The BITE Model and Jehovah’s Witnesses

August 2, 2018:

This past June, I did an online survey on influence to conduct, analyze and publish research on undue influence. Scientific data is required to help establish specific evaluation criteria to update legal and social policy in the United States and around the world. The initial results of my research show that former members of the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses report many meaningful behavioral criteria. With over 700 respondents, there is significant preliminary evidence that both groups use specific methods and techniques that influence how a person thinks, feels, and acts to instill obedience over conscience.  I formulated the research questions from the four-component BITE Model. I developed this model over thirty years ago based on Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory, and Lifton’s and Singer’s models developed from studying brainwashing in the 1950s. “BITE” stands for Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotional control.

Last month, psychologist John Dehlin, after reading my book Combating Cult Mind Control,  applied the BITE model to the Mormon Church. (You can see his assessment here.)  This month, I have asked Kimmy O’Donnell, a support staff member for Freedom of Mind and a former Jehovah’s Witness, to do the same for the Watchtower. I felt it was important to do a blog which applies the BITE model to the religious practices and doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Kimmy’s assessment follows below.

I have already written about a number of policies that concern me with the Watchtower Society. Some of these include their use of shunning, the loss of life over refusing blood transfusions and the common use of corporal punishment.

Assessing the Jehovah’s Witnesses Using the BITE Model

Below are a series of images that include the main points of the BITE model.  Using John Dehlin’s idea, Kimmy colored the bullet points in the following ways:

  • Green means does not apply
  • Orange means it partially applies (in other words, true for a subsection of members such as Bethelites, pioneers, and elders, but not rank and file members)
  • Red means it absolutely applies

This is Kimmy’s assessment, and we welcome feedback. Does this analysis fit?  I am not sure members are not bored into trance states while attending long meetings or study sessions based on my information. But, please let me know what you think! (contact us)

*8/04/2018 Updated after receiving considerable feedback*

Behavior Control

  • Regulate an individual’s physical reality
  • Dictate where, how and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates
  • Dictate when, how, and with whom the member has sex
  • Control types of clothing and hairstyles
  • Regulate diet -food and drink, hunger and/or fasting
  • Manipulation and deprivation of sleep
  • Financial exploitation, manipulation, or dependence
  • Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time
  • Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self-indoctrination, including the Internet
  • Permission required for major decisions
  • Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors
  • Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative
  • Discourage individualism, encourage group-think
  • Impose rigid rules and regulations
  • Encourage and engage in corporal punishment
  • Punish disobedience by beating, torture, burning, cutting, rape, or tattooing/branding
  • Threaten harm to family or friends (by cutting off family/friends)
  • Force individual to rape or be raped
  • Instill dependency and obedience

Information Control

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

Thought Control

  • Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth
    • Adopting the group’s ‘map of reality’ as reality
    • Instill black and white thinking
    • Decide between good vs. evil
    • Organize people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders)
  • Change a person’s name and identity
  • Use of loaded language and cliches which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzzwords
  • Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts
  • Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental states, undermine critical thinking, and even to age regress the member
  • Memories are manipulated and false memories are created (e.g. “1975”)
  • Teaching thought-stopping techniques which shut down reality testing by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only positive thoughts, including:
    • Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
    • Chanting
    • Meditating
    • Praying
    • Speaking in tongues
    • Singing or humming
  • Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism
  • Forbid critical questions about leader, doctrine or policy allowed
  • Labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate, evil or not useful
  • Instill new ‘map of reality’

Emotional Control

  • Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – some emotions and/or needs are deemed as evil, wrong, or selfish
  • Teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of hopelessness, anger, or doubt
  • Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault
  • Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as:
    • Identity guilt
    • You are not living up to your potential
    • Your family is deficient
    • Your past is suspect
    • Your affiliations are unwise
    • Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish
    • Social guilt
    • Historical guilt
  • Instill fear, such as fear of:
    • Thinking independently
    • The outside world
    • Enemies
    • Losing one’s salvation
    • Leaving or being
  • Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bombing and praise one moment, and then declaring you are a horrible sinner
  • Ritualistic and sometimes public confession of sins
  • Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority
    • No happiness or fulfillment possible outside the group
    • Terrible consequences if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc
    • Shunning of those who leave; fear of being rejected by friends and family
    • 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
  • Threats of harm to ex-member and family (threats of cutting off friends/family)


Many people incorrectly 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 phobia programming about Armageddon. 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. In fact, there only need to be a few major behaviors under each of the four components.

As you see above, many of the listed items apply to Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The behavior of members is controlled by limiting contact with “worldly” or “bad association” which includes disfellowshipped friends and family. Going against this could result in the member also being disfellowshipped.  Additionally, men are encouraged against having beards and women must wear modest-length skirts (never pants) when engaged in all aspects of worship.  They are not allowed to consume blood in food products or receive whole blood components in a life-saving transfusion. As well, to be active and in good standing, they must attend weekly meetings of worship, engage in preaching about their beliefs with non-members and then report that time each month to their local congregation.

As for information, members are discouraged from engaging in critical thinking about their beliefs and are instructed not to speak with ex-members, especially those labeled as “apostates” and, if they do so, they can be sanctioned.  Self-policing and reporting on others to congregation elders is encouraged.

Jehovah’s Witnesses control the thoughts of members by using loaded language and refer to their belief system as the “Truth” whereby everyone else is controlled by Satan.  This results in members’ emotions being manipulated by fears and phobias.  The fear of dying at Armageddon or being shunned by friends and family keeps them dedicated to the organization, along with the guilt of displeasing Jehovah God, the elders, and the congregation.

The extreme variables listed above that do not apply to the Watchtower were included when I started working with sex trafficking survivors and members of violent groups including terrorist cults.

If you have never been a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses but, rather, have been involved with another controlling group or relationship, I encourage you to review the BITE model components, along with the Influence Continuum and honestly evaluate whether your organization or relationship practices some of most of these behaviors.