Part IV: undermining of the original belief system

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Earlier chapters presented descriptive accounts of historical instances of dramatic conversions, ranging from the brainwashing of POW's to the frequently therapeutic effects of 12-step groups such as AA. Existing theories of ideological conversion were reviewed, and a more comprehensive and potentially more useful theory of ideological conversion was proposed. The purposes of this part of the book are primarily to flesh out the proposed theory and to show how, with the aid of the Six-Component Model, it can highlight the substantive variables most critical to real world conversions. It will also show how this theory of ideological conversion can make use of the voluminous findings and the established social psychological theory on attitude change and group dynamics to facilitate understanding of such phenomena.

This chapter concentrates on those aspects of the conversion phenomena pertaining to Component 1 of the Six-Component Model, which involves the nature and sources of threat to the perceived adequacy of the original belief system. The next two chapters complete the discussion of Stage One of the model, "Undermining of the Original Belief System." Component Two, involves the uses of internal resources for coping with such threats and the means by which such defenses may be undermined. Component Three is concerned with sources of external (e.g. social) support for the original system, and how those may be undermined. Stage One, by the operation of these three dynamically related components, results in the undermining, or weakening, of the original system. Stage Two, to be covered in the next part of the book, involves the acceptance of and the conversion and commitment to a new ideology.

It is not my contention the six components of the model must be accomplished in any specific order, nor is it necessary for Stage One to be completed before Stage Two is begun. What is being proposed is much less rigid, but it is suspected that completion of Stage Two is not likely unless and until much has been accomplished of Stage One, which entails a reduction in the ability of the original system to function, relative to some level of functioning perceived to be adequate. Issues concerning the most likely or effective ordering of the various components will be covered as they become relevant to our discussion. The components of Stage 1, the first of which is the focus of this chapter, are as follows:

COMPONENT 1: THREAT TO THE PERCEIVED ADEQUACY OF THE ORIGINAL BELIEF SYSTEM. The "threat” to the perceived adequacy of the original Belief System,” is a similar to parallel processes in nearly every other theory or interpretation of ideological conversion. Exactly what constitutes the threat, and what it is that is threatened, differs from one theory to another. These differences reflect important differences in the disciplines from which various theorists have come.

For Freudians, it is the ego that must be undone before a different ego integration, a conversion, can take place. Lifton's (1961) theory of "ideological totalism" delineates early stages in the conversion process that together promote systematic destruction of the ego. Component 1 is similar to threats to the functioning of the ego. The belief system does not require but does typically contain, and is usually integrated around, a self-schema. This “self-schema” is very close to the Freudian “ego,” and to the extent that the belief system is dependent upon it for system integration, destruction of it would produce destruction of the system as a whole. The system of affective, behavioral, and cognitive orientations, which I am calling the belief system, is perhaps more directly relevant, than is that of ego, to issues involving ideology. One may suspect, however, that Freudians are likely to consider ideology to be, at least potentially, a major factor in the integration of the ego, making the two sets of terminology very similar to each other. I believe that the major advantage to using the attitude-belief system concept common to social psychology, rather than that of ego, is that much more extensive and well-controlled research has been conducted on attitude and belief change than has been conducted on ego change. Also, research concerning attitude and belief changes is more relevant to developing an understanding of ideological change, and of ideological conversion.

For learning and conditioning theorists, such as Sargant (1957), what must be undermined is the integrated set of previously classically conditioned stimulus-response associations. The idea here is that conversion requires conditioning of new responses to stimuli that have in the past elicited different responses, and that such conditioning of new responses is unlikely until something occurs to undo or disrupt the previous conditioning. I will not argue against the possibility, or even the likelihood, that at some level of analysis something like classical conditioning is an important part of how people come to have certain beliefs, or at other times to change those beliefs. As with the concept of ego, it is not that I disagree so much with Sargant, as that I find his concepts not very useful when it comes to interpreting the available research concerning changes in attitudes, beliefs or ideologies. I do agree with Sargant, as I agree with the Freudians, that whatever constitutes the integrated set of factors, in the context of which ideology has a place, an undermining of the ability of the system to function, at least relative to some standard of adequate functioning, is necessary before real ideological conversion is likely. I simply prefer, because of its relevance to available research, to use the concept of the belief system.

In the Conway and Siegelman (1978) information processing theory of conversion, the original system is characterized as information that is integrated, organized and stored holographically in the brain. Conversions, at least the "brainwashing" types of conversions allegedly induced by religious cults, require information overload which precipitates a "holographic crisis in the brain." This effectively erases the prior system of integration and organization, allowing a new system to take its place. This is an interesting idea, but it is not very helpful for making sense of the myriad of variables extensive research has shown to be relevant to susceptibility to social influence.

The Lofland and Starks (1965) sociological model starts with individuals already predisposed to conversion by their having experienced “enduring, acutely felt, tension.” This is one of the few models that does not include a process by which the conversion agents induce such a state of stress or disfunction in the original system. It is not, however, a general model of conversion, but one applicable to a specific conversion population and situation. It does not preclude the possibility that one intent upon converting others might possibly create conditions for induction of a state of "enduring, acutely felt, tension." It does agree with other theories that some such state must exist before conversion will occur.

The one social psychological model (Schein, Schneider, and Barker, 1961) that was previously discussed begins by induction of a process called "unfreezing" of the original attitude-belief system. This process, which Schein acknowledges is based upon the concept of “unfreezing” introduced in Kurt Lewin’s influential “field theory,” (Lewin, 1945), is very similar to the "undermining of the original belief system" of the model of conversion which is here being developed. In the Schein, et al. theory, which is based upon POW conversions, this 'unfreezing" is a pre-requisite for the subsequent "change," and final "refreezing" of a newly acquired ideology. Like all of the other theorists mentioned, this concept of “unfreezing” implies a threat to the original system which is clearly a result of the imposition of negative forces such as render the system less capable of adequate functioning than would otherwise be the case.

