Saturday, February 28, 2009

Conference Survival Skills

From a series of blog posts originally appearing on the Under Much Grace Blog

Every conference, even the True Woman ‘08 Conference, has a powerful effect on the mind of the person who attends. Before I delve into the effect that a conference environment has on a person too deeply, I would like to describe a little bit about how the mind works to help you better understand how conferences challenge your critical thinking.

As the old theory goes and what we now know from brain imaging, memory is quite a complex thing. First a stimulus is introduced to a person, and they experience that stimulus. If one hears a sound, along with the sound, the mind also remembers what the person is also experiencing beyond the sound: sights, tactile sensations, taste, smell, emotions, old associated memory, etc. The memory becomes like a snapshot that is stored, but the sound becomes bound to all the other things that the person experienced at that time. All areas of the brain become involved in that memory, creating a circuit. If a stimulus is repeated many times, that circuit is strengthened.

I always think of a bit of an absurd example from when I was a young child In the fall and the spring, I was often sick with some upper respiratory problem and would have to be taken to the doctor. To get to the doctor’s office, we always drove by a park that seemed to have a high population of skunks, and the scent could often be noted when driving down that road, especially in the fall. Very near the doctor’s office was a McDonalds, one of the first in town, and my mother sometimes stopped there on the way home. McDonalds cheeseburgers are still my first choice for a convenient comfort food when I am ill which would seem to make sense. What is odd is that I can sometimes taste a cheeseburger when I have a very bad sore throat with a fever. What’s even more odd is that whenever I smell a skunk, I get very hungry for a cheeseburger from McDonalds only. And on rare occasions, I swear that I smell skunks after eating McDonalds french fries.

Psychology classifies this as classical conditioning, but it also demonstrates how this phase sequence creates a net of memory and experience and serves as the neurophysiologic basis of memory and consolidation of memory. Each single element is remembered, but the memory circuit also takes these separate and seemingly unrelated elements and works them together in a net of meaningfulness. Stimulation of one of the elements in the circuit sometimes can fire off the whole circuit. I have strong memories when I hear old songs on the radio, finding my mind pulled back to that memory. This is also a survival mechanism that stimulates problem-solving in the right side of the brain through intuition. If you get in your car and hear a noise that you don’t normally hear, your mind pays close attention to it. It may pull a surprising memory into your consciousness if that same sound reminds you of a sound you heard before in the past. If you were in danger when you heard this sound, your mind automatically pulls those memories into consciousness and stimulates the whole circuit. The whole circuit of memory may be needed to help you survive this similar situation.
Sometimes the sequence does not seem obvious and you often do not remember what stimulated the circuit. Pretend that you ate pistachio ice cream for the first time when you were visiting with your old friend. Twenty years later, having not seen your friend for several months, you have pistachio ice cream at lunchtime. You might “spontaneously” think of your friend as you're getting ready for bed that night. As you drift off to sleep, you find yourself thinking of that ice cream again through recalled memory, or find yourself dreaming of your friend. The phase sequence or circuit activates because of the ice cream trigger, but it continues to remain active even though the trigger is no longer present. This is called a reverberating circuit of memory, because the circuit of memory continues to vibrate in the mind and stimulates the other elements of memory in the snapshot after the activating stimulus has been removed.

Well, what does that have to do with a conference? Conferences set up their own phase sequences that are unique. The conference environment is usually unique, so it is more stimulating to the mind than your routine environment. The circuits then become more deeply fixed in your mind because they are unique and fresh, and we tend to remember the unusual. If the conference boasts a special name or unique term, it is also more stimulating, adding to the depth of the circuit as well as a new element. Is there a unique logo? Is there a theme? Do they give out a book bag or a portfolio with the emblem or logo embossed on it? Do they give you a handkerchief with the logo embroidered on it like they did at True Woman ‘08? Did they have a unique phrase or mantra that was repeated at gatherings? Did you buy a book at their book table? That book will be it’s own experience, but the book also becomes strongly associated with the conference.

All these things, anything different and unique will deepen the circuit of memory in the mind. Were you moved emotionally? Of course you were, and any variation in emotion that is different from your norm will strengthen the significance of the experience. When you see the logo and when you come across the embossed item months later, all you experienced will come back to your consciousness or will at least stimulate your subconscious mind, taking you back to that moment of time in your memory. There is a good chance, if the circuit wore deeply enough, that the trigger will start your circuits reverberating. You suddenly feel a million little memory elements sweep over you for just an instant, reinforcing every single element that was caught in your web of memory.

Again, all these things help us survive and help give our memories and even our moment to moment experience meaning and integration. A good conference will have those little cues to stimulate your memories and remind you of that moment in time. Along with the peripheral things like the hankie and the official pen with note pad, you also take with you all that was spoken and all that you did. Edifying conferences reinforce good messages and emotions, but people become very susceptible to covert messages and influence during these situations. Understanding vulnerability during these seasons helps us remain diligent to guard our hearts and minds at such gatherings.
Note: Above image of memory processing through the hippocampus from
Univeristy of Indiana website

Do you know where I first learned about hypnosis? The church. Throughout the early and mid ‘70s, there was actually a movement within the Baptist church promoting hypnosis. We were Pentecostal in the seventies, and we also visited a local chiropractor who embraced mind science and holistic healing, Norman Vincent Peale style. These ideologies bear similarities, overlap and complement one another for good reason which we will soon discover. In an attempt to help me with nightmares (related to a few childhood traumas), my mother (a Pentecostal Christian of only a few years of maturity at the time) introduced me to the writings about hypnosis that came out of this movement when I was as young as eight years of age. I’m most familiar with the writings of CS Lovett and Paul Adams, both Baptist ministers who interwove mind science into evangelical Christianity. Actually, having been through the Word of Faith (WoF) mill, I now know that the two ideologies, mind science and WoF share common roots. Were it not for study of and obedience to the Word of God along with my disappointing experience with these systems, I would still likely still be of that same school of thought.

