Brainwashing (Debate)

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BRAINWASHING (DEBATE) . The current debate over brainwashing (the term is used here generically to refer to mind control, coercive persuasion, or thought reform unless otherwise stipulated) is best understood in the broader context of recurrent concerns through Western history over powerful, illicit sources of influence on individual loyalty and commitment. Brainwashing is a contemporary version of such historic concerns. These anxieties have periodically assumed crisis proportions when there have been extreme sociocultural tensions that have given rise to allegations of the existence of subversive forces and the marshaling of counter-subversion campaigns, with the objective of controlling specific types of contested relationships. As in the case of its predecessors, the contemporary debates over brainwashing embody these related elements. The evidence in both the historical and contemporary episodes supports the conclusions that concerns about powerful, illicit sources of influence are pronounced during periods of sociocultural tension and that certain types of relationships have repeatedly been at issue. However, there is little support for the existence or efficacy of subversive forces as depicted in brainwashing ideologies.

Extreme sociocultural tensions are likely to occur during unsettled periods when a society experiences conflict between alternative, incompatible organizing principles or is moving from one set of organizing principles to another. In Western history, the movement from premodern to modern to postmodern social structures has yielded a succession of these unsettled periods. During such moments the major social forms that orient individual and institutional patterns stand in opposition to one another and therefore yield contradictory behavioral imperatives. It is during unsettled periods that subversion fears are most likely to surface. Throughout history, subversives have appeared in various forms, such as gods, fate, demons, and witches. What such subversives purportedly have in common has been their tendency to work in a secret, conspiratorial fashion with malevolent intent to corrupt individuals' natural essence or purpose, variously conceived as free will, soul, or sanity. American history is replete with subversion fears, such as allegations of the transformation of early settler captives into savages by American Indians, colonial-era witchcraft possession, mesmerism of converts by Mormons, and imprisonment of nuns in Catholic convents. Although the term brainwashing had yet to be coined, these earlier forms are related to more modern forms in which the real or imagined subversive agents are Communists, mafioso, religious cult leaders, extraterrestrials, satanists, and terrorists.

The debate over brainwashing and its predecessor forms has centered on forces influencing individual-group relationships. Over the last several centuries, the culturally appropriate form of individuality has increasingly emphasized autonomy, voluntarism, and self-directedness. Individuals are deemed autonomous to the extent that they are not subject to external constraint through coercion, accident, miracle, or nature. Voluntarism is presumptively present when individuals orient their motives and intent in a goal-directed fashion by exercising choice. Self-directedness involves the pursuit of goals that reflect external self-interest or internal self-fulfillment. Relational involvement in any context that may compromise these attributes, particularly those outside of relationships in support of legitimate institutional mandates, are likely to be contested.

The focus of this entry is on allegations of brainwashing in the case of contemporary religious movements. The historical context for the current debate is cold war era disputation over alleged Communist brainwashing. There also have been a number of other related events and episodes in which brainwashing has been alleged that have contributed to broad public acceptance of the reality of brainwashing and to the availability of brainwashing as an explanation for troubling events.

Communist Brainwashing

The term brainwashing originated in the cold war division of nations into socialist and capitalist blocs. The historic tensions between those two forms of political and economic organization were reflected in high levels of militarization, a succession of regional wars, and an ongoing threat of nuclear conflagration. The English term brainwashing derives from a Chinese counterpart (si xiang gai zao ) that roughly translates into English as "to cleanse (or wash clean) thoughts" and refers to sociopolitical attitude correction. During the cold war era, American government officials were confronted by a series of disquieting events: public confessions by dissidents during Soviet show trials, apparent conversions by individuals who were subjected to Chinese revolutionary universities, and collaborationist statements and actions by American prisoners of war during the Korean War. It was a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative and journalist, Edward Hunter, who in 1953 coined the term brainwashing to account for apparent cases of conversion or collaboration with Communist regimes. During the 1950s and 1960s the CIA undertook its own research on brainwashing, conducting experiments that involved the use of pain, sensory deprivation, and hypnosis on a variety of subjects. While these experiments were successful in psychologically destabilizing subjects, they did not result in implanting new attitudes and values. The CIA version of brainwashing theory permeated popular culture, most notably in the 1962 film, The Manchurian Candidate. In that film, Communist captors attempt to turn an American prisoner of war into a robotlike agent through the use of programming by hypnosis and drugs.