The nearly universal acceptance, that some form of stress, tension, or threat to the original system is a prerequisite of ideological conversion, ought not be accepted too uncritically. One problem is that little relevant research has actually compared the stress levels of those who join to those of matched controls who do not join. Most research has studied converts, but has not studied comparable control groups of non-convert populations. If the levels of stress in joiners are not higher than is normal, then to include stress as a precondition for conversion seems unjustified. Galanter (1989) did find that current members of the Unification Church had higher scores on his measure of psychological distress than did a matched sample from the general population, and that their scores had been even higher prior to joining the group. Wright (1987) however, reports that in a study of conversion to Catholic Pentecostalism, (Heirich, 1977), indications of prior stress situations were as high for non-convert controls as for converts. Most theories seem to require not only a higher average level of stress for converts, but that each individual convert should have experienced a higher than normal level of stress. This is explicitly the case in the Lofland and Starks (1965) theory, which is a value-added theory, each step of which needs to occur for each convert. Their research did confirm “high” levels of stress in all converts studied, but no control group was used to make clear that non-converts in fact had lower levels of stress.

One notable exception to the view that tension, stress, or disfunction in the original system is a prerequisite for conversion is found in the research of Carol Cohen-Feingold (1976). She studied youthful converts to a religious cult, in some of whom no such prior state of tension could be established. She suggested that some of the converts studied might have been motivated not by what Maslow (1968) called "deficiency needs," which involve a negative tension or drive and its subsequent reduction in the process of conversion, but by "growth needs," which involve a positive motivation toward improvement, fulfillment, completion, or self-actualization. This is an intriguing idea, which seems especially plausible in the specific population and context of her sample. A later report on converts to the same religious cult, Downton (1979), claimed that 100% of his sample had used LSD as well as other drugs prior to becoming converts. This was a period of time when many young people were experimenting with the possibilities of life. A new drug or a new religion might be tried not because one's current state was one of enduring, acutely felt, tension, but because it offered an alternative possibility not yet explored. One might argue that tension of some sort is still the operative variable. The tension, however, need not be experienced as acute, negative, or debilitating, but may be a result of hope or anticipation concerning goals not yet fulfilled.

Another possibility, as previously suggested, is that these individuals would not be exceptions to a theory of conversion based upon negative tension states if in fact their acceptance of the new ideology does not constitute a true conversion. By my definition, to be a conversion the new ideology must be "perceived" by the convert to be incompatible with prior beliefs. There is some suggestion in Cohen-Feingold's data that these individuals who lacked the experience of acutely felt tension, may also have experienced the new ideology not as a conversion from an incompatible prior set of beliefs, but as growth or insight such as enlarged or embellished beliefs already present. My favorable reaction to this interpretation is only slightly muted by a suspicion that I am being guilty of the kind of rationalization that follows disconfirmation of a cherished belief (Festinger, Reicken, and Schachter, 1957).

This issue can be explored as it relates to the glass house metaphor. Earlier I suggested that a house might be torn down and replaced, not because it failed to keep out the wind and rain or to retain heat, but because an expanded view of what a house might accomplish caused the original house to fall short of the benefits one might envision in a larger, more modern, or better designed and equipped house. It seems that massive threat may not be essential, but a revised motivational construct may be required.

As has so often been the case in the history of social psychological explanation, the key seems to be not the absolute level of a given variable, but the level of that variable relative to something with which it is compared. The adequacy of a house’s ability to function must be judged relative to some standard of functioning. That standard is partly but not entirely based upon the prior level of functioning. It is in this sense that a new environmental threat may reduce its ability to function relative to what it had been used to. But suppose that the current shortfall in perceived functioning is not due to increased threat but to an increase in the standard of comparison. In the past it was sufficient that the house retained heat in the wintertime. Now to be perceived to be adequate it must also generate air conditioning in the summertime.

While the sources of negative threat to a belief system may be fairly clearly articulated, as I have done previously, in terms of reduced ability to fulfill specified functions, such as the prescription of behavior, or the maintenance of consistency, the sources of change in one’s comparison level for adequate functioning have not yet been explored. Let us take, as a working model for a revised notion of threat, one based upon whether or not current levels of functioning are deficient relative to some comparison level for adequate functioning, the early social exchange theory of Thibaut and Kelley (1959).

Social Exchange Theory

The Thibaut and Kelley (1959) Social Exchange Theory is relevant to many issues in social psychology, but is perhaps most easily explained as it relates to the “satisfaction” with an interpersonal relationship, and to when one will “stay in or leave” that relationship. Basically, satisfaction is a function of the level of “Outcomes,” O, (rewards minus costs), that one incurs as a result of being in the relationship. It is not the absolute level of those outcomes that is important, however, but their level relative to some standard, called a “Comparison Level,” CL, with respect to which adequacy of outcomes is judged. The outcome, O, of the theory includes all of the positive and negative consequences of being in the relationship, from material benefits and expenditures to the subjective rewards of being loved or respected and the subjective costs of being humiliated or of having one's freedom restricted. The comparison level, CL, the standard against which the adequacy of outcomes is judged, is based upon four contributing factors:

1. Prior outcome to self (in similar situations),

2. Outcome to similar others,

3. Outcome perceived to be potentially available from alternative relationships, (or from lack of a relationship), which is called the “Comparison Level for Alternatives,” CLalt, and

4. Salience of specific outcome alternatives.

Together these provide the information from which is constructed the standard of comparison, the CL, which in a sense is the level of outcomes one expects from or feels deserving of in such situations.

Satisfaction with the current relationship is determined by how much one's current Outcome,O, exceeds one's Comparison Level for Outcomes, CL. Satisfaction or dissatisfaction are not, however, what determine whether one will stay in or leave a relationship. Staying occurs when one’s current Outcome, O, exceeds the outcome available from one’s best alternative, CLalt. Leaving occurs when one’s current Outcome, O, is less that CLalt.

