Former Members’ Perceptions of Cult Involvement

Cultic Studies Review, volume 6, Number 1, 2007, pages 1-20

Former Members’ Perceptions of Cult Involvement

Carmen Almendros, Ph.D.

Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

José A. Carrobles, Ph.D.

Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Álvaro Rodríguez-Carballeira, Ph.D.

Universidad de Barcelona


Several factors have been described in the literature as influencing an individual’s susceptibility to cult recruitment and/or remaining within the cult. Some of these factors have been widely and repeatedly asserted, although the scarce data available from empirical research in this subject and other cult-related topics (Aronoff, Lynn & Malinoski, 2000), as well as the usual difficulties encountered when one tries to investigate this issue in particular, make it hard to investigate cult members before they join these groups. The aim of the present study was to examine the perceptions of a Spanish sample of 101 self-identified former members of diverse cultic groups, who were interviewed face to face or who responded by postal mail to several questions regarding their process of cult involvement and perceived psychological abuse within their groups. Their responses were compared to those of 38 former members of diverse non-cultic groups and 24 Psychology students. The psychology students were asked to respond to the same set of questions given to the other groups, but as the students thought a former cult member would respond. Results showed that the former cult members perceived the manipulative behaviors of the group as the most important factor in their involvements. There were no significant differences between former cult members and former members of non-cultic groups in their reports of problems in significant others’ relationships as a factor of involvement. The students who were asked to simulate their responses however, rated this factor as well as the one related to personal maladjustment significantly above the ratings of former cult members.


Cult[1] involvement is a gradual process that starts with a person’s initial contact with a cult member (Sirkin, 1990), and that might or might not be followed by a next stage of joining the group. Zimbardo and Hartley (1985) found that 54% of a sample of 1,000 high-school students from the San Francisco Bay Area reported at least one prior contact with an identified cult recruiter. Of those respondents, 3% reported they were members of a cult, and 51% indicated they were open and receptive to considering or accepting the invitation to join the cult.

Similarly, in Spain, we found that 59.6% of a small sample of 49 first-year university students reported at least one cult-recruiting attempt by an identified cult recruiter (Almendros & Carrobles, 2001, unpublished manuscript). The average number of cult-recruitment experiences for those who had at least one such experience was 2.41. We also found that 39% of the students reported knowing at least one cult member. In previous research, Canteras, Rodríguez, and Rodríguez-Carballeira (1992) studied a probabilistic sample of 1,517 Spanish subjects between 14 years and 29 years of age and found that at least 0.5% of young Spanish people at the moment the study took place were cult members, while 1.5% reported having belonged to a cult group in the past. The attitude of nearly half of the subjects toward cults was not negative, and 25.85% of them expressed approval of cults (Canteras, 1991).

Some authors have tried to describe those who are more likely to seek cult affiliation and have related this susceptibility to preexisting psychological difficulties and maladjustment (Levine & Salter, 1976; Deutsch & Miller, 1983; Spero, 1984; Sirkin & Grellong, 1988). Cited pre-cult characteristics range from high levels of psychological distress (Galanter, Rabkin, Rabkin, & Deutsch, 1979; Galanter, 1983), to seekership (Levine & Salter, 1976), which is frequently mentioned as a result of previous dissatisfaction or disillusionment, or the presence of some kind of ego weaknesses (Spero, 1984; Curtis & Curtis, 1993), among others.

Familial dysfunctional patterns such as unrealistic or unobtainable expectations of achievement (Markowitz, 1983), less emotion and more criticism (Sirkin & Grellong, 1988), poor family communication and family enmeshment (Schwartz & Kaslow, 1979), or other disturbances resulting in unsatisfactory parental relations (Deutsch, 1975; Deutsch & Miller, 1983; Curtis & Curtis, 1993) have also been described as having a strong and direct influence on the member’s propensity for cult involvement. Furthermore, Rodríguez (1994) would advise those relatives of a cult member to realize that “we make adepts at home.”

