APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control
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The APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods (or Techniques) of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC/DITPACT) was formed at the request of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1983. The APA asked Margaret Singer, a leading theorist in cults and coercive persuasion, to chair a task force to “expose cult methods and tactics”. Some examples that led to the task force’s creation were the Manson family murders, Patty Hearst kidnapping, and the Jonestown massacre.
Goals of the APA Task Force:
- Describe the deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control that may limit freedom and adversely affect individuals, families, and society.
- Review the data base in the field.
- Define the implications of deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control for consumers of psychological services.
- Examine the ethical, educational, and social implications of this problem.
Members of the task force
The members of the task force were:
- Margaret Singer, Chair
- Harold Goldstein, National Institute of Mental Health
- Michael Langone, American Family Foundation
- Jesse S. Miller
- Maurice K. Temerlin, Clinical Psychology Consultants, Inc.
- Louis Jolyon West, University of California Los Angeles
The APA memorandum: dismissal of the DIMPAC report
On May 11, 1987, the APA Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology (BSERP) rejected the DIMPAC report because "In general, the report lacks the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur."
Along with the rejection memo came two letters from external advisers to the APA who reviewed the report (the APA did not make its internal review public):
- One of the letters, from Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi of the University of Haifa, stated among other comments that "lacking psychological theory, the report resorts to sensationalism in the style of certain tabloids" and that "the term 'brainwashing' is not a recognized theoretical concept, and is just a sensationalist 'explanation' more suitable to 'cultists' and revival preachers. It should not be used by psychologists, since it does not explain anything". Beit-Hallahmi recommended not making the report public.
- The second letter, from Jeffrey D. Fisher, said that the report "[...] seems to be unscientific in tone, and biased in nature. It draws conclusions, which in many cases do not mesh well with the evidence presented. At times, the reasoning seems flawed to the point of being almost ridiculous. In fact, the report sometimes seems to be characterized by the use of deceptive, indirect techniques of persuasion and control — the very thing it is investigating".
The BSERP board also cautioned the members of the task force "against using their past appointment to imply BSERP or APA support or approval of the positions advocated in the report", and stated that they should "not distribute or publicize the report without indicating that the report was unacceptable to the Board."
The memorandum concludes with "Finally, after much consideration, BSERP does not believe that we have sufficient information available to guide us in taking a position on this issue."
Margaret Singer and her professional associate sociologist Richard Ofshe subsequently sued the APA in 1992 for defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy and lost in 1994. Subsequently, judges did not accept Singer as an expert witness in cases alleging brainwashing and mind control.
Impact of DIMPAC report dismissal
The task force completed its final report in November 1986. In May 1987, the APA Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology (BSERP) rejected the DIMPAC final report; stating that the report "lack[ed] the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur". It also stated that the BSERP did not believe that we have sufficient information available to guide us in taking a position on this issue. The BSERP board requested that the task-force members not distribute or publicize the report without indicating that the Board found the report unacceptable, and cautioned the members of the task force against using their past appointment to it to imply BSERP or APA support or approval of the positions advocated in the report.
In August 1988, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals overturned the Kropinski v. World Plan Executive Council case, based on the lack of scientific support for the theories presented by Margaret Singer during her testimony as an expert witness.[better source needed]
In 1989, the Robin George v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness case appeared in the Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal of California. This resulted in a rejection of Singer's testimony on the basis that the brainwashing theory of false imprisonment constituted an attempt to premise tort liability on religious practices that the plaintiff believed to be objectionable, and that such premise appeared inconsistent with the First Amendment.[better source needed]
In 1990, District Court Judge Lowell Jensen excluded Singer's testimony in United States v. Fishman. The Judge did this because the Court remained unconvinced that the medical community widely accepted the application of coercive persuasion theory to religious cults and also because the Court did not accept the theory of coercive persuasion in the context of cults.
In 1991, the Patrick Ryan v. Maharishi Yogi case was filed in the US District Court in Washington, DC. Judge Oliver Gasch refused to allow Singer to testify, based on the premises that Singer and Ofshe's theory did not enjoy substantial scientific approval and was therefore not admissible as the basis of expert opinion.[better source needed]
The amicus curiæ brief
Before the task force had submitted its final report, the APA together with a group of scholars submitted an amicus curiæ brief in a pending case, Molko v. Holy Spirit Ass'n for the Unification of World Christianity before the California Supreme Court. The case was submitted on submitted on February 10, 1987 and involved issues of brainwashing and coercive persuasion related to the Unification Church. The brief portrayed Singer's hypotheses as uninformed speculations based on skewed data.