Resolving the Cohen-Feingold Problem. This feature of Social Exchange Theory, which unlinks the usually predicted connection between satisfaction with and staying in or leaving a relationship, is of considerable importance, and much research has supported such a separation (cf. Rusbult and Farrell, 1983; Rusbult and Buunck, 1993). This parallels a concern with the social psychological theory of ideological conversion, specifically as it deals with the role of threat to the initial system. It seems likely that threat, like dissatisfaction, will not predict conversion where there is no viable alternative, and that conversion may occur even when threat is absent, if a sufficiently attractive alternative becomes available. The critical determinant of conversion then would not be threat to the initial system, but a perceived shortfall of the level of functioning of that system compared to the level of functioning perceived to be available by acceptance of an available alternative. Incorporating such a view into the theory of ideological conversion will allow for explanation of conversions, such as those discussed by Cohen-Feingold, which do not seem to have been preceded by high initial levels of stress, threat, or tension.

Integrating Issues of Conversion and Those of Commitment in the Same Theory. An important advantage to using the Social Exchange Theory approach for a theory of ideological conversion, is that it offers a convincing framework for incorporating the obviously important issues of commitment into the same theory. Building upon the Social Exchange Theory concepts, Caryl Rusbult has developed what is called the “Investment Model” of commitment in dyadic relationships (see Rusbult and Farrell, 1983; Rusbult and Bruuck, 1993). If commitment is defined as persistence, and persistence is simply failure to leave a relationship, then the Thibaut and Kelley (1959) theory says that commitment is directly related to how much current Outcomes exceed the Comparison Level for Alternatives. This discrepancy is also called “dependency,” for one is dependent upon a relationship to the extent one has no viable alternatives. Rusbult's Investment Model of commitment expands upon this notion as it relates to dyadic relationships. In a similar fashion, these ideas can be expanded to provide a framework for understanding both ideological conversion and commitment to ideology in which their relationship to each other is clarified.



The theory of ideological conversion developed previously makes extensive use of the concept of Adequacy of Functioning. The belief system exists to serve functions, and its inadequacy in doing so is a precursor to subsequent change. It is a view at least partially based upon reinforcement or reward effects, which in social exchange theory are called outcomes. Just as satisfaction with a relationship is expected to be directly related to level of Outcomes, O, satisfaction with one’s belief system is expected to be directly related to its Perceived Level of Functioning, PLF.

In social exchange theory, satisfaction with a given level of outcomes is inversely related to Comparison Level, CL, and in parallel fashion, we will expect satisfaction with one’s belief system to be inversely related to Comparison Level for Functioning, CLF. This standard of comparison, the CLF, is basically the level of functioning one has come to accept as usual, as expected, or as justified, in the current situation.

The CL, in social exchange theory, is based upon four factors, which in terms of conversion can relabeled as Comparison Level for Functioning, CLF, and can be restated as:

1. Prior level of functioning for the self.

2. Level of functioning of similar others.

3. Level of functioning perceived to be potentially available by adoption of a new, alternative, ideology, (CLFalt).

4. Salience of specific dimensions relevant to adequate functioning.

What I have previously called “Threat to the Original Belief System” is here interpreted as the extent to which current Perceived Level of Functioning (PLF) falls short of one's comparison level for functioning (CLF). This discrepancy, as is the case for the discrepancy between O, and CL, in social exchange theory, is what determines “dissatisfaction,” but instead of dissatisfaction with a relationship, it is dissatisfaction with one’s belief system.

Comparison Level for Alternatives, CLalt, becomes Comparison Level of Functioning for Alternatives CLFalt. The CLFalt is simply the level of functioning perceived to be available by acceptance of a perceived available alternative to the current belief system. This need not entail a completely new belief system, but might entail the acceptance of a new ideology. The alternative may different from the initial system in major or in minor respects, but to satisfy our earlier definition of ideological conversion, it must be perceived to be incompatible with initial ideology or with other important beliefs.

Just as dissatisfaction with a relationship does not necessarily cause one to leave that relationship, threat to one's original belief system does not necessarily lead to rejection or change in that system. Acceptance of a new ideology, “conversion,” if we continue our parallel with the Thibaut and Kelley (1959) social exchange theory, will occur when CLFalt exceeds current perceived level of functioning (PLF). While social exchange theory predicts a change “whenever” CLFalt exceeds PLF (i.e. whenever CLFalt minus PLF is greater than zero), I propose amending that prediction for the following reasons, all of which involve the issue of commitment to the initial system.

Dependency as Persistence due to Insufficient Alternatives. In terms of social exchange theory, commitment is sometimes viewed as directly related to the extent to which O exceeds CLalt, or in our terms, PLF exceeds CLFalt. This type of commitment, if that is what it should be called, is sometimes referred to as “dependency” (cf. Rusbult, 1997). The individual is dependent upon the original system to the extent that there are no viable alternatives. I agree that this discrepancy contributes to the persistence of behavior, but it does not satisfy the second part of the definition of commitment, which I have taken from Brickman (1987), “in spite of good reasons to believe otherwise.” In the absence of alternatives to the initial belief system, which are more attractive in terms of their ability to promote adequate functioning, one does not have good reasons to believe otherwise, and simple persistence, where no better alternatives are available, is not considered commitment.

I will call persistence of behavior that derives from a failure of alternatives to achieve expected levels of functioning in excess of those available with one's current system “Dependency.” WHAT CHARACTERIZES “COMMITMENT,” IS ITS ABILITY TO INDUCE PERSISTENCE NOT BECAUSE OF A LACK OF ALTERNATIVES, BUT IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT VIABLE ALTERNATIVES DO EXIST.

Commitment as the Basis of Persistence in the Face of More Attractive Alternatives. I propose that there are instances in which individuals fail to change from their initial systems in spite of the perceived availability of alternatives which, were they adopted, would be expected to yield higher levels of functioning. I further propose that the basis of such persistence is a psychological attachment to the initial system, to be defined as commitment, that makes that system resistant to change. In this view, “Commitment,” determines the extent to which the level of functioning available by adopting an available alternative, the CLFalt, can exceed one's current level of functioning, without a resulting change or conversion of the initial system.
OVERVIEW OF A SOCIAL EXCHANGE MODEL OF IDEOLOGICAL CONVERSION: Component One of the six-component model can be restated as follows. Instead of Threat to the Original Belief System, it is Perceived Inadequacy of the Original Belief System. This Perceived Inadequacy may be a result of specific threats that have reduced the current Perceived Level of Functioning, PLF, a view that is compatible with most theories of ideological conversion, but it may also be a result of an increase in one’s Comparison Level for Adequate Functioning, CLF, which is based upon prior levels of functioning of one’s own system, levels of functioning perceived in similar others, and levels of functioning that are perceived to be available by adopting a real alternative. lt may also be due to changes in salience of specific dimensions relevant to the CLF.

