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Science And Nature

The Psychology Behind Cults

After getting into his daughters dorm room at Sarah Lawrence College in 2010, Lawrence V. Ray spent another decade isolating, brainwashing and controlling the lives of his daughters friends and classmates. Accused of starting a cult at the suburban NY school, earlier this season Ray was found guilty on 15 federal counts, including extortion, sex trafficking, racketeering conspiracy and forced labor. Hell be sentenced in September.

Dubbed the Sarah Lawrence Cult Trial, based on the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Southern District of NY, the case centered around Ray subjecting his victims to manipulation and several forms of abuse. His tactics included sleep deprivation, psychological and sexual humiliation, verbal abuse, threats of assault and alienating victims from their own families. Prosecutors also highlighted how Ray exploited mental health vulnerabilities in victims.

Even with a tale of The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence, was published in NY Magazine in 2019, articles that resulted in a study and the eventual trial, reports claim that a few of his followers remained specialized in Ray. This scenario supplies a glimpse at the complicated and powerful grip that cults might have on the human psyche.

Cult Psychology

Experts who study cults suggest the human dependence on comfort prompts visitors to look for others or what to soothe their fears and anxieties. Research shows that those element among others have led thousands of individuals to invest in a large number of cults operating all over the world.

[They] provide meaning, purpose and belonging, says Josh Hart, a professor of psychology at Union College who studies personality and social psychology, world views and belief systems. They provide an obvious, confident vision [and] assert the superiority of the group.

Regarding the leaders themselves, they typically promote themselves as infallible, confident and grandiose. Their charisma draws people in, Hart says. And followers that are craving peace, belonging and security might gain a feeling of these things along with confidence through participation in the group.

This content or ideology at the core of a cult could be religious, or vary beyond that. In a TED-Ed video about cults, Janja Lalich, a specialist in cultic studies and Professor Emerita of sociology at California State University, Chico, says some cults are political, others are therapy-based plus some concentrate on self-improvement.

Generally, she sees a couple of important elements defining a cult. A cult is really a group or movement with a shared commitment to a usually extreme ideology that’s usually embodied in a charismatic leader, Lalich says in her TED-Ed video.

Three Well-Known U.S. Cults

You might recognize the names of the three following well-known U.S. cults, or their leaders, in recent history.

The Peoples Temple was founded by Jim Jones in Indiana in 1955. The group started as what were a progressive organization that advocated for civil rights. Jones wished to create an egalitarian utopian community. In the mid-70s, Jones moved the cult to Guyana. By 1978, the populace of Jonestown had grown to nearly 1,000 people. That year, Jones ordered his followers to drink a cyanide-laced drink. 909 died, including children.

Someone named David Koresh, who believed he was the Messiah, founded The Branch Davidians (1955 – 1993). Koresh believed that women, including girls, were his spiritual wives. Collectively, the group believed the apocalypse was imminent and, fearing its arrival, locked themselves right into a sprawling compound in Waco, Texas. In 1993, on a tip that Koresh was stockpiling weapons, the Department of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco raided the compound. A standoff between your FBI and the Branch Davidians ended 51 days later and left a lot more than 80 dead.

Children of God Family International were only available in 1968 but still exists today. The cult operates in 80 countries. Actors Joaquin Phoenix and Rose McGowan were born in to the cult, but escaped and also have spoken out against it.

Recruiting and Retaining

The indoctrination process could be key to a cults success, and leave a robust impression on its victims. Whilst every cult could be different, experts say that the techniques to pull members in and keep them there resemble an identical playbook of psychological principles.

One element is cognitive dissonance. The idea introduced in the late 1950s shows that when folks are met with facts that contradict their beliefs, values and ideas, they’ll feel psychological discomfort, likely accompanied by the necessity to resolve that contradiction and reduce their uneasiness. In a cult setting, the cognitive dissonance often keeps you trapped as each compromise helps it be more painful to admit youve been deceived, Lalich explains in her TED-Ed video. It uses both formal and informal systems of influence and control to help keep members obedient with little tolerance for internal disagreement or external scrutiny.

This obedience factor is another important element. It plays from a humans natural inclination to check out orders and do what others around them are doing. In cult settings, critical thinking is frequently frowned upon, while absolute faith is rewarded. Guilt, shame and fear may also be constantly wielded to slowly remove somebody’s identity.

Free thinking, free will and free speech are limited within an environment where full obedience to leaders is necessary. Experts say cult leaders, subsequently, have narcissistic and authoritarian streaks and so are motivated by money, sex or power (perhaps all three).

Even though many religions began as cults, Lalich explains that some built-into the fabric of the bigger society because they grew. Furthermore, while religions may offer guidelines and support for members to call home better lives, a cult separates its members from others and seeks to directly control financial assets and living arrangements.

Recruitment may take months and resemble a pyramid scheme. Meaning, a cults expansion depends on existing members to recruit new members. This may involve extending friendship and link with a person who is not used to a location, lonely, experiencing an individual or professional loss or searching for meaning in life.

Although some of the very most famous cults have collapsed in mass suicides events, like the deaths of 919 members of Jim Jones Peoples Temple, because cults are protected under laws governing religious freedom, it could be tricky to legally prosecute cults and their leaders. However, when laws are broken, the federal government can intervene like the case of the Sarah Lawrence Cult Trial

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