Cults and Persuasion: Submission as Preference Shifting

International Journal of Coercion, Abuse and manipulation, vol. 4, Forthcoming

22 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2023 Last revised: 14 Apr 2023

Date Written: January 13, 2023


The literature on mind manipulation is often tainted by the specious use of the metaphor "brainwashing". This is sometimes done under the guise of emphasising the irrationality of manipulation and showing that it is outside the realm of science. This paper will instead show how the findings of experimental psychology and behavioural economics lead to the identification of a process of change in thinking and behaviour that can be described in scientific terms. This process is accomplished with a slow self-selection of recruits and an equally gradual increase in demands. The classic Milgram experiment is a suitable tool to explain this. The framing effect identified by Tversky and Khaneman, so important in marketing, is quite capable of bringing about counterproductive decisions in a context that makes them reasonable to those who make them. This is to show that there is nothing magical or metaphysical about mind control as long as it is understood as a process of conditioning that works through progressive selection and leads to an increase in conformism in a closed environment. Instead, the idea of rational choice, on which the defence of manipulative cults is based, is thrown out of the scientific field.

Keywords: Cults, Rational Choice Theory, Behavioural Economics, Tversky, Kahneman, Socail Psychology, Milgram, Persuasion, Braiwashing, Mind Control

Suggested Citation

Corvaglia, Luigi, Cults and Persuasion: Submission as Preference Shifting (January 13, 2023). International Journal of Coercion, Abuse and manipulation, vol. 4, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Luigi Corvaglia (Contact Author)

Unisalento ( email )


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