The term “brainwashing” was invented by reporter Edward Hunter during the Korean War to describe the “re-education” techniques that the Chinese used on captured American soldiers. The term has since become associated with cults, which often use a combination of psychological methods to render their members compliant. The psychologist Margaret Singer argued that at any given time around 2.5 million people in the US alone are members of cults known to use brainwashing techniques.
However, the idea of brainwashing has always been controversial. Hunter was associated with the intelligence community and it has been suggested that the CIA promoted the term as an easy way to explain away the rapid growth of Communism at the time. The psychologists Robert Lifton and Edgar Schein concluded that American POWs who made anti-American statements mostly did so to avoid physical punishment, and that brainwashing of POWs was not particularly successful. It is thus important to be aware that there is some debate as to what exactly constitutes brainwashing and how effective it can be.
10 Chanting And Singing
The act of chanting mantras is an important feature of many religions, especially Buddhism and Hinduism, and almost every church has some sort of hymn-singing worship. As every member of the congregation chants or sings the same words, their voices combining into one chorus, a strong feeling of oneness and group identity forms. This, along with known effects of singing like lowered heart rate and relaxation, might cast the group worship experience in a positive light.
But in cults the persistent repetition of short intonations is designed to become mind-numbing, eliminating logical thinking and inducing a trance state. Heightened suggestibility is a feature of such a state, and failure to maintain the trance is often followed by cult-inflicted punishment, ensuring that ultra-conformist behavior is continually enforced.
Psychologists Linda Dubrow-Marshall and Steve Eichel have studied how “being subjected to repeated and prolonged hypnotic inductions can impair the convert’s ability to make decisions and evaluate new information,” adding that “continuous lectures, singing and chanting are employed by most cults, and serve to alter awareness.” In this way, hypnosis through chanting is a tool used by cult leaders to erode critical thinking abilities rather than for meditative purposes.