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on 22 April 2011
When you come across a book with the title "Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control", you expect to open its pages and come across a mixture of conspiracy theory and egotistical mentalism. In fact, this is a book which is probably as far from its perceived title as can possibly be, and arguably for good reason, as the author explains.

The thrust of the author's argument is that the stereotypical notion of brainwashing as thought of by most people who use the term is fundamentally flawed. Specifically, we go looking for zombies and "Yes Master" style Hollywood stories, when in fact such notions belong firmly to the world of fiction rather than fact. This is not surprising when you think about it rationally for a few minutes. Instead, the author explores the much deeper areas behind the notion of brainwashing, and in doing so expands into areas that the reader probably hasn't considered before.

The book is split into three themes of sorts. First, a casual look at the historical uses of brainwashing is covered. The author is keen to point out that the word and concept of what we think of as brainwashing is a relatively new concept, yet the purpose behind (to convert a person from one belief system to another) is far from new at all. Torture has been used throughout the ages to attempt to force people to accept new truths, and as you read on you see how relatively haphazard the results have been.

Secondly, the author delves into the relatively advanced world of neuroscience. Taking an extremely objective and biological consideration of the brain as a reductionist computer, we look at how the brain itself is wired and works. This may seem an overtly complex tangent initially, but is key to the author's argument that simplistic notions of mind-control are pipe dreams. The brain is a fiercely complex organ, and our approaches to control are large-scale and a far distance from the fine grained ideas of individual thought modification.

Lastly, the notional of brainwashing is considered from a philosophical standpoint in relation to society at large. The subject is looked at from both positive and negative perspectives, and the author takes on a fairly abstract approach, covering the very notions of community and education. This goes to show that brainwashing is not an independent process that happens, but is woven into the very fabric of our lives.

This is a relatively advanced book, and if you are used to light casual reading this is not the book for you. Similarly, if you are looking for a tips and techniques to influence people tone, then you will be sadly disappointed. But, if you are willing to take a step back, and look at the wider pictures of how humans interact and what happens when opinions differ and are pushed forcefully, you will find this an enlightening read.

One warning, as another reviewer has pointed out, although the author does her best to be fair and objective, there is a fairly strong anti-religion and collectivism feel to the book. That didn't bother me, and I probably agree with most of her viewpoints, but it may put others off.
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on 28 January 2008
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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on 9 December 2006
I bought this book after reading a recommendation of it in Focus magazine and am very glad I did.

Kathleen Taylor does a very good job of defining her subject. It's certainly not necessary to have a degree in psychology to understand or appreciate the book although some sections do get fairly technical because there's just no simple way to get the complex ideas across.

Taylor does a great job of highlighting the alarming number of ways in which people seem to be open to brainwashing through various case studies ranging from American personnel captured in Korea to the Manson family and the atrocities they committed.

The book is such a great read because it deals with something that we've probably all been subjected to at some point - hopefully not full blown brainwashing but `influence attempts.' You can't avoid them and this book will hopefully educate you so you are more aware of insidious attempts to control your behaviour. This all sounds very alarmist but one of the main themes of the book is to make us more aware of these attempts so we don't fall for them without questioning. Fortunately for most of us reading in the western world most influence attempts are contained in adverts but obviously politics plays a large role in our lives and the book highlights ways in which political parties attempt to manipulate the populace.

Taylor takes us through the mechanics of the attempts, showing how the people making the attempts at control can subvert our defences and begin to exert more control over us than they really should and she also goes on to explain how, from a psychological viewpoint these attempts achieve success. Very interesting stuff and also very sobering.

The good news is Taylor also provides us with some good ways in which to strengthen our defences against such attempts to control us. Education is paramount - as is not blindly accepting everything that others say - we must learn to question everything!

