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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control

  1. 4 out of 5

    Shaun

    While Taylor does discuss hardcore brainwashing (think Communist China), its uses, and its potential future, which in a technological age is kind of scary, much of the book (the really interesting part) deals with a more insidious, though milder, form of thought control, particularly that which is accomplished through advertising, the media, and society/culture. The thing is once you abandon the idea of a "soul" or entity that is separate from the body, you have no choice but to accept that we While Taylor does discuss hardcore brainwashing (think Communist China), its uses, and its potential future, which in a technological age is kind of scary, much of the book (the really interesting part) deals with a more insidious, though milder, form of thought control, particularly that which is accomplished through advertising, the media, and society/culture. The thing is once you abandon the idea of a "soul" or entity that is separate from the body, you have no choice but to accept that we are nothing more than a mass of cells, though complex (basically you accept the biological basis for all behavior). This can be a reassuring concept, but it can also be alienating and terrifying. On one level, it suggests that the devil isn't the one who makes us do "bad" things. It's our faulty neurons, a result of genetics and our life circumstances and experiences, instead. Both explanations are hard to swallow in their own way. One implies a certain level of "free will" while the other seems to eliminate it. But both acknowledge that there are forces beyond our control working on/against us. After reading this and many other books on the subject, I find myself feeling somewhat conflicted. The idea that our brains, and therefore ourselves, are nothing more than malleable pieces of clay offers a level of hope, but also a level of despair. You can't choose your genetics, and most of us have very little control over our culture or early life experiences, both of which are changing our brains without our knowing it. Even as adults, though we may feel free...our freedoms are limited at every turn. In the end, we are all unique experiments of nature and the societies/circumstances we are born into and ultimately some end-products that work better than others at least as far as "society" is concerned. Furthermore, this concept of free will is probably an illusion, up to a point depending on how you define "free to choose". What the book really helped me to better understand is how things like the Holocaust can happen. It would seem we are creatures that not only create our own realities (realities that ultimately serve us and sometimes work to protect and preserve our most flawed beliefs) but we will also go to great lengths to protect those subjective realities even when those realities are challenged and their flaws revealed. Understanding how the brain works really does help to explain how a guard in a prison camp can oversee the mass murder of a family, including children, and then return home, a loving father, to his own family. It explains how a pro-lifer can reconcile his pro-death penalty stance. We are a conundrum of illogical and blatant inconsistencies. And the greatest shot we have at true freedom is to understand why. The "me" we feel is a brain, nothing mystical or magical, and possibly someday with enough technology and science, who we are and how we act may be both predictable and controllable. What I found most disturbing is that manipulating individuals is extremely easy, even now with our limited knowledge of the brain/psychology, and we are all victims of "brainwashing" on some level whether we realize/admit it or not. Furthermore, our susceptibility to outside suggestions is probably highly influenced by genetics and circumstances/life experiences and thus the physical make-up of our brain. Even the food we eat may impact how our brain functions and thus who "we are" or perceive ourselves to be. The concept that "reality" is on many levels a self-created individualized delusion (subjective and not objective) is a mind-bender, but then again if it