The term "brainwashing" first became widespread in the 1950s, to explain why some US soldiers, taken prisoner in Korea defected to the enemy. GIs were strong-willed, patriotic, trained not to crack under torture – and so, the reasoning went, only the most sinister mind-control techniques could have defeated them. The concept was a handy way of avoiding darker questions about psychology. If brainwashing exists, the main thing is just to keep clear of brainwashers. But in fact the world's full of "hidden persuaders", large and small. There isn't a secret switch that lets villains control your thoughts; instead, there are TV ads and manipulative friends and guilt-inducing religions, and a million other ways in which we influence, and are influenced, all the time. No wonder psychologists shun the term "brainwashing" these days. It isn't really a thing – and if you don't believe me, I'll shut you in a sensory deprivation chamber and blast sound waves at you till you do.
Should We Stop Using the Word "Brainwashing?"
The term "brainwashing" first became widespread in the 1950s, to explain why some US soldiers, taken prisoner in Korea defected to the enemy.