Any of those affiliation motives have been said to attract “pre-adepts” (Rodríguez, 1994) to cultic groups as an escape from a dissatisfying existence. Moreover, these subjects will choose cult involvement as a “compensatory path” if they do not choose other destructive behavior such us drug abuse, gambling, or suicide, for example (Rodríguez, 2000), when they are trying to fulfill previously unmet needs (Levine, 1978; Hunter, 1998) or solve preexisting problems (van Dam, 1991).

Conversely, some authors prevent us from “blaming the victim” (e.g., Hassan, 1990; Singer & Lalich, 1997; Burks, 2002; Zimbardo, 1997) and argue that members are typically recruited within 12 months of experiencing stressful events (Singer, 1979; Clark, 1979). They have found that the proportion of those who had prior psychological problems—one-third reported seeking mental-health services at some point prior to joining the group (Martin, 1989; Singer & Lalich, 1997)—is just slightly more than the one-fourth of the general population who have sought mental-health services (Martin, 1989). Based on empirical studies as well as clinical impressions, it has also been asserted that cult involvement is not related to familial factors (Wright & Piper, 1986; Maron, 1988), a view supported by findings that most cult members come from normal family environments (Singer, 1979; Clark, 1979; Goldberg & Goldberg, 1982).



Sample 1: Former cult members (FCM)

A Spanish sample consisting of 101 self–identified former members of diverse manipulative groups participated in this study. Each subject was involved with any of a total of 27 different groups, including New Age, Bible-based, political, and other types.

A total of 55 (54.5%) participants were male, and 46 (45.5%) were female. Their mean age at the time the study took place was 43.47 years (standard deviation: 12.22). The participants met their groups at an average age of 25.3 years (S.D.: 13.3; median: 23) and joined them at an average age of 26.7 years (S.D.: 12.3; median: 25). Ages for both meeting and joining the group ranged from those who were born in the group to a maximum of 60 years. The average length of membership, defined as the number of years from the moment participants joined to when they left the group, was 9.8 years (S.D.: 9.5), with a range of 1 month to 38 years of membership. The length of time between when a member exited the group and the time the assessment took place ranged from 1 month to 33.4 years, with a mean of 6.3 years (S.D.: 6.7).

Sample 2: Former members of non-cultic groups (FNCG)

In addition, we collected data on 38 Spanish participants, who were self-identified as former members of non manipulative groups, who responded to the same set of instruments as the sample of FCM. They had belonged to a diversity of groups including religious, sports, NGO, scout, political, theater and youth groups.

They were selected by taking into account the demographic characteristics of the previous sample, trying to obtain a similar group. Twenty-one of the subjects (55.3%) were female and 17 participants were male (44.7%). Their mean age during participation in the study was 40.84 years (S.D.: 13.1).

FNCG participants met their groups at an average age of 21.26 years (S.D.: 11.2) and joined them at an average age of 22.46 years (S.D.: 10.9). The range for both variables was from 8 to 64 years. They belonged to the group an average of 5.01 years (S.D.: 4.52), ranging from 2 months to 17 years. At the moment the study took place, they had been out of the groups a mean time of 12.27 years (S.D.: 11.0) ranging from 2 months to 45 years and 2 months.

The U of Mann-Whitney test was used to compare these age and time variables for samples 1 and 2. We found significant differences only for the variables Age of joining (z=-2.25; p=0.02) and Time out of group (z=-2.74; p=0.00). Participants from FNCG had joined their groups at a younger age and had spent more time out of their groups.

Sample 3: Simulators (SIM)

A third group of participants was composed of 24 Spanish subjects who were Psychology students in a University in the South of Spain. They were asked to respond to the instruments as if they were former members of a cultic group or to respond to each item as they thought a former cult member would respond. The vast majority of them were female (83.3%; 20 subjects) and the rest were male (16.7%; 4 subjects). Participant’s mean age was 22.57 (S.D.: 2.2).


Assessment of all of the participants included the following instruments:

Background questionnaire. The background questionnaire consisted of demographic items (e.g.., age, sex, education, whether participant had sought professional mental-health support) and some questions regarding perceptions about certain factors related to the cultic experience (e.g., degree of implication, involvement, method of exit, perceived social support).

