Visions of brainwashed minds permeated Cold War culture, politics and science. We map this history and ask how it influenced and was shaped by the ‘psy’ professions.


Battles of the mind: The long Cold War

We review ideas of brainwashing as they appeared in the postwar period, and trace their connection to clinicians’ analyses and therapeutic treatment of military captives in the Korean War and later conflicts.

Shadows of colonialism

We probe the imperial powers’ uses of psychological concepts and expertise in counter-insurgency, propaganda and re-education programmes after 1945.

Advertising, film and hidden persuasion

Our project explores the affinities between the post-war literature on commercial ‘hidden persuasion’ and popular depictions of brainwashed minds in television and film.

‘Psy’ expertise: Debates, reflections, reckonings

Our research considers how and why revelations and allegations of brainwashing returned to haunt all of the psy professions, inspiring new explorations and critiques of psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy.

Shaping the Child’s Mind

We explore how notions of thought control, autonomy and freedom change when we consider not only the psychology of adults, but of children and adolescents – and with what effects for pedagogy, parenting, mental health and therapy.

Here and now

We investigate how historical concepts of brainwashing continue to influence current debates about the ethics and limits of psy expertise in the indoctrination, coercion, and manipulation of human subjects.

Symposium on Child Psychoanalysis, Observation and Visual Culture: Podcasts

Podcasts on the historical and contemporary relationships between child psychoanalysis, observation and visual culture from the Hidden Persuaders Symposium, 6th April 2019, Freud Museum London.

Gifted Children as Hidden Persuaders in the Cold War

Jennifer Crane explores how gifted children were imagined as potential peacetime leaders, or as dangerous future citizens who might use their unique talents to subvert authority.

States of Security: John Bowlby, Child Psychology, and National Security in the Cold War

How did child psychologists contribute to the Cold War discourse of “National Security”? Carolyn Laubender discusses the relationship between John Bowlby’s attachment theory and larger political anxieties about the protections offered by the nation state.

The Hidden Persuaders Project has collaborated with independent, London-based filmmakers to produce two documentary films on the Korean War controversies that made ‘brainwashing’ a household word in the 1950s.