Most critically, a shortfall of one's Perceived Level of Functioning, PLF, relative to one's Comparison Level for Functioning, CLF, while it may produce dissatisfaction, will not produce conversion unless it is also less than one’s Comparison Level for Functioning of Available Alternatives, CLFalt, and the discrepancy is large enough to overcome resistance due to Commitment (Cm) to the initial system.

Component 1 Revisited: How much threat to the ability of the original system is necessary in order for conversion to occur? In the glass house metaphor, level of threat needed was clearly dependent upon the level of internal and external resources available for coping with threat. Even then, threat was considered to be only a necessary but not a sufficient basis for conversion. In our revised formulation, this concept of threat is replaced by that of a reduction in the Perceived Level of Functioning, PLF. Reducing the PLF is one means of increasing the likelihood that the Comparison Level for Functioning available in an alternative, the CLFalt, exceeds the PLF, by a sufficient amount, as to overcome the effects of commitment, Cm, to the original belief system and allow for conversion to occur. The major difference in the new formulation is that the necessary discrepancy in favor of the alternative may be achieved without any new threat to the original belief system, by either a decrease in commitment, Cm, to the original system, or by an increase in the perceived CLFalt.

The relationships being proposed are summarized in the following expression:

Conversion occurs if (CLFalt - PLF) > (Cm)

CFLalt = Perceived Level of Functioning of the best available alternative.

PLF = Perceived Level of Functioning of the current (original) belief system.

Cm = Commitment to the current (original) belief system.

While a change in any of these three variables could precipitate ideological conversion, that is “acceptance of an alternative belief system that contains an ideology which is perceived to be incompatible with previously accepted ideologies or other important beliefs,” it is reduction in the PLF that corresponds to Component 1 of the Six-Component Model of Ideological Conversion, and it is to this issue that we now turn.

Nearly all theories of ideological conversion are deficiency-based theories. All of these propose as a necessary condition some form of debilitation of the original system of orientations. Converts may be selected because such a debilitation already exists, or such a state may be induced in them by the conversion environment. It is conversions such as these that the new theory and the Six-Component Model presented previously have been designed to explain. In the proposed theory, the “system” is the belief system, which is defined in terms of interdependent affective, behavioral and cognitive orientations. It is threatened whenever it is subjected to conditions that render it less able to adequately fulfill the functions it exists to serve. In the development of the model over the next several chapters, unless otherwise specified, it is deficiency-based conversions that are being considered. It now seems increasingly likely to me that many conversions will not fit this model, or any other model or theory premised exclusively on deficiency of the original system. At least some of the conversions not explainable by such models may be understood as growth-based conversions. These seemingly occur not in response to deficiencies or defects in the original system but in response to perceived alternative ideologies that offer enlarged possibilities of transcendence or fulfillment not previously viewed as possible or feasible. I will return to the issue of growth-based ideological conversion at a later point.

In previous chapters I have delineated many of the functions of belief systems. The most important of these are as follows:

1. Maintaining of Emotional Control and Motivation

2. Prescription of Adaptive Behavior

3. Maintaining Integrative Schemas; Self Identity and Ideology

4. Inconsistency Reduction

5. Uncertainty Reduction

The discussion of massive threat will be organized around these five categories that are central to the Perceived Level of Functioning, PLF, of belief systems.

In individuals for whom conversions occur, these functions of the original belief system have either been previously threatened or threats to them have been created or induced by forces operating in the conversion environment. I will refer to these respectively as selection and induction. This chapter we will systematically consider threats to each of the five major categories of functions of belief systems, both as related to selection and as each might be induced in potential converts. Reference will be made to social psychological research where relevant to confirming the theoretical importance of these five functions, to better understanding how they may be threatened, and to delineating how people typically respond to such threats. Descriptive accounts from case studies will be used to illustrate the operation of these various processes in real life conversion phenomena.

SELECTION: Relevant To Massive Threat

A potential convert may come to the conversion environment with all of Stage One, the undermining of the original belief system, already accomplished. Some argue, for example, that this is a prerequisite for AA to be effective. In AA jargon, the alcoholic must hit rock bottom before he or she will be able to profit from the 12- step program. It does seem fair to say that many of those for whom AA is effective have already had much of the work of undermining the original system accomplished before coming to AA. It also seems that many who come into the program require additional help to reduce the power of the old alcoholic self, commitment o which prevents acceptance of a new non-drinking self. Let us briefly review the five categories of threat which may, to some extent, have already been experienced by the potential AA success story.

1. MAINTAINING OF EMOTIONAL CONTROL AND MOTIVATION. While emotion is essential to the adequate functioning of the system, the system is threatened if affective responding is too weak, thereby potentially reducing the motivation necessary to adequate functioning, or if affective responding is too strong, thereby potentially disrupting or interfering with adequate functioning. This balance is dependent upon the fit between the external environmental inducements to emotional responses, and the internal system dispositions concerning response to such inducements. The issue here is whether alcoholics come to AA already possessing systems that produce emotional responses to environmental inducements which fall outside of the range suitable for adequate functioning. Individual differences in alcoholics concerning such dispositions are undoubtedly very large, but it seems that many, as a result of their alcoholism, are more susceptible to dysfunctional rage and aggression at one end, and/or to dysfunctional withdrawal and passivity at the other. Except in the most extreme cases of toxicity, physiological shock, or coma, even most alcoholics very likely continue to possess sufficient motivation to function. In fact it is such residual motivation that eventually gets the individual with the otherwise severely threatened belief system to the first AA meeting. Those lacking that motivation would presumably not ever get themselves to a meeting, nor would they find the necessary motivation to pursue alternative means of alleviating their problem. Thus motivation plays a critical role. Having too little of it will render the system inadequate for functioning, and hence may make the individual more amenable to change; but without some residual motivation, even though change may be desperately needed, the individual will not be able to find or adopt preferable alternatives.