Two major studies of Communist brainwashing published in 1961 were particularly influential in shaping later conceptions of the processEdgar Schein's Coercive Persuasion and Robert Lifton's Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. In his study of Korean War prisoners and the Chinese indoctrination program, Schein identified three processes in coercive persuasion: (1) unfreezing (displacing the individual's former identity); (2) changing the identity; and (3) refreezing (establishing a new identity). However, Schein criticized the crude CIA brainwashing model, argued that preexisting individual beliefs and values were relevant to the impact of coercive persuasion techniques, and concluded that the Korean and Chinese techniques had been ineffective in producing an attitude change in the targeted individuals. Schein was careful to draw a distinction between conformity to captors' demands during incarceration and actual conversion. On the basis of his research, he could find no cases of conversion. He further argued that there were significant similarities between Communist indoctrination programs and the social pressures generated by such mainstream Western entities as educational institutions, psychotherapy, religious orders, and religious revivals.

The most influential model remains Lifton's theory of thought reform. Lifton studied twenty-five Westerners and fifteen Chinese who were imprisoned and subjected to thought reform programs and subsequently migrated to Hong Kong. On the basis of those cases, Lifton developed eight "themes" that are integral to ideological totalism, which is produced by a combination of extreme ideology and extreme individual character traits. Conditions fostering ideological totalism include the following:

  1. Milieu control (controlling internal communication and eliminating external communication);
  2. Mystical manipulation (manipulating individuals' perceptions of their own behavior);
  3. The demand for purity (moral polarizing of insiders and outsiders);
  4. The cult of confession (using confession rituals to expose unacceptable relationships and actions);
  5. Sacred science (propounding totalitarian ideology as absolute truth);
  6. Loading the language (utilizing emotionally laden concepts that impede critical thought);
  7. Doctrine over person (interpreting reality and other persons through group ideology);
  8. Dispensing of existence (elevating the group and its ideology as the highest value).

Lifton's theory does not rely simply on the compliance generated by a totalistic situation, as he also argues that some individuals are more predisposed to seek or accept totalistic solutions. To the extent that thought reform occurs, then, it is the product of an interaction between individual predispositions and a totalistic situation. In the cases that Lifton studied, however, thought reform was not very successful. All of the forty individuals Lifton studied did indeed collaborate with their jailers in various ways (such as signing public statements condemning the United States or confessing to germ warfare). However, only two maintained these positions once they were outside of the control of Communist officials, and Lifton found totalistic predispositions in both cases.

Further evidence of the relative lack of success of brainwashing programs can be found in the aggregate statistics on the impact of these programs on American prisoners during the Korean War. Only about half of captured American soldiers survived the brutal conditions to which they were subjected in internment camps. Facing the prospect of starvation and torture, about one-third of the survivors collaborated with their captors. However, only twenty-one of the nearly 4,500 Americans held at the end of the war refused repatriation; several years later eleven members of that group requested repatriation. This defection rate is roughly comparable to the rate for other wars. By contrast to American prisoners of war, about ninety thousand captured North Korean and Chinese soldiers refused repatriation.

In the case of allegations of Communist brainwashing, then, it is clear that there were tensions between capitalist and socialist states that at various times rose to crisis levels, and those tensions produced mutual fears of subversion. However, there is little evidence to support the CIA version of brainwashing, and the agency's own brainwashing experiments were unsuccessful. Independent research by Lifton and Schein produced evidence of collaboration under duress but no evidence of an overpowering psychotechnology that produced lasting transformation of beliefs and attitudes. Lifton's work, in particular, has continued to be influential as a model of totalistic environments and processes. Furthermore, the generic concept of brainwashing has been incorporated into American popular culture. Both formal theories and informal cultural beliefs have created a reservoir of credibility for brainwashing that served as the basis for its introduction into the disputes involving new religious groups in the 1970s.

