how cults rewire the brain

Diane Benscoter spent five years as a “Moonie.” She shares an insider’s perspective on the mind of a cult member, and proposes a new way to think about today’s most troubling conflicts and extremist movements.


  1. #1 Susannah
    June 26, 2009

    Brief and to the point.

    She says, “… there is no evil force out there to get us.”

    She’s right, and for those of us who were raised in cultic environments, it is important that it be repeated. Often. We may know it, but it is far too easy to slip back into the old ways of thinking. “Us” and “them”; the “inside” vs. the “outside”, or even, “Us” against “the powers that be”, whether human or not.

    No. It’s just “Us”. All of us; we’re in this together.

    So, “… we can do this.” I don’t know if we can, yet, but at least it makes sense to try.

  2. #2 Susannah
    June 26, 2009

    However, the title of the post is misleading. She says nothing about “how”, beyond an assertion of a measurable difference in our brains, based on nothing.

  3. #3 The Science Pundit
    June 26, 2009

    However, the title of the post is misleading. She says nothing about “how”, beyond an assertion of a measurable difference in our brains, based on nothing.

    That’s why you need this video. 😛

  4. #4 Jason Thibeault
    June 26, 2009

    I haven’t read The Selfish Gene yet, another on my to-read list, but on a flight to Georgia last March (Jodi’s sister’s wedding), the lovely couple seated with me told me all about it (yet couldn’t remember the author — I was amused to find out afterward).

    The concept of memetics fascinates me. And it rings true. I can completely “get” how this can happen, even just watching how certain videos go viral on the intertubes knowing that its content is provided by other people’s brains, just like Benscoter can “get” how people infected by a particularly bad meme can do such horrible things. Or just look at how often you catch someone reciting quotes from their favorite TV show or commercial. Really, commercials! Advertising firms must know a good deal about memetics without really realizing it.

    I agree she makes a significant leap in suggesting that their brains would “look different”. I could imagine their brain scans might show different areas lit up while asked certain questions, but to sit someone down, put electrodes on their head, and ask them questions to determine whether or not they’re a cultist seems more like a way to hunt these people down.

    I’m considering studying memetics to greater depth, though I don’t really have any academic standing with which to do so. I know I’d be starting on an assumed premise, but maybe that premise rings true because it’s actually true.

  5. #5 sailor
    June 27, 2009

    To me what is particularly interesting is the possibility (not mentioned here) of how we “innoculate” people against whacky memes. How do we put a meme in the brain that will examine later memes and examine them critically. Keeping in mind of course that memes are not just intellectual, but very largely emotional.

  6. #6 willie
    June 27, 2009

    Actually, we seem to be inoculating people against rational thinking.

    Think about the day to day aphorisms about truth, such as “the truth must be somewhere in between” or “there is a grain of truth behind every legend” and so on.

  7. #7 Cher
    June 27, 2009

    Erase and Rewind!!!!

  8. #8 Robert Gauper
    Wheatland, CA
    October 29, 2014

    I organized a small protest against TED because of their support of forced faith-breaking and kidnapping. You can check it out on my blog:

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    October 29, 2014

    Moonies are loonies, man.