Appendix 36 - Indoctrination

by Michael Greger, MD and United Progressive Alumni

[ Medical School Resources | Appendices | Discussion ]

The term "brainwashing" has come to mean intensive indoctrination in an attempt to, "induce someone to give up basic political, social, and religious beliefs and attitudes and accept contrasting regimented ideas."

A pamphlet from the Cult Awareness Information Center describes what it feels like to be in a cult.

The individual can feel victimized by his controllers and feel the hostility of suffocation - the resentful awareness that his striving toward new information, independent judgment and self-expression are being thwarted.... The individual must fit the rigid contours of the doctrinal mold instead of developing their own potential and personality.... The Individual under such pressure is propelled into an intense conflict with his own sense of integrity, a struggle which take place in relation to polarized feelings of sincerity and insincerity.

Puppet Show

How do you know your son, daughter or friend has entered medical school? According to a work on cult defense, "In the same way that a doctor looks for symptoms to help detect a disease, the following symptoms warn us that a family member or friend may have come under the influence of a cult":

" Cults will often restrict the diet and sleep of members, possibly in an effort to hamper normal, rational thought processing.

" Many cults refuse to allow members to attend family events such as marriages, sick relatives, graduations, etc.

" New Vocabulary - is the person suddenly using complex jargon to obscure irrational or simplistic thinking?[401]

A Vatican report on cults details features of the so-called "Cult-indoctrination syndrome":

1) Sudden, drastic alteration of the victim's value system.

2) Reduction of cognitive flexibility and adaptability.

3) Narrowing, blunting or distortion of affect.

4) Psychological regression.

5) Physical changes, including weight loss, deterioration in physical appearance, mask-like facial expression, with a blank stare or darting, evasive eyes, or a puppet-like cheeriness....[402]

Absolute sincerity is demanded by the group. From the Cult Awareness Information Center: "Personal feelings are suppressed and members must appear to be contented and enthusiastic at all times."[403]


How do medical schools do it? Behavior modification techniques straight from the cult indoctrination model have direct applicability to medical training. The Vatican report on cults lists ways recruits are brainwashed:

1) ready-made answers and decisions are being almost forced upon the recruit...

2) requirement of unconditional surrender to the initiator, leader...

3) keeping the recruits constantly busy and never alone; continual exhortation and training in order to arrive at an exhalted spiritual status... stifling resistance and negativity; response to fear in a way that greater fear is aroused;

4) alternation of harshness and leniency in a context of discipline;

5) assignment of monotonous tasks or repetitive activities....[404]

The ABCs of tried and true cult mind control techniques:

Change Of Diet- Use of special (i.e., nutrient poor) diet to increase susceptibility to emotional arousal, create disorientation, and increase susceptibility.

Confusing Doctrine - Use of complex lectures and hard-to-understand terms to encourage blind acceptance and reject logic.

Controlled Approval - Maintaining vulnerability and confusion by alternately punishing and rewarding similar actions....

Disinhibition - Encouraging child-like obedience by orchestrating child-like behavior.

Dress Codes - Removing individuality by demanding conformity in dress.

Financial Commitment - Donation of assets to group helps cut ties with the past, foster dependence on the group, and foster 'value' in your group participation.

Finger Pointing - Creating a false sense of righteousness by pointing to the shortcomings of the outside world, other cults, and your former associates.

Guilt, Secrecy, Fear - Induction of uncertainty, fear, confusion, with joy and certainty through surrender to the group as a goal

Isolation - Inducing loss of reality by physical separation from family, friends, society, and rational references. Meetings may be conducted far from your home.

Metacommunication - Implanting subliminal messages by stressing key words or phrases in long, confusing lectures.

No Questions - Unquestionable authority

Peer Group Pressure - Suppressing doubt and resistance to new ideas by exploiting the strong need to belong.

Removal Of Privacy - By never leaving you alone, your ability to evaluate logically and contemplate is prevented.

Replacement of Relationships - New 'family ties' within the group.

Sleep Deprivation and Fatigue - Creating disorientation and vulnerability by prolonging mental and physical activity without adequate rest and sleep.

Uncompromising Rules - Inducing regression and disorientation by soliciting agree ment to seemingly simple rules on mealtimes, bathroom breaks, etc.

Verbal Abuse - Desensitizing through bombardment with foul and abusive language.[405]

From the Cultic Studies Journal:

These same influence techniques are joined by a subtle undermining of the recruit's self-esteem, the suppression or weakening of critical thinking through fatiguing activity, near-total control of the recruit's time... and the repetitive message that only disaster results from not following the group's 'change program.'

The convert is next fully subjected to the unrealistically high expectations of the group. The recruit's 'potential' is 'lovingly' affirmed, while members testify to the great heights they and 'heroic' models have scaled. The group's all-important mission... justifies its all-consuming expectations.

Because by definition the group is always right and 'negative' thinking is unacceptable, the convert's failures become totally his or her responsibility, while his or her doubts and criticisms are suppressed or redefined as personal failures. The convert thus experiences increasing self-alienation.... The only possible adaptation is fragmentation and compartmentalization. It is not surprising, then, that many clinicians consider dissociation to lie at the heart of cult-related distress and dysfunction.

The result of this process, when carried to its consummation, is a person who proclaims great happiness but hides great suffering. I have talked to many former cultists who, when they left their groups and talked to other former members, were surprised to discover that many of their fellow members were also smilingly unhappy, all thinking they were the only ones who felt miserable inside.[406]


[401] Sagarin, B. "Cult Defense."

[402] Liberman, RP. Stress in Psychiatric Disorders NY: Springer Publishing Company, Inc, 1994:117.

[403] Groenveld, J. "Totalism and Group Dynamics." Cult Awareness Information Center.

[404] Liberman, RP. Stress in Psychiatric Disorders :117.

[405] Mind Control Techniques Used by Cults

[406] Langone, MD. "Deception, Dependency, and Dread: The Conversion Process" Cultic Studies Journal

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