Cultic Brainwashing

The controversy over new religious movements (NRMs), popularly referred to as cults, is most immediately a product of the 1960s countercultural period. As political and social countercultural movements dissipated, alienated young adults began seeking alternative forms of protest. A wave of new movements, some of which immigrated to the West following the rescinding of Asian immigration exclusion legislation and some domestic groups that had languished in relative obscurity, suddenly began attracting converts. Although characteristics of converts varied by movement, in general the first recruits to NRMs were white, middle-class, well-educated young adults. The movements quickly drew attention from families of converts, established churches, and scholars studying religion and social movements.

Opposition to new religions soon mounted as the groups challenged educational, political, occupational, religious, and familial institutions. There were two major wings to the opposition, both of which sought to distinguish between legitimate churches and pseudo-religious "cults." The religious opposition groups involved in the countercult movement existed long before the cult controversy and typically challenged sectarian Christian and non-Christian churches. When new movements appeared, countercult organizations simply added them to their list of opponents. The countercult movement, which drew its strength largely from the ranks of conservative denominational groups, regarded new movements as a spiritual threat because they propagated heretical doctrines. Religious countercult groups were more likely to regard recruits to NRMs as deceived rather than brainwashed. The secular anticult associations were founded by family members of NRM converts. Anticult ideology sought to distinguish cults from legitimate groups on the basis that the former employed brainwashing techniques. Brainwashing in this context typically refers to a deliberate, potent program of indoctrination and control that reduces individual autonomy, voluntarism, and self-directedness.

As initially formulated, anticult ideology depicted NRMs as rapidly growing; unprecedented in their organization, tactics, and destructiveness; and capable of dramatically altering individual beliefs and behaviors and of creating long-term emotional damage to anyone subjected to them. The earliest brainwashing theories were developed by deprogrammers who sought to reverse the effects of cultic "programming" and thereby extract individuals from new religions. These crude and easily disproved theories alleged that individuals were rendered powerless by some combination of hypnosis, sleep deprivation, relentless indoctrination, altered diet, and extreme isolation.

Much more influential was the work of psychologist Margaret Singer who provided the foundation of anticult brainwashing theory, as well as expert witness testimony in many cases based on brainwashing allegations. Singer identified six conditions that she argued are integral to the brainwashing process:

  1. Preventing the individual from becoming aware of the group's control or change program;
  2. Controlling the individual's environment by limiting and shaping information and contacts;
  3. Creating a sense of fear, dependence, and powerlessness in the individual;
  4. Eradicating the individual's old attitudes and behavior;
  5. Instilling new attitudes and behavior in the individual;
  6. Creating a closed logical system through which the individual processes information.

Although Singer's theories were the most influential within anticult circles and judicial forums, there were a variety of other theories ranging from cybernetic trauma to manipulative use of trance and hypnotic states to relational disorders.

More recently, there have been efforts to reorient brainwashing theory. For example, Benjamin Zablocki has argued that brainwashing is better understood as a technique for retaining (rather than obtaining) members, that it may be effective on only a small number of individuals, and that individuals may participate voluntarily in the process. All of these theories share in common a focus on group-induced, deleterious effects on individuals affiliated with religious movements. While they admit some measure of both individual and group influence, the latter is asserted to be more powerful and determinative of outcomes.

NRMs quickly attracted the attention of scholars in the social sciences and religious studies because their appearance and growth during the 1970s appeared to contravene established theories among social scientists predicting the continued secularization of Western societies. Affiliation to (and later disaffiliation from) new religions, based on studies of members, has been by far the most researched aspect of new religions. The vast majority of published findings have employed conversion or affiliation theories that do not presume the illegitimacy of the groups or the manipulative practices inherent in brainwashing models. In mainstream scholarly work, affiliations of individuals with new religions have been interpreted as the product of ongoing countercultural protest, youthful experimentation with alternative lifestyles, or tensions surrounding the transition from adolescence to adulthood, rather than the subversive power of cults. The conversion process is described not in terms of powerful brainwashing techniques but rather in terms of such processes as adherents' adoption of a new symbolic identity, a strengthening of one set of ties to a social network with a corresponding weakening of ties to another network, and role playing and experimentation by individuals searching for meaning in their lives.