To find out which factors enhanced cult involvement, an 18-question, short-item scale was included with response choices ranging from 0 – Not at all to 5 – Completely. This scale, Factores de Involucración Sectaria (FIS; Cult Involvement Factors), was developed by the first author taking into account previous literature (e.g. Chambers et al., 1994; Santamaría, 2001; Sullivan, 1984). A question was also included regarding attitude toward cult involvement after the participant first contacted the group. Response options included these choices: “I strongly desired feeling part of the group”; “I don’t know; it arose”; “I was in doubt,” as well as an open-ended choice. The time between the moment participants initially contacted the group to the moment they joined the group was also taken into account.

Spanish version of the Group Psychological Abuse Scale (GPA; Chambers, Langone, Dole & Grice, 1994). We used the Spanish version of the GPA scale (GPA-S; Almendros, Carrobles, Rodríguez-Carballeira & Jansà, 2003), as an empirically derived measure of psychological abuse that assesses former members’ perceptions of the degree to which their group environments were psychologically abusive. The GPA scale consists of 28 items, which originally comprised four subscales: Compliance, Exploitation, Anxious Dependency, and Mind Control (Chambers et al., 1994). The Spanish version of the GPA revealed a factor structure comprising three subscales: Compliance, Mind Control, and Exploitation, showing adequate psychometric properties (Almendros et al., 2004). A recent revision of the Spanish version of the scale with the larger sample included in this study (Almendros, Carrobles & Rodríguez-Carballeira, 2007) found that the first two subscales were composed of 10 items, while the third subscale was composed of 8 items. Items are rated on a 5-point Likert scale, with the first two subscales ranging from 10 to 50 and the third subscale ranging from 8 to 40; the range for the overall scale is 28 to 140.


The participants of Sample 1 (FCM) were contacted through data provided by national cult educational organizations (32.7%) and mental-health professionals not necessarily familiar with the subject matter (33.7%). A few ex-members provided data about others who might wish to participate, and some of the ex-members passed on the materials to other former members (33.6%).

They were assessed at sites appropriate for those who were interviewed (57.4%; 58 subjects). A trained psychologist traveled to several provinces inside Spain that corresponded to the different places of residence of the subjects. Those who couldn’t or didn’t want to participate in the presence of the interviewer were informed of the characteristics of the study by phone and were sent the materials when they agreed to participate, together with an envelope and postage to be returned by mail (42.6%; 43 subjects). All of the participants completed an informed-consent form, volunteered to take part in the study, and went through the assessment.

With respect to participants of Sample 2 (FNCG), the majority were interviewed face-to-face (44.74%; 17 subjects). Several participants responded collectively (36.8%; 14 subjects), while a few participants responded to the instruments in private and returned them to the researchers (18.42%; 7 subjects). Participants composing Sample 3 (SIM) responded to the instruments at a Psychology conference organized for students in a University at the South of Spain.

Statistical analyses were carried out using SPSS-PC, version 12.0 for Microsoft Windows.


Neither gender nor method of participation yielded significant differences on any of the dependent variables; therefore, these variables were disregarded in further analyses.

Cult-Involvement Factors

Participants were asked about which factors enhanced their cultic involvement. Eighty-nine of them responded correctly to the FIS, not leaving any item unanswered. Psychometric properties of the 18-item cult-involvement scale were examined. Calculating Cronbach’s Alpha coefficient, we observed reliability, showing adequate internal consistency with a value for the total scale of 0.86. All of the items obtained appropriate item-total correlation values, higher than 0.30, but one, item 12 (“Serious illness/loss of a loved one”), was barely related to the rest of the items (rjx=0.06) and was excluded from subsequent analyses, which increased the Alpha value to 0.87. Construct validity was examined through a factorial analysis (Principal Components; Varimax Rotation), which revealed a factor structure composed of five subscales that accounted for 67.01% of the total variance.