2. PRESCRIPTION OF ADAPTIVE BEHAVIOR. The behavior prescriptions of the old self call for finding alcohol and consuming it, even to excess, including when doing so is destructive of work, family, health, and even life. It is primarily because such prescriptions are so threatening to adequate functioning of the system that alternative bases of new prescriptions become potentially viable. The horror stories told by alcoholics at AA meetings about their prior alcoholic life styles attest to the extremity of dysfunctional behavioral prescriptions that characteristically ruled their lives. The primary task of AA is to help the alcoholic to accept a system of beliefs that more adequately prescribes adaptive behaviors, i.e. non-drinking behaviors.

3. MAINTAINING INTEGRATIVE SCHEMAS; SELF IDENTITY AND IDEOLOGY. Self-identity. To a bottomed-out alcoholic, identity may have become quite diffuse. This would be especially likely at those times when intoxication was in effect. In extreme cases the alcoholic may suffer from selective or general memory loss, including loss of personal identity. Given that a coherent self-concept is central to the organization and integration of the belief systems in most individuals, such problems with identity may be of critical importance for the alcoholic.

Ideological Integrity. To the extent that the original belief system is heavily dependent upon ideology for its integration and organization, some mechanisms for protecting it from attack are important. For many alcoholics, ideology is not central to the system, and lack of such mechanisms would not constitute a major threat. The role of ideology appears to be quite variable. In those for whom ideology is important, one might consider how compatible the behaviors and priorities of the alcoholic are with major features of ideological content. For most ideologies, incompatibilities would be expected and ideological integrity would be threatened. In some individuals, ideology is less important for its content than for the social identification and social relationships it allows or facilitates. Many alcoholics, as a result of their behavior, make themselves no longer welcome by those individuals or groups with whom ideological identity had previously been established.

4. Inconsistency Reduction. Chronic alcoholism often results in considerable inconsistency within affective, behavioral, and cognitive orientations of specific attitudes, and between different attitudes of the system. The destructive consequences of what is viewed as voluntary consumption of alcohol are clearly dissonant with self-concept, with love and concern for family, and with acknowledged need to maintain viable employment, as well as with numerous other likely cognitions. Ironically, one way of reducing the felt negative tension resulting from such dissonance is to consume enough alcohol to physiologically depress the emotional arousal, i.e. the affective responses, without which dissonance ceases to be aversive or motivating. Hence, a feedback system may promote a downward spiral, with dissonance resulting from the effects of drinking, leading to more drinking to numb the emotional system, and thus to even more destructive consequences, etc. For some, hitting bottom is the inevitable end of the this process. Because the obsession to drink, the drinking behaviors, and their destructive consequences, are incompatible with so much of the rest of the belief system, and because they are so embedded in an external objective reality that cannot be reversed or denied, the system of an alcoholic will nearly always be replete with inconsistencies.

5. Uncertainty Reduction. Any muddle-headedness or proneness to being confused, will enhance the threat of uncertainty. Any loss of memory may contribute to reduced relevance or completeness of the system. Extensive debilitation of the cognitive system due to prolonged use of alcohol may even render the system too lacking in complexity to adequately address the complexities of the environment in which functioning is required. Such deficiencies as these seem to be common in the population of alcoholics who become susceptible to the influence of AA.

To some extent, some of these categories of “Threat to the Original Belief System,” especially emotional control, motivation, and defense of the self-concept or ideology, may be at least as relevant to Component Two of our model, "Undermining of Internal Resources for Coping with Threat." This is a topic to which we will shortly turn. Before doing so, however, we need to consider the nature of threats to systems which are not brought with them to the conversion experience, but which are induced by the conversion environment.

INDUCTION: Of Massive Threat

In every case of ideological conversion, one might ask the extent to which various functions of the original system had already been fulfilled inadequately, or were undermined, versus the extent to which these deficiencies were induced by forces in the conversion environment. Was Patty Hearst amenable to conversion because the SLA had unwittingly selected a young woman whose attitude-belief system was already threatened by inadequately functioning? Or, on the other hand, was she amenable to conversion only after and as a result of systematic processes such as resulted in the induction of inadequate functioning? Theoretically, conversion may follow either selection or induction of massive threat to the original system.

While we can never be certain of the initial condition of Patty Hearst's system, we have no very good reason to believe that it was unusually more or less well functioning than that of most other people. She did not select the SLA, which had she done so might have suggested such a deficiency or need; nor did they select her on any basis such as might have facilitated her later conversion. They had no intention of converting her at the time they kidnaped her and held her for ransom. We can look to the conversion environment to see if it appears that there existed such forces as might be expected to induce threat to her belief system. We do not have to look very hard to see evidence of many such forces.

1. Maintaining of Emotional Control and Motivation. In terms of selection for massive threat, our emphasis was on the dispositional characteristics of the system such as might make it less effective at maintaining emotional responses within an acceptable range. Inducing of threat related to the emotional control issue has two major parts.

First of all, such dispositions as previously described in relationship to selection may be induced by the conversion environment. We have not presented much in the way of case study information suggesting that drugs are used for such purposes, but many examples do exist. Charles Manson for example encouraged extreme drug use, especially of LSD, in the young women over whom he was to gain control. Jim Jones was reported to have used heroin and other drugs to control members of his People's Temple. Some other cults have used a variety of drugs for a variety of purposes. The Children of God, for example, sniffed an industrial solvent, "toluene." Drugs undoubtedly serve many functions in conversion environments, the induction of losses in emotional control being only one.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, induction of loss of emotional control can be imposed on any potential convert, whatever their dispositional state, by exposing them to external threats that exceed their capacity for adequate coping. The massive threat imposed upon the combat soldiers studied by William Sargant (1957) may have induced levels of fear that were debilitating to some of the most well-adjusted individuals. One might easily believe that Patty Hearst was also subjected to environmental stresses such as would have fallen outside of the range of anyone to adequately cope. From her autobiographical accounts of her months lived on the floor of a dark closet, routinely subjected to verbal, psychological, physical and sexual abuse, it is clear that she suffered extreme fear and anxiety. She also experienced learned helplessness that seems to have precipitated bouts of extreme depression. These were not conditions selected for, but they were induced in her by powerful environmental forces under the control of her kidnappers.

