THE MIND MODEL OF CULT DYNAMICS
By Cathleen Mann, PhD
For more information on Dr.Mann’s work: CultExpert.net
M: Manipulation. These are techniques used by cults to ensure compliance by using undue influence. The definition of undue influence has been recognized in common law for 500 years and is a legal definition, not a psychological one. Manipulation can consist of a variety of factors including those put forth by Cialdini (1984 ). Manipulation also involves several other elements such as: impression management; lying about facts and history; assuring conformity to a teaching without question (Lifton, 1961); betraying of confidences; denying reality; and changes to diet, sleeping patterns, and overactivity (Schein, 1961). Hypnosis or other artificial techniques are not necessary when ordinary techniques such as those mentioned above are more than adequate. The confirmation of manipulation occurs when ordinary cult members are successful in activity to convert others (Kent, 2001).
I: Indoctrination. This is a process of deliberate changes to a person’s environment without consent, knowledge, or awareness (Zablocki, 2001). Indoctrination does not include personality change, only attitudinal and behavior change. The changes are not permanent and dissipate when the process of indoctrination ceases (Lifton, 1961; Gallanter,1999). There is no research support for “snapping,” “precult/postcult identities,” or “sudden personality changes.” Personality is a fixed, permanent variable; only behavior changes. Indoctrination begins with recruitment, binding an individual to the group through ritual and secrets, creating a sense of specialness, and replicating family bonds (Lifton, 1961; Satir, 1964), perverting social controls such as innate prosocial attitudes such as respect for authority and fear of negative consequences, among others (Bowbly, 1998; Shermer, 1997; Kent, 2005).
N: Negation. A process of devaluing the individual and their past through sustained criticism often labeled as feedback or disengagement. All successful cults downplay the ego and consider it the ultimate enemy (Langone, 1986). Other forms of negation include triangulation (Satir, 1964), the silent treatment, lack of or inconsistent reinforcement, rejection, questioning of motives, etc. Any cult failures are the result of improper group dynamics (Festinger, 1956; Kent, 2001; Ofshe, 1992).
D: Deception. Lack of informed consent (Routh, 1994). Successful cults use deception in a wide variety of forms. Without deception, no one would affiliate or stay. Termed the true hallmark of a cult, deception prevents critical thinking and good decision making (Layton, 1998). Deception is not prevented by intelligence or rational thought, but is maintained by emotions, fear, and isolation. It is a temporary betrayal of self (Lifton, 1993) without awareness of the reasons driving it. Deception occurs in a pyramid fashion where those above know more than those below, and leaders at the top restrict knowledge through the use of loyalty tests to climb higher in the pyramid. Deception is also detailed in the article by Langone, where he shows with great clarity, the interplay of the three D’s: deception, dependence, and dread. This is more accurate than the sensationalized term, “phobia indoctrination,” which does not capture the process of leaving a cult.
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Cialdini, R. (1984). The psychology of influence. New York: William Morrow.
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Galanter, M. (1999). Cults: faith, healing, and coercion (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kent, S. A. (2001). From slogans to mantras: social protest and religious conversion in the late Vietnam War era. New York: Syracuse University Press.
Kent, S.A. (2005). Education and Re-education in Ideological Organizations and Their Implications for Children. Cultic Studies Review 4 (2).
Langone, M.D. (1986). Cultism and American culture. Cultic Studies Journal, 3, 157-172.
Langone, M.D. (1993). (Ed.) Recovery from cults: help for victims of psychological and spiritual abuse. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Layton, D. (1998). Seductive poison: Jonestown survivors story of life and death in the Peoples Temple. New York: Anchor Books.
Lifton, R. J. (1961). Thought reform and the psychology of totalism. New York: W.W.Norton & Company.
Lifton, R.J. (1993). The protean self: Human resilience in an age of fragmentation. New York: Basic Books.
Ofshe, R. (1992). Coercive persuasion and attitude change. Encyclopedia of Sociology, eds. E. & M. Borgatta, New York: MacMillan; 212-224.
Routh, D. K. (1994). Clinical psychology since 1917: Science, practice, and organization. New York: Plenum.
Satir, V. (1964). Conjoint family therapy: A guide to theory and technique. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior.
Schein, E. H. (1961). Coercive persuasion; a socio-psychological analysis of the brainwashing of American civilian prisoners by the Chinese Communists. New York: W. W. Norton.
Shermer, Michael (1997). Why People Believe Weird Things. New York: W.H. Freeman.
Zablocki, B.D. (2001). (Ed.) Misunderstanding cults: Searching for objectivity in a controversial field. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
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Reprinted with permission.