The Mechanics of “Brainwashing”
In general, when the term “brainwashing” arises, we tend to think of a person who has joined some form of “cult” in which they have discarded their own beliefs for that of the organization. In it’s most extreme form, one might cite dramatic cases of group suicide as observed in the 1990’s with the Heaven’s Gate Cult, the 1970’s with Jim Jones, and the Branch Davidians religious sect in Waco, Texas.
It would be presumed that in order to agree to commit suicide, one must willingly undergo severe levels of “brainwashing”.
However, much like different levels of exogenous DMT administration (and anything for that matter) appear to generate distinctly different experiences, perhaps there are different levels of brainwashing?
Q4LT recently finished reading Dr. Kathleen Taylor’s book titled “Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control”. In this book, Dr. Taylor outlines different famous cases of perceived brainwashing in addition to the neurological changes and sociological aspects that appear to concur with this phenomena.
Taylor coins the term “cogweb” to describe the combination of beliefs, “schemas” (set of behaviors and the thoughts, attitudes, and feelings that coincide with them) and the patterns of connectivity between neurons that combine to that make up a person’s cognitive landscape. She also covers the many external influences from the environment that effect the state of the body and subsequently one’s thought process.
Here are a few excerpts from the book that seem pertinent to understanding the mechanisms of brainwashing:
How do Neurons Work?
“All cells have evolved mechanisms known as ion pumps. Just as receptors regulate what goes into the cell, so ion pumps remove certain ions (like immigration officials ejecting undesirables from a country). Neurons have become particularly good at this ion trafficking, with the result that they can precisely control the difference in electrical charge between their environment (the CSF) and their innards (the cytoplasm). When they are not busy receiving signals, neurons’ innards are negatively charged relatively to the CSF. Signals activate receptors which let positive ions into the neuron, making it less negative relative to the CSF and starting an electrical wave-the Cell’s own signal- which spreads along the entire cell to the tip of the axon. Pumping out positive ions makes the cell more negative relative to the CSF, bringing the balance of charges back to the resting, negative state, ready to generate the next signal.”
How do Neurons communicate?
“Synapses, in brain terms, are where the action is. Across these tiny chasms cells talk to one another. The language they use is a semaphore of splitting. When an electrical signal reaches the end of an axon, it triggers the release of tiny packets of chemicals, known as neurotransmitters (because they transmit between neurons). These molecules are spat out across the gap, and some of them reach the neuron on the other side. There they find receptors on the neuron’s surface (the cell membrane) just waiting for the right molecule to come along. For the perfect partner, bonding is immediate: like a lock in a key the neurotransmitter plugs into the receptor molecule, causing it to writhe into a new position. As the receptor changes shape, a gate in the cell membrane opens and whichever chemical can enter through the gate does so, changing the electrical status of the cell and setting off a variety of secondary signals (known as second messengers). Its message delivered, the neurotransmitter detaches, to be recycled by specialized molecules (re-uptake enzymes) lurking in the synapse; while the receptor returns to its "passive” state to await the next contact.“
"Though the receptor may resume its former position, the cell in whose membrane it sits will never be quite the same again. Sometimes the change is minuscule, but often the bombardment of transmitter molecule scan cause long-lasting changes, affecting not only the cell’s electrical status (which may lead the cell to generate a signal of it’s own) but its genetic machinery. Genes can be switched on or off; the machinery which reads those genes makes proteins can be urged to redouble its efforts or told to take it easy. Those proteins may be more receptors, to be shipped out to the cell membrane. Or they may have jobs to do within the cell. They in turn will affect the neuron’s inner environment, which may cause other receptors in the membrane to open or close… and so on, in an illimitable mesh of cause and effect.”
“Why does this matter? Because the net effect is often to change the cell’s receptiveness to future messages. Shipping out more receptors to the cell membrane, for example, will make a cell more sensitive to neurotransmitters, and hence more likely to respond with a signal of its own. Conversely, ‘retiring’ receptors from the cell membrane will make a neuron less likely to be activated by incoming signals. This ability of cells to alter the strength of the synapses between them is the secret of the brain’s power to learn from experience. Generally, when two neurons are active at the same time the synapse connecting them will tend to strengthen. When one neuron is activated, having a stronger synapse between them will increase the chance that the other neuron is also activated. By linking synaptic strengths to how active neurons are, the brain sculpts its cognitive landscape according to the stimuli it receives. Just as water flowing over the ground carves out a channel, and thus over time flows more and more easily, so signals flow between neurons, strengthening connections between them, and making it easier for future signals to flow. The more frequent or intense an incoming signal is to some neurons, the stronger the connections between those neurons will become. This is why repetition is a central feature of brainwashing techniques.”
