One of the first instances of the theory of coercive persuasion and brainwashing was brought forth when a large group of intelligence officers, psychiatrists, and psychologists recognized that during the Korean War "the Chinese had been able to sway many [American] soldiers to their way of thinking, as evidenced by reports of extensive collaboration, by propaganda broadcasts made by some of the prisoners, and by letters and other documentary evidence of collaboration." The beliefs and attitudes of American POWs had changed so drastically, that the term "brainwashing" was applied to their experiences. However, after analyzing the situation of the prisoners, researchers abandoned the term and opted for the more fitting term "coercive persuasion." Coercive persuasion was more fitting because the prisoners were "subjected to unusually intense and prolonged persuasion in a situation from which they could not escape."
In Coercive Persuasion, Edgar Schein, Inge Schneier, and Curtis Baker came to the conclusion that coercive persuasion involves the intertwining of a complex sequence of events occurring over a long time period. They labeled the events in three phases: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing. In order to successfully influence an individual via coercive persuasion, Schien et al concluded that there must be a motive for the individual to change, a source that shows the direction of change, and a reward for when the change occurs. Their study revealed that it is difficult to predict whether a particular prisoner will be susceptible to coercive persuasion tactics. Furthermore, while the model of coercive persuasion proposed by Schein et al was confined to the Chinese Communists, they also stated that the theory of coercive persuasion can be used in various contexts.
Richard Ofshe's Key Factors of Coercive Persuasion
Richard Ofshe was a Professor Emeritus in Sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. His special interests include topics such as coercive social control, social psychology, and influence in police integration. In an article titled "Coercive Persuasion and Attitude Change" he noted the following factors relevant to coercive persuasion:
- Relying on intense interpersonal and psychological attack to destabilize a persons sense of self in an effort to promote compliance.
- Using an organized peer group to achieve compliance.
- Employing pressure to promote conformity.
- Manipulating a person's social environment to stabilize their behavior once it is modified.
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