The theory of brainwashing was categorized as not scientifically proven and advanced the position that the "commitment to advancing the appropriate use of psychological testimony in the courts carries with it the concomitant duty to be vigilant against those who would use purportedly expert testimony lacking scientific and methodological rigor".
On March 24, 1987, the APA filed a motion to withdraw its signature from this brief, as it considered the conclusion premature in view of the ongoing work of the DIMPAC task force. The amicus as such continued because the co-signed scholars did not withdraw their signatures. These included: Jeffrey Hadden, Eileen Barker, David Bromley and J. Gordon Melton, Joseph Bettis, Durwood Foster, William R. Garret, Richard D. Kahone, Timothy Miller, John Young, James T. Richardson, Ray L. Hart, Benton Johnson, Franklin Littell, Newton Malony, Donald E. Miller, Mel Prosen, Thomas Robbins, and Huston Smith.
Margaret Singer v. APA (RICO lawsuit)
When the APA's BSERP declined to accept the DIMPAC findings, Singer sued the APA and other scholars in 1992 for "defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy", under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), and lost in 1994. The lawsuit alleged that several top executives at the APA and ASA attempted to destroy careers, charging that from 1986 to 1992 they resorted to improper influence of witnesses in state court litigations, filed untrue affidavits, attempted to obstruct justice in federal litigations, deceived federal judges, and committed wire and mail fraud. Ofshe and Singer said that these actions damaged their reputations as forensic experts in the fields of psychology and sociology in the area of coercive persuasion, preventing their testimony against cults, and specified acts of collusion between several of the defendants and cult groups.
The court summons filed by Singer and Ofshe's lawyer described the rejection of the DIMPAC report by the APA's BSERP as a "rejection of the scientific validity of the theory of coercive persuasion".[better source needed]
The court dismissed the case on the basis that the claims of defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy constituted a dispute over the application of the First Amendment to a public debate over academic and professional matters. The court stated that one could characterize the parties as the opposing camps in a long-standing debate over certain theories in the field of psychology, and that the plaintiffs could not establish deceit with reference to representations made to other parties in the lawsuit.[better source needed]
In a further ruling, James R. Lamden ordered Ofshe and Singer to pay $80,000 in attorneys' fees under California's SLAPP suit law, which penalizes those who harass others for exercising their First Amendment rights. At that time Singer and Ofshe declared their intention to sue Michael Flomenhaft, the lawyer who represented them in the case, for malpractice.
Reported conclusions of the DIMPAC task force
The draft report of the DIMPAC task force included the following abstract:
Cults and large group awareness trainings have generated considerable controversy because of their widespread use of deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control. These techniques can compromise individual freedom, and their use has resulted in serious harm to thousands of individuals and families. This report reviews the literature on this subject, proposes a new way of conceptualizing influence techniques, explores the ethical ramifications of deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control, and makes recommendations addressing the problems described in the report.
Draft recommendations included
- Research: "Psychologists should devote more effort toward understanding the mechanisms of action, effects, and ethical implications of social influence techniques, especially those that are deceptive and indirect... The study of deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control should include study of how such techniques can be resisted and neutralized, and how those harmed by such techniques can be provided more appropriate therapy."
- Professional Ethics and Education: "The American Psychological Association ought to consider how future versions of APA's ethical code and ethical casebook material should be revised in light of the ethical implications of deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control used in LGATs, innovative psychotherapies, and other settings."
- Public Policy: "Because of the sometimes grave consequences of unethical application of deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control, psychologists ought to direct more attention to educating the public about such techniques".
The task force completed its final report in November 1986. In May 1987, the APA Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology (BSERP) rejected the DIMPAC final report, stating that the report "lack[ed] the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur". The Board also stated that the BSERP did "not believe that [they] have sufficient information available to guide [them] in taking a position on this issue".
The BSERP board requested that the task-force members not distribute or publicize the report without indicating that the Board found the report unacceptable, and cautioned the members of the task force against using their past appointment to it "to imply BSERP or APA support or approval of the positions advocated in the report".
The BSERP board requested that task-force members not distribute or publicize without indicating that the Board found the report unacceptable.
Psychologists Interested in Religious Issues (PIRI) resolution
APA Division 36 (then Psychologists Interested in Religious Issues (PIRI), subsequently Psychology of Religion) in its 1990 annual convention approved a resolution stating that insufficient consensually accepted research then scientifically supported the assertion that equated the use of "techniques of influence as typically practiced" by religious groups with "coercive persuasion", "mind control", or "brainwashing". The Executive Committee invited researchers to submit proposals to present their work on the topic.
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References and footnotes
- Robbins, Thomas (2017-07-12). In Gods We Trust: New Patterns of Religious Pluralism in America. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-351-51306-7.
