Is Brainwashing Actually Possible

About a week ago while browsing through shows to watch on HBO I stumbled across a mini series titled “The Pacific.”  The show follows a group of World War II soldiers as they fight on numerous islands throughout the Pacific ocean.  One aspect of the show that I became curious about was the Japanese and German militaries ability to brainwash their soldiers and civilians. I did not think that brainwashing was actually possible, however watching the show caused me to second guess this thought. Intrigued, I decided to look into the science behind brainwashing to figure out how it works and to what extent it can impact a persons actions.



According to an article from Science, most psychologists agree that brain washing is possible.  They claim that it can impact a majority of human minds if done correctly.  The article explains that the process behind brainwashing is mainly psychological, caused when a subject becomes completely dependent on their superior.  Brainwashing can be done by withholding food, water and sleep from a person until they break down.  Relying on someone else to survive can alter a persons brain, causing complete devotion toward capturers and their beliefs.  The article explains the process behind brainwashing and gives anecdotal evidence of its success in situation of war.  This evidence is intriguing but it was not strong enough to conclude that brainwashing is scientifically possible.  Could their change of beliefs be caused by the torture of captivity? Or do they actually lose control of their own thoughts?  Curious to get to the bottom of this I continued to research.


Since the concept of brainwashing is immoral, there are no recent studies that I could find focusing on brainwashing.  An article published in Psychologists World cites a study done by Robert Lifton and Edgar Schein in the 1950’s.  The team evaluated American POWs who were “brainwashed” by their captures during the Korean War.  They reached the conclusion that the anti-american statements made by the soldiers were not a result of actual braaid4828890-728px-brainwash-people-step-13inwashing.  Instead they claimed that their change in beliefs  were a defense mechanism from within the brain.  In order to survive the ruthless torture, they subconsciously began agreeing with the Korean beliefs.   The prisoners were not actually “brainwashed.”  Although they appeared to be different people, it was simply a mechanism of survival.  Their core beliefs began to reemerge once they were in a safe environment.


This study is old and was only done on a select few people from the same war with similar backgrounds.  It isn’t the most credible source to form an opinion from, but it does provide solid evidence that complete brainwashing is not actually possible.  While psychologists might claim that it is possible, there are no confirmed victims of complete brainwashing.  I believe that most cases of “brianwashing” are a defense mechanism from the brain to protect from torture.  After researching the topic, I don’t believe that total brainwashing is possible.


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4 thoughts on “Is Brainwashing Actually Possible

  1. Akhil Dharmavaram

    Brainwashing a fascinating topic and it appears all sorts of science fiction shows and movies. Your research is insightful and makes a lot of sense. Brainwashing is similar to Stockholm Syndrome. I provided a link about it below. If Stockholm Syndrome can happen, then the examples of temporary “brainwashing” certainly is a scary thought. It is nice to hear that the victims regained their original consciences back after they were in a safe environment. Unfortunately, I was not able to find anything on recovering from Stockholm Syndrome.

  2. Brett Alan Merritt

    The topic of brain washing is very interesting. After reading this post, I stil do not believe full brainwashing is possible. I believe the POW’s you mentioned were doing and saying anything they had to to survive. I do not think they were brainwashed. I believe they knew they just had to survive and they would do whatever it took to do that.

  3. Tyler Mitchell Azar

    Very interesting blog! It’s sort of crazy to think that brainwashing can be done, since it seems like a science fiction concept. One thing that you didn’t touch on in your blog that I think goes along with it is Project MKUltra. Project MKUltra was a secret government program dedicated to developing mind control to force confessions during the Cold War, among other things. It’s scary to think about, but also very intriguing

  4. Jackie Michelle Tremblay

    I think this is a cool thought. I wonder f age affects brainwashing at all. In my opinion, I think it would make sense if younger people subject to brainwashing are more likely to become fully brainwashed than older people. In turn those younger people would probably have a harder time unlearning that behavior. I also wonder if duration of brainwashing affects this at all. Maybe the longer someone is brainwashed, the more of an affect it has. In a way socialization can be considered a form of “brainwashing” as it is taking all inherent thoughts and erasing them to create thoughts that are within the standard of society.

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