Induction of sufficient reductions in motivation so as to render the potential convert unwilling or unable to cope with such threats as are posed to it, while in some senses threats to adequate functioning, are most relevant to Component Two of our conversion model, "Undermining of Internal Resources for Coping with Threat," a topic to be covered in the next chapter.

2. Prescription of Adaptive Behavior. How adequately did her original attitude-belief system prescribe behavior in her new situation? How would one know how to behave, even to not be killed, in such a strange and threatening environment? Laying on the floor of the closet, blindfolded, needing to urinate, what is best to do? No prior experience seems relevant. If she asked to go to the bathroom they might beat her or kill her for her whining bourgeois attitudes. If she did not ask, but urinated in the closet, they could beat her or kill her for being too passive, or too weak, or for defiling their closet. When they asked her to condemn her parents, should she do so? Or might they see she did not mean what she said and beat her or kill her for being disingenuous? It seems reasonable to assume that she had no adequate basis in her belief system for the prescription of adaptive behavior in this situation. Yet she was not free to not behave. One has to choose, to talk or to not talk, to agree or to disagree, to cooperate or to resist. The consequences of making the "wrong" choices could be severe or even fatal, but she had no basis for knowing what the "right" choices were! In many ways, her situation paralleled that faced by Pavlov's dogs in the experimental neurosis research. They had previous conditioning such as allowed them to reliably and adaptively respond in differential ways to circles and to ellipses. They were then faced with a situation in which choices had to be made, between circles and ellipses, where no reliable discrimination was possible and adequate prescription of adaptive behavior was not forthcoming. Such failures of the original system to adequately prescribe adaptive behavior in this new situation would be expected to induce such threats to the system as would undermine it, and to make it more susceptible to possible rejection. Great numbers of instances such as those just described are presented at length in Patty Hearst's autobiography, "Every Secret Thing," (Hearst & Moscow, 1982).

3. Maintaining Integrative Schemas; Self Identity and Ideology. Knowing what is you and what is not you, while it seems a simple task for an adult under normal circumstances, is apparently not so simple for very young children whose identities are still being formed. Nor is it a simple task for adults subjected to situations such as that in which Patty Hearst found herself. Self-identity is not the only possible mechanism for integration of the belief system, but it is of extreme importance to most people under most circumstances. The "self" provides the focus with respect to which the innumerable bits and pieces of the belief system find a referent. The "self" is a schema, an interrelated system of beliefs, which provides a framework on which affective, behavioral, and cognitive orientations are hung.

The organization and integration of large numbers of attitudes and beliefs into schemas facilitates the functioning of systems that would otherwise be too complex to reliably prescribe adaptive behaviors. The concept of "self" is perhaps the single most important of such schemas for most people. The next most important schema, for many people, is the ideology with which they identify. Just as "self" provides the organizing principle around which the belief system is configured, the "ideology," for many people, provides the organizing principle around which the self is configured.

A major means of threatening a belief system is to threaten the basis upon which it is organized and integrated. The Chinese interrogators of POW's systematically attacked both the self concept, and the pro-American, capitalistic, ideologies of their potential converts. With a somewhat less explicit intention to do so, the SLA did the same to Patty Hearst. We will revisit the treatment of Patty Hearst as it seems to relate to the two facets of the self concept, the personal identity, and the social identity (Turner, 1975).

Personal Identity. We cannot know for certain the details of the personal identity of Patty Hearst at the time she was captured. Let us surmise that she believed herself to be good, moral, honest, warm, loving, friendly, responsible, and intelligent. And let us assume that these attributes were construed as parts of an interdependent package of those things that, together, constituted that personal identity. But how could one be good who had so much and gave so little to help those who were less fortunate? How could it be moral to live off the labor of others? How could she believe herself to be a warm and loving person when she seldom had acted that way and then only to selected other privileged members of her elitist social class? The SLA confronted her on a daily basis with these and many more reasons for questioning whether she actually possessed the virtues and other attributes she had believed to be parts of her self-identity. While one is normally highly resistant to relinquishing such self-defining beliefs, where attacks are persistent, and where internal and external resources for coping with such threats have been undermined, the personal self-identity may become seriously threatened.

Social Identity. The portion of Patty Hearst's self-concept that was based upon her perceived connection to others, to her family, to her fiance, to her friends and classmates, and to her social class, came under severe threat at the hands of the SLA. These social groups would have provided the context for her self-identity. These were her sources of social comparison, and her reference groups. They provided the social support for her interpretation of reality, for her religious and other ideological beliefs, and for her identification with the roles that defined her to herself and to others. She was a sister, a daughter, a student, a friend, a lover and a future wife. She was a Catholic, an American citizen, perhaps a Republican, etc., and if asked to describe her "self" it is very likely she would have done so in terms of such social connections and affiliations. Over time, while with the SLA, nearly all such connections would have seemed tenuous or nonexistent. Her family was portrayed first as unwilling to pay what was required to save her, and later was shown to be less and less interested in whether or not she survived. She seemed to quickly lose any emotional connection she may have had with Steven Reed, her fiance. Her religious identification as a Catholic seemed largely irrelevant to her predicament. And her friends and classmates receded more and more into the distant past for her as the weeks of being with the SLA expanded into months and then into years. Even the public seemed not to care after a while, and the police and the F.B.I., who she initially thought might save her, she came eventually to believe wanted her dead, and would in fact kill her if she ever attempted to turn herself in.

Maintaining Ideological Integrity. Induction of threat to ideology is only important to the extent that ideology plays a central role in the organization and integration of the original attitude-belief system. I will have much more to say concerning this issue when I turn to the topic of ideological commitment in a later chapter. For current purposes I simply need to point out that if ideology is important to the individual, concerted attempts to overwhelm its inherent resistance to change will have a greater effect than will equivalent attacks upon less central features of the system. In this regard, attacks upon ideological beliefs are parallel to those on the self-identity, which is also likely to be of central importance to the organization and integration of the system.

