Back in the 1960's, Jay Lifton developed an explanation for how mind control works, essentially outlining the mechanisms of brainwashing. His work was based on his studies of the Chinese model, under Mao Tse-Tung, of "thought reform programs."
Years later, Steven Hassan refined and elaborated on Lifton's work and developed his own model, called BITE (more on this below).
From this model, Steven Hassan developed his own model of the mechanisms of mind control, The BITE Model. He offers specific manipulations within each of four realms, the Behavioral, the Informational, the Thinking, and the Emotional.
Adapted from Robert Jay Lifton's Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (Norton, 1961: reprinted 1989 by the University of North Carolina Press)
Dr. Lifton's work was the outgrowth of his studies for military intelligence of Mao Tse-Tung's "thought-reform programs" commonly known as "brainwashing." In Chapter 22, Lifton outlines eight criteria for when any environment can be understood as exercising "thought-reform" or mind control. Lifton wrote that any group has some aspects of these points. However, if an environment has all eight of these points and implements them in the extreme, then there is unhealthy thought reform taking place.
1. Milieu Control
Environment control and the control of human communication. Not just communication between people but communication within people's minds to themselves.
2. Mystical Manipulation
Everyone is manipulating everyone, under the belief that it advances the "ultimate purpose." Experiences are engineered to appear to be spontaneous, when, in fact, they are contrived to have a deliberate effect. People misattribute their experiences to spiritual causes when, in fact, they are concocted by human beings.
3. Loading the Language
Controlling words help to control people's thoughts. A totalist group uses totalist language to make reality compressed into black or white-"thought-terminating clichés." Non-members cannot simply understand what believers are talking about. The words constrict rather than expand human understanding.
4. Doctrine Over Person
No matter what a person experiences, it is the belief of the dogma which is important. Group belief supersedes conscience and integrity.
5. The Sacred Science
The group's belief is that their dogma is absolutely scientific and morally true. No alternative viewpoint is allowed. No questions of the dogma are permitted.
6. The Cult of Confession
The environment demands that personal boundaries are destroyed and that every thought, feeling, or action that does not conform with the group's rules be confessed; little or no privacy.
7. The Demand for Purity
The creation of a guilt and shame milieu by holding up standards of perfection that no human being can accomplish. People are punished and learn to punish themselves for not living up to the group's ideals.
8. The Dispensing of Existence
The group decides who has a right to exist and does not. There is no other legitimate alternative to the group. In political regimes, this permits state executions.
Hopefully, this summary will motivate you to read the entire Chapter 22, if not the entire book. It is considered to be one of the most important descriptions of political mind-control programs. It is also important to note, that now there are 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation mind-control groups and the patterns have evolved and become more refined and sophisticated.
The following material is excerpted from Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs (FOM Press 2012).
From chapter two of Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs (FOM Press 2012) formerly Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves* © 2000 by Steven Hassan; published by Freedom of Mind Press, Newton MA
Destructive mind control can be understood in terms of four basic components, which form the acronym BITE:
I. Behavior Control
II. Information Control
III. Thought Control
IV. Emotional Control
It is important to understand that destructive mind control can be determined when the overall effect of these four components promotes dependency and obedience to some leader or cause. It is not necessary for every single item on the list to be present. Mind controlled cult members can live in their own apartments, have nine-to-five jobs, be married with children, and still be unable to think for themselves and act independently.
1. Regulation of individual’s physical reality
a. Where, how and with whom the member lives and associates with2. Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals
b. What clothes, colors, hairstyles the person wears
c. What food the person eats, drinks, adopts, and rejects
d. How much sleep the person is able to have
e. Financial dependence
f. Little or no time spent on leisure, entertainment, vacations
3. Need to ask permission for major decisions
4. Need to report thoughts, feelings and activities to superiors
5. Rewards and punishments (behavior modification techniques- positive and negative).
6. Individualism discouraged; group think prevails
7. Rigid rules and regulations
8. Need for obedience and dependency
1. Use of deception
a. Deliberately holding back information2. Access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged
b. Distorting information to make it acceptable
c. Outright lying
a. Books, articles, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio3. Compartmentalization of information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
b. Critical information
c. Former members
d. Keep members so busy they don’t have time to think
a. Information is not freely accessible4. Spying on other members is encouraged
b. Information varies at different levels and missions within pyramid
c. Leadership decides who “needs to know” what
a. Pairing up with “buddy” system to monitor and control5. Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda
b. Reporting deviant thoughts, feelings, and actions to leadership
a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes, etc.6. Unethical use of confession
b. Misquotations, statements taken out of context from non-cult sources
a. Information about “sins” used to abolish identity boundaries
b. Past “sins” used to manipulate and control; no forgiveness or absolution
1. Need to internalize the group’s doctrine as “Truth”
a. Map = Reality2. Adopt “loaded” language (characterized by “thought-terminating clichés”). Words are the tools we use to think with. These “special” words constrict rather than expand understanding. They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous “buzz words”.
b. Black and White thinking
c. Good vs. evil
d. Us vs. them (inside vs. outside)
3. Only “good” and “proper” thoughts are encouraged.
4. Thought-stopping techniques (to shut down “reality testing” by stopping “negative” thoughts and allowing only “good” thoughts); rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism.
a. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking5. No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate
e. Speaking in “tongues”
f. Singing or humming
6. No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, or useful
1. Manipulate and narrow the range of a person’s feelings.
2. Make the person feel like if there are ever any problems it is always their fault, never the leader’s or the group’s.
3. Feeling-stopping (with number 4, Excessive use of guilt). Like thought-stopping, this is the automatic suppression or blocking of feelings that are not acceptable by the cult identity- such as feeling \”homesick\” or feeling \”depressed\” or feeling \”resentful\”.
4. Excessive use of guilt
a. Identity guilt
1. Who you are (not living up to your potential)b. Social guilt
2. Your family
3. Your past
4. Your affiliations
5. Your thoughts, feelings, actions
c. Historical guilt5. Excessive use of fear
a. Fear of thinking independently6. Extremes of emotional highs and lows.
b. Fear of the “outside” world
c. Fear of enemies
d. Fear of losing one’s “salvation”
e. Fear of leaving the group or being shunned by group
f. Fear of disapproval
7. Ritual and often public confession of “sins”.
8. Phobia indoctrination : programming of irrational fears of ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader’s authority. The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group.
a. No happiness or fulfillment “outside”of the group
b. Terrible consequences will take place if you leave: “hell”; “demon possession”; “incurable diseases”; “accidents”; “suicide”; “insanity”; “10,000 reincarnations”; etc.
c. Shunning of leave takers. Fear of being rejected by friends, peers, and family.
d. Never a legitimate reason to leave. From the group’s perspective, people who leave are: “weak;” “undisciplined;” “unspiritual;” “worldly;” “brainwashed by family, counselors;” seduced by money, sex, rock and roll.