Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism

Thought_Reform_LiftonTitle: Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism

Author: Robert Jay Lifton



Lifton (a qualified psychiatrist) based this book on interviews with US servicemen who had been subjected to coercive ‘thought reform’ as POWs during the Korean war, and Chinese Citizens who fled their country after experiencing similar treatment during the cultural revolution.

It is significant that almost all of the POWs, although often traumatised, resumed their pre-war personalities when they returned home, and the Chinese interviewed managed the difficult feat of escaping a closed country while actually being ‘brainwashed’.

The techniques identified by Lifton, on their own, seem to be ineffective in ‘ideal’ circumstances, and rely on having the victim under complete physical control. Consequently, ‘brainwashing’ does not explain personality change among Cult members who are rarely imprisoned, and never during the early stages of involvement.

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