“Torture victims often react to their coercion by activating a particularly cherished cogweb –religious belief, or the image of a loved one– clinging to it for dear life, and gaining support from it. This is why sophisticated coercion often alternates brutality with kindness. Love is the great antidote to torture, as to so many kinds of harm, and apparent concern can break a victim’s resistance more effectively than pain. One American prisoner of war in Korea described how he was repeatedly brought "to death’s door’ before being revived. Despite the fact that his captors were responsible for almost killing him, he said that after a while ‘you were thankful to them for saving your life… when you were about to die, they saved you. They did this often enough for it to consume your whole thinking process, until you were grateful enough to do anything they wanted.’ Over time, being saved from death was more effective a weapon of influence than being threatened with it.”
The majority of the general public would deny that they are victims of any form of brainwashing whatsoever. For the most part, they would state that they are in full control of their actions, reactions, thoughts, and feelings. The difficulty in a person analyzing their own level of brainwashing is in it’s inherent subjective nature. If the subject(s) involved in the suicides cited in the opening paragraph lack the cognitive ability to realize their own, extreme level of “brainwashing”, it’d seem inherently difficult for a person to recognize their own, less pronounced levels.
I get the feeling that a person who is truly brainwashed isn’t that cognizant of actually being brainwashed.
The traditional perception of brainwashing is based on the implanting of beliefs based on isolation or dependency of the subject on the “brainwasher”. Once a person is exposed to a message for a long enough period of time on a consistent basis, they begin to adopt that message as their own truth. However, repetition seems to be only one aspect of brainwashing as inducement of a highly emotional state appears just as important in terms of message implantation. There’s been speculation that some prisoners of war (POWs) from the Korean War were subjected to this combination of repetition/traumatic methods of brainwashing causing them to decline repatriation once given their freedom. If true, this would be considered an extremely extreme case of brainwashing.
(A hard copy version of the articles on this site have been compiled in a book titled “Questions for the Lion Tamer”. It’s for sale on Amazon for $19.99)
In 2014, the online magazine BrainWorld would publish an article titled “The Neuroscience of Rationalizing Our Mistakes”. The piece summarized the distinct changes in brain activity that occur when a person is presented with information that conflicts with their belief system:
“Brain MRI scans show that when we’re confronted with dissonant information and use rationalization to compensate, the reasoning areas of our brains essentially shut down while the emotion circuits of the brain light up with activity. In other words, emotions trump logic. Researchers have also concluded by this information that once our minds are made up, it’s hard to change them; even reading information that goes against our initial point of view only adds to the justifying that we were right.”
The article would cite a 2009 study undertaken at UC Davis in which it was observed that during the transpiration of “cognitive dissonance”, there were marked differences in the areas of the brain that were activated.
A 1973 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, would outline the results of the famous “Love Bridge” experiment. The summary of the study is as follows (from Psyblog):
“Men crossing the bridge were approached by an attractive woman who asked them to fill out a survey. The men were chosen because they were known to be nervous and this was exaggerated by the fact the bridge was swaying, its handrails were very low and there was a 230-foot drop to the river below.”
“After the men filled out the survey the woman gave them her number and said they could call her if they wanted the study explained in more detail.”
“A little further up men crossing another bridge were also being approached by a female researcher half-way across. The difference was that this bridge was sturdy, did not sway and was only a few feet above a small stream.”
“One of the key tests was: how many people would call up the attractive woman?”
“On the stable, safe bridge only 2 out of the 16 participants called. But, on the rickety bridge, 9 out of 18 called. So something about the rickety bridge made people more likely to call.”
The “love bridge” is an intriguing example of the power of a strong emotion (in this case, fear) in terms of perception, interpretation, and action.
I would suppose that if the general mechanics of brainwashing were comprised of coupling constant repetition of a message with a strong emotional reaction, one would have to look no further than the recent election as a form of brainwashing. As Q4LT didn’t vote and has no political party affiliation whatsoever, it was an unusually strange observation to see the polarization of people’s stance on the candidates. The strangeness was amplified when taking into consideration that many of these people have shown little to no interest in anything remotely political over the past decade. Many of them had correctly stated over the previous years that irregardless of politicians elected… people must work, maintain personal relationships, feed themselves, seek shelter, and engage in all the daily stressors that coincide with that maintenance. In essence, many of these people acknowledged that the basics of everyday life continues undisturbed regardless of what political party is represented.
However, for some reason… this rational thought process of people succinctly changed during this recent election cycle.
In this day and age of media consisting of television, radio, newspaper (mainstream media) in addition to the countless big and small outlets on the internet (including social media), two different people could be constantly exposed to two completely different messages. Being that I don’t watch television, listen to radio, or read the newspaper, it was inherently difficult to comprehend the strong emotional connection that people seemed to develop over the course of a few months. It seemed strange that there was an eerie consistency amongst the crowd… the most emotional people I interacted with seemed fervent for their candidate based on fear/anger of the rival while the less emotional people I came across seemed tempered about even their own candidate.
In a crude experiment… I spent a few hours exposing myself to traditional media outlets (television, radio, newspaper). I was impressed but not surprised at the level of constant repetition of fear and anger based messages. I can only speculate upon the effects that took place on a person’s brain/“cogwebs” if they exposed themselves to this stimulus for hours each day for weeks on end. It would seem rational from a biological/physiological perspective that a person would retain a polarized perspective of the election or anything for that matter based on the constant stimulation of a specific group of neurons that revolve around an explicit idea or thought.
A recent study (2016) published in the journal Nature observed the neurological effects of presenting counter-evidence to the political belief’s of self-described liberals. The results of the study were as follows: “Challenges to political beliefs produced increased activity in the default mode network (DMN)—a set of interconnected structures associated with self-representation and disengagement from the external world. These results highlight the role of emotion in belief-change resistance and offer insight into the neural systems involved in belief maintenance, motivated reasoning, and related phenomena.”
“Increased activation of the DMN during challenges to political beliefs is, therefore, consistent with what is known about these structures. In previous work, we have found increased signal in the precuneus, the inferior parietal cortex, and the medial prefrontal cortex when participants with strong beliefs about religion evaluated religious beliefs compared with nonreligious beliefs. This is consistent with the idea that the DMN is recruited when thinking about deeply held beliefs.”
It is clear that the media was very successful in riling people into a frenzy of emotional instability while providing very little insight as to the policies of the two candidates. Much like the studies cited from Brainworld and Nature, the emotional reactivity was on overdrive and it seems it still lingers for some.
The question is… for those that are still emotionally attached to the election, why is this so? Are there similarities/overlap between the brains of these people and that subjects who have been indoctrinated into cults? Have physical, neurological pathways developed to the extent that a person is essentially being controlled without their knowledge?
The truth of the matter is that the air we breathe hasn’t changed since the election… neither has the water, our food, our obligation to pay bills, change a baby’s diaper, etc. From Q4LT’s perspective, the fact that people are still so emotionally charged with the topic relates to the over development of a neural pathway based on constant repetition coupled with emotion based propaganda. Now that the cycle is over, the neural connection still lingers and people rely on activating this pathway for inducing the electrical brain stimulation that correlates with their “feel good” hormones. It seems as though the brain inherently craves the greatest level of stimulation so arousing the most massively constructed pathway is an innate habit. There lies the potentiality for overlap between “addiction”/“addictive behaviors” and “brainwashing” from a neurological perspective.
What was once simply propaganda… became belief. What became belief… converted into addictive thoughts.
Sociological components also appear to play a definitive role in “brainwashing”. Dr. Taylor outlines this facet in her book citing the cohesive nature of cults in which members generally engage in the same activities as well as the reinforcement of beliefs amongst each other. Any dissenting opinions are categorized as deviant in nature and therefore are discarded in a timely manner.
While cults may operate in a very formal, definitive manner requiring members to wear certain clothing, practice specific rituals, eat certain foods, and be physically present in a particular location… the election certainly did not. However, if a person were to be glued to their television set, on social media constantly, and engaging in verbal discussion with like-minded people, it might not be overly far-fetched to speculate that there was amplified reinforcement of the stimulus based on informal sociological forces. In modern terms this has been referred to as an “echo chamber”.
As we postulate the mechanisms behind brainwashing, it’s important to note that the same mechanisms appear pertinent in “positive” neuroplasticity. Instead of utilizing negative emotional drivers, positive emotional drivers and increased calmness are integrated to form the desired “cogweb”/neural pathway. The increased calmness correlates with hypnotic/meditative states that initiate slow brain waves (Theta/Delta) with greater amplification than fast waves. When the subject hones into the specific desire or thought, a fast wave emerges (Gamma) which creates the instant connectivity amongst neurons.
(The DMT connection with brainwashing could be based on the elevated level of this compound associated with very high stress environments in rodent studies. While there seem to be multiple ways to increase endogenous DMT levels (positive and negative) there does seem to be a definitive neurological imprint that coincides from these states. While extreme trauma such as near death experiences can cause dramatic experiences such as “OBE’s” or “spiritual breakthroughs”, less trauma might be associated with changes in neural pathways due to the emotional trauma and constant repetition of an idea/thought.)
It seems important to understand the mechanics of both positive and negative influences on our brain and subsequent behavior so that we may remain cognizant of any undesired “programming” taking place. When looking at the general parameters of “brainwashing” and how it seems evident that some form of this has taken place during the recent election cycle… it makes one wonder, what else has been ingrained in our psyche in a similar manner?
Could it be possible that we have been exposed to enough repetition alongside fear of “infinitely complex” disease that we have been brainwashed to believe untrue “facts”?
In 2013, a woman named Ann Cameron reportedly was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer that had metastasized to her lungs. In 2015, she wrote a book about how she apparently cured herself by drinking carrot juice titled “Curing Cancer with Carrots”.
If your initial reaction mimics the following… “She’s obviously lying. It’s absurd and ridiculous. There is no cure for cancer”… you might just be a bit brainwashed.
Brainwashed not because you should believe that Cameron reversed her disease with carrot juice but brainwashed because of your instant, emotional reaction to an idea. The average person knows very little about basic physiology and even less about cancer so for them to react in such a manner doesn’t make a lot of logical sense from an intellectual, scholastic perspective. However, from a “cogweb” developmental perspective and understanding the message propagated by the scientific community and the mainstream media for decades, it makes 1000% sense that the average person would react like this.
I refer to the study cited in Brainworld… “Brain MRI scans show that when we’re confronted with dissonant information and use rationalization to compensate, the reasoning areas of our brains essentially shut down while the emotion circuits of the brain light up with activity.”
The entire notion of the scientific method is based on emotionless digging for answers based on observation. This is why it’s so intriguing (and initially perplexing) that discussing cases like Cameron’s seem to consistently induce a significant negative emotional reaction from oncologists and cancer researchers. In the majority of cases, it is a blatant refusal to even look into the details and reality of that particular case. One would think that this would be the opposite as people in the business of curing disease should ideally be receptive to any and all information that might help them in their journey.
This piece isn’t about cancer or the various therapies that might reverse the disease but rather the neurological clashes that arise when new information is presented that potentially conflicts with the “established narrative”. This goes for any and everything in this world.
How do people react when presented with information that conflicts with their “cogwebs” (beliefs, schemas, and neuron connectivity)?
There seems to be this underlying danger that seems to take place in every field once a person immerses themselves within a subject and is surrounded by “echo chambers”. I believe that it is inherently dangerous especially in fields presented to be emotion-free and data driven such as science.
I believe anybody… including myself to be susceptible to many forms of “brainwashing” based on the content we ingest and the thoughts that we allow ourselves to think. Believing this to be true… it would seem interesting to devise an experiment in which a person was forced to engage in respiratory exercises prior to engaging in a debate that will present conflicting information to a person. I’m inclined to speculate that respiratory techniques assist the brain in weakening unnecessary connections and possibly allowing a person to process information in a more analytical rather than emotional manner. Instead of the rapid-fire back and forth rhythm of heated exchanges… the debaters would be forced to breath 30 or 40 times prior to responding to each point.
Yes… it would look ridiculous but maybe we’d see significantly different outcomes and more rational thought processes employed.
In any case, the concept of brainwashing is quite interesting as it seems as though the general mechanisms of this tactic is a part of everyday life. While the term “brainwashing” is largely considered negative… it’s my perspective that it can be somewhat interchangeable with terms like ‘neural pathway formation’, ‘changes in neural connectivity’, and ‘neurological altering’. The real question is how we can use these mechanisms in our favor rather as something that creates greater hurdles towards progress in every field of society.