There have been a number of major studies of movements associated with brainwashing allegations, including the Unification Church, the Family (originally the Children of God), and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON or Hare Krishnas). These studies include three books on UnificationismJohn Lofland's Doomsday Cult (1966), David Bromley and Anson Shupe's Moonies in America (1979), and Eileen Barker's The Making of a Moonie (1984); four books on the FamilyDavid van Zandt's Living in the Children of God (1991), Ruth Wangerin's The Children of God (1993), James Chancellor's Life in the Family (2000), and William Bainbridge's The Endtime Family (2002); and two books on the Hare KrishnasE. Burke Rochford's Hare Krishna in America (1985) and Larry Shinn's The Dark Lord (1987). The clear implications in these works are that there is no single process of affiliation but rather a variety of kinds of conversion with different dynamicsthe personal transformation associated with religious movements may be limited or pervasive, and whatever transformation does occur is a product of both individual volition and group socialization.

Furthermore, these and many other studies challenged basic assumptions of the brainwashing approach. They found that, contrary to the expectations of brainwashing models, the recruitment rates of NRMs were very low while turnover rates were very high. They questioned how such diverse, unrelated groups all could have discovered and implemented brainwashing techniques at precisely the same moment. They also found that organizations within the same movement used different recruitment and socialization practices, and movements changed these practices frequently. Based on movement membership patterns, they concluded that movement recruitment success declined rather than improved over time, a finding difficult to reconcile with brainwashing theory. Finally, they reported that movements displayed a pervasive pattern of factionalism, schism, and conflict, a pattern inconsistent with the compliance that would be predicted by a brainwashing explanation.

The debate over brainwashing became legal disputation when the anticult movement initiated a program to "rescue" members of new religious groups who allegedly had been brainwashed. The process of reversing the effects of putative cultic programming was called deprogramming. The procedure was devised by Theodore "Ted" Patrick, who deprogrammed members of many movements. As practiced by Patrick and others, deprogramming bore a striking resemblance to the brainwashing process it was designed to reverse. NRM members were physically abducted, held in isolation for extended periods, and bombarded with ideology and pressure from deprogrammers, former NRM members, and family members. The process was relatively successful, particularly with recent affiliates who lacked strong group ties, but it soon encountered legal problems due to a reliance on coercive restraint. Anticult groups therefore sought legal warrant for deprogramming by obtaining guardianship and conservatorship orders that awarded parents custody of NRM converts based on assertions of brainwashing. This strategy succeeded until religious groups began legally contesting the conservatorships.

Subsequently, anticult organizations encouraged and sometimes orchestrated civil suits against religious groups by former members who had disaffiliated and agreed to "exit counseling." Suits were initiated on grounds that individuals had been brainwashed and were suffering from an infliction of emotional distress or post-traumatic stress syndrome. The litigation strategy avoided problems of coercive restraint and allowed the introduction of expert witnesses who testified to cultic brainwashing practices. This strategy produced a number of favorable trial verdicts, although verdicts often were modified or reversed by appellate courts.

Litigation gradually undermined the viability of cases based on brainwashing assertions, but there were divergent outcomes in some cases. Access to conservatorships based on allegations of cultic brainwashing was dramatically reduced following Katz v. Superior Court (1977). After a California judge had granted legal custody of five adult members of the Unification Church to their parents, a California court of appeals overturned the order based in part on the conclusion that inquiry into coercive persuasion involved a constitutionally impermissible investigation of the legitimacy of a religious faith. The later anticult strategy of bringing civil suits against NRMs on the basis that brainwashing involved the intentional infliction of emotional distress also was gradually eroded as successes became more problematic. Molko and Leal v. Holy Spirit Association (1983) exemplifies these mixed results. Two former members of the Unification Church, David Molko and Tracey Leal, sued the church for damages suffered as a result of brainwashing after having been successfully deprogrammed. Molko and Leal's complaints were rejected by the trial court, and expert testimony on brainwashing was rejected on the grounds that it lacked scientific standing. However, in 1988 the California Supreme Court reversed the lower court ruling in asserting that the constitution did not preclude brainwashing claims in cases of fraud involving flagrant deception.

