Attitude Channeling and Brainwashing
12/10/2000 08:33:06 PST
by Robert L. Kocher

We have addressed this subject in a number of articles in light of a book called "The Media" in which former television network executives disclose how they have altered American Society through television, film and print media. We have also addressed this subject matter through "The Gay Liberation Army Manifesto" Published in 1972 and then compared that to measureable results in an article noting the fall of the evangelical movement since the late 1970's. Here now is a new article reinforcing what we have already warned of, from the world and being employed in the church also by certain evangelists, and mega church ministries.

In this article we will examine a fascinating and very frightening area of psychology called attitude change. In applied forms it might be defined as what is commonly called brainwashing. In the 50's there was a series of classical psychological studies on attitude formation and effects of the social atmosphere upon perceptions and thinking. Many of these are known as part of the Yale studies on communication and attitude change. The work has been replicated beyond any doubt. It explains much of the last 35 years, and may explain the future of this country. Certainly, these studies explain some of the discomfort many people feel with present American Society. This is one of those pleasant articles that will leave the reader either angry as hell, or frightened.

In reviewing psychological studies on mental attitude change, one of the impressive things is that experimental attempts to produce changes in people's attitudes under scientifically monitored conditions were successful. The people serving as experimental psychological guinea pigs or subjects actually changed their attitudes in accordance with the direction urged by the experimental propaganda or communication. In most of the experiments the attempts to program into people a different set of attitudes, opinions, or values, if you want to call it that, were rather limited in duration--mainly because it's hard to get volunteers to cooperate for long periods in scientific studies. Yet the experimenters were successful and changes in personal attitude were evident. They weren't always large changes, but they were there, and they were measurable. Certainly, there were people serving as experimental subjects who did not show any attitude changes under the experimental conditions, and under certain conditions a few people rebelled against the communications, changing their attitudes contrary to the direction urged. On the average, most of the attempts to produce changes in personal values or attitudes, crude and limited as they were--were successful.

Some of these things should sound familiar, and ring some bells of how many have been systematically "Programed" and "Manipulated" into a laundry list of unchristian, and unbiblical beliefs, in that in order to gain acceptance with the group be it unbelievers, or "beleivers" we are compromised greater and greater until we are sinning outright against God and still beleiving we are being honorable and serving the Lord.

One can not imagine my shock and horror to see the body of Christ the way it is today after being separated unto The Lord for 25 years. And that in my mind, my heart and my soul I see and hear things from meetings almost 40 years ago and look at the emptiness and spiritual wastelands of today regardless of church or denomination.

There was a young man my age that came to the Lord and was filled with the baptism of The Holy Spirit and he became mentally handicapped about 30 years ago. Recently his mother began taking him to some meetings in Spirit-filled Churches that seemed good to her. And after a few meetings he said to her, "This isn't like Lake Street or the other meetings we used to go to." (In the mid to late 1970's) "Those meetings were holy, and these meetings are not."

"Out of the mouths of babes . . ."

The Prohibitionist Experiments

The effect of propaganda on people deeply committed to issues was studied in an experiment by Hovland, Harvy, and Sherif in 1957. This group of scientists traveled to Oklahoma and Texas where prohibition was an issue. In their experimental study, 183 prohibitionist or "dry" subjects were selected from the W.C.T.U., the Salvation Army, and religiously oriented schools, to be given, 1.) moderately "wet," or 2.) extremely "wet" communications urging repeal of prohibition. A random group of run-of-the-mill college students were also given a "wet" communication. Attitudes toward prohibition were measured at one experimental meeting. One to three weeks later the groups received presentations urging adoption of "wet" attitudes more permissive of prohibition repeal. Subsequently, 27.2 percent of the prohibitionists rebelled, becoming even more prohibitionist after receiving the presentation urging extremely wet positions. Of those "drys", or prohibitionists receiving moderately wet presentations, 31.6 percent shifted attitudes toward the wet view, 49.1 percent didn't change, 19.3 percent rebelled, taking a more prohibitionist stand. As one might expect, a greater percentage (almost double) of the random group were influenced toward the direction urged by the propaganda, since they were not strongly committed in the first place.

