How do young people regard the idea and the practice of  ‘brainwashing’?  What of more subtle forms of influence? In what ways might they encounter, reflect upon or resist coercive and seductive forms of persuasion in their everyday lives, in the age of Facebook and Instagram?

In order to find out more about the views of a younger generation, we offered the opportunity for around eighty Year 12 London school students, from three schools in Camden, to investigate these questions for themselves, and to create short films exploring ‘Hidden Persuasion’ in their own ways. At the outset we asked students to think as freely as possible in response to the word ‘brainwashing’. We were interested to see what this 1950s word still evoked for a generation born after the end of the Cold War.

Historians from the Hidden Persuaders project worked with artist Dr Lizzie Burns and filmmakers from Birkbeck’s Derek Jarman Lab to run a series workshops allowing students to explore these ideas in their historical and contemporary contexts.  As the project developed, a host of other questions and answers emerged, about how they regard their own minds and bodies, and navigate a changing culture and society. Fascinating material was created, through a series of personal or small-group collaborations. We share below a compilation of the films from the first two years of these workshops, spanning the ‘attention economy’, nudge, spin, pressure, buying, selling, and consuming, conspiracy theories, fake news, the problem of trust, and more…

With thanks to support from teachers and students at Acland Burghley School, Camden School for Girls, and Parliament Hill School.

The Films

A compilation of visual essays made in 2018 and 2019.

Brainstorming brainwashing

We asked students to record their immediate associations and ideas about the word ‘brainwashing’. Here are a selection of their responses.