Many people think of mind control as an ambiguous, mystical process that cannot be defined in concrete terms.  In reality, mind control refers to a specific set of methods and techniques, such as hypnosis or thought-stopping, that influence how a person thinks, feels, and acts.

Based on research and theory by Robert Jay LiftonMargaret SingerEdgar ScheinLouis Jolyon West, and others who studied brainwashing in Maoist China as well as cognitive dissonance theory by Leon Festinger, Steven Hassan developed the BITE Model to describe the specific methods that cults use to recruit and maintain control over people.  “BITE” stands for Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotional control.

Behavior Control

  1. Regulate individual’s physical reality
  2. Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates
  3. When, how and with whom the member has sex
  4. Control types of clothing and hairstyles
  5. Regulate diet – food and drink, hunger and/or fasting
  6. Manipulation and deprivation of sleep
  7. Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence
  8. Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time
  9. Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self indoctrination including the Internet
  10. Permission required for major decisions
  11. Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative
  12. Discourage individualism, encourage group-think
  13. Impose rigid rules and regulations
  14. Punish disobedience by beating, torture, burning, cutting, rape, or tattooing/branding
  15. Threaten harm to family and friends
  16. Force individual to rape or be raped
  17. Encourage and engage in corporal punishment
  18. Instill dependency and obedience
  19. Kidnapping
  20. Beating
  21. Torture
  22. Rape
  23. Separation of Families
  24. Imprisonment
  25. Murder

Information Control

  1. Deception:
    a. Deliberately withhold information
    b. Distort information to make it more acceptable
    c. Systematically lie to the cult member
  2. Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:
    a. Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, media
    b. Critical information
    c. Former members
    d. Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
    e. Control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking
  3. Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
    a. Ensure that information is not freely accessible
    b. Control information at different levels and missions within group
    c. Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when
  4. Encourage spying on other members
    a. Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member
    b. Report deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership
    c. Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by group
  5. Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including:
    a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies and other media
    b. Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources
  6. Unethical use of confession
    a. Information about sins used to disrupt and/or dissolve identity boundaries
    b. Withholding forgiveness or absolution
    c. Manipulation of memory, possible false memories

Thought Control

  1. Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth
    a. Adopting the group’s ‘map of reality’ as reality
    b. Instill black and white thinking
    c. Decide between good vs. evil
    d. Organize people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders)
  2. Change person’s name and identity
  3. Use of loaded language and clichés which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words
  4. Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts
  5. Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental states, undermine critical thinking and even to age regress the member
  6. Memories are manipulated and false memories are created
  7. Teaching thought-stopping techniques which shut down reality testing by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only positive thoughts, including:
    a. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
    b. Chanting
    c. Meditating
    d. Praying
    e. Speaking in tongues
    f. Singing or humming
  8. Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism
  9. Forbid critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy allowed
  10. Labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate, evil, or not useful
  11. Instill new “map of reality”

Emotional Control

  1. Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – some emotions and/or needs are deemed as evil, wrong or selfish
  2. Teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of homesickness, anger, doubt
  3. Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault
  4. Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as:
    a. Identity guilt
    b. You are not living up to your potential
    c. Your family is deficient
    d. Your past is suspect
    e. Your affiliations are unwise
    f. Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish
    g. Social guilt
    f. Historical guilt
  5. Instill fear, such as fear of:
    a. Thinking independently
    b. The outside world
    c. Enemies
    d. Losing one’s salvation
    e. Leaving or being shunned by the group
    f. Other’s disapproval
    f. Historical guilt
  6. Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bombing and praise one moment and then declaring you are horrible sinner
  7. Ritualistic and sometimes public confession of sins
  8. Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority
    a. No happiness or fulfillment possible outside of the group
    b. Terrible consequences if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc.
    c. Shunning of those who leave; fear of being rejected by friends and family
    d. Never a legitimate reason to leave; those who leave are weak, undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly, brainwashed by family or counselor, or seduced by money, sex, or rock and roll
    e. Threats of harm to ex-member and family

Destructive mind control can be determined when the overall effect of these four components promotes dependency and obedience to some leader or cause; it is not necessary for every single item on the list to be present.

Like many techniques, it is not inherently good or evil.  If mind control techniques are used to empower an individual to have more choice, and authority for their life remains within themselves, the effects can be beneficial. For example, benevolent mind control can be used to help people quit smoking without affecting any other behavior.  Mind control becomes destructive when it undermines a person’s ability to think and act independently.

For more, please download this detailed handout on The BITE Model.

Watch What is a Cult? Whiteboard Animation Using the BITE Model

To learn more read Combating Cult Mind Control  which explores cult psychology, curing the mind control virus, how to protect people you care about and strategies for recovery.

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