to re-educate dissident intellectuals.

Here's a list of the worst cases of genocide in world history and Mao is on the very top of the list.


This part shocked me:

> They also collaborated. “When an escape did occur,” wrote one of the investigators, “the Chinese usually recovered the man easily by offering a bag of rice to anyone offering to turn him in.” This was extremely rare in German and Japanese prison camps.

It seems they achieved something more than just moulding the PoWs' political views: they broke their esprit de corps.

Still, I dislike words like "brainwash" and "mind control". It significantly understates the complicated dynamic between the washer and the washed. It would be interesting to learn how the Chinese were affected by their contacted with the Americans.

This technique was something that came to mind when I heard about Occupy Wall Street's use of the "mic check". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_microphone Getting lots of people to repeat borderline-reasonable things, even if they don't really quite agree with them, can make them change their position.

Funny, the course I am in right now covers this book. It is well worth the read.

Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: science and practice (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education.

I wonder if the 'foot in the door' technique was just used on me to get me to buy the book....

If the techniques described in the book have been used to make me buy the book then it is a good purchase.

because if it was, it worked....

This foot-in-the-door techniques and many other things have been covered beautifully in an ongoing course https://www.coursera.org/course/socialpsychology. It is about to be over. I do recommend going through the videos. There is a lot to learn.

This still seems to ignore the fact that even if the Chinese used these techniques differently and didn't explicitly threaten violence, they were still the captors and the prisoners were still the captives and held in confinement and the power relationship there had to contribute to the success of these techniques.

Corollary: sales techniques are often a form of brainwashing. I mean this seriously.

It's mental violence. You're exploiting human nature to impact their free will. Perhaps part of "being an adult" is shouldering the responsibility of propping up your own illusory free will, I can't say.

For this reason, I try to avoid ads and marketing as much as possible, although it seems almost impossible. Although any individual advertisement is trivial to dismiss, I don't trust myself to resist the ubiquitity of these messages.

So is blind indocrination to "obey" (or be drugged) in grade school?

It is so easy to make people with idealistic views switch those views. The reason being that such people attach their views to an unattainable standard clouding their judgement, then when they realize the flaws in their views they backlash. Add to that an environment that doesn't promote any opinion but allows such backlash to flourish and you get the perfect brainwashing technique. Self sustained brainwashing.

I disagree with the _utility_ of the article's conclusion - "keep the facts in mind when you are asked to do things". Basically it says - be in control of what you do. Or, we are always a step or two behind (we only realize later what happened in a certain situation). So what you do when somebody applies a technique on you, which you don't know yet, in a situation in which you are caught, which you don't yet realize it fully (this perhaps comes later, or never)? I hint that the solution is more about what you do in general when you don't know things, than what to do to know them beforehand (which i think it's impossible). How is one grown to deal with the unknown, without resorting to the "you must also recognize this situation as this or that"

Good points.

Can you elaborate on what steps you might take to guard against unknown techniques?

Of course, that - i wouldn't really know. Perhaps if we attack it from the other side - what happens when a civilized society shifts its balance point from "we don't know a lot, we know only a few things" to "we know a lot, what we don't know isn't important". How is one grown in the first society is with a bigger openness, the need to be sharp in every situaton vs. the "life through recipes" which proliferates in the second society.

(sorry for my english and somewhat vague thoughts, i hope something gets through)

This is so much worse than the torture and rape we did on the Chinese! Keep highlighting this!

I see no one has mentioned so far in this thread that the term "brainwashing" originated in Chinese ( 洗腦 in the original language), and originated as an internal practice in China after seizure of power in China by the Communist Party of China.