When E.W. Kenyon discovered Mary Baker Eddy’s works, he identified some principles of faith that were true but not Christian, and he sought to “correct” her work and improve upon it by injecting Christian principle into it. But where did Mary Baker get her foundational ideas concerning divine health and faith healing, developing the foundations of New Thought Christianity? She studied with a European mesmerist named Phineas Parkhurst Quimby. In that sense, when Kenyon introduced mind science principles into Pentecostal ideology, he joined hypnosis and Christianity. What took me many years of experience and much investigation to learn was that true divine healing (miracles) and healing through hypnosis are actually what I believe to be two unrelated types of healing. I believe that hypnosis reflects principles of truth that are clearly noted in the New Testament (“Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word”.... “Your faith has made you whole”) and diverts faith in God away from God and into faith in the “process of faith” as a work of the mind. Note the subtlety there: a primary work (of the mind/flesh) and not a primary fruit of the Spirit. Essentially, New Thought took Christian principles and developed techniques, and then Eddy and Kenyon reintroduced their attenuated faith principles (by then, mixed with pantheistic Eastern ideas and humanistic freewillism) back into Christianity.

Though I studied medical applications of hypnotherapy for chronic pain management as nursing continuing education, I was surprised to realize how much insight I also gained regarding the process of spiritual abuse that I’d experienced and how WoF practices actually primed me for spiritual abuse. I took a fascinating cinematography class in college one semester because I had such a heavy science load, and I also did not expect to learn what these two areas, hypnosis and cinematography, had in common: techniques that could be used to bypass an individual’s critical thinking in order to establish selective thinking. The process needs no unconscious state but can be accomplished while an individual remains completely awake by simply refocusing attention. A person who wants to advance an agenda needs only to develop skill in the process of shifting and manipulating attention, something we all experience when watching a good film, just one example of waking hypnosis (as I believe it was named by Dave Elman, a pioneer in modern medical and dental applications of hypnotherapy).

Elman offers many examples of how waking hypnosis can and does work well by directing the vital element needed for any hypnosis of any type: anticipation. He offers an example of a radiologist who must perform a barium swallow exam which he was taught to preface to patients as an uncomfortable procedure that was unavoidable but vitally necessary. Barium, if retained in the GI tract becomes like concrete, so it is important to cleanse the body from the Barium after the procedure. He was trained to stress this also, but he did so in a manner that had patients anticipate the complications of retained Barium, something that could well never happen to them. He changed his approach to his patients who needed informed consent to participate so that he did not teach them to anticipate discomfort before the procedure. His modified description of the process was entirely true, but he reframed the information so that it did not include anticipation of discomfort. He told patients that the liquid would soothingly coat the GI tract, as the Barium liquid is rather benign and does coat the mucosa. And he told patients that the Barium had to be removed from the body and that there were unpleasant complications, but he prefaced this process as a simple one, focusing more on the cleansing of the substance from the GI tract rather than the complications. Elman reports that this radiologist reportedly had no problems with patient discomfort after he taught his patients to anticipate a good outcome. The radiologist still obtained informed consent from his patients, but he did so in a wiser way that improved the experience of his patients. He diverted focus away from the molehill (a foreign substance in the GI tract) onto the mountain (the many positive benefits of the procedure).

Redirecting of focus and attention to establish selective thinking serves us as a normal part of the human experience. We all know how powerful this selective focus can be, as we all can relate to watching a film or becoming engrossed in a book or a work project so that we loose an active sense of the rest of the world around us. “Time sure flies when you’re having fun.” (Loss of an accurate sense of the passage of time is an effect of hypnosis and of certain states of consciousness.) The same mechanisms that allow for us to be able to spontaneously redirect our focus can be directed or manipulated by factors in our environment. Teaching a person in chronic pain to turn down their attention to physical pain represents just one of many positive applications of this kind of redirected focus, but not all such manipulations or redirection of our focus can be for our benefit. Both desire and anticipation play a very significant role in this process, as we generally find it easy to anticipate those things which we desire. Manipulators can capitalize on those desires, deceive us, and exploit our good desires in order for their own personal gain (when that gain requires our compliance). A salesman who wants to sell a security system can find ways to redirect our focus through things like fear mongering in order to exploit our desires to keep our family safe and well-protected, for example.

I imagine that there was not one person who attended the True Woman ‘08 Conference without some sense of anticipation. There is a special excitement that comes though a planned event for which one prepares in advance. One technique that nearly guarantees some anticipation of receiving something valuable comes when one pays money in exchange for something like a conference. It is natural, expected consequence, very much like a contract. If I pay money for service or to receive information at a conference, it is quite natural for me to expect reciprocation for that money, and I anticipate that reciprocation. (One certainly would not pay money for something if they did not expect to receive something in exchange.) This is also very much a behavior that indicates and reinforces that one is willing and cooperative, another element of hypnosis that strengthens the effectiveness of the power of suggestion. (Hypnotherapy clients should always be asked directly if they want and agree to be hypnotized prior to each session.) Payment is another means of reinforcing the desire to cooperate with a behavior which enhances the process, much like the direct question of "Do you want to be hypnotized" that should be employed in some way in every session of hypnotherapy.

This anticipation, desire and cooperation that one experiences as a conference attendee also create the environment conducive to hypnosis. Remember that effective hypnosis takes place only when participants experience anticipation for a desired outcome, willingly cooperating with the process.

The conditions that enhance hypnosis also coincide with the conditions that most conference attendees experience as well, so it behooves any conference attendee to be aware that their critical decision-making skills will inevitably be challenged.

