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Cults, religion, and brainwashing lecture 2014

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Cults, religion, and brainwashing lecture 2014

  1. 1. Cults, religion, and brainwashing 1k20 Chris Stiff c.stiff@keele.ac.uk
  2. 2. Overview Religion What is “religion”? How is “religiousness” perceived? Is being religious good or bad for you? Cults What is a cult? Who joins cults? How are people “brainwashed?” How do people feel after leaving a cult? Social psychology and cults Underlined references are in Blackboard These are questions to think about for your blog
  3. 3. Religion and well-being “A search for significance in ways related to the sacred” Pargament, 2002 (pg. 169) Literature offers mixed picture of religion Altermeyer & Hunsberger (1992): fundamentalism was associated with more right-wing political views Sethi & Seligman (1993): adherents have high levels of well-being an optimism
  4. 4. How might religion benefit health? http://padlet.com/psychology_expe/religionhealth
  5. 5. Religion and health George, Ellison, & Larson (2002): why does religion benefit health? Health practices: religion often prohibits the imbibing of harmful substances e.g. alcohol, or the performance of detrimental actions e.g. promiscuity. Social support: sense of community and relationship with others who share world-view enhances well-being and coping
  6. 6. Psychosocial resources: enhancement of self-esteem, self-efficacy which have health benefits Sense of coherence/meaning: Antonovsky (1980) – beliefs that make world meaningful, predictable, and manageable make stressful events easier to bear Reduces stress-related health problems etc.
  7. 7. Why might religion be problematic? http://padlet.com/psychology_expe/religionproblem
  8. 8. Detrimental aspects of religion Exline (2002): Religious feeling may lead to several “stumbling blocks” Religious arguments: aligning oneself explicitly with a religious movements can lead to arguments! Negative relationships with “non-believers”: individuals outside of the religious group may find practices distasteful
  9. 9. Disappointment or anger towards deity: If things go wrong, we may feel betrayed and disappointed with “God” Struggling with logical or ethical issues: Finding flaws with religious beliefs, or finding their practices inappropriate is disquieting Confrontation with one’s own imperfections: Failing at being virtuous can damage self-esteem and cause depression
  10. 10. Summary so far Religion has been show to have some benefits on health and well-being However, religion does not ALWAYS make people feel better!
  11. 11. What is a cult? http://padlet.com/psychology_expe/religioncult Use online resources if you like, but NOT WIKIPEDIA
  12. 12. What is a cult? Definition: “any religion held together more by devotion to a living charismatic leader who actively participates in the group-decision making than by adherence to a body of doctrine or prescribed set of rituals” (Zablocki & Robbins, 2001 p. 5) I.e. A group that does what a leader tells them to do more than following a set of beliefs.
  13. 13. Definition issues Woody (2009): The word “cult” has negative connotations and should be used with caution Olson (2006): substituting “cult” for “new religious movement” decreased acceptance and positive feeling Word is laden with meaning, and usually pejorative Members of cults most likely do not refer to them as such!
  14. 14. Who joins a cult? http://padlet.com/psychology_expe/religionjoin
  15. 15. Who joins a cult? Curtis & Curtis (1993): Weak “spirit” and emotional vulnerability Tendency to dissociative states Poor family relations and social support networks Inadequate means of dealing with “hard knocks” History of child abuse or neglect Exposure to eccentric family patterns Drug problems Inability to manage stress Poor socioeconomic conditions All increase susceptibility to joining a cult
  16. 16. How would you recruit or “brainwash” people to be in YOUR cult? http://padlet.com/psychology_expe/recruit-for-cult
  17. 17. Cult “brainwashing” techniques Walsh (2001): Stifling of communication between a member and the outside world Separation of friends and family Relinquishing of job Dictating how members should think, act, and feel Keeping members tired assists with this Demand for purity and conformity with group norms NB This is purity for the group, not for society as a whole!
