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Schein's stages of conversion


Techniques > Conversion > Schein's stages of conversion

 Unfreezing | Changing | Refreezing | See also


Edgar Schein was one of the original psychologists who investigated brainwashing. He identified three basic stages (similar to Lewin's freeze phases).

Throughout these stages, the person is generally kept unaware of the intent of conversion, and converting activities are framed as being friendly or casual.


The person current beliefs, etc. are shaken such that they start to doubt themselves and seek alternative ways of understanding.


The 'Changing' phase is where new behaviors, beliefs, values, etc. are instilled in the target person. He identified the following activities that are used during changing:

New Identification

A new identity for the target person is imposed formally in indoctrination sessions as well as informally through personal relations with individuals, tapes, books on group doctrines.

Behavior Modification Techniques

Behavior modification methods are used, including reward and punishment, thought-stopping methods, and the control of environment.

Mystical Manipulation

'Mystical manipulation' involves interpreting coincidental and  the perception of coincidental or inevitable events as spiritual signs. Recruits are trained that such signs are symbols of the greatness of the group.

Mind-altering Techniques

Hypnosis, repetition, monotony, and rhythm are often used to numb the thought processes of recruits. These are often carried out through excessive chanting, praying, decreeing, and visions.

Eliciting of Confession

Testimonials and/or confessions are forcibly and continually extracted from recruits as a means of keeping recruits dependent and obedient.


Refreezing involves fixing the new beliefs into the basic patterning of the individual, making them normal rather than new. Thus the person uses these beliefs and patterns without thinking when faced with relevant situations.

During refreezing, it is important to isolate the person from any disconfirming evidence or other persuasive forces that might pull them back to their original beliefs. It is also important that there is a period during which the person is not allowed to criticize or question the new ideas in any way. After a long enough period of being banned from criticism and not receiving any external encouragement, they will come to accept the new beliefs as normal.

See also

Lewin's freeze phases


Edgar H. Schein with Inge Schneier and Curtis H. Barker, Coercive Persuasion: A Socio-psychological Analysis of the "Brainwashing" of American Civilian Prisoners by the Chinese Communists, New York: W.W. Norton, 1961



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