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Cults Go To High School

Cults Go To High School: A Theoretical And Empirical Analysis Of The Initial Stage In The Recruitment Process

Philip G. Zimbardo, Ph.D.

Cynthia F. Hartley, M.A.


The predictive utility of the authors' theoretical model of pre-conversion cult recruitment was tested in a survey of over 1000 high school students from the San Francisco Bay Area. Fifty-four percent of students reported at least one contact with an identified cult recruiter. Many students, including those who were not approached, reported being open to accepting invitations to attend cult-sponsored events. & profile of eleven variables significantly distinguished those students who had been approached from those who had never had any contact with a cult recruiter. An independent composite of fifteen variables classified those contacted students who were open to considering future invitations from cults, as well as those who would reject all prospective inducements from cults. It is concluded that a reciprocal relationship exists between these two interacting parties.

Recruitment of new members is a vital function of religious movements in their early development and, depending on their goals, may continue to be so throughout the life of the group.

Recruitment serve's a range of purposes for a new religious group. It provides bodies to perform mundane tasks essential for organizational maintenance (care of church property and leaders, for example). It adds canvassers who can bring in financial support through their tithing, donations, or free labor. Proselytizing is also one test of the depth of commitment of current members, which is then further bolstered by their success in converting others to the new belief system.  As recruitment builds up the membership rolls, the once-small sect moves toward greater strength and legitimacy by acquiring property, providing secular services, becoming a viable political voting block, and gaining access to the popular media.

The initial recruitment efforts of a new religious group may amount to little more than bringing like-minded souls into the fold from among the members' family, friends, and fellow workers. But as recruitment efforts are extended in scope, they become more formalized, diverse, and sophisticated. Recruiters may be trained in some form of "compliance-gaining strategies" (see Marwell & Schmitt, 1967; Snow, Zurcher, & Ekland-Olson, 1980). The organization may develop tactics for "milieu control" in which prospective members are "encapsulated" for a day, weekend, or longer in a private setting where the full operational force of recruiting efforts can be sustained. These encounters may be supplemented eventually by mass communication appeals through cable TV, books, tapes, and other large-scale promotional ventures.

This progressive refinement and extension of recruiting efforts by new religious groups is documented by John Lofland (i978), who witnessed systematic changes in the conversion efforts of the Unification Church of Reverend Moon over a decade. (See Lofland & Stark, 1965).  Recruitment-conversion attempts in the early sixties

were in many respects weak, haphazard, and bumbling. The gaining of a convert seemed often even to be an accident, a lucky conjunction of some rather random flailing. Starting around 1972, however, all that was radically changed and transformed ... (The Unification Church) initiated what might eventually prove to be one of the most ingenious, sophisticated and effective conversion organizations ever devised. (Lofland, 1978, p. 10).

Several students who have studied this persuasion process first-hand have found current tactics to be diverse, subtle, and compelling (see Zimbardo, Ebbesen, & Maslach, 1977).

We have been able to identify more than two dozen tactics employed by recruiters and their organization during the initial contact stage, and several dozen more at later "workshop" phases of the recruitment-conversion process. Each of several other cults we have had acquaintance with uses some unique recruitment strategies and tactics, but also share some basic approaches.

In the past, fascination with the "psychology of the persuaders" and the surprising effectiveness of their recruiting techniques has, paradoxically, led to a narrowness of focus and, consequently, to a neglect of the interaction that takes place between recruiter and prospective recruit. Thus, conceptual models have misdirected our attention to the "sociology of the passive recruit." The portrait drawn has been of the disturbed, socially isolated youth from a broken home, seeking meaning in life, a sense of community, and a transcendental awakening. There are too many instances where that prototype of passive vulnerability does not match the attributes of prospective recruits or converts. Moreover, even if the fit were good, we are left with an inappropriate and static conception of the recruitment-persuasion process as one of strong recruiters, weak targets, and all-or-nothing outcomes (conversion or failure to convert).

A "new look" in the analysis of conversion to emerging religious movements, or cults, "turns the process on its head" by examining how "people go about converting themselves" (LoMnd, 1978). Studies of the self-transformation of seekers (Strauss, 1976), and models of the sequential stages of conversion and commitment to the occult (Lynch, 1978) are beginning to reflect the dynamic interplay occurring between the several actors in this dramatic exchange (see also Moscovici, 1980).