That ideological conversion has frequently been induced following concentrated attempts to threaten the original ideology is clear. We saw it in the brainwashing programs of the Chinese Communists, in the conversion of Patty Hearst, and to a lesser extent in religious cults and in drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

4. Inconsistency Reduction. Of the various types of threat to the functioning of attitude-belief systems, the selection or induction of inconsistency is perhaps the most important. To the extent that a system is internally inconsistent, it will not be as able to adequately fulfill its other functions, such as the prescription of adaptive behavior. Social psychological research has investigated the motivation and change that follow from inconsistency between the components of individual attitudes, and between different attitudes and beliefs. Many theories are based upon the simple, and frequently validated assumptions, that inconsistency is aversive, and that the experience of inconsistency motivates such change as reduces it. When small inconsistencies are induced, minor modifications in the belief system result. Resistance to change in the system, due to its complexity and interdependence, usually leads to changes such as do little damage to the large scale schemas of the system, such as those involving self-identity and ideology.

Massive induction of inconsistencies, such as occurs in many conversion contexts, has not been studied experimentally, for practical and ethical reasons. The likely consequences of such situations, however, can be extrapolated from well-established theories, such as the theory of cognitive dissonance, and self-attribution theories. We can then look to case studies to determine whether such projections have been consistent with observed effects. In the case of Patty Hearst, we can determine sources of induced inconsistency, and we can discover how she responded following such induction. In this section I will attempt to delineate many of the sources of induced inconsistency to which she was apparently subjected.

Let us assume an initial system in which most constituent attitudes and beliefs were consistent with each other, and most were internally consistent, meaning that their affective, behavioral, and cognitive parts were not in conflict. We can look for external or situational forces such as might be expected to create an attitude or belief that is inconsistent with those already held, or change an existing one to make it inconsistent with others. And we can look for sources of change in affective, behavioral, or cognitive components of individual attitudes such as render them internally inconsistent. We can focus on one attitude to illustrate the process. We will assume that Patty Hearst initially held an internally consistent, negative attitude toward a possible left-wing revolution. She felt negatively about such a revolution, affect; she had not and did not envision behaving in ways to promote such a revolution, but on the contrary would behaviorally oppose one, behavior; and she believed more negative than positive consequences would follow from such a revolution, cognition. This attitude was not only internally consistent, but was also consistent with many of her other attitudes, such as her positive attitude to her family, which opposed revolution, and her negative attitude towards communism, which seemed consistent with such revolution.

Any intervention from the outside that produced positive rather than negative affect, behavior, or cognition concerning revolution would produce internal inconsistency. To the extent that such changes were relatively strong, irreversible, persuasive, and numerous, the internally inconsistent attitude, striving to restore consistency, may do so by reversing itself to a pro-revolution attitude.

In an isolated experimental situation, especially concerning not very important issues, such as whether or not a task is boring or a tuition increase is a good idea, such predictable changes do occur and can be demonstrated. Even here, however, if the initial attitude is interconnected to other attitudes, which are important and resistant to change, the target attitude will be difficult to change. This is so because doing so will make it inconsistent with these other attitudes. This being the case, where possible, the method selected for resolution of the inconsistency will be one that leaves the initial attitude relatively intact. Interdependent systems are thus inclined to respond to minor threats to their inconsistency in ways that do not produce long-term change in important attitudes and beliefs. It is massive and persistent threat to the consistency of the system that makes return to the status quo no longer feasible. Instead such threat may make a radical change in the system, even a change as great as ideological conversion, the most efficient way to restore consistency within and between attitudes and beliefs.

Affective inconsistency. How could the SLA get Patty Hearst to "feel" more positively, or at least less negatively, about revolution? One source of negative affect toward an object is its strangeness. Familiarity, through repeated exposure to a point of view, makes it less strange, and even commonplace. As the unthinkable becomes thinkable, it becomes less likely to invoke negative emotional reactions. Patty Hearst was immersed in an environment where talk of the impending revolution was as commonplace as was talk about the weather. Initially negative feelings in relationship to such ideas would be expected to subside as a result of their sheer repetition. Lack of a negative emotional response to the idea of revolution would be inconsistent with extreme negative behaviors and beliefs concerning revolution.

It seems likely that at some points in her captivity, Patty Hearst developed positive feelings for one or more of the members of the SLA. Such feelings would be inconsistent with negative feelings about the expressed beliefs of those individuals, thus promoting a less negative response to those beliefs.

Feeling less negatively about revolution would be inconsistent with many prior cognitive and behavioral orientations toward revolution. The need to reduce such inconsistencies may have induced changes in those relevant behaviors and cognitions, i.e. behaving and thinking more positively about revolution.

In this situation, while such changed affect would create inconsistencies such as would induce changes in behaviors and cognitions, as described above, affect may itself be changed to reduce inconsistencies resulting from prior changes in such relevant behavior and cognition.

Behavioral inconsistency. How could the SLA get Patty Hearst to behave more positively toward the idea of revolution? One of the most thoroughly researched areas in social psychology is that involving the induction of attitude-discrepant behavior as a device for changing affect and cognition. The basic idea is quite simple. Use an incentive, such as money, for compliance, or threat of some negative sanction for noncompliance, to induce a behavior that is inconsistent with one's attitudes, i.e., with one's affect and cognition. This will produce an inconsistency, between the attitude and the overt behavior, which (at least under some conditions) will be aversive, and will motivate a change to reduce the inconsistency. The behavior cognition is relatively fixed in an external reality, making it resistant to change. Thus the expected change is a change in the attitude, (the affect and cognition), to make it consistent with the behavior. Research generally has supported the predictions of dissonance theory that such an effect will be greatest where the external inducement is relatively weak, but enough to induce the attitude discrepant behavior, and where the behavior is experienced as freely, or voluntarily, chosen. Research also supports predictions of self-attribution theories, in that the more salient and clear-cut the external cause of the behavior is, the less the attributed internal attitude will be consistent with the overt behavior.