We experience the very same states of consciousness that hypnosis induces purposely quite spontaneously all throughout the day. Hypnosis takes place at about 8 - 12 cycles per second/Hertz or lower on EEG (an observing of the electrical patterns generated by the brain), and critical thought generates a faster oscillation, usually ranging from 15 to about 25 Hz. These states of consciousness can be objectively assessed through a psychological assessment (both through observation and self-reported interview) though we can observe these same states through physical responses as well. The names of the Hz range that correspond to these characteristics are used to describe the corresponding states of consciousness, though I will only mention those that are pertinent to hypnosis.

Different brain structures generate different frequencies and patterns, and during normal consciousness, there is an ideal balance of these different brain wave patterns taking place all at once. But it makes sense that if the problem-solving centers of the brain that generate a particular waveform are not being utilized heavily, there will be an overall decrease in those patterns. So this description of consciousness based on one wave form describes the predominant and general, overall pattern described. (For example, some very logical, left-brained people will generate beta waves all throughout their sleep cycle when those patterns are nearly absent during sleep for the general population.) Waking hypnosis can then take place during normal consciousness, even though a person might not be in a completely relaxed state, the general state that allows for the bypassing of critical thought to introduce focused, selective thought. It may also tend to occur when the oscillations of the brain wave patterns vary just between critical thought and a state relaxed alertness at approximately 12 - 15 Hz, at the Beta-Alpha Border.

Beta State:

When engaged in critical thinking, discernment and decision-making, the brain generates a predominant pattern of Beta waves, generally ranging from no lower than 12 Hz, though they can speed along as fast as 40 Hz. (Certain, specialized motor tasks and pathologic conditions can cause up to 100 Hz, but this is not typical.) Logic and sequential thought as well as stress correspond with the beta state, and it is most easily noted by cool or cold hand temperature and muscle tension. Headache patients benefit by learning to control this tension, using hand temperature as a gauge and a focus to slow these thought patterns as high beta states often accompany headache and migraine.

Alpha State:
A comfortable, relaxed posture accompanied by a mental state of relaxed awareness/alertness characterizes the Alpha state of consciousness on EEG. (It ranges from approximately 8 to 12 Hz.) Selective attention typifies this state, when engaged in a task that causes a person to loose track of the passage of time. This generally the state that one experiences when one is sitting restfully or doing something that one finds relaxing (which can include sports that one finds calming). Learning takes place at this state, and it is ideal for memorization. (Classical education capitalizes upon the enhanced ability to memorize associated with this state, as this is the general state of children until about 8-10 years of age when beta waves begin to develop.) Hypnotherapy seeks to induce an Alpha state so as to more easily refocus attention (or introduce new information), and it is also an ideal state of mind for reading comprehension. The brain absorbs and stores information uncritically in this state of consciousness.

The body will shift into an alpha state in response to certain physiologic factors: eye movement and deep, rhythmic breathing. Note that when a person’s gaze is directed to 30 degrees above midline or when a person breathes deeply from the abdomen, the body cannot resist shifting into an alpha state of consciousness. This is a physiologic response to gazing upward (to see a speaker or to view a projection on a display screen).

Theta State:

Theta, just a little slower than the Alpha state (4 - 8 Hz), corresponds to intuition and daydreaming, and it is often experienced while doing repetitive tasks. Have you ever been unable to remember a name to have that name pop into your mind hours later? Or have you been driving on the highway to arrive at your destination to realize that you don’t actually remember making the drive? You’ve likely shifted into a Theta state. This is the state of consciousness that enhances creativity.

Many people find that they have ideas come to them “out of the blue” and will have their most creative thoughts while doing repetitive, rhythmic tasks like driving on the highway or while vacuuming. Automatic tasks induce a theta state and may bring with them a flood of ideas. Because people report seeing cool, blue and teal colors (reporting thoughts perceived in association with these colors) while in this state of consciousness, I am told that this explains the “out of the blue” cliche. This state of consciousness sometimes enhances certain aspects of hypnosis but is not the most desired state of consciousness for post-hypnotic suggestion.

Why is any of this important?

Our activities determine our states of consciousness, but it is critical to note that conditions in our environment and certain stimuli and activities can enhance our tendency toward one state or another. If you are in a situation when you need all of your “Beta” functions, anything that causes a natural, physiologic slowing of these brain wave patterns will make you vulnerable. Florescent lighting slows brain wave patterns as do the radiant light patterns of a television screen. If you know that you are going into a situation where you find yourself at a disadvantage, you might wish to do things to keep your Beta functions active and engaged. You can accomplish this through self awareness and through knowledge of how these states of consciousness can work against you. Recognizing the characteristics of each state can help bring you back into healthy balance and a state of mind that is most appropriate for your circumstances.

For instance, if you are a Christian and you sit down to debate with a person of a very different faith about these matters, you would definitely not want to slip into a state of consciousness that made you prone to accepting ideas without discernment. People with problems like ADD tend to fall into a particular brainwave pattern mix, so this is of interest to them if they wish to improve their attention by avoiding any environmental factors that work against them.

True Woman '08 as a Prototype

(Please read
Part I and
Prerequisites I and II
for background information.)

As previously mentioned, conferences build up a sense of anticipation and hope concerning our desires, and when we attend them, we attend quite willingly and participate in the process. Generally the conference hosts communicate the general organization of activities as a basic description of not only what can be anticipated about the conference, but also what general behavior is expected of the attendee. Usually, those who attend are given some handouts and trinkets, and common items usually include a durable tote or portfolio of some type that can be used after the conference. Pens and note pads are often common items that are given out, displaying the logo of the group. These are a nice enhancement and an early gift of earnest that reciprocates the investment paid by the attendee for the conference experience. These are reasonable things to do and expect, but it does reinforce the sense of trust that one has in the value of the conference. It plays upon our expectation of reciprocity, one of Cialdini’s “weapons of social influence.”