There's a great deal in this book and it's been well researched and well referenced. A great read for anybody interested in brainwashing for its own sake and psychology in general.
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on 16 January 2009
In short this book was like an education. The author covers the topic in depth and detail, revealing the history of brainwashing as a psychological technique, giving many case histories and examples such as those in the vietnam war, Chinese techniques - and how the Americans then worked to gain this knowledge.

In the latter part of the chapters she moves onto how Brainwashing is used and employed by governments, in such things as advertising campaigns. Open your eyes Brainwashed Britain - the techniques as described in this book are employed today through the Media, specifically the television. I believe all school children should read this book. Interestingly she also give suggestions and hints at how one might resist an onslaught of brainwashing.
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'Brainwashing' is a fascinating and stimulating book exploring the many facets of Brainwashing. It looks at it's history, some methods, coercion in the media and education, the physical attributes of the brain that lend itself to coercion and persuasion, as well as methods to protect yourself from the various influences of Brainwashing you may experience. It is written in an engaging and captivating way and the ideas outlined will stimulate your mind to think in new or different ways. Kathleen Taylor's writing style is very eloquent and easy to read and she makes quite complex ideas extremely accessible. One minor quibble is that the text format is quite small and is therefore hard going on the eyes. It could quite easily of been a larger font. The notes are also very good, but some information could have been added to the main text to good effect. Overall it is an in depth and fascinating book and one that is well worth the effort to read.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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on 8 June 2015
Good but skips altogether, mind control, al la CIA, which is experienced by millions of targeted individuals worldwide.
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on 9 August 2007
This is an immensely enlightening account of the techniques of brainwashing and how to avoid it, from the wiles of advertisers to the more forceful techniques used on captured US personel in Korea. Don't expect an easy ride. The print ( in the paperback edition ) is small and the arguments go deep into neuroscience, philosophy, sociology and politics. But stick in there and you'll be rewarded.

