cognitive impairment in thought reform environments
a dissertation presented to
the faculty of the college of education
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree
doctor of philosophy
march 4, 2002
associate professor, department of counseling
and higher education
dean of the college of education
this work and all my publications to this point, are dedicated to those to whom the words of a pastor, guru, mentor or spiritual master have become wounds to the soul.
this work is also dedicated to the memory of louis jolyon west, a true pioneer in thought reform research and an example that those of us who work for human rights must first be humans. our care for those whose lives have been hijacked by another’s selfishness must reflect our humanity. so must our research. researchers in human rights work must be accountable for their bias and subject their work to rigorous examination. the cause of freedom of thought can only be furthered with facts. facts are more valuable than agendas. i hope this work furthers his ideals as well as his hope that no group of people will ever be judged for their beliefs or practices, only held accountable for the effects of those beliefs and practices.
this work would not have happened or this ph. d. degree pursued, had it not been for my good fortune to be able to work at wellspring retreat and resource center. its director, dr. paul r. martin, is dedicated to rendering quality care and developing that care through continuous research.
through this association, i have been privileged to meet several research professionals who have dedicated their careers to the pursuit of human rights through freedom of thought. dr. margaret thaler singer who has labored in this stony field for over 50 years was gracious enough to read the proposal when it was in process. dr. michael langone, director of american family foundation, a research and information resource organization who keeps encouraging researchers on four continents to keep up the good work.
dr. peter malinowski, whom i met when he was a first-year doctoral student in psychology at ohio university and who has learned a thing or two about research and statistics in the intervening years, read and provided valuable input. dr. malinowski, dr. steve lynn and others developed with us at wellspring what has become known on both sides of the atlantic as the ohio battery, a collection of measures through which the data this study was collected. dr. steven clay, faculty at the ohio university college of osteopathic medicine was read the drafts before they saw the light of day so my glaring errors would be less noticeable. my spouse, vicki made sure my little errors, missing commas, wrong words, weak sentences would be less noticeable.
and finally, thanks to the faculty of the counseling department, who prepare students to be persons first, counselors second, and mirror that by courageously being who they are. dr. davis, my committee chair, and advisor demonstrates how counselor education is done. dr. jerry olsheski, dr. george johanson, and dr. steven patterson, who has carried on the interest of the department of psychology in this field by graciously agreeing to participate in this endeavor, have all made this a very positive learning experience.
table of contents
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table of contents v
chapter i 1
background of the study 1
statement of the problem 2
research hypothesis 2
definitions of terms 5
chapter ii - review of the literature 8
introduction to the literature 8
critical review of relevant literature 9
clinical impressions of ex–members 9
thought reform or“brainwashing”10
empirical studies of current members 13
concerns with studies of current members 15
studies with former members 16
concerns with studies with former members 20
trauma and cults 20
summary and conclusions 21
strengths and weaknesses of the literature 21
the proposed research 21
how the literature supports the need for this study 22
chapter iii - methodology 23
the sample 23
data collection 25
operational definition of the variables 26
research hypotheses 29
design of the study 30
chapter iv - results 32
descriptive analyses 32
pre- and post treatment gpa scores 38
affective contribution 39
post hoc analysis 41
chapter v - discussion of implications, conclusions and recommendations 44
reason for the study 44
participant demographics 44
the hypotheses of the study: discussion and comment 46
veracity of ex-member recollections 47
relative contribution of measures of affect 48
discussion of post hoc findings 50
limitations of the study 50
implications for counselors and public policy 51
suggestions for future research 52
appendix a - irb letters 60
appendix b - consent form used by participants in this study 61
appendix c - demographic questionnaire 62
appendix d - the“ohio battery”from which this study was taken 63
appendix e - boxplot of post hoc study 64