Our project examines ‘brainwashing’ in the Cold War for the roles, real and imagined, played by psychologists, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. We ask how these disciplines pictured tyranny and freedom of mind, were drawn into ‘psy warfare’ and commerce, and were mobilised in social and political critique.
The reputations of the ‘psy’ professions – and the status of their ideas – were altered by controversies, myths and testimonies about ‘brainwashing’ in its various guises during the Cold War. Our project uncovers new source materials and promotes original analyses of the involvement (real and perceived) of clinicians in brainwashing and its cognate practices of interrogation, psychological warfare, subliminal advertisement, and therapeutic experimentation. We consider what ethical guidelines and safeguards, past or present, have been formulated to deal with the dangers of mind control so powerfully articulated during the Cold War.
By exploring these historical debates over mind control and their continuing legacies for psy expertise, Hidden Persuaders offers timely historical analysis of continuing present-day controversies. The language of ‘brainwashing’ continues to influence, in diverse and unexpected ways, present understanding of the relationship between the individual and the state; the nature of the therapeutic encounter between patient and psy-professional; and the borderlands between education, persuasion and indoctrination.
This project is made possible by a Senior Investigator Award from the Wellcome Trust.
Daniel Pick is Professor of History in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck and the Senior Investigator in the Hidden Persuaders project. He is also a psychoanalyst and Fellow of the British Psychoanalytical Society. He has written on the history of psychoanalysis, psychology and psychiatry; the relationship of Freudian thought to historiography; evolutionary theory and the idea of degeneration, eugenics and social Darwinism; modern ideas of war; the myth of Svengali; cultural attitudes to crime and madness in the Victorian period. His publications include Psychoanalysis: A Very Short Introduction (2015), The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind: Hitler, Hess, and the Analysts (2012), Rome or Death: The Obsessions of General Garibaldi (2005), as editor (with Lyndal Roper), Dreams and History: The Interpretation of Dreams from Ancient Greece to Modern Psychoanalysis (2004), and Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c. 1848-1918 (1989). He is an editor of History Workshop Journal, a member of the advisory board of Psychoanalysis and History and Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture. He is also on the editorial board of the New Library of Psychoanalysis.
Marcia Holmes is a post-doctoral researcher on the Hidden Persuaders project. Dr. Holmes’s research brings together histories of behavioural science, the military, and technology to assess how concepts of human mind and behaviour were shaped by the twentieth century’s expanding military-industrial-academic complex. She is currently researching the American and British militaries’ Cold War-era community of psychological researchers, tracing how political, bureaucratic and intellectual fault lines influenced service psychologists’ assessments of brainwashing. In 2014 she completed her PhD at the University of Chicago in Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science. Her thesis, ‘Performing Proficiency: Applied Experimental Psychology and the Human Engineering of Air Defense, 1940-1965’, focuses on how the technical, political and epistemic problems of air defense established the psychological study of man-machine systems within the US Air Force’s network of research laboratories. In 2012-2013 she was the NASA-American Historical Association Fellow in Aerospace History.
Charlie Williams is a PhD student at Birkbeck. His research explores the relationship between Cold War brainwashing theories and approaches to clinical and experimental psychiatry in the 1950s and ’60s. Charlie completed his undergraduate and masters degrees in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology at the University of Manchester.
Katie Joice is a PhD student at Birkbeck. Her research interests include the use of documentary and experimental film by Cold War psychiatrists, the material culture of psychiatric practice, and the history of the anti-psychiatry movement. Katie has an MA in Intellectual and Cultural History from the University of London and has worked for several years as a researcher and curator.
Ian Magor is a PhD student at Birkbeck. His research examines the pooling of expertise between American psychiatrists, filmmakers and the military during the Second World War and its influence on Cold War concepts of brainwashing and thought control. Ian recently completed an MA at Birkbeck in Psychoanalysis, History and Culture.
Sarah Marks joined the Hidden Persuaders project as a post-doctoral researcher in October 2016. Sarah’s research focuses on the history of the psy-professions in the Soviet sphere during the Cold War. She completed her PhD on the history of psychiatry in Communist East Germany and Czechoslovakia at University College London in 2015, and held a research fellowship at Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge between 2014 and 2016. Her research has focused on reconstructing the ways in which mental health and illness were understood and treated in the Communist context, how psy-professionals interacted with the regime, and how psychological knowledge and practice became useful for the project of building socialism and ‘winning hearts and minds’. She is also interested in the Cold War military interest in psychological techniques and mind control, including Soviet psychotronics research. Her publications include Psychiatry in Communist Europe, co-edited with Mat Savelli (Palgrave, 2015) and ‘From Experimental Psychosis to Resolving Traumatic Pasts: Psychedelic Research in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1954-1974’ Cahiers du monde russe (2015), and she is a member of the editorial board of History of the Human Sciences.