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

  • Promote dependence and obedience
  • Modify behavior with rewards and punishments
  • Dictate where and with whom you live
  • Restrict or control sexuality
  • Control clothing and hairstyle
  • Regulate what and how much you eat and drink
  • Deprive you of seven to nine hours of sleep
  • Exploit you financially
  • Restrict leisure time and activities
  • Require you to seek permission for major decisions

Information Control

  • Deliberately withhold and distort information
  • Forbid you from speaking with ex-members and critics
  • Discourage access to non-cult sources of information
  • Divide information into Insider vs. Outsider doctrine
  • Generate and use propaganda extensively
  • Use information gained in confession sessions against you
  • Gaslight to make you doubt your own memory
  • Require you to report thoughts, feelings, & activities to superiors
  • Encourage you to spy and report on others’ “misconduct”

Thought Control

  • Instill Black vs. White, Us vs. Them, & Good vs. Evil thinking
  • Change your identity, possibly even your name
  • Use loaded language and cliches to stop complex thought
  • Induce hypnotic or trance states to indoctrinate
  • Teach thought-stopping techniques to prevent critical thoughts
  • Allow only positive thoughts
  • Use excessive meditation, singing, prayer, & chanting to block thoughts
  • Reject rational analysis, critical thinking, & doubt

Emotional Control

  • Instill irrational fears (phobias) of questioning or leaving the group
  • Label some emotions as evil, worldly, sinful, or wrong
  • Teach emotion-stopping techniques to prevent anger, homesickness
  • Promote feelings of guilt, shame, & unworthiness
  • Shower you with praise and attention (“love bombing”)
  • Threaten your friends and family
  • Shun you if you disobey or disbelieve
  • Teach that there is no happiness or peace outside the group

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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