I'll paste in here part of the history of the term from Chinese Wikipedia, which has some interesting differences from the parallel article in English Wikipedia:

中华人民共和国[编辑] 中華人民共和國執政黨中國共產黨成立以來,早期通過文藝、宣傳提出的「沒有共產黨就沒有新中國」、「穩定壓倒一切」等口號,被一些人認為是“洗腦”行為。中國共產黨操控媒體、民間沒有輿論自由,又透過教育,局部呈現現代歷史等方式進行“正面意識形態宣傳”也被認為屬於洗腦行為。有評論指,中华人民共和国文革時期大規模和連續的共產主義宣傳教育運動,明顯是洗腦行為;當時中共將視為反對者的人民劃定為「階級敵人」、將這些人強行施以「勞動改造」(勞改)、「思想改造」,強權和暴力使整個社會幾乎所有人都失去了獨立思考的自由意志。 [12]

中华人民共和国官方電視媒體中國中央電視台,被指責所播放的部分內容存在「洗腦」,有中國年輕學者指央視透過辮子戲灌輸皇權專制,打造奴才人格,是毒化了中國走向自由民主的氛圍,存在洗腦意義,而央視的《新聞聯播》選擇性「報喜不報憂」,像是「宣傳聯播」。 [13][14]但中國共產黨及其支持者並不認同這些批評。

英文「brainwash」意指「洗腦」,由中文「洗腦」一詞翻譯而來;沿於上世紀1950年代的韓戰,美國士兵被中国人民解放军俘虜之後,日夜接受中国共产党的思想改造,獲救之後回到美國,竟然幫中国共產黨講好話,於是美國記者Edward Hunter就用brainwash一詞來描述此事。[15][16]

If you actually want to have a discussion of those differences then you're going to need to point them out yourself instead of dumping a homework assignment in everyone's lap since: 1) I don't read Chinese, and I doubt I'm alone here when it comes to that 2) Google translate is far from perfect, and unless the differences are clear to someone who merely gets the gist of the Chinese article they probably won't come across

It's amazing how easily one can translate something these days instead of complain about having to read Chinese (http://translate.google.com/):

People [edit] The People's Republic of China since the founding of the ruling Communist Party of China, early through art, propaganda's "no new China without the Communist Party," "stability overrides everything" and other slogans, considered by some to be "brainwashed" behavior. Chinese Communist Party controls the media, civil society without freedom of opinion, but also through education, partial rendering methods such as modern history "positive ideological propaganda" has also been considered to be brainwashed behavior. Some have commented that the PRC during the Cultural Revolution massive and continuous education communist propaganda campaign, obviously brainwashing behavior; when opponents of the CPC will be treated as people designated as "class enemies," these people forcibly impose "Labour transformation "(labor camps)," thought reform ", power and violence, so that the whole community lost almost everyone free will to think independently. [12]

People's Republic of China Central Television, the official television media, is accused of playing the part of the existence of "brainwashing" refers to a Chinese young scholars CCTV braids play through indoctrination autocracy, to create personality I was poisoned the atmosphere of freedom and democracy to China, there brainwashing significance, and CCTV "News Network" selective "glossy", such as "propaganda network." [13] [14] However, the Chinese Communist Party and its supporters do not agree with these criticisms.

English "brainwash" means "brainwashed" by the Chinese "brainwashing" translated from the word; in the late 1950s along the Korean War, American soldiers were captured after the People's Liberation Army, day and night to accept the idea of ​​transformation of the Chinese Communist Party, were rescued after back to the U.S., even speak good words to help the Chinese Communist Party, then the U.S. correspondent Edward Hunter to use the term to describe the matter brainwash.

All this does for me is raise the question: why, if it's so easy, wasn't the translation posted to begin with? Keep in mind that the user who dropped that untranslated brick on us has massive karma so that low-effort post is now parked at the top of the thread.

Getting a little too meta here but your original comment was only: "If you actually want to have a discussion of those differences then you're going to need to point them out yourself instead of dumping a homework assignment in everyone's lap" but then you changed it to indicate you didn't think a Google translation was good enough.

He probably didn't post a translation because he knows most of us can either use Google translate or can read Chinese. That doesn't bother me and it shouldn't bother you.

I posted the translation because I think some people (including myself) need help reading Chinese and because I don't see value in bitching about someone copying and pasting Chinese. It's not homework. It's just Chinese.

