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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How to Avoid Being Brainwashed !, 28 Jan. 2008
This review is from: Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control (Paperback)
Not so much a 'how to ...' guide to brainwashing, as a 'how to avoid being brainwashed', Taylor's 15 chapter volume is a timely addition to the bookshelf. Presented as being as much a social, as a political method of persuasion, the author puts forward the topic of brainwashing as covering a wide spectrum of human activity, from the overt, deliberate and forceful breakdown in torture chambers, to the more subtle expressions of emotional blackmail from family members and loved ones. Perhaps lacking, however, was any in-depth discussion of the effects of various public media, product marketing strategies and corporate advertising, which are also geared toward the "alteration of a second person's thoughts and feelings". A further welcome addition, would have been some discussion of the value of brainwashing reversal, and torture victim rehabilitation, beyond that illustrated by Burgess' 'A Clockwork Orange'. Taylor's examples of successful brainwashing cover both fictional (e.g., '1984' and 'The Manchurian Candidate') as well as non-fictional scenarios (incl. The Manson Family and the Jonestown Massacre) by way of introduction, but there is little new for the hardened conspiracy theorist to take away from these chapters.

In an attempt to explain the formation, development and cohesion of cult groups, and in particular their members willingness to perform anti-social and illegal acts, Taylor reviews a number of putative mechanisms underlying such conformative behavior, much of which will be familiar territory to both social and cognitive psychologists. But more importantly, the better value of this book may be revealed in its attempts to discuss the underlying neural mechanisms that are involved in the "business of changing people's minds".

At the risk of being regarded another emotional reaction Vs intellectual reaction argument, Taylor argues for a subtle, and I believe real, distinction to be drawn between the contributions of the cortical and sub-cortical parts of the brain in understanding the success of brainwashing techniques. In crude terms, the latter is the more willing participant in following the wishes of another, without so much thought beyond a more (albeit learned) reflexive reptilian behavioral repertoire. In contrast, those more inclined to "stop and think" prior to acting (for whatever reason), are likely to be employing the cortical parts of their brain during decision making, and especially so their pre-frontal cortical areas. The key example presented, (appropriately) involves our current understanding of the multi-layered neural systems underlying human eye-movement control (partly reflexive, but subject to override according to the demands of the cognitive task at hand), but perhaps a revised edition might also include more recent work conducted with ethical dilemmas and correlate action plan decision-making fMRI data (e.g., Greene et al, Science, 2001).

This book nonetheless offers the interested reader both psychological and neurological data to absorb in coming to better understand the processes thought to underlay human persuasion and the plasticity of thinking, especially in situations under which one's thoughts are obviously in conflict with available evidence (the hall mark of otherwise successful brainwashing?). I would highly recommend this volume to the reader in search of a self-defense guide against their being brainwashed, but more seriously suggest consideration of Taylor's "FACET" approach as at least providing useful hints for enhancing one's critical thinking skills. By so doing one might become better equipped to allay the attempts of many hidden persuaders "out there" who are seeking our otherwise unthinking co-operation in support of their activities and influence.

Dr. Tony Dickinson, McDonnell Center for Higher Brain Function,
Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, USA.
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Location: WashU Med School, USA

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