is real to the self, than what's the difference. I keep coming back to how we see the world, say as opposed to bees. We see a flower, bees see something that looks like a bull's eye. What makes our version of "reality" any more real than theirs. Overall, the book is well written and entertaining. I loved the quotes at the beginning of sections, which added to the literary experience, and I loved the topic, which really is why we believe what we believe and how those beliefs are formed and thus can be changed without our even knowing. I think given technology and scientific advances, this is important stuff that has far reaching implications. I kept coming back to two great classics, 1984 and Brave New World, both which were quoted/mentioned in the book. Clearly 1984 is a dystopia...but what about Brave New World. I kept asking myself...was it a dystopian or a utopian society. If you could induce a perpetual state of happiness and contentedness (artificially) say through some new neuro-scientific procedure...would you? And are there really states of happiness or contentedness that aren't "artificial" (at least on some level) since happiness/contentedness like so many other things are subjective and personal experiences. Would recommend to those who enjoy brain science and its implications for psychology and sociology, as well as discussions of concepts like "free will". Would also recommend The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer, Free Will by Sam Harris and Incognito by David Eagleman for complimentary reading. Interestingly, I checked out "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" to reread before starting this book (haven't read since high school), and I am excited about reading it with Taylor's ideas still fresh in my head. Taylor also briefly talks about "mental illness" and "justified" brainwashing, as we as a society seem to agree that in certain circumstances, reprogramming (brainwashing) is not only warranted but absolutely ethical. Some favorite quotes/ideas:(view spoiler)[ Among the best established findings in social psychology are those of 'self-serving biases'. We favour ourselves, consciously if we think we can get away with ti, often unconsciously, whether we are sharing out resources or explaining actions. The same is true for those extensions of ourselves, our favourite ingroups. For example, we tend to attribute our own success (or that of ingroup members) to internal factors ('my skill got me that job'), but an outgroup member's success to external factors('the interviewer plays golf with his father'.) For failure, the story is reversed ('the interviewer was biased against me', 'he didn't get the job because he's lazy'). Nothing is so unbelievable that oratory cannot make it acceptable. ~ Marcu Tullius Cicero Advertising may be described as the science of arresting human intelligence long enough to get money from it. ~ Stephen Leacock Persinger's research implies that some people may simply be 'God-blind'. perhaps for genetic reasons: their temporal lobe lability is so low that they are incapable of having--tuning into?--spiritual feelings. The malleability of memory is becoming increasingly clear. ~ Elizabeth Loftus A brain's filtering of information does not begin in its subcortical relay station, but much earlier, with the protective behaviours we all engage in to keep our worlds the way we like them. As philosophers say, beliefs 'function as reasons for action'. In religious thought the idea that freedom is an illusion appears in the guise of predestination, which attributes control of human fates to a god or gods. In philosophy it is referred to as 'necessity'or 'determinism': in popular culture 'Shit happens' or 'So it goes'. The greater the lie, the greater the chance it will be believed. ~ Adolf Hitler Extending our understanding of biochemistry and cell biology, future brain scientists will no doubt consider the rich vein of influence potential provided by genetic research. Huge quantities of words have been produced on this topic; mercifully, the public debate is now moving beyond the damaging myth that 'genes are destiny' to an acknowledgement of the inextricable interconnectedness of genes and environment. (hide spoiler)]