The first factor, labeled General Dissatisfaction (D), was composed of four items that addressed previous personal maladjustment (e.g., “Dissatisfaction with daily life”). The second factor, Intimate Relations (IR), was composed of four items that referred to problems in family and friend (significant others’) relationships and loneliness (e.g., “Conflicts within family”). Factor three, Seeking Ideals (SI), consisted of four items related to attraction to the group’s beliefs and lifestyle, and the need for a belief system that provides the individual with a life meaning (e.g., “Need for solid beliefs”). The next factor, Seeking Self-Development (SD), was composed of three items that addressed the individual’s search for spiritual and personal development experiences (e.g., “Searching for new spiritual experiences”). Finally, the Manipulation factor (M) consisted of two items related to deceit and persuasion (e.g., “Deceit by the group”).

As far as the factors are concerned, Alpha coefficients for the five factors were calculated to examine the factors’ reliability. Values were all above 0.70, which shows an adequate internal consistency for each of the five factors (General Dissatisfaction: 0.78; Intimate Relations: 0.75; Seeking Ideals: 0.75; Seeking Self-Development: 0.75; Manipulation: 0.71).

We calculated mean scores for each of the five factors. With respect to the self -identified former cult members’ (FCM), Figure 1 shows that Manipulation was perceived by respondents as the most important factor in their cult involvement (mean score: 3.06; S.D.: 1.7) followed by Seeking Ideals (2.93; S.D.: 1.4). Both factors were rated above the midpoint. The next higher factor was Seeking Self-Development (2.29; S.D.: 1.7), followed by Dissatisfaction (1.77; S.D.: 1.4), and finally Intimate Relations (0.92; S.D.: 1.2). Thus, participants rated previous personal and social problems as considerably less influential factors for their cult involvements.

* Mann-Whitney U test comparing FCM and FNCG scores. ** Mann-Whitney U test comparing FCM and SIM scores.

Figure 1: Average Scores for Cult-Involvement Factors

We compared responses of the FCM sample to those of the comparison group of self-identified former members of diverse non-cultic groups (FNCG) using Mann-Whitney U tests to compare the ranks of both groups’ scores for each of the FIS subscales. Figure 1 shows the means obtained in both samples and the Mann-Whitney U test values for the subscales. The groups differ significantly in the cult involvement factors Manipulation, Seeking Ideals, Seeking Self-Development and Dissatisfaction, in which former cult members obtained higher scores. There were no significant differences between the former cult members and the non-cultic comparison group for the Intimate Relations subscale.

In respect to the sample of simulators, or those who responded to the FIS as if they were former cult members (SIM), all subscales were similarly rated (see Figure 1). The same test was performed to compare the ranks of scores of the former cult members and the simulators, finding significant differences for the subscales Dissatisfaction and Intimate Relations, which were rated significantly higher by simulators.

Involvement Process

Time for Involvement: Responses that addressed the issue of time since participants first met the group to when they joined the group varied widely for FCM respondents, from those for whom both moments were coincident (29.5%), to those who took a considerable number of years before they were involved. The mean time for them to get involved was 1.95 years (S.D.: 3.5), and the time overall ranged from 0 years to 19.2 years.

Time for involvement in participants in sample 2 (FNCG) averaged 0.70 years (approximately 8 months) (S.D.: 1.0; Median: 0.08) ranging from 0 to 4 years. No significant differences were found between both samples in time for involvement (Mann-Whitney U; z=-1.23; p=0.22).

Attitude toward involvement: For 23.2% of the participants in Sample 1 (FCM), their attitude toward their involvement after the initial contact with the group was that of a strong desire to feel part of the group. The majority of participants (50.5%) responded with “I don’t know; it arose,” while the rest (22.2%) responded with “I was in doubt.” Finally, a few of them (4%) responded to the option “other” and provided an open-ended response.

In respect to participants in Sample 2, the following percentages were obtained for the different response options: “Strong desire” (18.9%), “arose” (67.6%), “in doubt” (5.4%) and “other” (8.1%). A Chi-square test showed no significant differences between both samples 1 and 2 in their attitudes toward involvement (

(3) = 6.83; p= 0.08).