We believe that a fruitful direction for theory and empirical data collection should center upon the reciprocal, often symbiotic, relationship between cult recruiters and prospective recruits. The target of a cult recruiter may be a seeker of recruitment. His or her needs, values, knowledge, and personal experiences may impel movement toward selection of contact with certain kinds of cult recruiters. Predispositional variables may function to increase the person's availability for cult contact. At the same time, cult recruiters are likely to direct their initial contact efforts toward those individuals they predict will be most receptive to more intensive conversion attempts. Whether a given contact results in further affiliation depends, in turn, on many variables in the contact situation that build upon a set of pre-contact characteristics of the person, and feed into that person's cognitive appraisal of and affective reactions to the recruiter, cults, and prototypical conceptions of cult members.   In some instances, the outcome of such contact may not be the "big decision" for subsequent exposure, but rather a readjustment of the person's attitude structure in the direction of less negative affect, or assimilation of new pro-cult beliefs. That person may then become part of a supportive, or at least non-hostile, social network which facilitates the receptivity of other people to a recruiter's efforts. Or, individuals in a given category of prospective recruits, such as high school students, may be contacted by a recruiter not with the intention of making these adolescents convert at that time, but rather, of laying the groundwork for favorable reactions to future recruiting efforts when they have the freedom to become full-time converts.

We shall now outline our working model of the recruitment-conversion process developed from an activist-interactional perspective. After sketching the main components of this sequential model of contact-indoctrination-conversion, we will turn to the substance of our research--an empirical investigation into the nature and extent of the initial contact stage between cults and high school students. The utility of our conceptual model will first be assessed in terms of its predictive value in identifying a subset of adolescents likely to be contacted or not approached by cult recruiters, and secondly, by predicting those likely to be receptive, to or rejecting of further affiliation with a cult.

Model of Contact-Indoctrination-Conversion

Four distinct phases are identified in the sequence of events and activities that begin prior to the Initial contact and lead up to a recruited member's final conversion into the new organization. However, there is also feedback of later processes upon those in prior phases, and some reciprocal interaction between these phases. Figure 1.1 provides a schematic representation of the four phases within the overall sequence, along with the major subcategories within each phase.  [Figure 1.1 not available in this medium]

Our primary focus is on the first three phases, or the pre-conversion structure of the model. In the final phase, the recruit is converted to the new ideology and becomes a recruiter who reenters the system by directing contact efforts toward prospective members or by being selected for contact by them. Group members who decide to "exit" from the organization or are "deprogrammed" to change their acquired cult belief structure typically come from those who are somewhere in this last phase. Although the process by which such transformations into and out of this conversion mentality occur is inherently interesting, for the present we have limited the scope of our inquiry to the earlier stages of this complex sequence.

Phase I includes the pre-contact variables, or the background characteristics and knowledge structure of the potential convert and the recruiter. Phase 11 (recruitment) and III (indoctrination) include the initial and developed contact variables, or situational factors, mediational processes, and outcome measures of each contact.

The contact may be either selective or directed. Selective contact results when an individual, perhaps out of curiosity, intellectual interest, personal needs, or ideological distress, seeks, or makes him/herself available to the group member. Directed, or planned contact, is initiated by individuals who, on their own or as representatives of a cult group, intentionally seek to introduce new ideas to another person in order to achieve specific goals defined for that encounter. However, the selective and directed roles are not exclusive of one another: a recruit can simultaneously be a seeker and sought after, and so may be the recruiter.

In Phase 11 an individual may come into mediated or direct (personal) contact with a group member. Contact, for example, may be face to face or through exposure to the media's presentation of information about the group. Thus, if the individual chooses to watch a TV talk show featuring a cult group member or listen to a radio commercial advertising a particular group's literature or meetings, he or she is selecting contact through mediated channels.

While mediated channels are often more important in creating awareness or knowledge of representative groups, direct channels are   more important in changing attitudes toward them. If, for whatever reason, the individual talks to a recruitment agent, recruitment can occur. In such a case, (positive or negative) affective ties are developed between a potential convert and the recruiter. Following this response, an individual may choose to attend or may be invited to an introductory meeting, a dinner, or a film. On the other hand, either actor may terminate the interaction following initial contact.

Accepting the offer for further exposure brings the potential recruit into Phase III. During this period of indoctrination, more sustained compliance-gaining strategies are directed at the recruit. In addition, increased efforts are focused on separating him or her from prior social support networks, values, and knowledge that are not congruent with full commitment to the group's ideology and lifestyle.

If the potential convert accepts the notion of greater participation in the organization or finds going back to his or her pre-contact state of existence now unsatisfying, an invitation to join the group is extended, and accepted. Conversion tactics may involve an intensification of emotional arousal begun in Phase 111, as well as exotic rituals and psychologically coercive practices that generate an affective-cognitive conversion to the new religious ideology and to a new way of life. The contact-conversion sequence is complete when the newly recruited member begins the cycle again by re-entering Phase 1, but this time as a recruiter. A side-effect of the act of recruiting, like that of seeking money for the organization, is the further development of recruiter loyalty, in part as a consequence of these effortful, often embarrassing, dissonance-arousing activities (Festinger, 1957; Aronson and Mills, 1959; Snyder, Zimbardo and Hirschman, 1973).

