Has Mass Persuasion Affected You?
by “Awake!” correspondent in Australia
DURING World War II, the term “brainwashing” was introduced to describe methods employed by one group to force its ideas upon another group. An individual’s previous ideas would be “washed” from his brain and replaced with new ideas and beliefs. The techniques used and the reasons for their use give some insight into the workings of the human brain and how it can not only be “washed” but also be persuaded to adopt viewpoints held by the majority.
When the brain is subjected to abnormal stress, it sets up an inhibitive reaction for protection against brain damage. This process involves three stages: (1) A leveling of responses. Response to important and trivial matters becomes the same. Feelings do not vary greatly. (2) Trivial things cause greater disturbance than matters of real importance. (3) A complete reversal sets in. Likes become dislikes and vice versa. At this stage the “brainwasher” implants his point of view. Then the brain will accept ideas previously hated.
The person most easily brainwashed is the “normal,” average individual. Such a one is already conditioned to accept opinions of others rather than to form strong convictions of his own. On the other hand, those hardest to brainwash are ones with unconventional ideas and strong convictions and who are not afraid of what others think.
The Making of “Heroes”
An example of effects from mass persuasion concerns Australian bushranger Ned Kelly. He is often depicted now as a courageous “Robin Hood” and fighter against social injustices. He did, indeed, appear to be a remarkable man—handsome, tough in physique, clever and a good organizer.
But police records show charges against him that include assault, highway robbery, bank robbery, indecent behavior, drunkenness, horse stealing and multiple murders.
Are You Affected?
Often propaganda is indirect and can cause a change in thinking without one’s being aware of it.
In The Hidden Persuaders, author Vance Packard opens by saying: “[This book] is about the way many of us are being influenced and manipulated—far more than we realize—in the patterns of our everyday lives.” He later quotes Dr. Ernest Dichter, president of the Institute for Motivational Research, as saying that the successful ad agency “manipulates human motivations and desires and develops a need for goods with which the public has at one time been unfamiliar—perhaps even undesirous of purchasing.”
Mr. Packard shows how psychological consultants are employed to investigate even our baser motives. Among the studies that he cites is one done for a fountain pen company “on the sensuality and sexual connotations of pens.” He labeled an investigation by another corporation as “a classic example of the way motivation analysts found merchandising possibilities in our deeper sexual yearnings.” Packard further notes that certain advertisements use “overtones of masochism, body exhibitionism, and so on.”
You Can Protect Yourself
How can you protect yourself against such subtle persuasion? The following five points can be helpful:
1. Have strong convictions: As noted above, the person most easily brainwashed is the one quickly swayed by others. Do not go along with an idea just because your associates accept it. Make sure that the views you adopt are truthful. The best way to do that is by comparing them with the inspired Word of God, which is ultimately “the truth.”—John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16.
2. Find the reason: Inadvertently we often accept attitudes without knowing what is behind them. For instance, people in your community may have a negative view of certain races or ethnic groups. But why? If you find the reason unconvincing, why adopt the viewpoint?
3. Resist improper thoughts: A dry sponge when immersed in liquid absorbs quite a lot. Even after it has been wrung out several times, some of the liquid remains. As for our minds, it is hard to avoid seeing, hearing or otherwise experiencing improper thoughts. But must we soak our minds full of them? Doing so will adversely affect our judgments and actions. How much better to resist improper thoughts and to dwell upon things that build up!—Eph. 5:3-5.
4. Speak up for what you know to be right: This will give you opportunity to test what you believe and more firmly entrench the truth in your life. If you are convinced of the truth of a matter after thorough search, do not be disconcerted by ridicule from others. The Bible shows that Noah was convinced there was going to be a worldwide flood and he talked to others about it. (2 Pet. 2:5) Indifference on the part of Noah’s contemporaries did not change the facts. There was a global flood.—Gen. chaps. 6-8; Matt. 24:37-39.
However, with regard to speaking up for what is right, it is important to keep in mind this Scriptural guideline: “He that is correcting the ridiculer is taking to himself dishonor, and he that is giving a reproof to someone wicked—a defect in him. Do not reprove a ridiculer, that he may not hate you. Give a reproof to a wise person and he will love you.” (Prov. 9:7, 8) No good purpose is served by debating or wrangling with someone bent on defending his personal opinion regardless of whether it is right or wrong.
5. Live the truth: Do not look for excuses to compromise what you know to be right. Remember, if something is right and proper, it will work out for your good. Do not be tricked into thinking that you are missing out on something or that you are unduly restricted because you conform to what is right.
In some respects our minds are like a container of water. If one adds just a drop or two of ink, all the water quickly becomes colored. Do not allow mass persuasion by popular opinions to sway you into accepting viewpoints that the Scriptures show to be wrong. Rather, obey the inspired counsel: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.”—Phil. 4:8.