Statistical analyses were performed to examine what distinguished FCM grouped by attitude toward involvement. The Kruskal-Wallis nonparametric test showed statistical differences (

(2) =16.23; p=0.00) in attitudes toward the group according to participants’ ages at the time they joined the group. Thus, younger participants tended to be in the “strong desire” group, with a mean age of 22.10 (S.D.: 10.2), followed by those for whom involvement “arose” (mean age: 25.70; S.D.: 11.3), and finally by those who were “in doubt” about joining (mean age: 35.55; S.D.: 10.9).

Cult Involvement Factors by Attitude Toward Involvement

To examine the influential factors for their cultic involvement in relationship to the participants’ attitudes toward their involvement, we used the Kruskal-Wallis one-way analysis of variance. Attitude toward involvement affected differently the factor Seeking Ideals (

(2) =11.24; p=0.00), in the sense that the scores for participants who showed a “strong desire” to become a member of the group were significantly higher for this factor. We found no statistical differences for the factors: Dissatisfaction (

(2) =1.31; p=0.52), Intimate Relations ((2) =1.45; p=0.48), Manipulation (

(2) = 1.08; p=0.58) and Seeking Self-Development ((2)= 5.00; p=0.08) among those three attitude groups, although in the last case the p-value is just slightly above the level of significance (

= 0.05). Figure 2 represents mean scores in the subscales relative to attitude toward cult involvement. We observe that those who had a “strong desire” to belong to the group rated Seeking Ideals and Seeking Self-Development as the most important factors in their involvement. And when we compared them, using Mann-Whitney U tests, the ratings were significantly above the ratings of the other two attitude groups for the factor Seeking Ideals: “It arose” (Mann-Whitney U; z=-3.33; p=0.00) and “In doubt” (Mann-Whitney U; z=-2.50; p=0.01) and above the “It arose” group for the factor Seeking Self-Development (Mann-Whitney U; z=-2.07; p=0.04). No significant differences were found between the “Strong desire” and “In doubt” groups for Seeking Self-Development (Mann-Whitney U; z=-1.92; p=0.06). We found no differences for all of the involvement factors between those whose attitude was “it arose” and those who were “in doubt” about joining the group (Mann-Whitney U; all p>0.05).

Figure 2: Mean Scores for Cult-Involvement Factors Relative to Attitude Toward Involvement

Prior Psychological Services Demand

Approximately one-sixth of our participants, 16 subjects (16.2%), reported seeking mental-health services sometime prior to their cult involvement. This was significantly different from the 2.7% of participants in sample 2 of FNCG who sought such services (Chi-square test;

(1) = 4.46; p= 0.03).

To examine whether there were differences in cult-involvement factors based on participants’ preexisting psychological difficulties as suggested by their previous demand for mental-health services, we used a Mann-Whitney U test comparison. There weren’t significant differences for any of the factors. However the probability found for Dissatisfaction was barely above the level of significance (z= -1.9; p= 0.05) and a t-test, parametrical option for comparison of the mean scores, for Dissatisfaction between both groups, showed significant differences for that factor (t= 2.2; p= 0.03). Thus, participants who had sought mental-health advice before their cult involvement reported higher Dissatisfaction scores than those who didn’t seek mental-health advice before cult involvement, with an average score of 2.53 (S.D.: 1.6) for the first group and an average score of 1.66 (S.D.: 1.4) for the other. That result is consistent with the Dissatisfaction factor’s content that describes previous personal maladjustment.

The Chi-square test was used to compare the attitude towards involvement between the two groups regarding the demand for mental health services prior to joining. No significant differences were found between the groups (

(3)= 1.43; p= 0.70).

Perceived Psychological Abuse and Cult Involvement

Former members of diverse cultic groups reported psychological abuse in their group environments, with a mean score for the global GPA-S scale of 103.61 (S.D.: 18.16) and a range of 39 to 136.