In the same experiment, anti-prohibitionist people were also given pro-prohibitionist propaganda and shifted their attitudes toward the "dry" position about the same way as the prohibitionists did toward the "wet" position.

This experiment dealt with what was a hot issue. Repeal was under consideration at the time in Oklahoma. The people used as subjects were heavily committed. The data here show some boomerang effect—instances in which propaganda clearly produced, in a proportion of subjects, an effect which was the reverse of that being urged. In dealing with highly committed people, it can be seen extreme communications are no more effective, indeed may be less effective in swinging a proportion of people's opinions. The way to sell a highly committed person is to start him off easy. However, the amazing thing was that the communications did produce shifts in attitudes along the lines urged. Although these people were highly committed (W.C.T.U. members are not renowned for being the easiest people, in the world to approach on the subject of drinking), they changed their views to some degree even though the exposure to the propaganda was brief. The exact magnitude of these changes was difficult to ascertain because the experiment was designed only to Indicate relative changes.

Experiments with More Neutral Issues

Hovland and Pritzker (1957) studied the relationship between the extremism of change advocated in propaganda and the amount on attitude shift in recipients. In this case the propaganda did not deal with hot issues, and the people were not highly committed. Some of the propaganda dealt with topics which might occur relative to social or political issues: e.g., amount of power given the president of the United States; Washington or Lincoln the greater president; compulsive voting by those over twenty-one. Both positive and negative communications were given in the experiment. Three kinds of propaganda were used, advocating slight, moderate, or extreme change in attitude. The researchers concluded, "The results of the present experiment give clear-cut evidence that a greater change in opinion is produced by large than by small amounts of advocated change." Moreover, while the researchers, prior to the experiment, thought that there might be a tendency for more people to rebel or boomerang in response to the more extreme propaganda, this did not occur. The number of boomerang responses remained about 7 percent whether the propaganda was extreme, moderate, or slight.

The more extreme the change urged by propaganda, the greater the shift in view evoked in recipients of the propaganda. It would appear, then, that the stereotyped wild-eyed radical extremist might be more effective than commonly thought when dealing with people not already heavily committed. His problem is that he will be ineffective because of lacking in credibility. The people he tries to influence will take one look at him and the group he represents, evaluate him as an idiot, and be unaffected by anything he says.

Hovland and Weiss (1951) studied this relationship between the trustworthiness of a propagandist and the effectiveness of his communication in changing attitudes. College students read propaganda attributed to trustworthy and untrustworthy sources in an experiment designed so that attention, comprehension, and the type of material were counterbalanced so as not to mask or falsify the effect of trustworthiness. As expected, they found large differences in the immediate effectiveness of credible versus less credible propaganda. Twenty-three percent of the students changed their views in the direction urged when the propaganda source was credible; a little less than 7 percent changed when the source was less credible.

The Source Isn’t Everything

God, if it were only that simple we would be saved. But it isn't. When the students were tested four weeks later without having received anymore communications, it was found that credible and less credible sources had had the same long term effect. The effect of the more credible communications had decreased over the four week waiting interval, while the effect of the less credible communications had grown. The curves for the two types of propaganda converged at about 13 percent long term effectiveness--that is, 13 percent of the people who had received communications showed shifts in attitude toward agreeing with those communications, regardless of the credibility of those communications. This experiment shows the operation of a "sleeper effect." While propaganda from a less credible source is immediately less effective, its effects increase over time without further administration.