Another major case involving infliction of mental distress as a result of brainwashing was brought against the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. In Robin George v. ISKCON (1983), brainwashing charges were dismissed by a Los Angeles court after several appeals, and the suit was finally settled in 1993. An important federal case was U.S. v. Fishman (1990). In that case Steven Fishman claimed that his fraudulent activities were the result of the debilitating influence of his membership in the Church of Scientology. The judge ruled against allowing mind-control testimony in the trial on the basis that it did not possess scientific standing. Psychologist Singer was the most active and influential anticult expert witness in brainwashing cases. Forensic psychologist Dick Anthony played a pivotal role in convincing courts to exclude Singer's testimony in a number of these cases. These and other cases made presenting brainwashing claims increasingly problematic.

The brainwashing debate spilled over into professional societies as well, most notably the American Psychological Association (APA). In 1983 the APA formed the Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC) task force headed by Singer to evaluate the status of such theories. Although the task force was dominated by psychologists sympathetic to anticult brainwashing theories, the APA's Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility rejected the DIMPAC report. Other professional associations also debated the brainwashing issue, but none has endorsed brainwashing theory.

While brainwashing theory has not fared well in U.S. legal and political forums, it has had an impact in Europe and the People's Republic of China. A number of European governments proposed controls over new religions in the wake of the 1994 murder/suicides by the Solar Temple in Switzerland and Canada. American anticult officials consulted with European governmental officials, who made anticult brainwashing theory a key component of reports and legislation. In 1998, France established a new office, the Mission Interministérielle de Lutte les Sectes (Interministerial commission to make war on sects) to monitor sectes (cults). A key defining characteristic of sectes is "mental manipulation" (a parallel to brainwashing). In the People's Republic of China, anticult representatives have consulted with government officials concerning efforts to suppress Falun Gong, which Chinese officials refer to as a dangerous cult.

Other Episodes and Events

There has been a succession of other occurrences that have provided popular legitimation for brainwashing. In 1973 the term Stockholm syndrome was coined after four Swedish bank employees, who were held hostage for six days by bank robbers, resisted police efforts to free them and publicly defended their captors. The hostages continued to express support for the robbers, and two female captors subsequently became engaged to their captors. According to the Stockholm syndrome theory, hostages may bond with their captors when their lives are in imminent danger, when they are unable to escape the situation, when they do not have access to alternative sources of information, and when the captors are humane. Like brainwashing theories, the Stockholm syndrome is vigorously debated. Nonetheless it has been invoked to account for a variety of contested behaviors, including abused wives who do not support feminism, parents who are unable to win their children's loyalty in custodial disputes, and liberal Israelis who are conciliatory toward Palestinians.

One of the most celebrated events related to brainwashing involved the kidnapping of the Hearst publishing empire heiress Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) in 1974. Hearst was confined to a closet for an extended period, raped, and subjected to SLA indoctrination. She resurfaced months later as Tania, apparently now a convert to the SLA since she participated with the group in a bank robbery and did not attempt to escape when she had obvious opportunities to do so. After her capture, Hearst's defense team argued that she collaborated with her captors because she had been terrorized and had continuously feared for her life. The jury rejected this argument, however, and Hearst was convicted and imprisoned. She later received a presidential pardon.

