Psychological "torture bible" published in 1961 reappears online

Hombre sin nombre tells Boing Boing:

If you were to begin researching interrogation, interviewing, and brainwashing techniques, you would eventually notice that one particular interesting-sounding volume appears over and over again in the relevant bibliographies: something called The Manipulation of Human Behavior, published in 1961 [by John Wiley & Sons].

Based on the compelling title and the fact that just about every publication in the subject area cites it, you would then probably try to seek it out for yourself--only to discover that it has never been reprinted.

Then you'd find out a bit more: the book is a compilation of seven research reports, and funded at least in large part by the United States government. You can even track down the table of contents online, and your jaw may drop when you read the chapter titles:

* The Physiological State of the Interrogation Subject as it Affects Brain Function
* The Effects of Reduced Environmental Stimulation on Human Behavior: A Review
* The Use of Drugs in Interrogation
* Physiological Responses as a Means of Evaluating Information
* The Potential Uses of Hypnosis in Interrogation
* The Experimental Investigation of Interpersonal Influence
* Countermanipulation through Malingering

These articles were written by the people who were paid by the US government, mostly in the 1950s, to research brainwashing and interrogation techniques by giving people drugs, placing them under sensory deprivation, hypnotizing them, etc. etc. Many of these experiments essentially involve torture and are likely to be widely regarded as highly unethical. This is fundamental research, and if there was any followup research done, it has not yet been published for public consumption.

This book is of enormous historical importance, and yet is largely unavailable. If you live in the United States, this is some of what your government was up to in the fifties. I doubt that their funding of these ideas stopped with the publication of this volume.

Link to copy of the complete text.

This book was referenced in a popular post from 2006 on the political blog Daily Kos: Link to "Frankenstein's Children: Modern Torture's Scientific Bible."

It's also available in scanned form on, but I find that website a total pain in the butt to use.

Amazon shows a few used copies if you're so inclined.


  1. …and there are 4 copies on ABE Books.

    ABE Books indexes private used book stores through a common catalog and can be an excellent source for obscure books.

  2. I suppose that the Soviet Union or anything behind the iron curtain didn’t do anything like this? If they did they didn’t publish it. Maybe that’s the real mistake here?

  3. My profession (psychology undergraduate) made buying this book seem a good choice. I think books are amazing esp. those ‘classics’. Think about what this book will be worth in 50 years. Found a copy of Freunds first book recently. 2500 €! (<3000$?)

  4. Wonderful, thank you so much for posting this!

    And that’s a good point, Spenser. There was use of these methods behind the Iron Curtain. The Stalinist show trials certainly got a lot of people wondering exactly what methods the Russians were using to get people to calmly confess to ‘crimes’ they didn’t commit. (Not that difficult, as we know now).

    However, it was more the perception that both Russia and China were pursuing such research, as well as the prevelent paranoia of the time that fueled much of the U.S’ study in behavior manipulation. John Marks’ The Search for the Manchurian Candidate is the standard book on the topic (which derives it’s title from Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate).

  5. It’s interesting to try to argue the ethics of using such a report. On the one hand it was gathered by very unethical means but on the other if we don’t use it all that human torture goes to waste! ::ducks::

    This reminds me of all the research done in Nazi Germany that the Allies picked up after the war and used.

  6. Some points:

    1. Obviously the book is readily available to anyone who wants it. On first check I discovered a copy sitting in TCD library Dublin for example.

    2.The fact that a historically important book hasn’t been reprinted is not unusual in psychology. Psychology researchers tend to be ahistorical, preferring to use, what they consider, ‘up to date’ information. This is because they believe psychology to be a progressive science. They will always cite the classic works in the field – but often only as lip service. A vast number of classics remain in need of a reprint, and for that matter translation. If it were a bible it would be in print. Right?

