Saturday, February 9, 2008

Persinger's "First Order Protections" for Resisting Cultic Influence PART II of III


Continued from PART I:

First Order Protections

.Helpful protective procedures

that will help you resist manipulation

Consider Confounding Factors

Most successful [groups] caplitalize upon basic human behaviors. The most infrequently displayed response (due to inexperience or active suppression) of a particular generation is selected as a major sell point. For example the TM sell job tapped heavily into this [the baby-boomer] generation’s basic ignorance of the consequences of silence and relaxation.

When [group] claims are made, look for the confounding factor. In other words, attempt to determine what actual stimulus is involved that is masked or misinterpreted by the [group] leaders. Usually the confounding factor is so simple that it is easily overlooked. Never underestimate the effects of expectancy upon the interpretations of otherwise mundane private experiences.

Evaluate the Absolute Intensity of the Claims

[Groups] report a wide continuum of effects, ranging from the possible to the ridiculous. If the [group] idolizes or adulterates science, no doubt it uses and experimental format defended by apparently reputable scientists. Statements such as “scientifically proven” or “probability less than 0.001” or “statistically significant” are likely.

However, evaluate the absolute effect of the [group] claim. In real numbers, not relative effects, determine the actual magnitude of the apparent [group] claims upon the behavior in question. If the treatment influences the disease, by how much does it affect this malady? Don’t be satisfied by nominal statements such as “increase” versus “decrease.”

Consider Alternative Explanations

When massive claims are made about a particular [group] treatment, consider other options. How many other explanations or other mechanisms could explain the effects? Instead of responding with awe, behave like the skeptic magician. Consider: if I wanted to reproduce an illusion, how would I proceed?

Frequent counter-explanations for [group] changes have been the placebo effect, the consequences of expectancy and peer group pressure. If these effects produce similar intensity changes in the human believers within controlled experimental situations, then one must be suspect of the [group] claims.


Are the Basic Assumptions of the Theory Testable?

The strength of theoretical claims can be evaluated by the number of testable hypotheses that can be generated from basic assumptions. Can the wonder-words and belief phrases be translated into experimental formats where numbers are involved? In other words, is the word core of the movement defined by faith or fact?

Consider how many precise predictions can be made by the [group] theory. If they promise an after-life, what actual proof is there on a numerical level? When faith and your hard-earned salary are removed, what facts do you have that the predicitions will be delivered? If they promise a solution to the world’s ills, what actual proof is involved in terms of real data collected by people not in the movement?

A critical question to consider is: How many other models explain the phenomena in question more rigorously? Does the [group] theory explain, in realistic terms, the problems at hand (survival, death, world chaos or personal resolution) more precisely than other theories? If the claim of survival based upon death-bed reports can be more precisely explained and predicted on the basis of hypoxic alterations in the human brain, are the claims really valid?

Accurate predictions of future events are better proofs of a theory’s validity. If the [group] claims that belief in its tenets will give you special power, then ask for specific predictions that can be verified independent of expectation. If the [group] insists that it is the savior for the world, ask for specific predictions of how this will occur. Answers like “it’s a secret” or “for the benefit of man we must keep it private” are rip offs.

Can any predictions generated from the [group’s] assumptions explain or predict a phenomenon in more detail and with greater rigor than predictions generated by more acceptable assumptions? Are the predictions merely common sense? Can the predictions about the phenomena in question be generated by a completely separate set of assumptions that do not require blind faith and emotion?

Most [group] tenets cannot compete with real data. The [group follower] cannot argue with the empiricist or with the experimentalist. As long as the observe stays within the context of data and the objective perspective of dispassionate methodology, the cult has little chance of success. Once the observer leaves the data and enters into the world of word games, the [group] believer dominates.


Objective Viewing 
Determine how the different cult phenomena appear when recorded by other procedures. Record the phenomena on film or view them in a more clinical perspective outside the personal enthusiasm of the group. Preferably, use your own equipment or materials supplied by individuals not involved with the movement.

Personal presence within a [group] phenomena is a precarious condition. Even the coldest scientist is still a human being who can be carried away by the emotion of the event. One is reminded of the scientist who, while watching some of the more bizarre claims of TM, felat as if “he had seen” levitation merely because others reported this condition. Later outside their ranks, he felt embarrassed that he, of all people, had fallen prey to the effects of peer group pressure.

Evaluate what [group followers] do, not what they say. The advantages of behavioral analyses in context of [group] movements are clear. Since what a person says may have little to do with the stimuli that control his/her behavior, determine in simple terms – with no fancy words – what the person is actually doing. Isolate the consequences.

Sitting quietly and repeating a sound is a form of relaxation – no matter what other word is used to describe it. Killing an entire people is still genocide whether it is done for the sake of democracy or communism. Shared behaviors and social comradery are normal human behaviors; they are not special consequences of being the “selected few” or the “children of God.”


Use the Method as Criteria

Since human beings, scientist or scoundrel, are subject to daily whims and personal problems, more independent modes of evaluation are preferable. One of the most successful tools in this century has been the scientific method. Methodology and clear experimental designs allow objective determination of potential effects. The basic concepts of control, replication and verification are important fail-safes against innocent but erroneous enthusiasm.

By evaluating the methodology, the procedures by which [group] effects are evoked, the misleading components can be reduced. By reducing the fancy words to actual stimuli and responses, a realistic appraisal of the phenomena can be found. Knowing the intricate mechanics of how a car functions does not detract from its beauty.

In the history of science, new principles and contributions have emerged from the massive accumulation of data. This accumulation has required precise understanding of methodology and experimental design. From the almost infinite set of collected numbers has arisen the technology of our comfortable daily lives. Wonderwords and simple solutions do not build televisions or perform neurosurgery or send rockets to the moon.


from Pgs 169 - 172
TM and Cult Mania"
by Persinger, Carrey and Seuss
(what a great couple of names for co-authors!)

[Note: The following terms were substituted in the passage:
"Group think" for "cult mania"
"Group" for "cult"
"Group follower" for "cultist"]