Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: A Look into the Psychology of Thought Reform


For sometime the psychological and academic communities have maintained mixed positions on the validity of mind control or the notion of "brainwashing." "Mind- control being: A theory proposing that an individual's thinking, behavior, emotions or decisions can, to a greater or lesser extent, be manipulated arbitrarily by outside sources." (Wikipedia, 2006) Although those above terms bring about debate and controversy, scholars from the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association have agreed on a new term that takes into account and includes the effects of persuasion, propaganda, group dynamics, media manipulation, and religions & cults: Thought Reform. The formal definition of thought reform is: The application of coercive techniques to change the beliefs and/or behaviors of one or more persons usually for political or religious purposes. As of today, famous psychologists such as the renowned Dr. Margaret Singer, former APA president Dr. Philip Zimbardo, and sociologist Benjamin Zablocki have acknowledged the existence and significance of thought reform and research has been conducted to grant an increased understanding of this important aspect of psychology. Through this thesis, an attempt to open and explore the psychological and academic perspectives behind thought reform and its subsidiaries has been created. (e.g. Brainwashing, mind-control). This particular thesis' goals consist of: expanding personal knowledge and understanding of the subject and secondly, opening this topic of discussion amongst peers in the academic community. This thesis will attempt to investigate the importance of the beginnings of thought reform, it's origins in the Korean War and the People's Republic of China, and how it was introduced in the United States. It will also cover the psychological aspects of thought reform (subtle and overt), and its significance in the psychological community. While at the same time, bring out the past and current views and positions of two of the key scholars in the field concerning thought reform such as Dr. Singer and Dr. Zimbardo, as well as some popular opinions and beliefs concerning the topic. Pertaining to current views of thought reform and brainwashing, former APA president Dr. Zimabardo stated in an issue of Psychology Monitor, "A body of social science evidence shows that when systematically practiced by state-sanctioned police, military or destructive cults, mind control can induce false confessions, create converts who willingly torture or kill 'invent enemies,' engage indoctrinated members to tirelessly, give up money-and even their lives- for 'the cause.' (Zimbardo, 2002). This statement alone gives the significance of thought reform to the scientific and psychological community and will be presented within the thesis. In essence, this thesis will endeavor in presenting an unbiased look into Thought Reform, the psychology behind it, and the position of pioneering researchers in the field. This thesis will be relevant and important in the field of psychology and others, because in our attempts to become broad-minded and positive free thinkers, we should be aware and arm ourselves with the knowledge and backgrounds of these potential antagonistic methods of "brainwashing" and thought reform.


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Thesis Completion





Brophy-Ellison, James


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


College of Sciences

Degree Program



Dissertations, Academic -- Sciences; Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis

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