For purposes of creating threat to the original system, we may surmise that such threat will be greatest where the induced behavior is clearly inconsistent with important attitudes and beliefs, where it is perceived to be voluntary, and where because the incentive or coercion was weak, or because it was not salient, it appeared to be insufficient to justify or to explain the behavior. Was Patty Hearst induced to engage in such behaviors under conditions such as these?

By her own accounts, much of her cooperation with the SLA, her studying their revolutionary texts, her agreeing to take part in military training, her overt acceptance of their characterizations of her family and her social class as pigs, etc., was motivated by fear that non-cooperation might lead them to kill her. But the contingencies were always extremely vague. She had to guess often about what choice of behavior would best satisfy them, and she could only guess at what behaviors, if any, would really cause them to kill her. Few explicit or clear-cut rewards or costs for compliance or for non-compliance were ever evident. However the pervasive sense that "going along" would probably, though not definitely, result in greater security or comfort was enough to induce her to routinely engage in behaviors that were clearly inconsistent with her prior attitudes and beliefs. These are exactly the conditions in which extensive research has shown that attitude-discrepant behavior leads to change in and/or internalization of new attitudes which are consistent with that behavior.

Cognitive inconsistency. In an important sense, the inconsistency between behavior, as described above, and other components of the attitude-belief system, is really the inconsistency between the cognition about behavior, e.g., the memory of it, with other cognitions, about what one believes or one feels. It is because behavior is usually imbedded in an external reality that behavior related cognitions are resistant to change. The types of induced inconsistencies presented in this section include especially those that do not involve behavior, but which result from exposure to new information, or from being reminded of non-salient previously accepted cognitions, such as are perceived to be incompatible with relevant affective or behavioral cognitions or with other attitudes or beliefs contained in the larger attitude-belief system.

Many of the previous examples concerning threats to the self-concept also fall into this category. Confronting someone with characteristics, feelings, beliefs or past behaviors that do not seem to be consistent with their self-concept, was a basic tactic used with POW's, with converts to religious cults, and with the conversion of Patty Hearst. In the case of Patty Hearst, for example, the SLA repeatedly confronted her with evidence of her bourgeois elitist past, and encouraged her to see it as inconsistent with being morally fit. In some situations, where people can be induced into wanting to be converted, such as in some religious cults, utopian communities, military training, and drug or alcohol rehabilitation, the potential convert is encouraged to voluntarily participate in resurrecting past feelings, beliefs, and behaviors that are incompatible with what they believe they want to become.

Inconsistencies involving the self-concept or self-identity are highly threatening, for it is important to maintain such self-defining cognitions as are central to the organization and integration of the overall system. It is also highly threatening to induce or make salient inconsistencies involving major ideological beliefs, for these too are important to the overall system. In the case of Patty Hearst, as was true for POW's, relentless attacks on the internal consistency of capitalism were commonplace, as were attacks on any institutions supportive of the American status quo, including religion. It does not seem from her autobiographical account, however, that she had initially identified very strongly with grand ideologies such as capitalism and Catholicism. Whatever role they did play in the integration and organization of her attitude-belief system would likely have been undermined by such an assault.

5. Uncertainty Reduction. From the beginning, when she was covered with a blanket and thrown into the trunk of a car, Patty Hearst experienced grave uncertainty about what was happening to her, who these people were, what they wanted, if they would kill her, etc. We have previously discussed her uncertainty about what behaviors to engage in. No clear-cut prescription for behavior emanated from her attitude-belief system. Perhaps of less immediate importance than uncertainty concerning what to do, uncertainty about what to believe and how to feel would also have been at extreme levels. How does one respond in the face of such uncertainty?

At less extreme levels, uncertainty seems, as Festinger (1954) predicted, to be aversive, and to motivate activities directed toward its reduction. Very likely the fact that it is aversive stems from the fact that uncertainty renders the system less capable of adequate functioning. A learned or innate pervasive orientation directed toward the reduction of uncertainty was very likely a major factor in the undermining of Patty Hearst's original attitude-belief system. This was also very likely an important factor in the breaking down of the attitude-belief systems of POW's.

Much of her uncertainty resulted, not from the lack of a complex and well-integrated attitude-belief system, but from the fact that her system was irrelevant to the bizarre situation with which she was faced. Furthermore, this new situation was not short-lived, but seemed never-ending. Her original attitude-belief system was still adequate for her old life context, but it was not clear when or even if she would ever be allowed to return to that life.

As an instrument for facilitating adequate functioning in her new environment, Patty Hearst's original attitude-belief system was incomplete. Whole areas of needs were not inconsistently or uncertainly addressed by it, but they were not addressed at all. How should an urban guerrilla act, or what should one believe, or how should one even feel, when asked by a supposed comrade if she would enjoy having sex with him? To survive in the new environment would require not only a change in many old beliefs, but creation of new attitudes and beliefs relevant to issues never before addressed by her original system.

Complexity of the original system was very likely reflective of the complexity required by her old environment. Not much complexity is necessary for living on the floor of a closet. In fact, the unneeded complexity is not simply a waste of time and energy, but is a constant obstacle to effective functioning in the new environment. What is needed is a very small set of behavior prescriptions and mechanisms for alleviating potentially debilitating fear and anxiety.

SUMMARY OF THE MASSIVE THREAT COMPONENT. What I have tried to do in this section is to delineate the major functions of belief systems and to show how each of these may be threatened as a result of either prior selection (i.e. self-selection or selection by others), or induction (i.e. influences in the conversion environment). One at a time, especially at low levels, such threats as these can nearly always be defended against in some fashion that results in little change to the major features of the original system. The reduction in Perceived Level of Functioning, PLF, may be extensive, especially when many threats occur simultaneously, or in a short period of time. Such a reduction will increase the likelihood that the PLF will fall short enough of the Comparison Level of Functioning of available alternatives CLFalt, to overcome the forces of commitment to the original belief system and to allow for acceptance of an incompatible ideological alternative.

The Six-Component Model suggests, however, that even massive threat may be averted by a system possessing high levels of Component Two, "Internal Resources for Coping with Threat," and/or of Component Three, "External Resources for Coping with Threat." It is to Component Two that we now turn.

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