ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2018, Vol. 26 ›› Issue (12): 2091-2100.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2018.02091

• Editor-In-Chief Invited •     Next Articles

Physical and mental harm caused by participation in cults from a psychological perspective

REN Dingcheng1, HE Chenhong1,2, CHEN Tianjia1()   

  1. 1. Center for Cult Studies, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    2. School of Humanities, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2018-05-28 Online:2018-12-15 Published:2018-10-30
  • Contact: Tianjia CHEN


Scientific research on the phenomena of the physical and mental injury caused by participation in cults focuses on three aspects: definition, measurement and mechanism. The purpose of this paper is to review the issues, analyses, and findings on these three topics, and to clarify the field’s controversies and achievements. Our literature survey indicates that a) the terminology regarding the harm caused by cults has changed from “brainwashing” to “psychological abuse”; b) the focus of observation has changed from individual behavior to group experiences; c) the measurement of harm has shifted from traditional psychometric tools to group psychological abuse scales; and d) for psychological mechanisms, an interactive pathology model based on cult milieu factors and personal vulnerability has been established, and epigenetics and interpersonal neurobiology are also primarily used in the study of physiological mechanisms. However, a new research paradigm on cult harm has not yet been formed.

Key words: cult, physical and mental injury, brainwashing, the group psychological abuse scale, group dependence disorder

CLC Number: