Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control

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Oxford University Press, 2004 - Psychology - 324 pages
The term 'brainwashing' was first recorded in 1950, but it is an expression of a much older concept: the forcible and full-scale alteration of a person's beliefs. Over the past 50 years the term has crept into popular culture, served as a topic for jokes, frightened the public in media headlines, and slandered innumerable people and institutions. It has also been the subject of learned discussion from many angles: history, sociology, psychology, psychotherapy, and marketing. Despite this variety, to date there has been one angle missing: any serious reference to real brains. Descriptions of how opinions can be changed, whether by persuasion, deceit, or force, have been almost entirely psychological. Brainwashing, Kathleen Taylor's fascinating and informative voyage through the subject, combines the latest findings in social psychology and neuroscience to investigate the incredibly complicated workings of the human brain. In elegant and accessible prose, and with abundant use of anecdotes and case-studies, she looks at the history and myth, psychology, neuroscience, and politics of how we humans manipulate each others' minds.

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I got this book hoping that it would provide me with scientific evidence that would help me develop a more informed opinion on the controversial issue of brainwashing. Unfortunately, Taylor points out ... Read full review

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I didn't particularly like this book! But you know what? That doesn't matter, whether I like it or not; it's recommended reading for anybody who has a serious interest in brainwashing. Taylor will tell you all of the other words/concepts that brainwashing goes under, eg advertising. Seriously, just read the whole book, that will make sense. She's a serious neuroscientist so she has the right, so to speak, to tell you about how the little bit that we know about how neurons communicate leads to complicated mental interactions like brainwashing. So get this book and read all of it. You don't have to study it; you'll get the idea; and you'll end up with a pretty decent idea of what brainwashing is all about. From now on you'll be able to listen to stories about brainwashing, including listening to what people call brainwashing and you wonder whether it's brainwashing, and you'll find yourself being pretty darn knowledgeable about brainwashing. Four hundred pages not including notes!
What a great textbook! I don’t know how many courses there are in brainwashing per se but I’ll bet it comes up in any number of social psychology courses.
Here’s the thing -- After you read or skim through all of what Dr Taylor here has to say, think about whether the really bad situations she describes, where the Chinese Communists and the 1984 Police torture people and then indoctrinate them, are so over the top, are they really brainwashing or are they just a bunch of total state-licensed sadists? And then think about whether the public relations and advertising people who immerse you and everybody you know in their propaganda every day, maybe THEY are more like a brainwash. Like I said, it doesn’t matter whether I like this book or not and it also doesn’t matter whether I think brainwashing is more like the Commies’ torture regimen or Eddie Bernays’s PR business. You buy this book and read it and you’ll at least know how all that fits together into the jigsaw puzzle of persuasion in the world you live in.


The birth of a word
God or the group?
The power of persuasion
Hoping to heal
I suggest you persuade he brainwashes
Brainwashing and influence
The traitor in your skull
Our everchanging brains
Freedom and control
Victims and predators
Mind factories
Science and nightmare
Taking a stand
Further reading

Webs and new worlds
Swept away
The power of stopandthink
That freedom thing

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About the author (2004)

Kathleen Taylor is a research scientist in the physiology department, Oxford University. In 2003 she won first prize in both the THES/OUP Science Essay competition and the THES Humanities and Social Sciences Writing Prize.

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