Building of Expectation and Anticipation

At the True Woman '08 Conference, in the opening plenary session, John Piper stated something that added to the expectation of the already willing and committed conference attendees. He stated that women would be so moved and their lives would be so changed so that when the conference concluded on Saturday, many women would find themselves reluctant to leave the wonderful conference atmosphere. He effectively suggested that the conference would be so powerful that some women would prefer to say at the conference rather than return home to their families – quite a profound comparison because of the other expectation that these women must submit to and serve their families. I also found it very interesting that this statement was accompanied by what I thought was an overt show of emotion, over and above the already overtly emotional style that characterized the rest of the message. I’m told by those who attended the conference and have read online that women were most moved by the “heartfelt” contrition and deep concern that Piper showed during this sermon, so I find this to be very significant. I believe by making this statement and stating it in the manner he did impressed the audience with this standard, that of expecting a very powerful experience at the conference, in a powerful manner.

Derren Brown often introduces suggestions like this to lead whole audiences of people to make choices that seem to be completely spontaneous. He will then set up a series of suggestions, all that seem completely spontaneous, throughout the evening of seemingly benign entertainment. At the conclusion of this session, he chooses a random people out of the audience and then “predicts” what that person will choose from among a seemingly large number of nearly limitless choices. It turns out that he has actually subtly and subliminally guided everyone in the audience to chose one single option of his own preference. In the preceding video clips that you can pull up yourselves, a woman is asked to choose one random word from over a possible 16,000 words. (I will not display the preceding clips here because of a foul expletive in the preceding clip, but you are welcome to view them on your own.) In this clip however, you can watch how Brown went to great effort to convey his own choice all throughout the evening theater show to the entire audience through subtle suggestion. Here is his explanation of how he subtly influenced the whole audience to select what is nearly an impossible choice, one that he describes as inevitable.

NOTE:  Many of the Derren Brown videos have been removed ;(, however you can link to one related video by CLICKING HERE.

I am not suggesting that John Piper intentionally wove subliminal messages into his sermon, but I hope to demonstrate that his very open and emotive description of a standard encouraged women at the True Woman Conference to anticipate a deep and moving experience that would rival or exceed their desire to return home to their beloved families. I’m not even inclined that this was done with premeditated intent, but I think after years of experience, a pastor like John Piper has learned a few things. In a previous post I pointed out that manipulative individuals choose very dysfunctional behavior, not because it is right but because it is effective. It works. I think that a man like John Piper has learned very well exactly what works to influence crowds to achieve a desired outcome.

I heard other comments from various people on Friday throughout the day of the conference, and this is difficult for me to say because I have done this very same thing and believed these kind of statements by faith in the past (in Word of Faith). This was also far more subtle than Piper’s suggestion, but I did make serious note of several statements that these speakers made very clearly. Several women speakers talked about how the music was better on Friday than it had been the day before because women’s hearts were more open. The music was better because worship was more intimate on the second day due to the change in dispositions of the women’s hearts. There were also overtures made to the conclusion of the conference as if this wonderful intimacy and sense of blessing would continue to build and would culminate in a peak experience at the end (with the signing of the manifesto). In other words, "The longer that the conference goes on, the better and better it gets." It was presented as objective evidence that participation in the conference enhanced one’s intimacy with God. I don't doubt that for some that it was genuine or that it was the genuine experience of the conference's effect on the speakers, but I did note this as a statement that would naturally promote anticipation.

It was odd because when one of these statements was made, I found the opposite to be true of the music. I wept during the Thursday night session via live webcast, worshiping with the music and song, but I actually struggled through the worship on the second night for several reasons related to my training in the music regarding the principles of leading worship. I was moved by the testimonies and became teary-eyed watching and listening to them, as is my typical response because there is little else as moving to me than a personal testimony. (So it wasn’t as if I’d turned hard-hearted that evening.) I believe that these kinds of statements definitely build anticipation in those who attend conferences of this type. Whether speakers make these powerful and subtle suggestions and standards purposefully, only they can say, but I believe that those experienced in conducting meetings like this have learned what works and what yields very positive results.

True Woman ‘08 Conference as a Prototype

As mentioned previously, an alpha state of consciousness allows for the bypassing of critical thought. The alpha state facilitates the absorption of ideas and suggestions without the level of discernment that is present during the beta state of problem-solving. If a group or an individual desires to gain cooperation from someone or seeks to persuade an critic, inducing an alpha state of consciousness will greatly aid in accomplishing this objective.

Also, as mentioned previously, individuals move into and out of these states of consciousness while fully awake. If children experience normal growth and development, they remain in an alpha state until they begin to develop beta waves (and abstract discernment abilities) starting at about 8 years of age. However, this state of consciousness can be induced or promoted by a number of factors, according to what we’ve learned from scientific study and recent advances in neurophysiologic imaging techniques. A good conference promotes these effects, sometimes by chance and sometimes by design. In either case, awareness in the reduction in usual critical thinking resources serves as a defense against covert manipulation, should any arise.

Why do most substance abuse programs require at least a 14 day long inpatient treatment program if most of the serious physical withdrawal symptoms subside before that time frame? Because the change in the usual environment provides an excellent opportunity to evaluate and break former behavior. Some of this relates to state dependent learning (when a task can only be recalled or performed in the presence of other stimuli) and relates somewhat to the phase sequence circuits of triggered memory. It is easier to break an addition if the person is removed from their regular environment, and the reverse is also true. Using addictive substances becomes easier while one is still submerged in the environment and subject to the factors that encourage drug abuse. By breaking routines and traveling to new and unfamiliar settings, new learning becomes much easier. It’s novel, fresh and unusual. A religious retreat pulls us away from our usual patterns of sinful living and can be used as a very powerful force for good, like the addict retreats from the environment and relationships that are a very significant part of his addiction. So for good or evil, the unusual conference setting and routine temporarily break our state dependent patterns for a short time.