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mizuki

    I read this book for my fanfic-writing. The information within is very useful, but the text itself is a bit dry...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lena

    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 that it is ethically impossible to conduct controlled brainwashing studies, so I did not find the specific evidence I was looking for. What the book does provide, however, is a detailed discussion of what science can tell us about how we come to believe what we do, and how influence attempts can 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 that it is ethically impossible to conduct controlled brainwashing studies, so I did not find the specific evidence I was looking for. What the book does provide, however, is a detailed discussion of what science can tell us about how we come to believe what we do, and how influence attempts can impact that process. Taylor’s discussion of influence techniques is thorough, ranging from advertising and education through systematic techniques used by cult leaders to the physical abuse used on American prisoners during the Korean War. By diving into neuroscience to detail how concepts and ideas are established in the brain, Taylor offers insight into how different kinds of manipulation attempts try to change how people think about the world around them. Her discussion of how skilled manipulators work to link strong emotion to a new idea in attempt to bypass the critical thought processes that would make people stop and think is particularly important for people interested in cultic issues.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nerine Dorman

    This is possibly one of the most important books I've read in a long while. As someone trained in media studies and employed within an advertising-driven environment, I understand all too well how modern media manipulate people. Kathleen Taylor offers readers a basic breakdown with reference to further reading, examining not only the history of thought control, but also discusses the fact that we are continually bombarded with information seeking to change our minds. I urge anyone with an This is possibly one of the most important books I've read in a long while. As someone trained in media studies and employed within an advertising-driven environment, I understand all too well how modern media manipulate people. Kathleen Taylor offers readers a basic breakdown with reference to further reading, examining not only the history of thought control, but also discusses the fact that we are continually bombarded with information seeking to change our minds. I urge anyone with an interest in psychology and thought processes to at least give this book a try. Our minds and how they function are so intricate. Taylor really drives it home that we don't know nearly enough about the symbiosis of consciousness and matter. While she doesn't deliver any definite answers to such a complex issue, she does offer us some practical applications. Now if only more people out there were willing to pursue knowledge and employ the simple technique of stop-think. This book's a keeper, and is a valuable resource to anyone, be they atheist, Christian, Muslim or believe in the Tooth Fairy. I've just ordered my print copy.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This book was very interesting but, for me, difficult to read in some places. It's 20 years since I completed my degree in Psychology and I certainly haven't kept up with things and this book does contain some technical neuro-stuff. However, Kathleen Taylor's explanation of the many varieties of influence techniques used in politics, religion and advertising were fascinating and very useful (to me). Her expression 'cogwebs', as an abbreviation for cognitive web - connections in the brain made This book was very interesting but, for me, difficult to read in some places. It's 20 years since I completed my degree in Psychology and I certainly haven't kept up with things and this book does contain some technical neuro-stuff. However, Kathleen Taylor's explanation of the many varieties of influence techniques used in politics, religion and advertising were fascinating and very useful (to me). Her expression 'cogwebs', as an abbreviation for cognitive web - connections in the brain made through reinforcement of certain beliefs and thought patterns often through external influence, were particularly interesting. The stronger the reinforcement of these beliefs the harder they are to change. Rather like a gully cut into rock by a small stream - even though the force of the water isn't strong the constant flow gradually erodes the rock. It is then very difficult to change the route of the stream. It is the same with beliefs, it is very difficult to change beliefs when current beliefs have been reinforced over and over. Therefore, those who are part of cults or totalitarian regimes of some kind are trapped by their own minds and the influence that the leaders of these groups have over them by the constant reinforcement of certain messages. Taylor mentions Robert Lifton's Thought Reform Criteria: ** Milieu Control – The control of information and communication. ** Mystical Manipulation – The manipulation of experiences that appear spontaneous but in fact were planned and orchestrated. ** Demand for Purity – The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection. ** Confession – Sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group. ** Sacred Science – The group's doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute. ** Loading the Language – The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand. ** Doctrine over person – The member's personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group. ** Dispensing of existence – The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. But how does one resist such influence? Stop and think! She also suggests that cynicism and humour assist resisting influence - which is great, because being English we are endlessly cynical and like to use humour as a defence. Awesome. :) Great book, if you're interested in this kind of thing.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Clark Hays

