How/When did the term "brain washing" come into existence/usage?

This inquiring mind would like to know.


3 Answers

  • Pey
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    One of the first published uses of the term thought reform occurred in the title of the book by Robert Jay Lifton (a professor of psychology and psychiatry at John Jay College and at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York): Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of 'Brainwashing' in China (1961). (Lifton also testified at the 1976 trial of Patty Hearst.) In that book he used the term thought reform as a synonym for brainwashing, though he preferred the first term. The elements of thought reform as published in that book are sometimes used as a basis for cult checklists and are as follows.

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  • 1 decade ago

    Origin of the term

    The term brainwashing is a relatively new term in the English language. Before 1950, it did not exist. Earlier forms of coercive persuasion had been seen during the Inquisition, the show trials against "enemies of the state" in the Soviet Union, etc., but no specific term emerged until the methodologies of these earlier movements were systematized during the early decades of the People's Republic of China for use in their struggles against internal class enemies and foreign invaders. Until that time, descriptions were limited to concrete descriptions of specific techniques.

    The term xǐ năo (洗脑, the Chinese term literally translated as "to wash the brain") was first applied to methodologies of coercive persuasion used in the "reconstruction" (改造 gǎi zào) of the so-called feudal (封建 fēng jiàn) thought patterns of Chinese citizens raised under prerevolutionary regimes. The term first came into use in the United States in the 1950s during the Korean War, to describe those same methods as applied by the Chinese communists to attempt deep and permanent behavioral changes in foreign prisoners, and especially during the Korean War to disrupt the ability of captured United Nations troops to effectively organize and resist their imprisonment.

    It was consequently used in the U.S. to explain why, compared to earlier wars, a relatively high percentage of American GIs defected to the Communists after becoming prisoners of war. Later analysis determined that some of the primary methodologies employed on them during their imprisonment included sleep deprivation and other intense psychological manipulations designed to break down the autonomy of individuals. American alarm at the new phenomenon of substantial numbers of U.S. troops switching their allegiances to the enemy was ameliorated after prisoners were repatriated and it was learned that few of them retained allegiance to the Marxist and anti-American doctrines that had been inculcated during their incarcerations. The key finding was that when rigid control of information was terminated and the former prisoners' natural methods of reality testing could resume functioning, the superimposed values and judgments were rapidly attenuated.

    Although the use of brainwashing on United Nations prisoners during the Korean War produced some propaganda benefits, its main utility to the Chinese lay in the fact that it significantly increased the maximum number of prisoners that one guard could control, thus freeing other Chinese soldiers to go to the battlefield.

    In later times the term "brainwashing" came to apply to other methods of coercive persuasion and even to the effective use of ordinary propaganda and indoctrination. And in the formal discourses of the Chinese Communist Party, the more clinical-sounding term "sī xǐang gǎi zào" (thought reform) came to be preferred.

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