Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Steven Hassan: Mind Control - The BITE Model


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).

Jay Lifton's Thought Reform Model


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.
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.

The following material is excerpted from Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs (FOM Press 2012).

Mind Control – The BITE Model


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.

Behavior Control


1. Regulation of individual’s physical reality
a. Where, how and with whom the member lives and associates with
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
2. Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals

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 


Information Control


1. Use of deception
a. Deliberately holding back information
b. Distorting information to make it acceptable
c. Outright lying
2. Access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged
a. Books, articles, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio
b. Critical information
c. Former members
d. Keep members so busy they don’t have time to think
3. Compartmentalization of information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
a. Information is not freely accessible
b. Information varies at different levels and missions within pyramid
c. Leadership decides who “needs to know” what
4. Spying on other members is encouraged
a. Pairing up with “buddy” system to monitor and control
b. Reporting deviant thoughts, feelings, and actions to leadership
5. Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda
a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes, etc.
b. Misquotations, statements taken out of context from non-cult sources
6. Unethical use of confession
a. Information about “sins” used to abolish identity boundaries
b. Past “sins” used to manipulate and control; no forgiveness or absolution


Thought Control


1. Need to internalize the group’s doctrine as “Truth”
a. Map = Reality
b. Black and White thinking
c. Good vs. evil
d. Us vs. them (inside vs. outside)
2. 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”.

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 thinking
b. Chanting
c. Meditating
d. Praying
e. Speaking in “tongues”
f. Singing or humming
5. No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate

6. No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, or useful



Emotional Control


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)
2. Your family
3. Your past
4. Your affiliations
5. Your thoughts, feelings, actions
b. Social guilt
c. Historical guilt
5. Excessive use of fear
a. Fear of thinking independently
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
6. Extremes of emotional highs and lows.

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.
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