    Making sense of the “accreted concoction of ideas we call the self” Kathleen Taylor is one of my favorite authors. She has a rich, irreverent writing style — bordering on the cheeky — matched with an incredible depth of knowledge in neuroscience and human behavior. More importantly, at least to me, she tends to focus those two things onto the darkest alleys of human existence — why people do bad things. My introduction to her was through reading Cruelty: Human Evil and the Human Brain, a terrific Making sense of the “accreted concoction of ideas we call the self” Kathleen Taylor is one of my favorite authors. She has a rich, irreverent writing style — bordering on the cheeky — matched with an incredible depth of knowledge in neuroscience and human behavior. More importantly, at least to me, she tends to focus those two things onto the darkest alleys of human existence — why people do bad things. My introduction to her was through reading Cruelty: Human Evil and the Human Brain, a terrific book about the neurological sources of cruelty as shaped by evolutionary pressures, and brain function and chemistry. Brainwashing was written two years earlier and is structured in much the same way: using a negative concept — in this case, the fear, processes and outcomes of brainwashing — to explore the neuroscience of how we think and why we respond in often predictable, similar ways to the external world. It’s a rewarding journey through the architecture and function of the brain and how people have tried — with varying levels of success — to brainwash others into changing or suppressing core beliefs. Many of the examples come from politics (the Red Army, our CIA), religion (Christianity, Branch Davidians, the People’s Temple), cults (the Manson family) and culture (academia, the family unit, advertising and the news media). Some of the standout a-ha moments include the concept of emotions as a contagion, domestic abuse as an especially effective, and heinous, form of brainwashing and the “thought terminating clichés” of ethereal concepts that hide lack of meaning or complexity (especially intriguing given the jargon-heavy corporate world I work in). Had I read this book before Cruelty, it would have gotten 5 stars, but it suffers just a bit by comparison — mostly due to the “softer” final section that focuses on ways to prevent brainwashing and the effects of undue influence. The moralizing felt flat compared to the harder revelations of why we are who we are and how easily we succumb to “influence technicians.” It seems that section could have been distilled down into two simple concepts: we should be more accepting of others and we should reinforce the value of critical thinking. It’s not a book for those who consider themselves, their community, their religion or their country exceptional in any way or who are unsettled by confronting the “scary fragility of that accreted concoction of ideas we call the self.” Perhaps I’ve been brainwashed myself, but I’m greatly looking forward to reading her newer book The Brain Supremacy: Notes from the Frontiers of Neuroscience.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    I found this book hard to read at first until I got used to the author's style and began to figure out her goals. (I skipped to the end of the book to read her conclusion.) Taylor stated in the beginning that she was examining the concept of brainwashing, but I did not understand what her definition of brainwashing was. She outlines many aspects of brainwashing: as a term of abuse, as a scientific process, as a dream, and as a concept of last resort, but does not obviously pick one definition I found this book hard to read at first until I got used to the author's style and began to figure out her goals. (I skipped to the end of the book to read her conclusion.) Taylor stated in the beginning that she was examining the concept of brainwashing, but I did not understand what her definition of brainwashing was. She outlines many aspects of brainwashing: as a term of abuse, as a scientific process, as a dream, and as a concept of last resort, but does not obviously pick one definition before discussing the term, usually referring to "brainwashing" without qualification. As a result, I had difficulty following the discussion. I couldn't keep all of these aspects of the term "brainwashing" in my head as I read. This was especially true in the earlier sections about the history of brainwashing and the cultural experiences we have had with it. I understand now that she was trying to step back from any context in which brainwashing had been defined and start with a blank page, but I found it too frustrating. I did not know right away what the foundation of her arguments for deconstructing the concept was at any given time. I took me awhile to catchup. The book became more focused as it got into discussions of psychiatry. By the time I read the sections on how the brain works, the text flowed more logically, although it was complex and challenging because of the subject matter. A very broad book, Brainwashing was a 5-week investment of my time. It was worth it, but I did struggle at times with the complexity of the issues Taylor was attempting to tackle. She touched the surface of a lot of important interrelated issues surrounding brainwashing. But this book, by itself, does not go into enough depth in any one area to truly make me feel that I understand. I also thought that Taylor's style was a bit clunky. Maybe it was a cultural barrier between British English and American English. Taylor seemed to be trying to be "hip," which increased the cultural barrier, and which, at times, seemed flippant. Taylor does deserve kudos for beginning to tackle the concept of brainwashing in a scientific way. She uses both empirical data and laboratory results to support her arguments. I plan to go on to other sources to get more information on the brain, psychiatry and behavioral studies. Taylor includes an extensive reference and further reading list, which I plan to use. I recommend the book, but not as a single source on the subject.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ebi

    I am planning to write an article about how political Islam is radicalizing generations of young Muslims around the world and found out about this book during my research work for the topic. It is a very interesting book and I did learn many things from it. Maybe the book offers too much theory and rather less observations, but in spite of this, I would recommend this book to anyone who has questions regarding the authenticity of her/his thoughts and even more to those who are sure of the I am planning to write an article about how political Islam is radicalizing generations of young Muslims around the world and found out about this book during my research work for the topic. It is a very interesting book and I did learn many things from it. Maybe the book offers too much theory and rather less observations, but in spite of this, I would recommend this book to anyone who has questions regarding the authenticity of her/his thoughts and even more to those who are sure of the authenticity of their thoughts.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Pete