I don't know what you thought you read but I did not at any point edit the post you replied to. If that's what you're getting worked up over then you can calm down now because it was just a mistake and I'm not trying to manipulate the discussion to make you look bad.

Isn't Chinese the most-read language on the planet?


That was my attempt at trolling, btw.

Seriously though, Chinese is NOT the most read language on this website, and that is what matters.

I notice the original comment was amended to say Google Translate needs work (obviously), but I think it adds value, so here's a full comparison:



Chinese translated to English: http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=n&pre...

Automated translation of East Asian languages into English is typically a source of much unintended hilarity. People therefore don't trust it.

Aside from that, Google Translate can be downright odd sometimes. Like what it did to Lorem Ipsum:



I hate staring at a wall of text without being able to read it. I'll just have to learn Chinese. Googling right now.

Whats up with the column width of the blog? Am i getting sent to the mobile site on PC by mistake? A column is 1/5th of my screen, it looks quite silly.

yes it looks very strange. The entire content div is set to a fixed width of 35em so on a wide screen monitor it will look ridiculous. Even on standard ratio screen it looks strange as the content div does not even take up half the width of the screen

Brainwashed? If that is brainwashing, then it seems like there's brainwashing everywhere you look. For example: - http://www.foxnews.com/ - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBbBfrKsVqY

It sounds more like de-brainwashing to me. If those soldiers go in with this perfect idea of America, how we can do no wrong, and how everything we do is justified, then turning that on its head seems more like...rational thinking.

If an opinion is being slowly but inexorably pushed on you from all sides by your captor over a long period of time, as part of an explicitly designed program of of propagandizing, it's brainwashing, regardless of the opinion's merit!

The religious education that my parents gave me through childhood counts as brainwashing.

Correct, it just gets call "indoctrination" as that sounds nicer and it is often (though far from always) more subtle as it is more of a "long game" thing.

It is one of those "one person's X is another person's Y" comparisons: indoctrination/brain-washing, religion/cult, freedom-fighter/terrorist, cute cat / insane evil sharp edged ball of allergens, ...

No, the nicer sounding word is "explanation".

I don't agree there. Explanation would be more "I do/think/believe X because" where indoctrination is more "you should do/think/believe X because".

A more passive form of indoctrination would be repeated explanation (with or without query/prompt) so explanation can become indoctrination depending on context, but I'll stand by my choice of words above.

Your examples answer the wrong question.

"Where do rainbows come from" can be answered with the explanation "As a way to show God's promise to Noah never to flood the Earth again" or with the explanation "because sunlight refracts through water into all the different colors we can see" or with the explanation "invisible unicorns fly through the sky sometimes and leave rainbows where they've gone".

Many people would call one or more of these indoctrinations, despite the complete lack of "should" in any of the responses. Egocentrism does not a benignity make.

I don't know if you are being facetious or not, but I think all religious teachings for children count as brainwashing.

Alao if the religious beliefs are agnosticism? Basically, by this definition, all parenting is brainwashing.

no, no, no, if you teach your children beliefs I approve of, that's different...

Not if you teach your children critical thinking and to base their opinions on something provable.

Then you're still doing brainwashing/indoctrination. Let's not forget, it's "irrespective of the opinion's merit".

Besides, just as you hold your "must be provable" views dear, similarly the religious parent holds his or her religious views dear.

I think there's a useful distinction between teaching a set of opinions that must be held regardless of evidence and teaching the practice of forming one's own opinions based upon evidence, but it's a tricky point to make.

I would say that the oposite is true. Brainwashing takes the same mecha isms that we use as humans to be able to learn our how to behave in the society, and how to learn to be a person. I have small kids and they are like empty disks looking for something to copy. They copy behaviours that sourround them and make them part of their personality.

Adults just slow down the writting but we always try to fit in the social group that we are living. And that includes political opinions, faith, etc...

We do this all the time, for example to immigrants. We call this integration in europe, you might also call this learning/internalizing the right values or assimilation.

And if I had to choose between that kind of Chinese brainwashing and Guantanamo/CIA black sites, I'll pick the Chinese option.