We used a t-test analysis to compare the perceptions of psychological abusiveness by their groups between participants who sought mental-health services prior to cult involvement and those who didn’t, and we found significant differences on the global GPA-S (t=-2,63; p=0,01). The mean score for the first group on the GPA-S (90.77; S.D.: 19.54) was considerably below that of the second group (104.44; S.D.: 16.88), although both groups were above the cutoff of >= 81 for GPA-S (Almendros et al., 2007). We examined the same groups for the GPA Spanish version subscales and found the same-direction differences between both groups only for Compliance (t’=-2,14; p=0,04); we found no significant differences for either Exploitation or Mind Control.

We calculated Pearson correlation coefficients between cult-involvement factors and GPA-S subscales. We found significant correlation values between Manipulation and all three GPA-S subscales (Compliance: r=0.52; p<0.01; Mind Control: r=0.53; p<0.01; and Exploitation: r=0.29; p<0.01), between Intimate Relations and Exploitation (r=0.22; p<0.05), and between Seeking Ideals and Compliance (r=0.29; p<0.05) and Mind Control (r=0.21; p<0.05).

Finally, an ANOVA revealed no differences on either the GPA-S global score (F (2, 92)=0.94; p=0.40) or on the subscales regarding the participants’ attitudes toward involvement. Mean scores for the global measure were 108.74 (S.D.: 17.59) for the “strong desire” group, 102.98 (S.D.: 18.02) for the “it arose” group, and 102.68 (S.D.: 17.78) for the “in doubt” group.


Cult involvement is a complex phenomenon with diverse expressions, as might be deduced from the varied periods of time our participants took to join their respective groups. For a considerable number of them, however, the process was quite fast.

Results showed that susceptibility to cult involvement cannot be presumed or reduced to a specific age group, although younger people showed a more emotional tendency toward cult membership. Median age in which participants got involved was 25 years, and they did so at an older age than participants in the comparison group of former members of non-cultic groups.

According to our data, previous psychological difficulties cannot be asserted as a factor related to our participants’ attraction to cults—and according to the participants, neither can the existence of personal or social maladjustment. There were more participants in the sample of former cult members who required prior psychological attention and their scores were higher on Dissatisfaction as a factor of involvement than those of the comparison group. Nevertheless, the figures are still too low to warrant generalization to all cult members. Contrary to Martin, Langone, Dole & Wiltrout (1992; see also Langone, 1996), we found that those participants who sought mental health services prior to their cult involvement showed significantly higher post-group psychological distress than those who didn’t (Almendros, 2006). This work cannot determine if pre-group help-seeking could be considered a predisposing factor for cult involvement or a vulnerability factor, in the sense that those people showing prior psychological difficulties suffer a more negative impact of the cultic experience. We also found that pre-group help-seekers tended to spend less time in the group (Almendros, 2006). This may lend support to the notion that those people with prior psychological difficulties remain involved for shorter times because they find it difficult to adapt themselves to the group demands or because cultic groups are not interested in maintaining the commitment of less productive people (Hassan, 1990). On the other hand, some cult representatives have argued that critical ex-members were people who couldn’t consolidate their commitment to the group as a consequence of prior psychological difficulties, which led to their departure from the group. Contrary to this assertion, however, pre-group help-seeking was related to a less negative perception of the past group environment as measured by GPA-S.

Former members of non-cultic groups considered significantly less important than former cult members all of the involvement factors but one: Intimate relations.

Despite the limitations of self-reported data, previous work (Almendros, 2006) that examined these participants’ responses to the MCMI-II validity indexes, together with the data presented in this study, found no evidence supporting the hypothesis that the reports above could be due to insincerity or social desirability on the part of our respondents. Our limited knowledge, as well as this study’s findings, urge caution about making deterministic assertions concerning the prior social maladjustment of potential cult members. While it may be true that “simulators” could have given importance to all of the factors simply because they were asked about the factors, the fact that only the two factors implying personal and social maladjustment were rated significantly higher by this group (SIM) than by true former cult members is consistent with that part of the literature that seems to assume that something should be wrong with the “pre-adept.”

Former cult members reported deceitful and persuasive behavior of the group as the most important factor in their involvement, as well as their perception of the cult as providing ideals and a meaningful belief system. Finally, a desire for self-development and a search for experience were also considered important in this regard.