    Very thorough and intelligent book looking at the way cults, totalitarian regimes and even the media can bring us round to their way of thinking. Looks at the subject from all angles - from the violent spouse to the torture camp, from the narrow focus of most media to the milieu control of cult leaders. Explains how ethereal ideas such as "freedom" and "liberation" can be used to manipulate an individual, group or even entire populace into consensus. Also has a fascinating primer into Very thorough and intelligent book looking at the way cults, totalitarian regimes and even the media can bring us round to their way of thinking. Looks at the subject from all angles - from the violent spouse to the torture camp, from the narrow focus of most media to the milieu control of cult leaders. Explains how ethereal ideas such as "freedom" and "liberation" can be used to manipulate an individual, group or even entire populace into consensus. Also has a fascinating primer into neuroscience, perception, the self and consciousness which repays repeat reading.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chris Ramirez

    This book started interesting but got boring like a textbook REAL fast. I should have know since it said science but somehow I expect EVERY book that isn't a textbook to have some sort of story. This didn't. It had some really interesting observations but between each one was ALOT of science and no story. Nonetheless, I did pick up some interesting info about brainwashing but that was few and far between.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kadri

    It gives some examples of how and when brainwashing has been used and explains the psyhological processes behind it as well as what happens in the brain... Quite interesting.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Wow - first published in 2004 but a new edition with a new eleven page preface that makes the book's relevance most topical. Here is a topic we all thought we understood but laid bare by cogent scientific argument made accessible for the lay reader (or almost - there were a few very technical sections on the physics of the brain and its operations !). " ...Brainwashing describes three approaches to mind-changing; by force, by stealth and by direct brain manipulation technologies..." The author Wow - first published in 2004 but a new edition with a new eleven page preface that makes the book's relevance most topical. Here is a topic we all thought we understood but laid bare by cogent scientific argument made accessible for the lay reader (or almost - there were a few very technical sections on the physics of the brain and its operations !). " ...Brainwashing describes three approaches to mind-changing; by force, by stealth and by direct brain manipulation technologies..." The author describes the psychological process.. "The aim is to isolate victims from their previous environment; control what they perceive, think and do; increase uncertainty about previous beliefs; instil new beliefs by repetition; and imply positive and negative emotions to weaken former beliefs and strengthen new ones." As I read this I thought about misogynistic men and how they abuse women in these three ways to undermine their self esteem and ultimately self belief.... And for me it is that sort of mind expanding read that so many different approaches are adopted by the author in her wide ranging discussion that all manner of different thoughts occur.... And then there is the impact of such 'brainwashing' upon national politics and our media through deliberate manipulation 'fake news' and misinformation... ...and television reality shows that distort things further.. So, she argues advertising with its powers of persuasion and deliberate manipulation of the media may be contributing to our immersion in an environment which is in fact becoming increasingly manipulative.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Vince Snow

    This one took me a long while to finish, I started and stopped it a few times before I finally ended up picking it up and making enough progress to finish. I really enjoyed it. I thought her bits on neuroscience were interesting, although fairly dense. I appreciated the way she handled a lot of topics tactfully, especially religion. She talked about religious cults and religious brainwashing, but she did not deride religion nor did she say that everyone who has religious faith is brainwashed. I This one took me a long while to finish, I started and stopped it a few times before I finally ended up picking it up and making enough progress to finish. I really enjoyed it. I thought her bits on neuroscience were interesting, although fairly dense. I appreciated the way she handled a lot of topics tactfully, especially religion. She talked about religious cults and religious brainwashing, but she did not deride religion nor did she say that everyone who has religious faith is brainwashed. I thought her chapter on freedom and determinism was good and thought provoking. Kind of a dry book but there were definitely interesting parts. I liked her conclusion at the end of how to avoid being brainwashed and her FACET approach.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Larah Bruen

    3 stars The first section was interesting, describing brainwashing using several real-life examples. The second section, going into detail on neuroscience, was too much for me at the minute, and I skimmed through the rest, including the third section which I didn’t think added much to the book. I genuinely think the author did a great job of explaining complex ideas, but I am exceptionally slow at reading nonfiction and had I not skimmed, this book would have taken me the rest of the month to 3 stars The first section was interesting, describing brainwashing using several real-life examples. The second section, going into detail on neuroscience, was too much for me at the minute, and I skimmed through the rest, including the third section which I didn’t think added much to the book. I genuinely think the author did a great job of explaining complex ideas, but I am exceptionally slow at reading nonfiction and had I not skimmed, this book would have taken me the rest of the month to read and I would only have had 1 book for February 😂 Goodreads 14/52