- Report of the APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control Archived 2008-06-02 at the Wayback Machine, November 1986., Margaret Singer, chair; Harold Goldstein, National Institute of Mental Health; Michael Langone, American Family Foundation; Jesse S. Miller; Maurice K. Temerlin, Clinical Psychology Consultants, Inc.; Louis Jolyon West, University of California Los Angeles.
- "CESNUR - APA Memo of 1987 with Enclosures". www.cesnur.org. Retrieved 2021-01-28.
District of Columbia Court of Appeal, case 853 F.2d 948, Kropinski v. World Plan Executive Council.
"Kropinski failed to provide any evidence that Dr. Singer’s particular theory, namely that techniques of thought reform may be effective in the absence of physical threats or coercion, has a significant following in the scientific community, let alone general acceptance."
- Robin George v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness of California, District Court of California Appeals, August 1989, case cited in Lewis, James R. The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements, page 194, ISBN 0-19-514986-6
- Boyle, Robin A., Women, the Law, and Cults: Three Avenues of Legal Recourse — New Rape Laws, Violence Against Women Act, and Antistalking Laws, Cultic Studies Journal, 15, 1-32. (1999) in reference to United States v. Fishman, United States District Court of California, CR–88-0616; DLG CR 90 0357 DLG
- Jane Green and Patrick Ryan v. Maharishi Yogi, US District Court, Washington, DC, 13 March 1991, Case #87-0015 OG
- Case No. 730012-8 Archived 2007-02-03 at the Wayback Machine Margaret Singer v. American Psychological Association, Court order
- "Cultologists sue social science associations; Margaret Singer, Richard Ofshe, American Psychological Association, American Sociological Association". NCAHF Newsletter. 15 (6): 2. 1992-11-11. ISSN 0890-3417.
- Margaret Singer and Richard Ofshe v. American Psychological Association and others before the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of Alameda, January 31, 1994, Summons, 110, p. 31)
Case No. 730012-8, Margaret Singer, et al., Plaintiff v. American Psychological Association, et Al., Defendants
'This case, which involves claims of defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy, clearly constitutes a dispute over the application of the First Amendment to a public debate over matters both academic and professional. The disputant may fairly be described as the opposing camps in a longstanding debate over certain theories in the field of psychology. The speech of which the plaintiff's complain, which occurred in the context of prior litigation and allegedly involved the "fraudulent" addition of the names of certain defendants to documents filed in said prior litigation, would clearly have been protected as comment on a public issue whether or not the statements were made in the contest of legal briefs. The court need not consider whether the privilege of Civil Code 47 (b) extends to an alleged interloper in a legal proceeding. Plaintiffs have not presented sufficient evidence to establish any reasonable probability of success on any cause of action. In particular Plaintiffs cannot establish deceit with reference to representations made to other parties in the underlying lawsuit. Thus Defendants' Special Motions to Strike each of the causes at action asserted against them, pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure 425.16 is granted.'
- Allen, Charlotte (December 1998). "Brainwashed! Scholars of Cults Accuse Each Other of Bad Faith". Lingua Franca. Archived from the original on 2008-10-13. Retrieved 2008-07-27.
We are suing our lawyer, Michael Flomenhaft, for malpractice," says Singer. "There was no First Amendment issue in this case. We were saying that the APA and the ASA had been co-opted.
"PIRI Executive Committee Adopts Position on Non-Physical Persuasion". APA Division 36 Newsletter, Psychologists Interested in Religious Issues. APA. 16 (1): 3. Winter 1991.
Amitrani, Alberto; Raffaella Di Marzio (2001). ""Mind Control" in New Religious Movements and the American Psychological Association". Cults and Society. International Cultic Studies Association. 1 (1). Archived from the original on 2008-01-30. Retrieved 2008-07-27.
The Executive Committee of the Division of Psychologists Interested in Religious Issues supports the conclusion that, at this time, there is no consensus that sufficient psychological research exists to scientifically equate undue non-physical persuasion (otherwise known as "coercive persuasion," "mind control," or "brainwashing") with techniques of influence as typically practiced by one or more religious groups. Further, the Executive Committee invites those with research on this topic to submit proposals to present their work at Divisional programs.
- Herbers, M. James. Thistles Among the Flowers. (2006) ISBN 9781411671843
- Platvoet, Jan; Molendjik, Arie. The Pragmatics of Defining Religion: Contexts, Concepts and Contests. (1999) ISBN 9789004379091
- Richardson, James T. Regulating Religion: Case Studies from Around the Globe. (2012) ISBN 9781441990945