Brainwashing’ as Forensic Evidence

  • James T. Richardson


“Brainwashing” is an idea first developed for purposes of propaganda in the conflict between the USA and China after the Communists took over China in the early 1950s. In the 1970s the term gained attention in the then “trial of the century” involving Patty Hearst, and it has since become a common term used against unpopular religious movements. The term is now applied in the legal arena to describe any process of influence that is viewed negatively, such as with participation in New Religious Movements (NRMs), sometimes pejoratively labeled as “cults”. Brainwashing explanations were favored over the idea that youth were rejecting America’s cultural values in favor of strange practices from outside the cultural ambit of America. Brainwashing-based claims surfaced in civil suits against NRMS by former members, and they were effective until some major state and federal court decisions undercut such claims. The vast preponderance of the social and behavioral evidence about participation in NRMs does not support brainwashing claims, and such claims do not meet standards of rules of evidence (Frye or Daubert). More mundane explanations that involve time-honored theories from sociology and social psychology adequately explain why people choose to participate in NRMs. However, the brainwashing concept is alive and well within Western (and even Eastern) cultures, and is still being used in various ways within the legal system (such as with Parental Alienation Syndrome), the arguments outlined herein notwithstanding.


Federal Court Religious Movement Social Psychological Theory Mental Manipulation Legal Battle 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of NevadaRenoUSA

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