Visions of brainwashed minds permeated Cold War culture, politics and science. We map this history and ask how it influenced and was shaped by the ‘psy’ professions.


Battles of the mind: The long Cold War

We review ideas of brainwashing as they appeared in the postwar period, and trace their connection to clinicians’ analyses and therapeutic treatment of military captives in the Korean War and later conflicts.

Shadows of colonialism

We probe the imperial powers’ uses of psychological concepts and expertise in counter-insurgency, propaganda and re-education programmes after 1945.

Advertising, film and hidden persuasion

Our project explores the affinities between the post-war literature on commercial ‘hidden persuasion’ and popular depictions of brainwashed minds in television and film.

‘Psy’ expertise: Debates, reflections, reckonings

Our research considers how and why revelations and allegations of brainwashing returned to haunt all of the psy professions, inspiring new explorations and critiques of psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy.

Shaping the Child’s Mind

We explore how notions of thought control, autonomy and freedom change when we consider not only the psychology of adults, but of children and adolescents – and with what effects for pedagogy, parenting, mental health and therapy.

Here and now

We investigate how historical concepts of brainwashing continue to influence current debates about the ethics and limits of psy expertise in the indoctrination, coercion, and manipulation of human subjects.

Rites Undone: A film directed by Naomi Richman

Postdoctoral researcher Naomi Richman on her experience of directing the documentary short, Rites Undone.

Voyage to Leros: Histories of multi-layered confinement on a Greek island

Historian Danae Karydaki traces the history of a Greek island that has served as military barracks, indoctrination centre, mental asylum and prison.

On re-reading 1984

When James Brown returned to George Orwell’s dystopia in an age of pervasive social media intrusion and a global pandemic, it felt a very different novel to the one he had read as a teenager. 

The Hidden Persuaders research group has collaborated with independent filmmakers to produce several short documentaries that are freely available to view on our website. The films investigate ideas about brainwashing and mind control both through compelling life stories and wide-ranging cultural analysis. Taken together, these documentaries illustrate the many ways in which, from the Cold War era to the present day, autonomy of mind has been threatened, or perceived to be threatened, by a range of cultural forces.

The contents of this website are an educational resource, for the benefit of society. They form part of the output of a research project conducted at Birkbeck College between 2014 and 2021, funded by the Wellcome Trust. The site has no commercial dimension.  We rely, where applicable,  on sections 29 and 30 of the Copyright, Design and Patent Act 1988 to use such copyright-protected works for non-commercial purposes.  The use of any copyright-protected works we undestand to fall within ‘fair use’  for the purposes of research for non-commercial purposes or ‘fair dealing’ where the work has been made available to the public.  Please write to if you have any questions about this website, or to express any concerns. Where possible, on notification, we will take swift action to investigate all inqjuiries, and to work with the copyright owner to credit or remove content should it fall foul of these applicable copyright laws.