Brainwashing cover, 2016 edition

Brainwashing: the science of thought control

(Oxford University Press, 2004, 2006, 2016)

If you’d like to buy the book, please consider Blackwell’s or Waterstones, not Amazon.

For more about brainwashing see my YouTube videos.

Latest news: Brainwashing has been re-issued in a new edition, with a new preface. It was published at the end of December 2016 as part of the Oxford Landmark Science series. Previous publications in the series include James Lovelock’s Gaia and Richard Dawkins’ The Extended Phenotype. I’m honoured to be in such distinguished company.


Please note that as an academic, I cannot act as a consultant on cases of suspected brainwashing, nor do I offer policy advice to institutions. I will therefore not respond to such enquiries.

I am not a lawyer, government official or therapist, and whatever my sympathy for sometimes desperate situations, I cannot add to the information available in Brainwashing.

About the Book

Beliefs are central to our identity, and we have developed many ways of persuading people to change their beliefs. Some people, however, have gone beyond persuasion into coercion, torture and the dark arts of brainwashing. How can people come to accept, and defend, sometimes bizarre beliefs even when they are clearly harmful – and sometimes even lethal?

● translations into nine languages

● longlisted for the Aventis Science Prize 2005

● shortlisted for the MIND Book of the Year Award 2005

● highly commended (runner-up) for THES Young Academic Author of the Year 2005

Sample Reviews

● “magisterially detailed survey … never less than direct and engaging … This is an outstanding book” (Focus Magazine)

● “Just how brainwashing can be achieved is very well conveyed, and the complexities of brain function are clearly explained” (Publishing News)

● “a prime example of that rarest of species — a book that is both academic and readable” (Popular Science online)

● “I would highly recommend this volume to the reader” (Metapsychology Online)

● “Taylor does a great job” (


What is brainwashing? – Does it really happen? – What happens in cults? – What makes people commit atrocities? – Do we have free will? – Can brain science help us understand thought control? – How can we resist thought control?

Brainwashing is the first book to apply modern neuroscience to the topic of thought control. It combines psychology, history and cultural studies with cutting-edge brain research and case studies ranging from modern-day cults to sixteenth-century England. From free will to fanaticism, neurons to 9/11, Brainwashing brings a neglected phenomenon to life and traces its continued relevance to us today.

From the workings of brain cells to the philosophy of free will, from the history of brainwashing to the politics of how to minimise its dangers, this book ranges across a multitude of topics to investigate the past, present and future of brainwashing. For the first time, it sets the phenomenon within a wider scientific, social and political context, showing how advances in brain science may hold the key to resisting the malign effects of thought control.


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