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sotiris Makrygiannis

    The subject deserves 5 star, Kathleen is knowledgeable but book has a rather messy structure. Maybe was her first book so I added one more on my reading list. Liked the FACET approach, the dangers of VR and nanotech that can be used to manipulate our brains without even knowing it. Is book deserves a public debate about the morals of brainwashing, or mind altering techniques that could be used for the benefit of humanity but also for total control. I think that one needs to read such a book to The subject deserves 5 star, Kathleen is knowledgeable but book has a rather messy structure. Maybe was her first book so I added one more on my reading list. Liked the FACET approach, the dangers of VR and nanotech that can be used to manipulate our brains without even knowing it. Is book deserves a public debate about the morals of brainwashing, or mind altering techniques that could be used for the benefit of humanity but also for total control. I think that one needs to read such a book to understand the techniques currently available and also the ones under development. Should I buy a Electromagnetic shield soon? Well less internet and more books could be OK for the time being.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Pía López Copetti

    It had some interesting parts although the author was quite redundant about some concepts, going too far on the anecdotical rather than explaining the concept itself. On the other hand, it exposes the false idea we tend to buy when it comes to the 'brainwashing' concept.

  17. 4 out of 5

    severyn

    Excellent. Far wider ranging and deeper than the title and subtitle suggest. Now listen to me: you will read this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Anonymous Writer

    Top notch!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Yousef Mahmood

    Too much neuroscience .. So little information about the topic of brainwashing The text is a bit dry so I've struggled to finish reading it .. But I gave 3 stars because there is some valuable information about how the brain works .. The interaction between emotions and conscious thinking is very interesting ..

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bernie Gourley

    There are few terms more loaded with myth and misunderstanding than “brainwashing.” For many it conjures up images from “The Manchurian Candidate.” [For those who’ve never seen either of the two movies of this name (1962 and 2004, starring Frank Sinatra and Denzel Washington, respectively) or read the Richard Condon novel on which they were based, they involve American POW’s who return home brainwashed—one to commit a political assassination and the others to talk the assassin up so that he’ll There are few terms more loaded with myth and misunderstanding than “brainwashing.” For many it conjures up images from “The Manchurian Candidate.” [For those who’ve never seen either of the two movies of this name (1962 and 2004, starring Frank Sinatra and Denzel Washington, respectively) or read the Richard Condon novel on which they were based, they involve American POW’s who return home brainwashed—one to commit a political assassination and the others to talk the assassin up so that he’ll be able to gain a position to conduct the murder.] Some think brainwashing is complete bunk and others assume it’s reality just like in the movies. Few know the nuanced truth that’s somewhere in between—brainwashing is real but much less reliable than the movies depict. (Projects like America’s MKUltra proved unsuccessful at producing reliable mind control results.) Taylor’s book is like a number of others that try to get to the truth about brainwashing. Where her book is unique is in its focus on neuroscience rather than psychology. That fact may make it worth reading even if you’ve read other scholarly works on the subject. The middle section does get technical as it attempts to bring a general readership up to speed on topics like neurotransmitters and neurons. While one might expect a book on this topic to deal overwhelmingly with entities like the CIA and KGB, readers may be surprised to see how much the book focuses on advertising agencies, religions, and the educational system. While the term “brainwashing” has many nefarious connotations, it’s not unrelated to terms like persuasion and indoctrination. The book does provide many less blasé cases--and even discusses the fact in fictitious works like Orwell’s “1984” and Huxley’s “Brave New World.” The 15 chapters of the book are organized into three parts. The first part lays the groundwork for understanding what the author does—and doesn’t—mean by brainwashing. This section covers many of the same topics as one would expect from a psychologist writing on brainwashing. The middle part of the book (chapters 7 through 11) delves into neuroscience and how it applies to brainwashing. (The book assumes no particular knowledge of brain science, and so this section begins with a crash course on your brain.) The final part explores some of the ramifications of brainwashing as well as asking the question of the degree to which brainwashing can be resisted (and by whom.) I found this book interesting on many levels. Even if you’re not so interested in the intricacies of the science of the mind, you may learn something about how susceptible you would be to brainwashing (if you can be sufficiently honest with yourself) and how you might become less susceptible (if that’s your goal.) I’d recommend this book for readers interested in not only brainwashing, but related topics such as free will, persuasion, and emotion.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Goran

