Cults in our Midst

Psychological Persuasion Techniques

Jossey-Bass Publishers San Franciso

By Margaret Thaler Singer (with Janja Lalich)

Chapter 7 : Psychological Persuasion Techniques

Trance and Hypnosis

When this method is used in a cultic environment, it becomes a form of psychological manipulation and coercion because the cult leader implants suggestions aimed at his own agenda while the person is in a vulnerable state.

Guided Imagery

A considerable number of different guided-imagery techniques are used by cult leaders and trainers to remove followers from their normal frames of reference.

Indirect Directives

Cult members often say to their families and friends, "No one orders me around. I choose to do what I do." Getting members to think that way is one of the manipulations mastered by cult leaders who have become skillful at getting acts carried out through indirection and implication. Accomplishing this task is easier when the member is in an altered state, fatigued, or otherwise anxious or under stress.

Peer Pressure and Modeling

We look around and see models, and we comport ourselves to be like them. Most cults train new members either overtly stated policies or by more implicit shaping, to act in ways desired by the group.

Peer pressure is an effective means to get people to fit their behavior to group norms. In cults, this works for new and old members alike, going far beyond what is generally seen in society at large. In an atmosphere that states or implies that there is only one way to be this is it, it is most important to have models around to imitate.

Emotional Manipulation

According to Cialdini, the majority of the thousands of different tactics that compliance professionals use fall into six categories, and each category is based on a psychological principle that directs human behavior. These six principles are:

  1. Consistency. We try to justify our earlier behavior.
  2. Reciprocity. If somebody gives us something, we try to repay in kind.
  3. Social Proof. We try to find out what other people think is correct.
  4. Authority. We have a deep-seated sense of duty to authority figures.
  5. Liking. We obey people we like.
  6. Scarcity. If we come to want something, we can be made to fear that if we wait it will be gone. The opportunity to get it may pass. We want to take it now - whatever is being offered, from an object to cosmic consciousness.

 

We can see how transformations occur when the six principles are skillfully put into play by cult leaders and cultic groups. For example:

  1. Consistency. If you have made a commitment to the group and then break it, you can be made to feel guilty.
  2. Reciprocity. If you accept the group's food and attention, you feel you should repay them.
  3. Social proof. If you look around in the group, you will see people behaving in particular ways. You imitate what you see and assume that such behavior is proper, good, and expected.
  4. Authority. If you tend to respect authority, and your cult leader claims superior knowledge, power, and special missions in life, you accept him as an authority.
  5. Liking. If you are the object of love bombing and other tactics that surround you, make you feel wanted and loved, and make you like the people in the group, you feel you ought to obey these people.
  6. Scarcity. If you are told that without the group you will miss out on living a life without stress; miss out on attaining cosmic awareness and bliss; miss out on changing the world instantly or gaining the ability to travel back in time; or miss out on whatever the group offers that is tailored to seem essential to you, you will feel you must buy in now.

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