I'd take a good brain washing over torture too.

It could still move the person's mental state toward improved rationality.

Is this what "deprogramming" a brainwashed person is? Moving them from the position of their captors' propaganda to a position within the propaganda believed by an entire society?

Patriotism being one example of this type of propaganda -- the idea that some of us are better than others because we were born on one side of a line in the dirt.

This is why I find the concept of brainwashing/deprogramming fascinating from an epistemic perspective; you're essentially substituting one set of axioms for another. And it's often hard to determine who occupies the epistemic higher ground, since all camps will claim to do so. For example, liberals think Fox News is brainwashing people, and conservatives think academics at liberal schools are brainwashing people. Sometimes the only thing you can use to figure out what's true is secondhand knowledge (via a network of cognitive authorities that you've chosen to trust) plus your own judgment, which itself has inevitably been influenced by some set of chosen axioms.

And often each system of beliefs has epistemic protection against debunking... for example, religious believers may view debunkers as agents of evil/Satan, while conspiracy theorists may view debunkers as agents working on behalf of the conspirators. In both cases, one has a "rational" reason to be skeptical of (or even outright disregard) any arguments that attempt to undermine one's axiomatic system.

Humans seem to gravitate toward certainty and consistency the way moths fly toward light. It's an emotional craving, and in order to be rational we have to be exceedingly comfortable not knowing things (and realizing we often don't know what we don't know).

The more a person seeks the opiatic, emotional feeling of fake knowing, the more receptive he is to religion, political brainwashing, conspiracy theories, prejudices, social authority structures, etc.

Humans don't work the way you think they work. We don't hold sets of axioms and reason from them to build a logically consistent set of opinions in such a way that changing someone's axioms carries the whole weight of their belief system along with it, like making a code change in a shared dependency changes the behavior of an entire computer system. Humans are a lot messier than that.

So the beauty of brainwashing/deprogramming is how you actually manage to substitute those axioms, even though they may actually lead them to disregard everything you say. That's like inception from the outside!

If you have a mistaken belief, then the inverse of that belief is not necessarily correct. I find it hard to believe those soldiers were in a position - in a prison camp - to reliably determine whether America had used germ warfare, or to assess whether Communism had 'done a fine job in China.'

The reasonable perspective is that America isn't perfect, America can do wrong, and not everything America does is justified. The brainwashing occurs when you go past this reasonable perspective straight to: Communist China is perfect, America can only do wrong, and nothing America does is justified while everything the Communist Chinese do is.

And when you're comparing the US of 1950 to the Communist China of 1950, frankly, if the pro-US viewpoint is naive, the pro-Mao viewpoint is utterly deluded.

You still run into the kind of people who try to draw moral equivalence between the Japanese internment and Dachau to this day. I'm not saying this to deflect criticism, because I hold the US to a much higher standard than the rest of the world and the way to do that is to be critical. But coming to the conclusion that the US used chemical weapons in Korea (we didn't) or that Mao was a positive force for China in the 1950's (he wasn't) just because America falls short is a very long way on the opposite side of reasonable.

I'd say most news media and many T.V. shows reinforce ideas that oppose accepting that there is an alternative viewpoint. Are you sure you haven't been brainwashed to hate Fox News and anything that shows a flag and an eagle with patriotic music in the background?

Let's try this on for size:

Is Fox News racist, elitist, sexist, and homophobic? My guess is that you just answered yes to at least 3 of those, however if I asked you for specific proof, you'd have a hard time making your argument in short order. Why is that? Perhaps because you didn't make up your mind for yourself. Someone else made it up for you.

Sure you can go Google and find whatever evidence you want to support those 4 viewpoints, but I'm 100% positive you didn't have evidence for all of the things you thought when I first asked the question.

To provide the other side of that coin, I also think that some of what Fox News, the Tea Party, etc. push is bologna.

Consider the conservative view that we need to secure our border because illegal immigrants take jobs away from Americans.