    Too philosophical and lacking of relevant informations.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sassa Mifrass

    If this book is a little hard to get into at first, persevere. The first half of the book is the author catching us up on all the foundations and history of brainwashing in order to then discuss with us the parts she finds most fascinating - the writing was much easier to get into in the second half. The section on "cogwebs" is where the book really begins to take off. Or perhaps I was brainwashed into enjoying it by then. Anyone with an interest in psychology, and maintaining a sense of freedom If this book is a little hard to get into at first, persevere. The first half of the book is the author catching us up on all the foundations and history of brainwashing in order to then discuss with us the parts she finds most fascinating - the writing was much easier to get into in the second half. The section on "cogwebs" is where the book really begins to take off. Or perhaps I was brainwashed into enjoying it by then. Anyone with an interest in psychology, and maintaining a sense of freedom and personal control should read this book. Taylor is thorough and also points readers towards many interesting sources for more information. If you have an interest on how individuals can influence groups, other individuals, or vice versa, and how this can affect entire nations, there's lots of material here for you. I am glad I persevered through some of the earlier parts (which are still worth reading) to get to the really exciting conclusions and advice Taylor has to offer. Taylor even makes her own "influence attempt" towards the end of the book in terms of discussing the way she believes society needs to change for the better in terms of attitudes towards freedom and education - but my cogwebs on the matter were already very much in alignment with hers so she didn't need to try very hard ;)

  23. 5 out of 5

    Morten Kristensen

    I'm no neuroscientist (no, REALLY!). Maybe for that very reason, I found part two, the dreaded "hard science" part of the book, the most interesting. Yeah, there's stuff I miss reading in thirty minute public transit intervals, and yeah, maybe some of the brainier (hey?) details are lost on me - but I still find the machinations of the brain more interesting by far than Taylor's concerns for the future. Not that I disagree with her, au contraire. When it comes to the science of the brain, Taylor I'm no neuroscientist (no, REALLY!). Maybe for that very reason, I found part two, the dreaded "hard science" part of the book, the most interesting. Yeah, there's stuff I miss reading in thirty minute public transit intervals, and yeah, maybe some of the brainier (hey?) details are lost on me - but I still find the machinations of the brain more interesting by far than Taylor's concerns for the future. Not that I disagree with her, au contraire. When it comes to the science of the brain, Taylor has the gift of conveyance. She's funny, concerned, and first and foremost, knowledgable. A true intellectual, she puts neuroscience into a cultural perspective, quoting American history, European literature and Greek philosophy with savvy ease. Without looking like a show-off. Pretty nifty.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Adrienna

    This book was primarily for research purposes only. It was some insightful information concerning the brain, emotions, and cogwebs--how they react to coercive tortures and other behaviors. However, I did not see how to regroup or cope after "brainwashing" even though it also started off with the historical places, reasoning, and motives for "brainwashing" during World War II.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Helena Karlsson

    It was an interesting read. The author managed to explain how/if brainwashing occurs and I think most of us can breathe out with a sigh of relief - it is mostly newspaper headlines that love scaring us with brainwashing cults. The part explaining how the brain works was explained so that even a non-neurologist is able to grasp what the scientists are finding out about how the grey matter works.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    A good starting point for anyone seeking to understand some of the underlying neurological reasons why people join cults or why people are willing to kill in the name of religion. A lesson to pick from the book: "Perhaps, we should not trust our brains that much."

  27. 4 out of 5

    Justine

    Am I brainwashing my friends and family correctly? This book will tell you (and if you aren't it'll tell you how). Useful.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cagan

    3 words: Waste of time.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Hangci Du

    In fact I read it in Chinese version. I think the writer should have read a lot of boooks. But it is just like transformed from a journal. Also, The stucture is not so good.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    Interesting overview of a complex and controversial topic, surveying both the literature and the science.

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