There is a theory which explains this phenomena. The untrustworthiness of the source is at first closely associated with the message and suppresses its effectiveness. After a while, the source and the message become less closely associated, and the effectiveness of the message is no longer suppressed. Therefore, communications from untrustworthy sources, while not immediately effective, are effective over a longer term--unfortunately for the world, but to the delight of wild-eyed radicals. As Bill Clinton understands, lying, and having a reputation for being an absolute liar, doesn't change your job performance ratings or credibility after a three week latency.


Hoviand, Campbell, and Brock (1957) did a study on the effect of having committed ones' self publicly in making one's attitudes resistant to change. They worked with high school and junior high students during this study in which the propaganda issue was whether or not to reduce the voting age to eighteen. The procedure was roughly as follows: All students initially received presentations strongly urging reduction in the voting age. Just after this point, the students wrote paragraphs explicitly giving their position on the issues. These were used as measures of attitude. One portion of the students, the public commitment group, was told to sign their essays, which supposedly would be published in the school paper. The remaining students were told not to sign their papers which would not be published. Subsequently, both student groups were given further propaganda designed to directly contradict the first propaganda by urging continuation of the voting age limit at 21.

A second subsequent measurement of attitudes found the group which had publicly committed themselves were far more resistant to shifts in attitude after commitment. Of the group members who had committed themselves publicly, only 14 percent changed opinions in accordance with the new propaganda. Of the students who had not committed themselves publicly, 41 percent went along with the new propaganda. All this simply says is that once a person publicly commits himself, it's subsequently harder to get him to change his position-- something which has been intuitively known for years and which has been applied quite successfully by radical political organizers in manipulation of demonstrations or confrontations.

Suffering Increases Commitment

Aronson and Mills (1959) verified another facet of human nature which has been intuitively known for years--that the difficulty or misery one goes through in trying to achieve a goal increases commitment and one's subsequent tendency to evaluate that goal, as being worthwhile. These researchers obtained a number of female college students who volunteered for what they thought were supposed to be group discussions on the psychology of sex, but which was actually a hoax perpetrated by the experimenters for purposes of the experiment. (The moral of the story is never volunteer for anything even remotely connected with the college psychology department.) The women were divided into three experimental groups, two groups of which were to go through discomforting initiation procedures under the guise of screening them to see whether they could fulfill roles in a discussion. Thus, one of the groups was a control group not required to go through any initiation. A second group went through a mild initiation consisting of reading sex-related but non-obscene material to a male experimenter. The third or severe initiation group was required to read sexually vivid and obscene material to a male experimenter. Subsequently, members of all three groups were asked to evaluate a purposely boring and bland tape recording which had been concocted by the experimenters, and which supposedly represented discussion activity of the organization they would be joining. While the non-initiated control group. and the mild initiation group tended to give the recording low ratings, the severe initiation group who had gone through all the trouble rated the supposedly representative discussions as more attractive and worthwhile.

The notion of the personal misery and effort incurred during pursuit of a goal generating commitment to that goal is an old one and is one of the reasons for basic training in the armed services. The individual who goes through the severe initiation period and misery involved at the training center subsequently values "the army way."

Such commitment can also be a source of stagnation. Using education as an example, the individual spending years of drudgery pursuing a curriculum is, among other thing, by virtue of that drudgery concurrently shaping and committing himself to a system of attitudes supportive of what he's doing. Regardless of any presence or lack of inherent validity in what he's doing he will tend to perceive his activity as valid because of the attitudes, the personal commitment, he has incidentally been building during that time. He, therefore, will tend to endorse the system of thought or curriculum and will be resistant to change. His reasons always turn out to be objective, of course. This is one reason curriculums fail to modernize or become realistic. The process of becoming educated is sometimes one-third acquisition of what is called knowledge and two-thirds acquisition of personal commitment to that knowledge. Any doctoral level educational program that fails to produce graduates with a neurotic rigid elitist commitment should be viewed as incompetent and a threat to the system of higher learning.