In relation to the seekership factor that is sometimes mentioned in the literature (see Ash, 1985), our finding of two separate factors in our cult involvement scale (FIS) is intriguing: Seeking Ideals and Seeking Self-Development. We interpret the first as a base that supports the second. Thus, the meaningful belief system implied in Seeking Ideals provides the frame in which to display the behaviors and new spiritual or personal development experiences that comprise Seeking Self-Development. Thus, the second seems a more experiential and active factor, while the first may imply higher degrees of ambiguity in the seeker. These two factors are equally rated by the comparison group of former members of non-cultic groups, and though significantly lower than former cult members, they are reported as the most important factors for their involvement in the groups.

Thus, a mainly external factor such as Manipulation (describing behaviors displayed by the group) is considered by our participants as the most important in influencing them to join the group, followed by Seeking Ideals, which we consider to be a more mixed factor in the sense that it depends on the interaction of the person and the group, and includes elements of attractiveness of the recruiter/group (Zimbardo & Hartley, 1985), “psychological offers” (Kraus, 1999) by the group, as well as the receptiveness of or active search by the individual.

The fact that Manipulation was perceived by our respondents as the most important factor for their involvement with their former groups, and significantly above the comparison group, seems coherent with the majority attitude shown toward involvement: “I don’t know; it arose.” The attitude toward involvement of the FCM was not different from that of the comparison group of FNCG. According to Andersen and Zimbardo (1984), situations in which we are more prone to being influenced are those with “normal appearances,” which don’t seem to “require skepticism, resistance, or even our conscious attention.”

In conclusion, we agree with Martin, Pile, Burks and Martin (1998) when they state that “most people who join cults think they are joining a good group, a moral group, a healthy group.”


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Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2007, Page

[1] The term cult is employed in the present work in order to simplify and to ensure understanding. However our Spanish-language previous work (Almendros, 2006) refers to grupo de manipulación psicológica (psychologically manipulative group) characterizing these groups in terms of their abusive practises. The first author intentionally avoided the term “sect” or “adept” in her written and verbal communications with the participants in this study. Thus, we didn’t define the cult as a problem, which is a source of bias according to Wright & D’Antonio (1993), but the abusive behaviors of certain groups.

About the Authors

Carmen Almendros, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor in the Biological and Health Psychology Department at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. Her doctoral dissertation included four theoretical and four empirical sections devoted to: psychological abuse in group contexts, including an extended theoretical review of measurement issues related to psychological abuse both in cults and domestic violence settings; Cult involvement; Leaving cults; and Psychological consequences of abusive groups membership. She was the 2005 recipient of ICSA's Margaret Singer Award, given in honor of her research into the development of measures relevant to cultic studies. (

José Antonio Carrobles, Ph.D., is Full Professor of Psychology in the field of “Personality, Assessment and Treatment” and past Head of the Department of Biological and Health Psychology at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. His work focuses in the areas of Psychopathology and Clinical and Health Psychology. He is President of the European Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Therapies (EABCT). He has directed numerous Doctoral Theses and is author of an important number and variety of articles and books in his areas of specialization. He has organized and participated in numerous national and international psychology congresses, among which stands out his participation as President of the Scientific Committee at the "23rd International Congress of Applied Psychology" held in Madrid in 1994. He is member of the Editorial Boards of several national and international journals.

Álvaro Rodríguez-Carballeira, Ph.D., is Professor of Social Psychology, Social Movements, and Legal Psychology at the University of Barcelona (Spain). Since 1999 he has been Director of the Social Psychology Department. During the 1980s, before and after a 1985 internship at ICSA, he worked with families and victims affected by cult membership. He then worked as a professor at the University of Barcelona, where he completed a doctoral dissertation in 1991 on psychology of coercive persuasion. During recent years he has extended this line of research, linking it to other contexts (e.g., domestic, work, school) where manipulation and psychological violence may occur. His publications include the book, El Lavado de Cerebro: Psicología de la Persuasión Coercitiva. (Brainwashing: Psychology of Coercive Persuasion).