Let us next take a closer look at the variables and processes that constitute the first two phases of the model, since we wish to understand better the dynamics of the initial contact between a cult recruiter and prospective member. In doing so, we build a framework for predicting:

a) the likelihood that a given person will be among those who enter the initial contact phase,, NV, b) the outcomes of that initial contact, i.e., who is likely to move on to the indoctrination phase and who resists further participation.

The four components integrated by our model in these early phases of the pre-conversion process are: pre-contact variables, contact variables, mediational variables, and outcome measures. Each will be outlined and illustrated with a schematic figure (Figures 1.2 to 1.5) of its main features. In addition, the figures indicate (through the use of upper case) the items of information we have collected in order to evaluate the predictive utility of the model. (We will report on these in a later section of this article.)

Pre-Contact Variables

Pre-contact variables include predispositions (here only for the potential recruit) and knowledge structure. Fixed predispositions are relatively constant traits or background characteristics, such as sex, race, and birth order. Modifiable predispositions are states, traits, and needs that are more transient and manipulable.

Knowledge structure is a concept central to cognitive psychology and communication theory. What is it that an individual knows, and what is the source of that declarative knowledge? Specifically, what facts does an individual have about cults in general, about religious movements, and/or about a particular cult, and is the source of that knowledge direct or mediated? Meta-cognitive knowledge and strategies refer to the "top down" cognitive processes used to manipulate declarative knowledge for particular purposes. This Includes knowing what you know, comprehension monitoring, assessing logicality or intentionality, and being aware of discrepancies between one's position and that of a persuasive communicator.

Contact Variables

Contact variables refer to the strategies and tactics a recruiter uses during the interaction with a target of social influence.  The compliance-gaining strategies include the goals of the contact, the purposes of the persuasion, and selection of the contact situation. The tactics specify the means and style by which the influence attempt will be conducted--using both verbal communications and non-verbal messages.

Mediational Processes

Mediational processes include the cognitive and affective processes that take place during and subsequent to an exposure to some contact with a recruitment effort. The two main mental activities in which the subject engages are: (a) cognitive appraisal of the messages received, evaluation of their source, review of one's own position, anticipation of the consequences of various alternative actions, along with counterarguing against the attitude position espoused in the influence attempt, and (b) establishment of some degree of perceived congruence between self and recruiter/group/prototypical member.

Perceived congruence, in turn, can be analyzed into four sub-categories that contribute to that global emotional-cognitive connection. In identity matching, the person engages in a kind of social comparison process of judging the extent and nature of the similarity between self and given referents. Value satisfaction involves determining how well one's personal values mesh with those of the cult group. At a more emotional level, the person develops affective bonds to the recruiter, e.g., likes or dislikes, fears or enjoys, is interested or disinterested in him or her. Empathetic associations combine both feelings and beliefs (some out of awareness) into a projection of how one might react in the future to various imagined scenarios involving the recruiter or the group.

Outcome Measures

Finally, the consequences of the initial contact are specified by a set of outcome measures. Is the prospect willing to negotiate for further movement and more developed contact or is a non-negotiation stance taken? If negotiation, is he or she ready to comply with an invitation for further affiliation or only to be receptive, ready for further persuasive efforts before making any commitment? The recruiter must use strategies to "close the deal" effectively, make the invitation, get a commitment, or secure a "foot-in-the-door" for a subsequent recruitment effort. Or, if there is dissent, rejection, and opposition, the recruit may engage in strategies for resisting compliance, while the recruiter may make an attempt to counter these--primarily to defuse vocal opposition that may disrupt or interfere with the recruiter's efforts with other prospects the non-negotiator may try to counterinfluence.

These four aspects of the early phases of the pre-conversion process call attention to the cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and social psychological dynamics in the recruitment situation. It is assumed that all four components interact to determine if an individual is available or selected for contact by a cult recruiter, and also if the persuasive attempts by a recruiter will be successful In moving the prospect toward the indoctrination and conversion phases or will end in rejection and possibly even the development of antagonistic opposition.


Our basic research strategy involved surveying high school students regarding the nature and extent of their contact with individuals whom they perceived to be recruiters of cults. A cross-sectional design was used in which data were collected only at one time rather than a repeated assessment over several time periods. Approvals had to be obtained at state, county, and individual school levels from a considerable number of administrators, principals, and teachers. Anonymity of schools and school districts, as well as of all individual respondents, were guaranteed and many procedural regulations followed.

Sampling Procedures

To insure a reasonable representation of high school youths from this Northern California region, several different sampling methods were used.  First, probability sampling identified the sampling frame (from the list of all high schools in nine Bay Area counties), allowing 228 schools to be randomly selected (See Babbie, 1979). Then quota-sampling helped determine how many schools would represent each county, according to the proportion of its high school population to the total for all the counties. Systematic sampling within each county list selected the specific schools to be contacted.