Note quite five stars for me - it could've done with being edited down to about 3/4 of its current length, upping its punchiness factor. But stimulating and enlightening nonetheless.
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on 27 March 2005
Beginning with the stories of brainwashed American soldiers in the Korean War and ending with positive suggestions on how to avoid brainwashing, the author of this book takes the reader through a fascinating and very informative overview of the subject. Avoiding long-winded philosophical musings on free will and determinism, she instead supports her case on the reality of brainwashing with what is known about the human brain via research in neuroscience. The book is rich in information and gives the reader an understanding of to what degree the human mind can be controlled and manipulated. The author gives several examples of mental manipulation, all of these being quite frightening scenarios. It is the opinion of this reviewer that the election results of last year serve as a good contemporary example of how the press, government, public relations firms, and well-financed private interest groups can exert intense influence on the minds of a large portion of the American public. The outcome of that election serves as a grim reminder of how a passive, uncritical frame of mind can be filled with ideas and impressions that bear no resemblance to reality.
When reading the book, it is interesting to learn that the Chinese Communists did not view their methods as being coercive. They however viewed their "re-education" efforts as being "morally uplifting", and evidently applied them with the conviction that they were releasing their victims of "reactionary" or "imperialist" thoughts. This brings the issue of whether indeed anyone can claim that a certain collection of ideas is "bad", while another collection is "good". The author addresses this issue of "relativism" or "moral incommensurability" in the book, and acknowledges that there is a temptation to believe that it serves to enhance respect for other opinions. She cautions however that prospective brainwashers take full advantage of moral relativism, as it enables them to practice their mind-numbing indulgences without any outside interference. The author therefore rejects moral relativism, leaving judgments as to what kind of ideas are the most sensible to be those that reflect what the majority of people actually desire. She does not however dismiss the relevance of individual differences, acknowledging that two people may have different 'value profiles', and that these may conflict from time to time. In addition, values become more abstract or ethereal as one moves from the individual to the group, the author asserts, and in the process of abstraction individual differences become lost. This has the consequence that the ethereal ideas cannot really be judged as good or bad, and thus their propagation may result in severe harm. This harm can be minimized according to the author by using the methods of politics. Her assertion here has a certain irony to it, given that many (including this reviewer) have believed consistently that those in the political profession are the major proponents and practitioners of brainwashing (with last year's election again giving a powerful example). The author though is pragmatic, and notes that not all ethereal ideas are dangerous. Some can benefit society, and so the goal should be to minimize the harmful consequences and allow the beneficial ideas to flourish. Her strategies for doing this she encapsulates into what she calls 'FACET', which stands for Freedom, Agency, Complexity, Ends-not-means, and Thinking. She describes at length what is involved in this approach, emphasizing its pragmatism, but also giving some evidence of its efficacy.
Through her discussion of neuroscience, the author dispels any notion of the Cartesian 'diamond minds' metaphor that has plagued Western thought for the last four centuries. Indeed, if the claims of contemporary research in cognitive neuroscience are correct, then the human brain is indeed a very dynamic object, sometimes undergoing radical change. As an example of this, the author quotes the 'phantom limb' scenario. Altering personal identity however is impossible if the proponents of the diamond mind are correct. The author again though gives evidence to the contrary, this evidence coming from what is known about the brain. In the process of doing this, she gives an interesting introduction to what she calls the 'schematic self'. This concept is motivated by the fact that human beings seem to take on a variety of different 'identities' depending on the social situation in which they find themselves. These roles or 'schemas' include a collection of behaviors, and the thoughts, attitudes, and emotions that accompany them. These schemas can contain beliefs that are incompatible however, especially if they are correlated with different situations that individuals find themselves in. This incompatibility helps to explain the somewhat perplexing or contradictory behavior that is observed in many people. There is a temptation to label an individual as a 'hypocrite' when having observed him acting in one situation, he behaves totally different in another, this behavior being seemingly at odds with the behavior in the first situation. Therefore, the author concludes, it should not surprising that brainwashing can work, given this capacity for variation in the 'self.' The reader interested solely in scientific explanations will of course demand that the author justify this schema theory with evidence from neuroscience. She does so, but only briefly, and concludes that the schemas are patterns of connections between neurons, and that the stronger the connections, the more automatically the schemas will be triggered under the activation by certain stimuli. Some of these stimuli might be subtle, such as those arising from advertising. These might strengthen the "weak" schema, but the individual does not experience it as a change in self. However, stimuli resulting from the use of force act to change the strong schemas. Brainwashing by force thus may radically change the individual's strongest beliefs, and the author again gives evidence from neuroscience that supports the assertion that this can indeed happen. Lacking in this discussion are actual case studies, but the arguments seem plausible. Further research is of course necessary, but overall the author seems to make a convincing case for the reality of brainwashing. It can be countered given the initiative however.
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on 3 August 2011
First off this is just a really interesting book, that brings together a broad and complex subject matter and presents it in a way that is easy to digest. One of this book's shining qualities is that it is an accessible read. I come from a politics background and the neuroscience aspect of the book is very clear and well explained for a non scientist. The political side of the debate although is not as detailed as I would like in some places I believe that this has been done in order to make the book accessible.

The referencing and further reading recommendations also allow the reader to explore the subject in more depth should they wish. I am only giving this 4stars and not 5 because I believe the conclusions reached at the end are a bit too easy and simplistic. This conclusion jars a bit with the rest of the book because in the rest of the book this complex subject is clearly explained and laid out.
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on 25 July 2008
This is a wildly profound book written with intelligence and humour.

It's as much about how we think and learn as about brain washing.

Whenever I found myself limiting my thoughts to rigid templated thinking Taylor would throw in a mental curve to derail my own unconscious beliefs.

Simply a wonderful book, an understanding of this subject is as important now as it has ever been. Quite frankly KT's FACET approach to thinking should be lesson 101 for school children and adults alike.

You won't be disappointed by this book. I can't wait to see what she does next with her current research into belief.
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