  18. 18. Public acknowledgement of “bad” former life Symbolically shows relinquishing of previous identity Increases social pressure Purveying the idea there are “deeper truths” that can only be discovered through unquestioning study Cult-specific language to increase social identity and division with non-members Encouragement of new identity as part of the group “organism”, rather than individual Derogation of “non-believers”
  19. 19. Results of being in a cult Walsh, Russell, & Wells (1995) – high levels of: Neuroticism (tendency to experience negative emotional states: e.g. guilt, anxiety, depression etc) Sociotropy (high dependence and need to please others) Autonomy (preference for independent functioning) In ex-cult members
  20. 20. What can social psychology tell us about cults? http://padlet.com/psychology_expe/social-psych-cults
  21. 21. Social psychology and cults How does social psychology account for attraction to, and behaviour within, cults? Social identity theory Social influence Deindividuation
  22. 22. Social identity theory Tajfel, 1978 Individual possess social identities – part of their self-concept that derives from group membership A social identity describes how one should think, feel, and act as a “good” group member
  23. 23. Leader? Rebel? Brain? Pet? Interesting situations arise from role conflicts or confusions
  24. 24. Social identity theory Tajfel, 1978 Individual possess social identities – part of their self-concept that derives from group membership A social identity describes how one should think, feel, and act as a “good” group member Individuals are motivated to maintain positive social identities – this increases self-esteem and well-being Categorisation of in-group and out-group assists with this If an individual lacks other meaningful identities, a cult may provide one
  25. 25. Social influence Two types of social influence (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955) Informational social influence using others as a guide when we are uncertain or in an ambiguous situation
  26. 26. 1 2 3
  27. 27. 1 2 3
  28. 28. Social influence Two types of social influence (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955) Informational social influence using others as a guide when we are uncertain or in an ambiguous situation If we feel like we are unsure what to do, or what is appropriate, we may conform to the wishes of others more When feeling vulnerable or aimless, individuals may welcome the structure and “normalcy” of a cult Normative social influence doing things so others like you! Particularly powerful if friends also join a cult. Hard to resist peer pressure to also join
  29. 29. Deindividuation Anonymity within a large group leads to loss of identity (Propst, 1979; Zimbardo, 1970) May lead to deviant behaviour
  30. 30. Deindividuation Anonymity within a large group leads to loss of identity (Propst, 1979; Zimbardo, 1970) May lead to deviant behaviour Postmes & Spears (1998) Deindividuation may lead to group-norm conformity In a cult, the presence of others acting and looking the same increases conformity and reduces incidents of questioning and rebellion.
  31. 31. Summary Cults are groups which venerate a living leader Personality and socio-economic traits can influence susceptibility to cult influence Cults have a variety of techniques available to gain new recruits Membership in a cult can have far-reaching consequences, even after leaving Social psychological research can tell us a lot about why people join cults and why cults are so influential
  32. 32. References not in WebCT Antonovsky, A. (1980). Health, stress, and coping. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Curtis, J. M., & Curtis, M. J. (1993). Factors related to susceptibility and recruitment by cults. Psychological Reports, 73, 451-460. Postmes, T., Spears, R., & Lea, M. (1998). Breaching or building social boundaries? Side-effects of computer-mediated communication. Communication Research, 25, 689 - 716 Tajfel, H. (1978). Differentiation between social groups: Studies in the social psychology of intergroup relations. London: Academic Press. Zablocki, B. & Robbins T. (2001). Misunderstanding cults: Searching for objectivity in a controversial field. Toronto: University of Toronto Press Zimbardo, P. G. (1970). The human choice: Individuation, reason, and order versus deindividuation, impulse, and chaos. In W. J. Arnold and D. Levine (eds). Nebraska symposium on motivation 1969 (pp. 237 – 307). Lincoln
  33. 33. REMINDER Next session is ONLINE ONLY Find the resources for it in Blackboard Earworms and other creepy crawlies (Alex Lamont)

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