The break from routine also promotes idealized thinking. If you’ve ever been on a cruise or stayed at a vacation resort, the salespeople who work for these organizations know that they will have a better chance of selling you another vacation package to you while you are still in their environment. When you have started to enjoy the relaxation of the environment for a few days, you become a bit detached from the normal pressures that you would feel in your daily life. If this involves commitments of any kind, particularly when sales are involved, as a general rule, you are best served to postpone your decision. The in-the-moment excitement of “make your reservations now or you will miss your opportunity” capitalizes on the very human tendency to be influenced by what Cialdini calls “scarcity.” Human nature predisposes us to view things that are limited as more valuable, and we assign more value to opportunities that are limited. When things are less available, we loose freedoms, and this is intensified when we perceive that there is competition for these resources. “Get to the book table before our supply runs out” is often heard at such conferences. Many times, there is an adequate supply but this advertising tactic becomes a powerful emotion arousing motivator (ensuring that the vendor will sell out). During this type of setting, it’s important for us to step back from the situation to think about what we really want or need, or whether we are in a position to make a commitment. We should specifically purpose to be reserved and deliberately objective because of the setting and our natural, very human response to “deadline tactics.”

Lack of sleep promotes a slowing of our brain waves simply due to fatigue. I can imagine that many True Women had quite a bit of hustle and bustle on the night before they departed for the conference, planning to travel and planning for their families in their absence. Many people will actually arrive at the conference with a higher level of fatigue than they normally would experience. Most women will spend a great deal of time talking with one another at bedtime and will not go right to sleep, particularly if they shared a room with someone else (all very much a part of the fun of going on a ladies retreat). Most people, if they attend all of the conference activities, will find themselves getting less sleep than they normally would. The resultant fatigue will produce slower brain wave patterns during the day, and sleep deprivation also decreases both critical thinking and performance. In addition to this, neurophysiologist Michael Persinger notes that sleep deprivation and emotional excitement that persists for more than 3 days produces a spiritual response or a sensed presence of God due to a normal, physiologic response of heightened temporal lobe activity. (Some people are more prone to this experience than others.) People tend to have spiritual experiences on day 3 or 4, depending on how stimulated they become. (Read more HERE.) This is another very serious consideration, particularly when attending a conference that concerns beliefs and spirituality. God could well affect a spiritual experience, but what if man has orchestrated the same thing, inducing a purely physiologic response from nothing but sleep deprivation combined with emotional excitation?

Other factors more directly shift a person into an alpha state. As previously stated, if you must gaze upward to see the speaker or powerpoint presenation so that your field of vision must be redirected more than 30 degrees above horizontal midline, your mind automatically shifts into an alpha state of awareness. You become immediately less critical and easier to “program.” Certain types of music such as repetitive worship choruses also induce alpha states. Florescent lighting and large sources of oscillating radiant light also induce alpha patterns. If the speaker walks slowly back and forth across the platform as they speak, this can also induce an alpha state, particularly if one must gaze upward to see the speaker, like a human pendulum. (Your brain will slow it’s own speed to match any rhythmic stimuli in the environment.) At any conference or meeting, also consider that your regular routine eating patterns will also be somewhat altered. Your hunger or lower blood sugar (not to mention intentional fasting) can both lower your critical thinking ability and may present an uncomfortable distraction that can be manipulated.

Consider that every human being experiences these effects as a natural, physiologic response to the conditions encountered at a conference. Awareness and anticipation of natural responses to the conference setting as well as self-awareness can help you make more responsible choices that are in your own best interest.

as a Prototype

Conferences like True Woman ‘08 influence attendees powerfully through social mentoring and context as well as through behavioral compliance. One means of gauging proper behavior comes through observing the behavior of others and context clues, a very human trait. Compliance and participation also increases when authority figures also comply and participate, as those who are held in high esteem are also viewed as a superior gauge for wise behavior. This social influence becomes a more powerful determinant of behavior when decisions are ambiguous, and human beings tend to place more significance on the social cues that they take from those who are similar to them in some way. We are social creatures, and our human need to belong influences our decisions in a powerful way. It is our created nature. (For more, review the Asch Experiments.)

At the True Woman Conference, each woman received a “Yes, Lord” white cloth handkerchief which the conference leaders encouraged the attendees to wave in the air like white flags of surrender whenever they felt like they were saying “Yes, Lord” in their hearts. They were also given rubber pads to kneel on whenever they felt the unction to do so on the hard floor. Social proof obviously strongly encourages compliance with this type of behavior, and I thought it was also interesting if not odd that the speakers occasionally reminded women that “Now would be a good time to get out your hankie and wave it or kneel on your kneeling pad.” But general behavioral compliance with small requests also has a strong psychological effect, and according to cognitive dissonance theory, it increases the likelihood of the acceptance of ideas and even the mirroring of the desired emotion in the group.

Cognitive dissonance occurs when thoughts, emotions or behavior differ, for instance when a person is asked to do something that is contrary to thoughts and emotions. This is actually an intensely uncomfortable process, and people will generally do the most expedient thing to bring thoughts, emotions and behavior back into a comfortable, integrated unity. If you wish to introduce a provocative thought or idea and you believe that you will be countered, if you can manipulate emotions and/or behavior of your critic, you have a very high chance of getting them to accept your idea. Control of one area (thoughts, emotion or behavior) gives the manipulator a powerful foothold and nearly guarantees that they will be able to dominate the remaining two areas. So did Nancy Leigh DeMoss distribute cloth hankies to women and ask them to wave them in order to promote the acceptance of her ideas? I doubt that it was a conscious and deliberate decision, but again, I must say that I believe that experienced conference hosts realize what techniques produce the desired affect.

