Brainwashing Techniques You Encounter Every Day (And How To Avoid Them)

While it's pretty unlikely that you're a target of deliberate brainwashing, you probably have been subjected to some of the common techniques associated with the less-than-ethical practice. Here are a few common methods you encounter on a regular basis and what you can do to avoid them.

First things first: what is brainwashing exactly? Wikipedia offers a concise definition:

Mind control (also known as brainwashing, coercive persuasion, mind abuse, thought control, or thought reform) refers to a process in which a group or individual "systematically uses unethically manipulative methods to persuade others to conform to the wishes of the manipulator(s), often to the detriment of the person being manipulated".

Basically, it's a form of extreme manipulation. We often associate the practice with cults and don't consider its presence in everyday life, yet the techniques used in brainwashing are frequently leveraged by advertisers, news networks, politicians, and others. Alex Long, writing for hacking blog Null Byte, provides an outline of some of the most common brainwashing techniques. Here are the most notable:

  • The manipulator offers you a number of choices, but the choices all lead to the same conclusion.
  • The same idea or phrase is frequently repeated to make sure it sticks in your brain.
  • Intense intelligence-dampening is performed by providing you with constant short snippets of information on various subjects. This trains you to have a short memory, makes the amount of information feel overwhelming, and the answers provided by the manipulator to be highly desired due to how overwhelmed you feel.
  • Emotional manipulation is used to put you in a heightened state, as this makes it harder for you to employ logic. Inducing fear and anger are among the most popular manipulated emotions.

When reading this list, you're probably able to think of a few examples of these techniques. News channels and political parties often repeat a consistent message when they want to get their point across. Advertisers love to offer choices that all lead to their product, and emotional manipulation is a common tactic in people you'll encounter as well as in most forms of media. These techniques are everywhere. They aren't turning you into a zombie, but they are informing many of your choices. The good news is that you can avoid them if you're proactive.

How To Avoid Brainwashing Techniques

Avoiding brainwashing techniques ideally involves avoiding the brainwashers themselves, but this is next to impossible. Taking advertising as an example; you can't avoid encountering it in day-day-day life. Your best bet is to cut out what you can and, when you can't, seek balance and use these techniques:

  1. Identify the manipulative message you've received.
  2. Find an opposing message, whether it's manipulative or not. Also attempt to find the most neutral and unbiased version of that same message.
  3. Compare your different sources and decide how you feel.

Brainwashing, whether mild or extreme, is often the result of isolation. If you only hear the brainwashing message on a regular basis, and rarely (or never) expose yourself to alternatives, you're going to be far more likely to accept what you hear without thinking. If you want to avoid the brainwashing techniques discussed in this post, your best bet is to surround yourself with a spectrum of information rather than simply settling for the message that makes you feel comfortable. After all, that's often what the message is aiming to do.

For more on manipulation, check out our posts on manipulation in advertising, emotional manipulation, and planting ideas in someone's mind.

This posts uses free images by John Caserta, Jack Biesek (and others), and the National Park Service as part of The Noun Project.


    but what if everything in this article is a lie, the methods don't work, and it itself is brainwashing you in to thinking you can avoid brainwashing, all the while conditioning you to be more open to it? argh!

      smoke less

    So tin foil hats are not a solution??? damn... :-(

    So there aren't 72 virgins waiting for me in paradise? Darn.

    Makes me think of the ads on channel 7 with that ridiculously over the top "dramatic" voice over tone.

    Tiz a shame the tin foil hats won't work. :-(

    That third point just made me think of Twitter for some reason :)

    there is a link for "emotional manipulation" in every paragraph except the intro. Naturally, I clicked it.

    "Intense intelligence-dampening is performed by providing you with constant short snippets of information on various subjects"
    Sounds like what I get from lifehacker.

    This post would be excellent with some practical examples...reads a little vague

    The latest promotions from Coles are another example of this practice .... both on TV as well as the in-store sound bites.
    Basically, the woman who promotes X and Y is so over the top with excitement and gets all "giggle girty" that it's like she just saw Justin Bieber enter the room (where she's either genuinely surprised or terrified at this event, but it's the same-sounding "reaction" nonetheless) ... "our Olive Oil is only $23! .... eeeee ... ta-da !!"
    I think that the advertisers are going back to the days of fakeness in the hope that our recently free-thinking society will eventually dumb themselves down again.
    and btw, once I saw The Wiggles sell out with the first "Prices Are Down" Red-Hands advertising, I knew then that the world is definitely coming to an end.

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