How is brainwashing achieved?

More than 50 years ago, psychologist Robert Jay Lifton studied former prisoners of Korean War and Chinese war camps. He determined that they'd undergone a multistep process which began with attacks on each one's sense of self and ended with an apparent change in beliefs. Lifton ultimately defined a set of steps involved in the cases of brainwashing studied, roughly dividing them into three stages: breaking down the self, introducing the possibility of salvation, and rebuilding the self.

Each stage takes place in an environment of isolation, with all "normal" social reference points unavailable, and mind-clouding techniques such as sleep deprivation and malnutrition a typical part of the process. Physical harm is often present or threatened, adding to the target's difficulty in thinking critically and independently.

Lifton has described such a brainwashing process, based on first-hand accounts of techniques used by captors in the Korean War and other instances of "brainwashing" around the same time. It has not been tested in a modern laboratory setting, because doing so would damage the target and thus would be an unethical experiment.

Here's a summary of the 10 brainwashing steps Lifton identified, categorized by the three stages mentioned above. Notice how each builds upon the previous step.

Assault on identity: You aren't who you say you are.
Guilt: You are bad.
Self-betrayal: Agree with me that you are bad.
Breaking point: Who am I, where am I and what am I supposed to do?

Leniency: I can help you.
Compulsion to confession: You can help yourself.
Channeling of guilt: This is why you're in pain.
Releasing of guilt: It's not me; it's my beliefs.

Progress and harmony: If you want, you can choose good.
Final confession and rebirth: I choose good.

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