Because cognitive dissonance is so intensely uncomfortable because of the human drive to keep thoughts, emotions and behavior consistent, the person will preserve their internal sense of consistency by altering the remaining two aspects of the self. If I can persuade you to experience an emotion that you do not have and you cannot escape the situation, you are highly likely to comply with behavioral expectations and also accept my provocative thought. Once the manipulator establishes behavioral compliance regarding seemingly benign and insignificant actions, a general pattern of compliance ensues. Biderman observed that the significance of the behaviors can be gradually increased so that the subject does not identify any inconsistencies, eventually requiring very unusual or far more significant acts without triggering the subject’s suspicion. I don’t believe that anyone devised an intentional plan that would begin with the waving of a hankie and end with signing a Manifesto, but those who complied with “flag waving” definitely would have become more well disposed to the message of those who asked them to comply. (As a matter of consistency, we do not generally cooperate with those whom we do not share sentiment or belief unless pressured, and once having complied, we will find it more difficult to resist those sentiments and beliefs.)

Another unique practice that occurred at this meeting concerns confession, another appeal to a person’s desire to be consistent. I was very surprised to see this practice at the True Woman conference, as it does read right out of Lifton’s book. Late on Friday (during the three day conference) after the evening’s main sessions, they conducted a “concert of prayer” and invited those in attendance for an additional 90 minutes of prayer for the Saturday conference activities. When the live webcast of the evening session concluded (Tada), I noted that they planned to broadcast this prayer session, so I continued to watch the next webcast of the "concert." I was pretty surprised that, after the session was opened with a little musical interlude, for quite awhile during this prayer time, individuals were invited to approach microphones that had been positioned throughout the auditorium, and attendees were filmed giving their testimonies of their experiences. Now, this did not fill the entire 90 minutes, but it took up a substantial portion of that time, and I was able to closely see the faces of those who spoke via the webcast. Note that whenever a person is asked to talk about themselves, they automatically shift into an alpha state as a normal, physiologic response, and they will then be more inclined to accept the same testimony of others without critical evaluation.

Whenever a hypnotherapy session concludes and a client is brought back up to normal consciousness, a vital part of the process is a sealing of the experience through confession. Believe in your heart and confess with your mouth consolidates the experience in the person’s mind and grounds it there. The client should be asked, “How was that?” or “Tell me what you experienced.” You then listen to the client tell you (for their own benefit) what they experienced so that the memory of it firmly sets in the mind and the will. Again, no process of hypnotherapy is ever complete without the self-evaluation phase because it “seals” the work that was done in the session. In many ways, it sometimes more important that the actual hypnosis itself because the subject rehearses and ascribes meaning to what they just experienced.

Lifton included “confession” as one of the eight techniques of thought reform for good reason, because the process of self-disclosure does induce a strong alpha state of consciousness. Related to the high “demand for purity” within manipulative ideologic groups is the practice of open confession of fault and repentance in front of and with the group. The participant generally views this process of achieving unity with the group and as a necessary purging that binds one to the group’s identity. In smaller groups, it becomes a process of self-degradation, exploitation, comparison and judgement. I was quite shocked to see this dynamic played out at such a large, large conference, but this practice always serves to bind one’s identity with the larger group. I also noted easily observable physical assessment findings of an hypnotic state in the faces of many of the women who did step up to give testimony as I was easily able to see close-ups of their faces and eyes via the live webcast during this “concert of prayer” on Friday night.

In one last post in this series, I will give some very practical ideas to consider and employ that will help you resist undue influence while attending conferences.
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Surviving a Conference Part V: Practical Tips for Resisting Influence

Anyone who attends any kind of conference should realize that their decision-making skills will be challenged by the process. The new environment, fatigue, social pressures, expectations, etc. all compromise an individual’s critical thought to some degree. All conferences promote this shift in perspective, potentially putting a person at risk.

Recognizing the dynamics involved with serve as the most powerful way to protect oneself from manipulation while at a conference. Make a decision prior to arriving about how much money you are willing to spend and choose to make no significant decisions until you’ve left the conference environment. I would not make any vows unless I had an opportunity to consider them before arriving at the conference, and I would wait to review them after I’d returned home before agreeing to them. One should consider that emotional environments and sleep deprivation can make things seem idealized, something that is not true of your regular, daily life, and this can cause you to put a great deal of significance on the conference experience.

You might also choose to purposely refrain from “hankey waiving” and repeating when asked to “repeat after me,” just as a measure to remain well-grounded, or comply but affirm to yourself that you will critically consider all information presented. A deeply spiritual experience on day 3 or 4 of a conference where you were able to get little sleep can be very much related to a normal physiologic response to fatigue alone. Emotions tend to run high during such experiences, so keeping check on your emotions helps you put the whole experience into perspective. Feel freedom to take a break and get out of the conference setting, or change your seating arrangements if you need to do so. And remember to enjoy yourself during such experiences, but be aware of the conditions that can be used to manipulate conference attendees.

There are a few creative things you might like to do or plan for ahead of time in order to remain more grounded and well-equipped to make sound decisions.

Beta-Wave Survival Kit

Sunglasses: Keep a pair of light sunglasses with you in the event that you find yourself bothered by an overhead floodlight or distracting florescent lighting.

Peppermints: Peppermint candy and/or peppermint oil has been shown to stimulate beta waves and levels of alertness. Rosemary oil is also touted to do the same.

Caffeine: Caffeine can give your beta waves and alertness a boost if not overdone. Energy drinks that are high in sugar will cause your blood sugar to rise and then will fall quite low, so you’re better with unsweetened drinks like coffee and tea than you are with a Red-Bull.

Red Pen and/or Yellow Highlighter: Both red and yellow stimulate beta waves, so it can be helpful to keep them in view. Use them for note-taking. You might choose to wear red or yellow clothing, but I find a red pen to be most helpful.

Rubber Band: This might seem silly, but if you tend to daydream and zone out at conferences or during lectures, you can use the Glasser approach. Wear a rubber band around your wrist, and if you feel your brain getting foggy, give the rubber band a little snap.

Eat a breakfast with protein and a complex carbohydrate. Eggs and oatmeal would be ideal, though continental fare alone can sometimes cause rebound drops in blood sugar which can limit your ability to pay attention. Breakfast in the morning will also help support your liver’s activities later in the day when it becomes more active, thus helping to counter late afternoon fatigue and hunger.

