Children are being brainwashed into thinking that they’re helpless and unable to do anything, according to a new study that challenges the conventional wisdom that children are merely reactive, not active participants in their environment.
The researchers found that children’s brains are also more likely to respond to stimuli in a way that leads them to act out of helplessness, rather than to do what they’re told to.
The study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, found that preschoolers and young adults who were exposed to repetitive stress in preschools, including repeated reminders of the “bad news” that the world would end if they did not do what was expected, showed similar patterns of behavior that appeared to reflect brainwashing.
For example, children who were told repeatedly that they were in danger of being electrocuted and that the only way to stop it was to jump out of the window were more likely than their peers to perform the actions that were expected of them, according a description of the study by researcher Jessica E. Ostroff.
“Children with exposure to repetitive negative stimuli appear to be more likely at one point to take action that is consistent with the behavior expected of a helpless child,” Ostrof said.
“And children with exposure are also less likely to react in a manner consistent with a person who is able to plan and execute an escape.”
This was particularly true for the children who had been exposed to repeated reminders to jump from a bridge, or to have their heads shaved, or have their parents told repeatedly by their pediatrician that they could never do anything with their life.
Ostromff said that her research has shown that children who have been exposed are more likely in the long term to have negative thoughts and behaviors that are not consistent with their ability to think rationally and act rationally.
And this pattern of behavior is often reinforced in children who are not actually exposed to these behaviors, she said.
When Ostrofer looked at the behavior of children who’d been brainwashed to do the things that were supposed to be difficult and unpleasant, such as jump from bridges or have facial hair, she found that the children were more often able to perform these behaviors than children who hadn’t been brainwrenched.
“These children are still able to resist,” Ostromf said, “and they’re more likely on the fence about their choices.”
The study also found that people who had experienced exposure to the repetitive behaviors of children, such the jumps from bridges and the shaving of their faces, showed significantly more activation in the prefrontal cortex of their brains than people who’d never experienced these behaviors.
The prefrontal cortex is responsible for higher levels of executive function, such decision-making.
In this case, it was the executive function that allowed the children to resist.
And, Ostroffer said, the researchers found evidence that it may be possible to help children who’ve been brainwashing to be able to think more rationally about their experiences by increasing the amount of prefrontal cortex activity in the areas of the brain that regulate emotional states and reactions.
The research team behind the study included Eunyoung Kim, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Florida; Matthew M. Meehan, an assistant professor of psychology at Texas A&M University; and Joshua R. Bial, a Ph.
D. candidate in psychology from Georgia Tech.
Oskow said the research has implications beyond just children.
“We’re also seeing it in the adult population, and I think we need to look at it more carefully,” she said, adding that the results of the research are likely to be replicated in other populations.
The findings have important implications for the treatment of the children and adults who suffer from chronic brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Oskovs said.
It’s also important to know whether the repeated behaviors are just repeated behavior or are indicative of an underlying brain dysfunction.
“I don’t think there’s a silver bullet,” she added.
“But I think it would be helpful for us to understand how the brain works, to understand what’s going on inside the brain, and to try to find a way to treat the underlying cause.”
This story was produced by The Associated Press and is used with permission.