Monday, February 8, 2016

Are people who join cults stupid?

Someone wisely said, "If you can fall in love, you can join a cult."

Nevertheless, our inborn self-serving bias and illusion of superiority tells us that we would never be so stupid as to join a cult. "Other people would, but I would never! Other people would, but I'm too smart to fall for such a stupid thing."


Let's take a look at brain chemistry, and what goes on when we meet a person or a group that we feel attracted to.

Just like using cocaine, being "in love" gives us a high, and it does this by lowering the threshold for dopamine release in our brains. Dopamine is the neural transmitter that is associated with the anticipation of pleasure. Lowered dopamine threshold = more things are fun.

Maybe you've heard people say how it's important to “make learning fun.” Well, there is actually scientific backup for that because dopamine is what solidifies the changes made in our neural connections when we learn new things.

So now we've met people and been inundated with feelings of love, dopamine thresholds are lowered, all that pleasurable anticipation brings on a flood of dopamine, and the things we learn in that lovey-dovey, happy state become set in our brains.

But that's not all.

Our feelings of love release oxytocin. Oxytocin is a neuromodulator - like an overseer of neural connections. It has the power to erase connections - erasing memories and thought patterns.

So what we have coming along with that "in love" high is oxytocin melting away the former neural connections which prepares the way for new connections, then dopamine stepping in and strengthening the pathways of those new ideas. Old ideas out - new ideas in.

Could this play a part in people being "born again," "new creatures"? "Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before..." (Philippians 3:13)

Oxytocin helps people to "forget" and the surge of dopamine solidifies their new learning. Another side of this "forgetting" and "unlearning" feature of falling in love/joining a cult is that once-strong, self-confident individuals can transform into “new” people that lose all sense of self and become plagued by self-doubt. Without the confidence to trust themselves, they look to their "lover."

For more on the amazing workings of our brains, read this: The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge

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