(Note: Peanut butter can make you sleepy. Save that for a bedtime snack.)

After Lunch Fatigue (Post-prandial dip): About 90 minutes after eating, you will experience some natural fatigue. Your pancreas makes insulin to process a meal, but when your blood sugar returns to baseline, it takes a short period for the pancreas to stop production of insulin. Your blood sugar then reflexively “dips” below an optimal level causing temporary fatigue. (Anyone who teaches right after lunch knows how easily people fatigue soon after the lunch break.) You may wish to keep some snacks on hand. Peppermints or snacks and even water come in handy when feeling the “post-prandial dip.” Anticipate this.

Water: Staying hydrated is very important, especially if you’ve been traveling and your daily routine has been disrupted. Plan ahead to have plenty of water on hand, and drink several ounces if you feel drowsy. Surprisingly, poor hydration alone can account for brain fog and fatigue.

Salty Snacks: I cant figure out why the salt is important exactly, but I’ve heard two speakers recommend this (one of whom was a critical care nurse teaching a critical care certification review). Either way, keep some small snacks on hand. I generally like to take Hershey’s Kisses and Kashi bars with me. Chocolate contains all sorts of chemicals, many of which are stimulants including phenylethylamine (a stimulant that raises dopamine), theophylline and caffeine. And it has theobromine to make you happy. The Kashi bars contain slow release sugars and complex carbohydrates that will help support a stable blood sugar. Again remember that peanuts cause a biochemical sleepiness.

Take a Micro-Nap: If you are very tired, studies have shown that resting for 10 to 15 minutes only can be enough of a refresher to increase work performance and alertness. If it’s possible, you might want to plan to take a mini-nap in a hospitality room. You might want to carry a travel alarm with you for a short rest that can help prepare you between activities.

There you have it.

That’s about everything I know that can help you keep your wits about you when you attend a conference or class. There are probably additional things you can choose to do, but that’s all that comes to mind at the moment.

Remember, all people become fatigued and challenged in this way at any conference of any kind. Just being aware of the conference conditions and how they affect you in both negative and positive ways empowers you with the ability to choose other options if you feel pressured or if things seem a bit too good to be true.

We know God orchestrates all of the events of our lives, but we also know that others, con artists and manipulators in particular, can take advantage of us under these conditions.

Remember to that you have choices available so that you can make sound decisions that are in your own best interest.

I recently mentioned in this post that sleep deprivation and emotional stimulation that extends for several days sets up a physical response in the brain that people identify as a spiritual experience. Some people have a greater predisposition for this experience than do others, depending on the unique structure of their individual brains. There is actually a type of personality that is more "religious," a personality that also overlaps with an interesting population: those with temporal lobe epilepsy. This brings up a sensitive issue for some Christians and one that I find very fascinating. Where are the boundaries between brain and mind and soul and spirit.

We do not think that it is immoral if someone we know has a stroke that affects their brain producing undesirable effects. Aphasia, a speech problem that often results from strokes that affect the speech centers in the brain is not viewed as a moral issue. However, I know groups of Christians that believe autism or problems that fall within that classification or spectrum that affect focus, reliability and self-discipline as moral issues instead of physiologic ones. This was also a problem with soldiers that returned from Vietnam, because their persistent trauma symptoms following the war were believed by many to be moral deficits. Based on what research and medicine now understands about the brain, many of these behavioral problems stem from physiologic problems and not moral ones at all.

If a person has chest pain from coronary artery disease and cannot tolerate much activity, or if someone has limited physical ability from multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy, we generally do not classify these people as lazy. We understand that their body cannot respond like a person without the disorder because we understand that their behavior and level of activity is limited by a disease process. But when people experience diseases of the mind, we tend not to feel comfortable viewing these issues as a matter of a physical problem in the brain. Sometimes, personality problems have nothing to do with disease in the brain, but often these types of issues do have some physiologic basis. Finding and correcting these physical disorders should not threaten moral principle when they found to be present. I think we are wise to consider factors like good nutrition or healthy “brain care,” employing any healthy interventions that support our best behavior. We would think little of someone using a crutch or a cane to assist them with walking, yet we do not tend to think of the mind and the brain in the same way.

I suppose that some interpret my mention of these factors as an argument for materialism – some kind of argument that alleviates people of culpability for their moral actions. I would like to offer some comments from Dr. Daniel Amen, both a Christian, psychiatrist and nuclear imaging specialist. He’s written several books on this topic, Healing the Hardware of the Soul being but one of them, but this quote comes from an online article of the same name on his website.

The latest brain imaging research has shown that thoughts, feelings, and social interactions all impact brain function, in potentially positive and negative ways. How we live our life matters. In addition, the condition of our soul and the spiritual connections we make has a strong impact on the physiology of the brain. It is a reciprocal relationship. I have seen that sin (doing things that you know are wrong) disrupts healthy brain function and leads to anxiety, fear, and depression, while living with integrity and having a positive relationship with God and others actually improves brain function. A number of research studies have demonstrated that people of faith suffer less from anxiety disorders and depression and they recover 70% faster from these illnesses than those without a strong religious faith. The suicide rate and even mortality rate is lower for religious people than the non-religious. The brain needs a healthy soul, and the soul needs a brain that works right....

When the brain works right, you work right. When the brain is troubled, you generally experience trouble in your relationships, work, or within yourself. Since the brain is recognized as the organ of behavior, it makes sense that brain problems, such as Alzheimer's disease, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia or brain trauma is likely to decrease a person's effectiveness in life. Your success in life is associated with how well your brain works. This principle leads to an important paradigmatic shift: if you see someone who is "not right" then it may not be "his choice" or "his personality," it may not even be his upbringing or environment (directly) but a matter of his brain not working properly. WHY it's not working properly is a question not easily answered by saying he or she has a personality disorder, but the **big triumph** comes when we at least consider not "what's the matter with YOU?" but "What's the matter with your BRAIN?" when someone is behaving poorly...