Jobs aren't taken, they are given. Those jobs are not specifically given to illegals. You could have one, too. If they can live off of those jobs and send money home to their folks, it should be enough to live on. Maybe not enough to send your kids to college, but that isn't a guaranteed right.

Higher taxes and loopholes lead to U.S. companies hiring offshore workers, but that isn't the same for immigrants. We need more of them, like we had in the 1800-1900s, to boost our economy. I have never known a lazy, undedicated person to sneak over the border and work summers to send money home to their families. Those families should instead be in the U.S. and not in Mexico, etc. Then not only would the U.S. have a great labor force, but they would be spending that money on food and goods in the U.S.

In the UK, some people complain that because immigrants are sending their money home, it is not being spent in the UK hence not helping the economy as much as them, for they are proper good consumerists.

Free movement of money in the EU and all that...

Your point was a lot more coherent before "the other side of that coin".

I guess I regard nearly all cable news as brainwashing. Maybe even all news. Fox is the worst example (IMHO), but I don't like any of it.

Turn off all news for a year or two. Then watch for a few minutes. With fresh eyes, the news looks like a clown show - all emotion and advocacy.

There's no such thing as brainwashing. It was a piece of propaganda to use against the Communists during the Korean War, and the fantasy of a bunch of shadowy government agencies that only seem to be able to poison a bunch of people or get them high during brainwashing experiments.

Really? A sappy slide show set to Lee Greenwood with 316,000 views over 4 years is comparable to a Communist POW camp.

If that's brainwashing, then what do you call this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QH2-TGUlwu4 101,912,811 views.


Hm, site is censored in the UK for being "violent pornographic and/or political material" :|

Probably the UK's strategy to prevent the Chinese from brain-washing you.

Censored by whom? It works fine for me on Virgin Media

O2. They censor a really odd selection of stuff.

Sorry, O2 is censoring "political material" in the UK? Are you kidding?

They have been for years, and the list of what I can't browse on 3G only ever grows.

So censored by one network then, not all the UK.

No, but it's the same filtering setup as they're planning on applying to all the networks, so there's little difference in the grand scheme of things.


Fine on BT UK, too (see sibling comment).

It is not that hard when soldiers could discover that they had been lied by their own people and sent to die in order for others(that will never risk a finger) to profit.

All wars are full of lies, Roosevelt lied to the American people, "for their own good" of course, as the American public did not want to enter a world war.

The Lusitania was full of weapons as divers discover in 2008, the first American sub to be sinked attacked the Germans first before war(that was never said to American public) and Robert Stinnett investigated about Pearl Harbor and how they already knew about it, the reason there were not air carriers there and the radar "confusion". The soldiers in Hawaii were just pawns to sacrifice in order to win the match.

The same happened in Irak, US government wanted to get this oil, and they just needed a pretext. 20 people from Saudi Arabia(US tyrannical ally) crashing planes against US buildings somewhat became a pretext to invade Irak and Afganistan, countries that are 2000 miles apart from Saudi Arabia, killing millions in the process and thousands of Americans.

Now, Obama is doing the same with Siria. They want to invade a country and they just need to convince the public opinion to support it.

The problem with lies is that when you are outside the system that generates them, they are very easy to discover. People feel betrayed and never trust "big brother", that lies to you for your own benefit, any more.

One of the most effective ways to persuade people is to mix lies with truth to give the mixture the flavor of truth. For instance, starting with some comfortable truisms (all wars are full of lies) combined with questionable implications (Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were inside jobs) supported by misleading details (the carriers weren't present at Pearl Harbor, but battleships were universally considered the more valuable strategic asset until the battles of Coral Sea and Midway; the 9/11 hijackers were mostly Saudi because they were dissidents against the US-supported Saudi government whose senior leadership moved to Afghanistan to avoid the Saudi authorities). Consider also the general theme of such arguments: always to attack and denigrate the United States' involvement without ever giving consideration to the wider context. Indeed it's easy for the US to come off as the "bad guy" for entering a war against the actual Nazis so far as you keep the focus squarely on what the US did wrong rather than considering a wider context.

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