    3. There is nothing new in the observation that psychologists have been engaged in military research. The entire discipline exploded in popularity as the result of the military’s need in WWII to find ‘the right man for the job’. In any case anyone who thinks psychologists ought to, or can, operate in some morally and ethically benign space is asking too much of reality. All action and inaction has moral and ethical consequences.

    Any competent thinker could review the current literature and update these findings in the same way without doing any torture. The research is not necessarily hidden. Imagine a chapter ‘what can a brain scanner tell us?’. Not doing such a review, will leave hidden, what the government probably already know. Choose wisely young Luke.


  7. Spenser,

    are you saying that since the US is a totalitarian dictatorship just like Stalin’s Soviet Union was, it’s no big deal that the US was experimenting with torture techniques?

  8. In the credits, the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology was allegedly a C.I.A. front for the MKULTRA research. Many of the experiments cited were also for the program.


  9. Phasor, I do find it sad that the mainstream definition of torture has been watered down so much. Flushing a copy of the Koran is not on par with gouging someone’s eyes out.

  10. Thank you for the link.

    I studied this book in college, about 40 years ago. It bothered me then, as it does today, that our government paid mind expansion explorers such as John C. Lilly to study torture. And it shocks me that he cooperated.

    From the text:

    28. Lilly J. C. “Mental effects of reduction of ordinary levels of physical stimuli on intact, healthy persons”. Psychiat. res. Rep. Amer. Psychiat. Ass., 1956, 5, 1-28.

    29. Lilly J. C., Hughes J. R., Alvord E. C., Jr., and Galkin T. W. “Brief, noninjurious electric waveform for stimulation of the brain”. Science, 1955, 121, 468-469.

  11. Well, I guess this post basically describes the entire secret of LOST.

    Except for the smoke monsters, but I still think a cool lost ending would be the *shocking* surprise that there’s a smoke monster.


  12. a small tidbit of information:
    As soon as I read Heather’s post about library copies, I immediately checked my college library to see if we have a copy. Even at a school of at least 20% psychology majors, we don’t have a single copy. However, the neighboring school of theology does.

  13. ripley, I think you mis-understood my point. It’s not that the US is a totalitarian dictatorship (indeed I did pay attention in my US history classes), it’s quite the opposite. Since the US published these studies, everyone thinks it’s a big deal. Given the broader scope of things, the US is certainly more open about these things?
    PHASOR3000 is so on point with what is the definition of torture? Is torture not cable T.V.? What about making fun of someone for whatever reason? Or is torture having bamboo jammed under your fingernails?
    The world, in general, has lost perspective on what torture really is?

  14. I can’t believe the comments got this far without mentioning MKULTRA.

    There is no need to speculate about the US Govt willingness to drug, torture, and manipulate the human psyche, one only needs to read the results of FOIA actions to receive evidence the govt admits.

  15. Psychlgsts wld lv t rs th vdnc f thr sdy, vl pst .. nly ths srts f ctvts r stll gng n n th nm f ‘rsrch’ nd ‘scnc’.

    f y knw hw mny psychtrsts wr nvlvd n dvlpng mdrn trtr tchnqs prly t stsfy thr wn lst fr dgrdtn nd vrt spprssn f thr fllw hmns, prhps thr wldn’t b plc fr ths s-clld ‘scnc’ t b tght t ftr gnrtns.

    Psychtry s crmnl, vl clt. Bks lk ths nly hghlght th rlty f th rts f ths mvmnt. Brng ths bk bck, mk t stndrd rdng fr nyn wshng t ndrstnd th scty thy lv n tdy, whr 40-smthngs wrk hrd t mk sr chldrn r drggd nd btn nt cmplnc by scty tht s, trly, sck f tslf.

  16. TSOL (18): No particular reason it couldn’t be one of those alternatives, I suppose, if they make sense in their home cultures. In English the existing idiom (and this is an idiomatic reference) is “Bible.” For example, the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics is known idiomatically as the “Rubber Bible” and not, say, the “Rubber Bhagavad Gita.”