[T]his next one is critical and often the undiagnosed cause of many "behavioral, learning or emotional" problems. Your brain is very soft, yet it is housed in a very hard skull that has many ridges. Mild traumatic brain injuries can change people's whole lives and virtually no one knows it, because mental health professionals never look at brain function. In fact, you do not have to lose consciousness to have a serious brain injury...

Understanding our patients and clients through the lens of brain science helps us be more effective and less judgmental. It teaches us to focus on brain health as well as the psychodynamics that might be present.

You can also view nuclear imaging of brains on Dr. Amen’s website related to a variety of behavioral problems. You need not know much of anything about the brain at all in order to quite easily identify serious problems and also see how those disorders respond to treatment based on these scans. Review some general information regarding response to treatment here.

Healthy Brain

This particular webpage shows the scans of a husband who started having problematic behavior that caused marital problems. It was determined that he did not have a moral problem at all but was reacting to exposure to
organic solvents in the workplace.

Amen writes at "Mindplace":

The first intervention was to stop the toxic fumes. I had him transferred to another place in the company where he was not exposed to solvents, and put him on a brain healthy program. With the right treatment, his behavior got better as did their marriage.

Toxic Brain

I wonder how many marriages are suffering because one partner has a brain problem that no one is aware of. How do you do marital therapy with this brain? It will never work, until you change his brain.

So I offer information related to how our minds work as a measure to help us be more responsible and effective Christians, not as an argument against God’s work in our lives, our minds and our souls in particular. As Amen states, we can make our good brains great brains so that we might be more responsible and effective people and even better Christians. We can accomplish part of that by making the most of our resources by healing the hardware of our souls through caring for our brains themselves. We need to be good stewards of our bodies and our minds and our behavior. Considering how the brain works as a physical organ can actually help us be better stewards of all that God has given us.
The above SPECT images of a healthy brain and the husband's toxic brain appear at the Amen Clinic's Mindplace, showing altered blood flow and metabolism of a brain affected by an organic solvent.

Some of the same concerns that I express about the True Woman Conference are also discussed in this video about manipulation, though the techniques discussed concern a different type of subject matter.

My concerns about the True Woman Manifesto center around “informed consent” and a lack of truthfulness about the absent fine print in the document. The conference culminated in the signing of this vague document yet did not speak to many aspects of the document or the specific definition of terms used in the document, magnifying my concerns. If you didn’t know how those terms were used elsewhere (by CBMW and other speakers), you would not suspect any problems. But by not giving you true and clear information about the details, you’re not really given a true option of choice.

The video also speaks about the perception that people carry away from messages delivered at the True Woman Conference: that the information presented represents the what is reflected in the Bible, something not really open to a free choice to reject what has been presented if one believes in the Authority of Scripture.

The subject of abuse is mentioned in this following video. If you read October 12th comments under the the True Woman Blog's "Historic Day" thread, you will note a post by an abused woman who states that because she didn't return from the conference with enough of a new, angelic persona, her husband welcomed her home with abuse. I’m concerned with the primary message of “submit, surrender and suffer” conveyed at the True Woman Conference, the victim-oriented person would not appropriately put those messages into perspective in a healthy way. Note that this video also mentions those dynamics within the cultic system discussed. Read more about this statement in the comments following THIS BLOG POST at Suzanne's Bookshelf. Please say a prayer of deliverance for this sister and "True Woman" in Christ who suffers under abuse in her marriage.

Please watch the following video, but I would ask that you pay more attention to the dynamics of the group that the presenter describes rather than the specifics about the Bible-based group itself or your understanding of the doctrinal issues of the group being discussed. Please try to focus on the “how” manipulation takes place rather than the “who” under discussion. My point: Manipulation, be it cultic or Christian or related to sales techniques, is basically all the same.

~ Summary Points ~
Interview with Lee Marsh, T.A.S., BA
Ex-Jehovah's Witness, Abuse Survivor, Registered Therapist

Process of Manipulation:
Note references to [Robert Lifton’s] eight thought reform critera/techniques to limit and control a person’s free will.

Have you given consent and are you able to exercise free will? Are all the rules fully disclosed initially, or are things concealed until after one has agreed.

Speaking for God:
If all information has been presented as coming from God, and presuming that you want to serve and honor God, this means that you are not really free to disagree with the information. (This is what has been defined elsewhere by other authors and psychologists as “bounded choice.”) If you do not control your own spirituality, then someone else does, either by way of a mediator or by way of authority or the perception that the leader is somehow closer to God than you are. This effectively destroys spirituality.

Covert Manipulation:
Groups will claim that they are not manipulative because they’re not coercive. They allow people the freedom Thought reform does not require someone to follow a person around to monitor behavior. People actually monitor themselves and keep their own behavior and thoughts in check, assuming that compliance is required for acceptability with God as was subtly suggested to them.

The only way to alleviate your own guilt for failing to comply or submit to the rules that have been put forth as having come from God comes through confession. Your membership then becomes removed from loving God but shifts over into a system of keeping the rules. What naturally happens through this process is that one loses individuality, but one also loose their ability to think – their discernment.

Dynamics and Familiarity:
Certain types of people with unhealed wounds of the past or unresolved personal issues tend to gravitate towards these systems (but everyone is vulnerable to this type of manipulation because every human being has some sense of shame that can be accessed and manipulated). The dynamics of abusive relationships and the dynamics of manipulative groups are related and bear many similar qualities. There tends to be a false hope of attaining perfection that is never realized, like a carrot dangled before a horse.

Appearances and Abuse:
Outward appearance is paramount. When there is abuse, there is no one to whom you can report that abuse. Organizations will want to downplay that abuse because of the unfavorable quality cast upon the group. There is also a double standard for the abuser and for the abused, depending on their standing and political power within the group. Victims are often blamed and made scapegoats for the improprieties and poor behavior of others.

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