Finally, brainwashing was a core element of the Satanism scare that swept through North American and Europe during the 1980s. Proponents claimed the existence of an international, underground cult of satanists who engaged in a range of nefarious activities. Most horrific were the claims that satanists sought enhanced personal power by absorbing the life energy of young children in ritual sacrifices. Brainwashing, drugs, and hypnosis were all allegedly used to maintain control over children. The most significant legal cases emanated from child-care facilities where satanic activity was believed to be occurring. In these cases the testimony of very young children under the care of therapists was pivotal in gaining criminal convictions. Ultimately these cases were discredited as evidence mounted that the biographies of ritual abuse survivors had been fabricated, therapists had implanted memories of abuse in impressionable children, and no victims of satanic rituals were to be found. A series of academic books and reports by investigatory commissions and police agencies unanimously concluded that allegations of underground satanic cults were baseless. Analyses concluded that satanic cults symbolically represented a widely experienced sense of vulnerability and danger among American families by high rates of child sexual abuse; increasing participation of women in the labor force; and unreliable, expensive child-care facilities.

Like their historical predecessors, contemporary episodes of brainwashing allegations have involved claims that culturally illicit groups possessed the capacity to undermine culturally appropriate expression of autonomy, voluntarism, and self-directedness. Brainwashing allegations involving Communists, cultists, and satanists all reflect this pattern. Theory and research on these episodes indicate that allegations of brainwashing occurred in response to sociocultural tensions and that culturally appropriate autonomy, voluntarism, and self-directedness were the behaviors at issue. In each case, social science research has not supported the overwhelming psychotechnology theories, and the judicial system and professional social science associations have like-wise declined to grant brainwashing explanations scientific standing.

Emerging Developments

Rejecting brainwashing as a general explanation for individual and collective conduct requires offering an adequate alternative explanation for the dynamics of highly regulated or conformist situations. Many questions remain unanswered. There is little doubt that some group contexts complicate and may compromise individuals' ability to sustain culturally appropriate autonomy, voluntarism, and self-directedness. Once the presumption of the existence of an overpowering psychotechnology (brainwashing) by groups has been rejected, the question of how actual uniformities in behavior in diverse groups occur becomes open to explanation. Social scientists are now beginning to explore these issues. For example, the brainwashing model's assertion that behavioral uniformities are the product of the personality characteristics of a manipulative charismatic leader is being displaced by a more complex analysis of charisma as a social construction. In this emerging analysis, charismatic influence is understood as the product of interactive forces that include internal challenges to leadership, pressures to demonstrate charismatic competence, influences by inner circle leadership on the charismatic leader, and external constraints on charismatic legitimacy.

Similarly, there is active investigation of the conditions under which religious movements become involved in violent confrontations with their host societies. Challenging the logic that new religious movements are inherently unstable and prone to violence, there is an emerging consensus that such extreme outcomes involve both internal and external influences to varying degrees. High tension between a movement and the established social order can produce polarization such that each side poses an inherent threat to the other. Under these conditions, factors such as secretive actions on both sides, centripetal and centrifugal forces within the movement or control groups, and the disempowerment of third parties that might mediate conflict are likely to destabilize an already volatile situation. For these and other important questions, simplistic answers are gradually giving way to more complex analyses.

While the specifics of explanations for extreme behavioral uniformities remain to be determined, it appears likely that satisfactory explanations will include sociocultural conditions, organizational characteristics of the groups, dynamics of relationships within the groups, and personality predispositions of individual members. It is also likely that there will be continuing debate over issues of conformity and control because these are inherently normative matters and the cultural norms are constantly changing. There is every reason, then, to expect that there will be no final resolution to the question of what types of organizations may shape individual autonomy, voluntarism, and self-directedness, and what influence processes they may legitimately exercise.

See Also

Anticult Movements; Cults and Sects; Deprogramming; Law and Religion, article on Law and New Religious Movements.


Anthony, Dick. "Religious Movements and Brainwashing Litigation: Evaluating Key Testimony." In In Gods We Trust: New Patterns of Religious Pluralism in America, 2d ed., edited by Thomas Robbins and Dick Anthony, pp. 295343. New Brunswick, N.J., 1990. Interdisciplinary essays on contemporary religion in the West, with an emphasis on NRMs.

Bainbridge, William S. The Endtime Family: Children of God. Albany, N.Y., 2002. A sympathetic case study of the Family based on survey data and personal interviews.

