Researchers Test Scientific Brainwashing
Psychologists test methods of unconsciously manipulating people’s biases – and nobody seems worried about it.
Bias should be overcome by reasoned persuasion with people who are fully awake. That would seem the rational ideal. But why try persuasion the hard way, when you can manipulate their attitudes in their sleep? Why, this could be made into a government program to “heal” a populace that has uncooperative attitudes. All painless and… for their good, of course.
This is how it always starts: good intentions. Researchers at Northwestern just want to help people overcome racial bias and gender bias. Those are clearly bad things with “unsavory consequences” for society, Science Daily reminds us. Doesn’t that justify a little bit of scientific mind-bending? Think of the danger of climate change to the world; it’s too hard to try to figure out what works to change the minds of those biased to deny it (see PhysOrg article). Why not use painless manipulation?
In the Science Magazine paper “Unlearning Social Biases During Sleep,” psychologists from Northwestern, Princeton and the University of Texas ran some experiments with flashcards, sound, and sleep. Participants were shown pictures of women, blacks and other subjects with “counter-stereotype” words, such as a photo of a woman with the word “math” or “science” under it. Then during sleep, without their knowledge, sounds reinforcing the counter-stereotype messages were fed subliminally into their ears. According to the paper, it worked; after a week, the participants showed a sustained reduction in their biased responses.
The abstract sounds positively manipulative:
Although people may endorse egalitarianism and tolerance, social biases can remain operative and drive harmful actions in an unconscious manner. Here, we investigated training to reduce implicit racial and gender bias. Forty participants processed counterstereotype information paired with one sound for each type of bias. Biases were reduced immediately after training. During subsequent slow-wave sleep, one sound was unobtrusively presented to each participant, repeatedly, to reactivate one type of training. Corresponding bias reductions were fortified in comparison with the social bias not externally reactivated during sleep. This advantage remained 1 week later, the magnitude of which was associated with time in slow-wave and rapid-eye-movement sleep after training. We conclude that memory reactivation during sleep enhances counterstereotype training and that maintaining a bias reduction is sleep-dependent.
Isn’t that wonderful? Managers, having undergone this “training,” will be more ready to hire a woman to a management position, or a black person over a white person. Gareth Gaskell at The Conversation sure thinks it’s wonderful. His headline announces, “Sleep study raises hope for clinical treatment of racism, sexism and other biases.” My, what could those “other biases” be? Homophobia, perhaps? Commitment to religious beliefs? Political incorrectness? Science Daily cheerily proclaims, “Implicit social biases made to drop away during sleep.” It’s so beautiful. The biases melt away, then sleep stabilizes the groupthink during sleep (see Science Daily). Yes; sleep, sleep, dear one. You are getting verrrrry sleeeepy.
The study relies on the belief that people’s unconscious thoughts are malleable. Human brains, having been conditioned by culture or parents in “unsavory” ways, can be manipulated (shall we say, “re-educated”) with a little “training.” It’s notable that none of these articles used the word “brainwashing.” And of course, it’s the unwashed masses, not the scientists, who need the training. Scientists do not have social biases, because they are already politically correct after years of
brainwashing training rational instruction in what to think and how to think (2/28/14).
What’s perhaps most disturbing about the coverage of this study is the near-complete absence of worry about possible abuses. One exception is the last paragraph in a commentary on the paper by two German psychologists in Science Magazine:
There is little doubt that the study of Hu et al.—with its clear implications for society—will motivate research to resolve these remaining issues. However, Aldous Huxley’s description of a dystopian “brave new world” where young children are conditioned to certain values during sleep reminds us that this research also needs to be guided by ethical considerations. Sleep is a state in which the individual is without willful consciousness and therefore vulnerable to suggestion. Beyond that, Hu et al.’s findings highlight the breadth of possible applications to permanently modify any unwanted behavior by targeted memory reactivation during sleep.
Ethical considerations? There’s nothing to worry about. We already know we can trust psychologists to run the procedure, because they have shown themselves to be reliable, trustworthy and morally pure (see 5/22/14, 10/06/12, 11/05/11). They follow a standard protocol (see PhysOrg, “Online survey researchers should be cautious with trick questions”). And the government will surely regulate them, like the TSA and IRS, so that they do not get out of hand. Or, as an extra precaution, the government can program robots to do it on a mass production line. They could even give it a pleasing name to alleviate the fears of the populace. Something, perhaps, like the “Ministry of Love.”
This is a great idea. We would like to suggest some additional experiments:
Have the participants exchange roles with the subjects, to see if they can get the psychologists to reduce their bias toward scientism, materialism, or academic arrogance.
Re-educate the NCSE to reduce their stereotypical responses against intelligent design and creation.
Let the citizens re-educate politicians away from their bias toward tax-and-spend habits.
Why should the elites be the only ones to use the method? After all, didn’t the psychologists perform their experiments for the cause of “egalitarianism and tolerance”? Power to the people! Science belongs to everyone.
Ronald Reagan used to quip that the scariest thing you’ll ever hear is, “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.” As people’s memories fade about communist “psychopolitics” research and scientific brainwashing techniques, we need to re-educate them, all right: not by sending them to re-education camps where dissidents are tempted, tortured, or liquidated if they don’t conform to the party propaganda. No, we prefer the old fashioned way: reasoned persuasion. Treat people with respect as souls created in the image of God, where all genders and colors are equal in His sight. Appeal to their consciences. Teach them real facts of history: e.g., not that long ago, academic elitists, directed by totalitarian dictators, felt the need to find more effective methods of mass persuasion, and the atrocities that resulted were mind-chillingly evil. Researchers are still mapping the extent of the Holocaust over Europe (PhysOrg).
That started with good intentions, too. No one thought to ask, “Who manipulates the manipulators?”