The Museum of Hoaxes
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A collection of strange and curious science miscellanea brought to you by the author of Elephants on Acid and Electrified Sheep
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Beneficial Brainwashing
imageDr. Ewen Cameron believed he had come up with a cure for schizophrenia. His theory was that the brain could be reprogrammed to think in healthy ways by forcibly imposing new thought patterns on it. His method was to make patients wear headphones and listen to audio messages looped over and over, sometimes for days or even weeks at a time. He called this method "psychic driving," because the messages were being driven into the psyche. The press hailed it as "beneficial brainwashing."

During the 1950s and early 1960s, hundreds of Cameron's patients at Montreal's Allan Memorial Clinic became his unwitting test subjects — whether or not they actually had schizophrenia. Some patients checked in complaining of problems as minor as menopause-related anxiety, only to find themselves sedated with barbiturates, strapped into a bed, and forced to listen for days on end to messages such as "People like you and need you. You have confidence in yourself."

One time, to test the technique, Cameron placed patients into a drugged sleep and made them listen to the message, "When you see a piece of paper, you want to pick it up." Later he drove them to a local gymnasium. There, lying in the middle of the gym floor, was a single piece of paper. He happily reported that many of them spontaneously walked over to pick it up.

When the CIA learned of what Cameron was doing, it became interested and started surreptitiously channeling him money. But eventually the agency concluded that Cameron's technique was a failure and cut his funding, prompting Cameron himself to admit that his experiments had been "a ten year trip down the wrong road." In the late 1970s a group of Cameron's former patients filed suit against the CIA for its support of his work and reached an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed amount of money.
References
  • Cameron, D.E. (1956). "Psychic Driving." The American Journal of Psychiatry. 112(7):502-9.
Posted By: alex | Date: Mon Aug 01, 2011
Category: Psychology, Conformity & Obedience, 1950-1979, Canada,
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