Barker, Eileen. The Making of a Moonie: Choice or Brainwashing? Oxford, 1984. A classic study of Unificationism in England, examining conversion and brainwashing models of NRM affiliation.

Bromley, David G., and J. Gordon Melton, eds. Cults, Religion, and Violence. Cambridge, U.K., 2002. Interdisciplinary analyses of the relationship of NRMs and violence focusing on the major cases of the 1990s.

Bromley, David G., and James T. Richardson, eds. The Brainwashing/Deprogramming Controversy: Sociological, Psychological, Legal, and Historical Perspectives. Lewiston, N.Y., 1983. Essays offering analysis and critique of the brainwashing model and the practice of deprogramming.

Bromley, David G., and Anson Shupe. Moonies in America: Cult, Church, and Crusade. Beverly Hills, Calif., 1979. A participant, observation-based study of the early development of the Unificationist Movement in the United States.

Chancellor, James. Life in the Family: An Oral History of the Children of God. Syracuse, N.Y., 2000. A participant observation study of the Family conveying the movement's development from a member's perspective.

Hunter, Edward. Brain-washing in Red China: The Calculated Destruction of Men's Minds. Rev. ed. New York, 1953. A highly influential, journalistic account of the process and effects of brainwashing.

Lifton, Robert J. Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China. New York, 1961. One of the most systematic and influential studies of thought reform.

Lofland, John. Doomsday Cult: A Study of Conversion, Proselytization, and Maintenance of Faith. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1966; rev. ed., New York, 1977. The earliest social science study of Unificationism in the United States.

Long, Theodore, and Jeffrey K. Hadden. "Religious Conversion and the Concept of Socialization: Integrating the Brainwashing and Drift Models." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 22 (1983): 114. A theoretical attempt to bridge brainwashing and socialization theories.

Richardson, James, Joel Best, and David Bromley, eds. The Satanism Scare. Hawthorne, N.Y., 1991. Interdisciplinary essays analyzing the 1980s Satanism scare in North America and Europe.

Rochford, E. Burke, Jr. Hare Krishna in America. New Brunswick, N.J., 1985. A participant observation study of the early Krishna Consciousness movement in California.

Saliba, John A. Social Science and the Cults: An Annotated Bibliography. New York, 1990. The most comprehensive bibliography on NRMs, organized by topic.

Sargent, William. Battle for the Mind: A Physiology of Conversion and Brain-Washing. Garden City, N.Y., 1957. An analysis of influence techniques employed in religion, therapy, medicine, and politics.

Schein, Edgar H. Coercive Persuasion: A Socio-psychological Analysis of the "Brainwashing" of the American Civilian Prisoners by the Chinese Communists. New York, 1961. A study of brainwashing during the Korean War that reports POW compliance but not conversions.

Shinn, Larry. The Dark Lord: Cult Images and the Hare Krishnas in America. Philadelphia, 1987. A participant observation study of Hare Krishna history, theology, and ritual with extensive description of the conversion and deprogramming processes.

Shupe, Anson, and David G. Bromley. The New Vigilantes: Deprogrammers, Anti-cultists, and the New Religions. Beverly Hills, Calif., 1980. A study of the ideology and organization of the anticult movement during its formative period in the United States.

Singer, Margaret, with Janja Lalich. Cults in Our Midst. San Francisco, 1995. A forceful argument for the dangers of cults and brainwashing by one of the anticult movement's major proponents.

Snow, David, and Richard Machalek. "The Sociology of Conversion." Annual Review of Sociology 10 (1984): 167190. A systematic review of theories of conversion with an emphasis on NRMs.

van Zandt, David. Living in the Children of God. Princeton, 1991. A participant observation study of the organization and development of the Family.

Wangerin, Ruth. The Children of God: A Make-Believe Revolution? Westport, Conn., 1993. An anthropological and mildly critical study of the organization and development of the Family.

Zablocki, Benjamin, and Thomas Robbins, eds. Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field. Toronto, 2001. A collection of essays presenting contrasting views of brainwashing theory in a debate format.

David G. Bromley (2005)