Home / News / How Cult Leaders Like Charles Manson Exploit a Basic Psychological Need

How Cult Leaders Like Charles Manson Exploit a Basic Psychological Need

Photo Credit: Screenshot / YouTube

Charles Manson, who died Nov. 19, famously captivated a sect of men and women to do his bidding, which enclosed committing a fibre of murders in the late-1960s.

Manson is positively a fascinating figure with a difficult life story. But as someone who studies human cognition, I’m some-more meddlesome in the members of the Manson “family” like Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel, and how they turn drawn to leaders of cult-like organizations in the first place.

The apparition of comfort


Emotional comfort is executive to the allure of cults.

California Institute of Technology clergyman Jon-Patrik Pedersen, in attempting to explain because people are drawn to cults, has argued that the human yearning for comfort leads us to find out people or things that can ease the fears and anxieties.

In and of itself, the titillate to still inner demons is not a disastrous trait. I’d disagree that, to the contrary, it’s an effective instrumentation that allows us to cope with the stressors, big and small, that torpedo us on a unchanging basis.

However, cult leaders meet this need by making promises that are probably unattainable – and not typically found anywhere else in society. This, according Pedersen, could embody “complete financial security, consistent assent of mind, ideal health, and almighty life.”

Beyond exploiting human enterprise for romantic comfort, cult leaders don’t always have the best intentions when it comes to the mental health of their followers.

Psychiatrist Mark Banschick has forked out that cult leaders occupy mind and behavioral control techniques that are focused on disjunction followers’ connectors to the outward world.

Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten and Linda Kasabian leave justice after being arraigned in 1969. The 3 members of the Manson family had been charged with murder. AP Photo

These methods can actually lower members’ existent romantic insecurities, while enlivening them to turn totally reliant on their cult for all their earthy and romantic needs.

Physical and psychological siege can result, which actually intensify many of the problems, like stress and depression, that attract people to the cult in the first place.

The stress and basin can turn so strenuous and feel so indomitable that the supporters feel trapped.

It’s a infamous cycle that can lead to truly comfortless consequences, such as the well-documented 1978 Jonestown Massacre, when over 900 people died in a mass murder-suicide carried out under the organisation of cult personality Jim Jones. Then there were the Heaven’s Gate suicides in 1997, when 39 individuals, including cult personality Marshall Applewhite, frankly overdosed on phenobarbital and vodka in the wish of being ecstatic to an purported visitor spaceship drifting behind the (real) Hale-Bopp comet.

The case for reason

So just how can one face his or her fears, but equivocate the intensity risk of cult-like groups?

In a word: rationality.

Seeking reason-based solutions for emotion-focused conditions is by no means a new concept. Unfortunately, rationality is not as intuitively appealing as remedies that simply feat nauseating cravings.

Sigmund Freud, in his 1927 content “The Future of an Illusion,” argued that sacrament was a small mental pretence assembled to comfort believers and help them overcome insecurities – even yet their acceptance of convictions was irrational. While Freud’s position was focused on mainstream faiths, his highlighting of the romantic comfort executive to them is equivalent to the role that this component plays in cults.

His solution? Replace sacrament (or, in the benefaction case, cults) with receptive guides for vital that understanding with problems directly. Are you concerned about your appearance? Eat healthy and practice regularly. Stressed about attribute problems? Talk directly to your partner in a transparent and honest demeanour to arrive at jointly agreed-upon resolutions.

One could positively disagree that Freud, by highlighting religion’s disastrous elements, was ignoring the intensity certain outcomes correlated with spirituality such as fast relationships, dignified education and life satisfaction.

But there is no denying that emotions can cloud visualisation and outcome in bad decisions.

For example, Gerd Gigerenzer, a German clergyman who studies decision-making, illustrated the very genuine consequences of bearing an romantic response over a some-more data-driven one. In his 2004 research of highway fatalities in the arise of the Sep 2001 militant attacks, he forked out how people became fearful of drifting in the evident issue of the attacks. Many who still indispensable to transport finished up pushing instead of drifting in sequence to strech their destinations.

However, this liquid of cars on the highway led to approximately 350 some-more people failing in vehicle accidents from Oct to Dec of 2001. As Gigerenzer noted, these deaths could likely have been avoided “if the open were better sensitive about psychological reactions to inauspicious events.”

It’s not easy to simply “use reason over emotion.” The fact that cults continue to exist – and that people continue to play the lottery despite the diminutive possibility of winning, or insist on subjecting themselves to unproven cancer treatments such as urine therapy – is a covenant to the potential of emotions as behavioral motivators.

Furthermore, this should not be taken as a gauge to obey the emotions, which can raise human practice in many ways.

But it’s critical to be vigilant, and commend the value of coming decisions using logic, generally when emotion-driven choices can lead to negative, life-altering outcomes.

Just ask Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Charles Watson and Leslie Van Houten, who finished up spending decades in jail for committing murder at Manson’s behest.

The ConversationEditor’s note: This is an updated chronicle of an essay first published on Apr 14, 2016.


Lou Manza is Professor and Department Chair of Psychology, Lebanon Valley College.


auto magazine

Check Also

The American Public May Finally Be Turning on the NRA

Photo Credit: golubovystock / Shutterstock Many people worried that it would be business as common …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>