"We All Agree Here"

A gentleman by the name of Asch (1951) did a number of cute experiments investigating the tendency for individuals to conform to group consensus which became classics in the scientific literature. He arranged a number of simple tasks in perceptual discrimination or observation. As an example, one of the tasks was to judge which one of a set of easily visible lines printed on a comparison card was equal in length to a single line used as a standard. The comparisons were easy, and nobody acting individually without outside influence made any mistakes. This was stuff like judging whether a 6 1/4 line was equal to an eight inch long line from a few feet away. People serving as subjects or guinea pigs in the experiment were seated at a table and would make their comparison judgments in turn as the experimenter held up the cards.

The cute part was that only one of the "subjects" was actually a subject, while the other six people were really stooges working with the experimenter, and their only purpose was simply to unanimously agree upon obviously false answers on certain items. This left the real subject in open disagreement with the rest of the people if he were to make the correct comparison. The question was, would the lone subject conform to the false consensus, or would he maintain a judgment based upon a realistic appraisal. As it happened, there was a marked tendency for individuals to yield reality to consensus pressures, which is actually what happened in an almost incredible 37 percent of answers to rigged items. There were individual variances from this 37 percent, some people completely conforming to the consensus, and some people almost completely rejecting the consensus pressures. People who disagreed with the consensus reported doing so at the expense of going through great personal discomfort and anxiety, suppressing a strong desire to agree with the others even though they were absolutely and obviously correct in their disagreement. Consensus pressure is one of the stronger psychological forces in human experience.

Crutchfield (1954) expanded Asch's work, making a cute experiment even cuter. He had five people sit in separate booths in which there were electronic panels displaying what were supposed to be the answers the other members of the group gave to a question or problem. The trick was that the experimenters actually controlled the display panels and could simultaneously delude each of the five people into falsely believing that the other four had already come to whatever consensus it was the experimenter wanted to program for purposes of the experiment. Thus, Crutchfield could run five people at a time more efficiently, which is exactly what he proceeded to do, eventually collecting data from studies

on more than 600 people responding to conformity and consensus pressures on items relating to simple perceptions, social issues, and personal attitudes.

He found, as did Asch, marked tendencies for individuals in the booths to accept the consensus, depending upon the type of item. In items which were more simple and clear cut so that the correct answer was extremely obvious and the discrepancy between the false consensus and the correct answers was equally obvious, there was more resistance to consensus pressure. On more difficult and ambiguous items where individuals were less certain, judgments were more highly affected by consensus pressures. Furthermore, the effects of consensus pressures were somewhat persistent as shown by subsequent retest of subjects individually without the pressure of consensus. There were, of course, individual deviations from the average on all variables investigated in these studies.

These studies are examples of investigations which have been done in the field of attitude change. What do these experiments and the hundreds like them which fill journals and textbooks really mean?

What Do These Studies Mean?

From these and other studies, it becomes clear that our attitudes, perceptions, indeed our whole pattern of thought, are more effected by and dependent upon communications, conformity and consensus pressures, and propaganda than we like to admit. Furthermore, rationality and truth are no guarantee of protection against these irrational forces any more than the people in Asch's experiment felt any less pressure because their temporary inability to make a satisfactory personal adjustment to their situation was based in rationality. More often, the function of intellectual process seems to be the fabrication of some excuse enabling the individual to bring his thought and behavior in line with outside pressures. To mean anything, rationality must be disciplined and a prevalent element of the environment.

As basic knowledge increases, it has become increasingly defensible to conceive of the mind-system of man as a clearing house or a computer averaging device for information, communication, social and physical pressures. A man's intellectual positions—his attitudes, opinions, perceptions—can be viewed as some sort of average of the sum total of incoming information or, if you will, an optimum adaptation level, a position which evokes minimal conflict or dissonance within the variation, contrast, and contradictions of incoming or previously stored information affecting the system.

There are two parts of the system. Man, the conscious being, is attached to a processing system that can betray him, or be made to betray him. The false programming input and computations by the computer-like part of the brain can be at serious disagreement with his soul and consciousness. The brain machine can be manipulated into what consciousness knows is wrong. We can be misprogrammed into going where a dissonant consciousness can not survive.

It is also conceivable and defensible that there be an adaptation to variability or deviations in the extremes of incoming information. If the mentality is exposed to increasing variation and a wider spectrum of extremity, subsequent toleration for variation or extremism increases. That is, previous extremes increase the subsequent amount of actual extremism necessary in a communication, act, or attitude before it is perceived as extreme or unreasonable.

While an individual may average information to find his central position, he may also average out the deviation in incoming information, and take that average as being an acceptable extreme. If the average amount of extremism or unreasonableness increases, this should result in adaptation. Subjection to large amounts of extremism might result in de-sensitization, gross loss of perspective, and a general decrement in ability to judge extremity or reasonableness. In a sense, this points to a loosening up, a decrement in critical reasoning ability upon repeated battering. To some extent, this is probably what has happened in the recent Clinton insanity and attempts to manipulate the public.

Democratic Manipulation

This has grave implications for that cherished American belief in the concept of a collective free intelligence--a glorious sum total of the democratic process which transcends any limitations of its constituent members and is immune to manipulation. The idea that someone could someday collect our collective free intelligence and manipulate it to suit himself through application of communication and propaganda is not the most pleasant thing imaginable, but becomes an increasingly realistic consideration as knowledge of attitude and attitude change is expanded. This is a threat which is not ameliorated by the public's channeled reception and dependence upon mass media, especially TV, which in many ways represents an artificially created and maintained, but potent, consensus.

All this is a source of temptation which utopian social and political theorists, and others with ambitions of power, have become progressively intrigued. A professor of mine more than 35 years ago who was a specialist in mathematical models of behavior envisioned the ideal society as a leftist society in which people were absolutely controlled, but were controlled in such a way that the controllers made them do things because the people being controlled had been manipulated into thinking, or believing, they wanted to do them. It goes almost without saying that he possessed a typical feeling of narcissistic superiority entitling him to be one of the controllers, rather than being one of the controlled in this elitist caste system.

Perhaps we are prematurely reaching, or over-reaching in arguments or speculation at this point. The cited experiments were brief and the attitude shifts sometimes small. Before going further, we would wish to see experimental effects based on long-term and intense attitude manipulation. A crude and harsher mental and physical form attitude manipulation was extended in the Korean war under that special form of attitude manipulation called prisoner brainwashing, producing large amounts of collaboration with the enemy which much of the public still can't accept in terms of attitude change mechanics. Those who were subjected to it were seeing psychiatrists for feelings of mental instability 20 years later. The techniques required absolute physical control, and parallel, but do not precisely conform with the primary direction of this discussion.

In 1943 there was a landmark social psychological study published as a book, entitled Personality and Social Change: Attitude Formation in a Student Community (Dryden, New York, 1943), by T. M. Newcomb. It is discussed in another classic text, Individual in Society: A Textbook of Social Psychology by Krech, Crutchfield, and Bellachey (McGraw Hill 1962). It was a study of progressive change in student attitudes at a premier liberal college.

"The Bennington College community at the time of the study (1935-1939) was new (the study was done during the first year there was a senior class) and geographically isolated. The students were drawn largely from urban, upper-income families whose social attitudes were conservative. The members of the teaching staff were predominantly liberal, deeply concerned about social issues, and felt a responsibility for encouraging the students to take an active interest in social and political problems.

"In this college community, most of the students shifted in their social attitudes from conservatism as freshmen to liberalism as seniors..."

How they changed is indicated by changing political candidate preferences regarding the 1936 election. Parental choices are also shown for comparison.