    In the culture that dominates most English-speaking nations, “the Bible” is the ultimate authoritative book, while those alternatives are not. The book was written in English in an English-speaking nation. Because of that, your alternatives would seem contrived and to be making a point other than the one that this book was considered the authoritative reference for the field it referred to.

    If you are really looking to change up a clichéed idiom, might I recommend an oxymoron such as the “Torture Dharma?”

  17. PHASOR3000 (11):

    Could you provide a link to a place where someone who opposed the practices you describe referred to them as “torture” as such? I don’t think I’ve read or heard that from a source that wasn’t opposing restrictions on applying the practices you describe to captives, and as such I am inclined to believe that the claim that anyone seriously regards such things as torture is a misrepresentation.

    What I have read and heard is that application of those practices of humiliation and degradation to captives is contrary to broadly accepted standards of human rights. It’s easy for us to claim that the named practices wouldn’t matter to us since they don’t cause physical harm. Other practices, such as having one’s captors urinate on one, being required to defecate on a crucifix or watching one’s captors do so, or being fed only meals topped with human semen, might be degradations some of us would find equally distressing, albeit they do not directly cause physical pain.

    The proof of this pudding is definitely in the eating: people who aren’t subject to treatment intended to humiliate and degrade them can easily imagine themselves indifferent to such practices. Some correspondents in this comment thread will be motivated to believe that they are indifferent for political or ideological reasons.

    I do believe, though, that if you sincerely make the effort to imagine yourself a captive and subjected to treatment you find deeply distasteful, you will come to understand how deeply harmful it could be to endure such a situation.

  18. The Questia copy requires membership (which costs money, except for a free trial period) to read more than a certain number of pages.

    Since the book appears to be out of copyright in the US (US origin, copyright 1961, no renewal record found in the Copyright Office database) I’ve uploaded a copy to

    to provide a free, stable home for this text. (I also removed the Google Analytics tracker that was in the copy pointed to.)

  19. The statements regarding some using tactics as mentioned in Brainwashing are very real in controlled environments and communities. It’s been known to induce anxieties, depression, psychopathies with accompanying suicidal, homicidal inclinations.
    Cults including churches and certain organizations have engaged in applying these tactics. Even states have been known to have had people in professions to use these techniques.
    The damage can’t be seen as it’s all mental and generally only a trained therapist and psychologist will identify it, or psychiatrist.
    It causes terrible emotional and mental agony that lasts and can make a person cognitively deteriorate continuously where they regress to an infantile state of mind, eventually to the frozen state where thought doesn’t occur. Then they unfreeze gradually as you accept their ideologies.
    I know, I had it imposed on me and I still feel the effects and traumatization of the process.
    And it happened right here in South Carolina, USA. You’d think that it’d only occur in the USSR, China, Korea or something, but it was implemented on me and I still require medications to deal with the side effects of the process.
    They’ll take a good man and ruin him.
    That thing in Jena, LA regarding the Jena 6 is nothing compare to what I experienced here by an organized control group. If this isn’t tyranny, I don’t know what is. What’s worse, it was implemented after I’ve already eroded from 10-11 years of oppressive slave type conditions that no one acknowledges as they weren’t on the receiving end and too many people have too much dirt on one another, then there’s cooberation.
    What makes this worse is the fact that the threat of force evidently is so sure that many fear to speak out about these tyrannical controls.
    However, I will tell you that when implemented in a controlled environment as a workplace or community, the effects are very traumatizing and leaves pains and agony that lasts for a long time.

    The web address above describes the effects these tactics can do to a person.
    I even had some accuse me of using drugs which I didn’t, the glossy wide open eyes I later found out was symptomatic of this process.
    Brainwashing is unGodly.
    Any church or religious institution that would implement this or organization, they have no claim to God, I’ll assure you.
    Yet, it’s a good way to silence someone as well to invalidate their competence.

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