Here's an excellent reference dealing with repetition and exploitative persuasion.
Margaret Singer in Cults in Our Midst said:A number of cults use techniques that put people into an altered state of consciousness, making them more compliant. I am not saying that cult members walk around mesmerized, tranced out, and hypnotized for years on end. What I am saying is this: many cults and groups that use thought-reform techniques engage members in a fair amount of behavior that induces trances, as evidenced by the types and quality of the lectures and sermons and the required activities, such as prolonged chanting or meditation, and repetitive rote behavior. When transient trance states are induced, they may be inadvertent by-products of the group's exercises and methods of using language, or they may well be induced by design, although often not identified by the group as trance-inducing techniques. The most common procedure used is known as naturalistic trance induction, and many cults have relied on this technique.
One of the best explanations of how to go about inducing human cooperation and compliance in certain settings grows out of studies done of such naturalistic trance inductions. In the professional world of psychology, these indirect trance inductions were designed to bypass the usual resistance of patients who sought help but also resisted change when given direct instructions or suggestions. Naturalistic trance induction is also the model for some of the maneuvers used by cult leaders to change the attitudes and behaviors of their followers.
Naturalistic Trance Induction
The work of Milton Erickson, a renowned medical hypnotist, and his colleagues provides an excellent compilation of the methods and techniques that can be used to elicit cooperation and decrease resistance to change. A number of these techniques are among the processes we see used in cults.
Milton Erickson was interested in hypnosis and trance in a very special way. As both a researcher in hypnosis and an experienced psychiatrist, he knew how difficult it is to help people change, especially when they must change their habit patterns. Dedicated to helping people, Erickson devised a unique way of treating his patients, and his work offers one of the clearest explanations of how ordinary words, conversational style, and careful pacing and leading of an interaction can bring one person to the point of being able to secure the cooperation of another person without using pressure, high-demand announcements, or commands.
Until Erickson's work became known, most persons who employed trances—whether they were stage hypnotists, scientists studying hypnosis, or dentists and others using it to reduce pain and anxiety—relied on formal trance inductions, procedures clearly announced to the patient—“I am going to hypnotize you. Please close your eyes and relax.” Erickson redefined hypnosis, seeing it as an interchange between two people in which the hypnotist gains the subject's cooperation, deals in various ways with resistance to cooperation, and promotes acknowledgment from the person that something is happening. Through this process, the hypnotherapist indirectly suggests the behavioral changes the patient comes to make.
During Erickson's naturalistic inductions, he did not announce, “We are now doing hypnosis.” Nor did he even mention that “this is hypnosis.” Instead, he “paced and led” the person he was working with into whatever levels of trance the person could attain at a particular time. People who went to him knowing his fame as a medical hypnotist found themselves sitting talking with him, hearing him tell tales and chatting along disarmingly, unaware that what was transpiring between them was producing trances of varying depths. As a result of these interactions, the patients' attitudes toward themselves and life were changing. Erickson's development of naturalistic trance induction was a major contribution to therapeutic intervention.
A critical difference between Milton Erickson's work and cult leaders' methods is that Erickson kept the best interests of his patients foremost and did nothing self-serving with what he recognized as a very powerful means of changing people. He used influence techniques to help his patients change for their own betterment and based his treatment methods on decades of astute and careful observations of patients. Nevertheless, Erickson's carefully noted observations on influence help us recognize and label the techniques put into play in cults and thought-reform groups. In Chapter Three, I outlined what thought reform is and the three stages of unfreezing, changing, and refreezing a person's attitudes and behavior. Erickson's work gives us a way to understand the context in which the moment-to-moment alterations take place and the methods used during the process of change induction.
It is the naturalistic trance induction that is likely to occur in cults, thought-reform groups, and some New Age groups. Most leaders of these groups probably do not consider what they are doing as trance induction. However, even when trances per se are not produced, the activities of skilled recruiters and cult leaders capitalize on the essential ingredients of pacing and leading, exploiting positive transference (discussed later in the chapter), and making indirect suggestions, all of which are central to the processes of hypnosis and trance.
It is my contention that a number of speeches given by certain cult leaders, and some group chants, fit the criteria for producing transient levels of trance. For example, one of my graduate students made a comparison of the taped speeches of charismatic cult leaders, television evangelists, and mainstream church leaders, looking for persuasive and trance-inducing qualities. Her findings, based on the evaluations of trained raters, showed that the speeches by cult leaders and fundamentalist evangelists had more hypnotic qualities than those of the mainstream church leaders.
Cult members are also trained and rehearsed in certain styles of presentation and taught to look for the desired effects in as many listeners as possible. For example, a man who had become an elder in a Bible cult was presented with typed-out lectures and instructions from his leader in how to repeat phrases over and over in specially cadenced singsongs. The leader taught him how to make a short one-page lecture with biblical quotes stretch out for an hour or longer. An informal survey of ministers and people familiar with giving public speeches shows that a similar page would take them about three minutes to present aloud, even a bit slowly. The man said he knew church members were being “tranced out” as he spoke, and he was given great prestige in the group because he followed the coaching well and could imitate the leader's ways of giving the sermons.
One widely used trance induction process, described in the work of Hillel Zeitlin, is to evoke universal experiences, as is done in these words: “Who among us has not stood on a hillside, looking out over a valley … and felt some mysterious emotion welling up in our heart?” Evoking a feeling of universality in a person helps the speaker solicit cooperation from that person.
Sometimes the induction method is speech filled with paradox and discrepancy—that is, the message is not logical and you are unable to follow it, but it is presented as though it were logical. Trying to follow what is being said can actually detach the listener from reality. [...]
Singer, M. T., & Lalich, J. (1995). Cults in our midst. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.