Changing Political Preferences of College Students and Parents (percentages)
Candidate’s Party Freshmen (parents) Sophomores (parents) Upper Classmen (parents)
Republican 62 66 43 69 15
Democrat 29 26 42 22 54
Socialist or Communist 9 7 15 8 30

This is an interesting and eloquent set of figures. I think they should be regarded very seriously. This is also an interesting definition of liberalism. Those who have no particular objection to the implication of the study are very quick and eager to point out that this change in student attitudes represents a breaking of parental ties and a successful quest for independence, which sounds very noble. Students who are being encouraged to make these shifts in attitude are fed this euphemistic interpretation of what is going on and therefore these interpretation tend to occur in student self-evaluations accounting for their attitude shifts. This interpretation is more descriptive than causative. While it was, and is, true that the student attitudes broke from those of their parents, it is also equally true that the student attitudes came to conform to those attitudes the college staff were determined to imprint through their keen "responsibility for encouraging the students to take an active interest in social and political problems." How much real independence was being achieved is doubtful. The quoted phrase (two sentences prior to this one) is one of the greatest euphemisms ever to be employed in the history of mankind.

Notice that the figures for the upper classmen are combined in such a way as to obscure the composition of the final graduating product. This was a process. If we take what is called a regression line, we might reasonably suspect a graduating product of somewhere around 35 percent or more communist/socialist supporters. It is suspected that the number of Republicans remained almost constant from their junior year to graduation, because if the poor beaten-down souls survived as such to the end of their junior year without being programmed, most of what remained of them probably managed to limp through the graduation ceremony with some of what they started with.

What we are concerned with primarily at this point is the effectiveness and thoroughness of the process, not the political consequences. (That will be discussed at another time when we discuss the history of the Political Left in this country and the losing of the Vietnam war, should this series continue.)

Having said that, I will make the following quick comments in passing exception. For years, puzzled parents have been sending their kids off to liberal colleges to find the kids returning home as disturbed scrambled eggs. In such schools the students become scrambled to the point where the schools have sharply elevated suicide rates two or three times that of the average, or that of other schools--which is romanticized as being dramatic testimony to the depth and importance of what is going on and to the intense involvement in the learning process. In more recent years, previously scrambled educated parents have had the satisfaction of sending their kids off to schools so as to have them return just as confused and scrambled as their proud parents. With extreme luck, 20 years are required to overcome the debilitation of a liberal education. Many, if not most, who take what they are programmed with seriously, remain in one way or another mentally deformed for the remainder of their lives.

People in public or other responsible positions who have been awarded high academic honors should be a source of worry and suspicion unless there is very serious close examination of what they have graduated from. In too many cases those awards are received on the basis of having uncritically accepted what the Bennington figures indicate. In too many cases, graduation with honors means that the student is certified as having accepted the pathology prevailing at the school instead of having had the intellect, courage, and integrity to fight it. The process documented by Newcomb, in later form, is much of what produced the Hillary Clintons, et. al. Phi Beta Kappa and Non Compos Mentis are too close to becoming equivalent certifications.

As will be explained at a future time, the Vietnam war was lost 25 years before it began because of what was signified in the Newcomb figures.

Finally, in all the years I have studied, and in all the references I have seen, the Bennington figures have been consistently quoted (with the muscle-flexing spirit of celebration seen in a high school basketball team that had just won the state championship) not because of the science involved, but because of the success in producing near-absolute political indoctrination. Having said that, we'll move back into the mainstream of this paper.

Beneath the euphemisms, the Bennington study is the most thoroughly documented one showing the effectiveness of intentional, systematic, extended, large-scale attitude manipulation—a brainwashing in which one can sense no small amount of pride in both manipulators and observers, and paradoxically even in those who were manipulated and who subsequently committed to what they had been manipulated into. The latter is evident, because those who are processed (manipulated) subsequently believe in, and defend, their resultant condition, meanwhile ridiculing what they are told to believe was their former lack of sophistication.

Does the Manipulation Work?

At times subcultures can be isolating, and can produce strong conformity and consensus pressures for irrational thought processes.



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