One of the methods by which groups convert and retain members is by separating them from influences that enable or encourage them to think in contrary ways.
One of the first dilemmas for groups seeking to recruit new members is how to get them in one place long enough to apply sufficient persuasion to cause them to convert (or at least take the next step in the right direction).
The weekend session
One of the most effective ways of doing this is to invite them to a ‘weekend in the country’. The event may be framed as getting to know more friends, discussions, education or other attractive purposes. If they cannot attend the whole weekend, they are invited for one day, then coaxed into staying longer, perhaps by promises of revelations the next day and through social pressure of everyone else staying.
Another method is through shorter-term sessions, perhaps lasting just one evening, where it may appear that there are a number of other recruits who all are persuaded – whilst the truth might be that they are already full members of the group.
An even slower method is to build one-to-one relationships, which may even be romantic in nature or may just be based on apparent friendship. Over time, the person persuading steadily moves the other person’s thinking until they are ready for something like the weekend session.
Excluding contrary influence
If a person is provided with persuasive arguments, they may be dissuaded from joining the group or even persuaded to leave by contrary arguments (particularly if the original arguments are shaky).
The first stage is to isolate people from external influences by moving the people physically away from them. Hence the weekend session is most effectively done when there is no way for the people to escape (for example they were transported there by group members and it is a long way home).
Isolation may also be within the walls of a building within a town or city (although now it is easier for the person to leave) or even within one room. For single meetings, this is often all that is needed. Even meeting in public places is sufficient if no dissuading messages may be seen or heard.
The bottom line is often the question of how far different from the person’s life the persuasive message is. If they are being told how bad the world is, then meeting in a pleasant restaurant is probably not very effective. Yet it may be a good place to talk about the joys of the group.
There are many ways that a person can be made to feel alone, and hence seek the attention of whoever is there. If they are told that all they have once held to be true, then they will start to feel uncertain.
Emotional isolation occurs when they feel that others who they once trusted actually do not care about them. For example if communications from friends and family are blocked, it may be suggested that they have not communicated because they do not care. Fears about others not caring may be amplified in discussions.
Solitary confinement is known as a severe punishment, as full physical isolation leads to full mental isolation. Confined prisoners may hallucinate, lose track of time and become depressed and desperate. Any feelings of being alone leads to seeking any company and any discussion to fill the intellectual and emotional emptiness.
Control of media
Once physical isolation is achieved, a further step is to use information control to ensure that no contrary messages appear by accident. Thus newspapers, television, books etc. may all be removed, censured or controlled. These can then be replaced with confirming and persuading literature and other media.
If all around them the people see messages that point in one direction, then they are more likely to accept the messages as true. Messages from apparently different sources that all say then same thing can be more persuasive than from one source alone.
Perhaps the most persuasive message is one that you are told in the corridor by friends who seem not to have any particular axe to grind. Social confirmation occurs when everyone else confirms the core message. What is not always noticed in this is that this is also social isolation – those who would contradict the message are being kept away.
Excluding contrary thinking
A final level of persuasion is to isolate thoughts within the heads of the people being persuaded.
With the use of polarized values and messages, the group are painted as being whiter than white and everyone else as a darker shade of black. Choices are stark, even in thinking. There is no ‘maybe’. You are either with us or against us.
When values are involved, then the choices are not just between agreement or disagreement – they are about good and bad. Any thought that is against group values and rules is framed as bad, which carries a heavy guilt penalty.
People can thus be persuaded and coerced into feeling a strong sense of shame about every bad thought they have. Phobias may even be induced about contrary thinking and even the thought of having a ‘wrong’ thought can induce panic.
Thought-stopping includes various methods of stopping thinking by distraction or dissuasion. For example a group member who meets someone from outside who tries to get them to leave the group will effectively isolate themselves from the argument by retreating back inside their heads and ignoring the dissuasive argument.