Letters of introduction were sent to all prospective schools, followed by phone contacts and personal interviews with interested administrators. The number of classes per school and the subsample of number of students per class were chosen to reflect the weighted proportion of that school's population to the total for its county. Finally, students were drawn from both required courses (World History, Civics, or English) and electives (such as Psychology or Family Living) in the hope of getting a broader cross section of students than those taking more specialized courses, e.g., clerical, mechanical, or math. Because a teacher's strike in one county prevented access to its schools, two parochial high schools in that county were randomly chosen as substitutes. The final sample consisting of 1,012 students with completed surveys was arbitrarily reduced to a round figure of 1,000 for more ready reader comprehension of the statistical results.


The 1,000 students who completed our survey questionnaire represent the final sample of participants obtained from a random selection of schools in counties within the greater San Francisco Bay Area, and of classrooms within those schools. Our sample was generated from forty-five different classrooms in twenty schools located in nine counties (some more than a hundred miles apart), in rural and urban areas.

Although the majority of students were from standard public schools, some participants represented alternative, continuation, and parochial schools. They ranged in age from 14 to 19 years; most clustered around 16 to 18 years of age.

Fifty-four percent of the sample were female, 46% were male. Ethnic and racial composition of the sample reflected the local county demographics: overall 62% were Caucasian and 38% non-Caucasian. Of the latter, 15% were Black, 12% Hispanic, 5% Asian-American, 3% Oriental, and 0.5% American Indian. The majority (76%) reported having a religious affiliation; only 20% said they had none. Catholics made up the largest denomination (43%), followed by Protestants (28%), Jews (4%), Mormons (2%), and Fundamentalists (I%).

A fair range of socioeconomic backgrounds and academic level of achievement were also represented in this sample. More than one third of the sample reported father's occupation as professional, technical, managerial, or proprietor, while 22% indicated these were their mother's occupations. About 10% of the fathers and 20% of the mothers were listed as being in skilled and semi-skilled occupations. The rest were unemployed, retired, disabled or in a special status, e.g., student, housewife, or househusband. The modal number of children in the family was 3, a third were fist-born, a fourth second-born, while 42% were third or later born. Surprisingly, about half of all these youngsters came from single-parent homes. Residential stability varied considerably: 35% had moved within the last three years, 15% felt they moved frequently, but 65% had lived at their current address for at least 4 years, while 55% reported never having moved. Reported grade-point average suggests a grade-inflated distribution with nearly 60% above average, 38% average and only 3% below average. (Other characteristics of these participants will be presented later along with the descriptive results.)

Survey Instrument

A standardized questionnaire was prepared that reflected different parts of our theoretical model. The survey instrument was developed, in part, with the help of a "focus group" of a dozen teenagers who generated appropriate terms and language for the semantic differential items used. A pilot sample of 150 students from local Catholic and Jewish youth centers was then used to pre-test the wording of questions and other features of the survey.

The 50 items of information requested in this self-report survey were organized around four general classes: pre-contact variables, contact variables, mediational variables, and outcome measures. Questionnaire format varied within each of these classes of items. Students responded using check lists, open-ended write-ins, Likert-type response scales, and semantic differential scales. Some questions had as many as 30 subparts.

Pre-Contact variables  Pre-contact variables relate to predispositions of the respondents and to their knowledge structure.  Fixed predispositions were sex, age, race, religion, and family composition.  Modifiable predispositions included background questions about GPA, geographical mobility, nature and extent of media exposure, spiritual practices, type of classroom preferred, shyness, views about authority, and the value of exposure to opposition ideas. Knowledge structure regarding cults was measured by items that asked the students to identify if they had heard of any or over 30 listed groups, and whether or not each was a cult.  Descriptions of prototypical cult members were also elicited, as were general perceptions of groups referred to as cults.  Semantic differential subsets were used (with nine-point equal intervals) to collect these reactions.  Thus cults might be: charity minded/profit minded, non-religious/religious, and so forth.  Typical cult members were described on fifteen semantic differential subsets including: foolish/wise, responsible/irresponsible, weak/strong, lonely/not lonely, and others.  Check lists of the primary purposes of these groups included both multiple response items, such as: "to raise money," "to improve the world," "to destroy individual freedom," "to strengthen the American family," and eleven others, and also open-ended items for free responses to this, and other check-list items.

Contact variables.  Contact variables were those related to the recruiter's strategies and tactics.  The fundamental question that separated our participants into those with and without contact was:  "Have you been approached by a member of a group that you thought was a cult?"  For those who had been contacted, the survey elicited information about the situation in which that contact had taken place, e.g., public or private, whether alone or with others.  Descriptions of the recruiter and the verbal and non-verbal behaviors she or he or she used during the contact were also noted by the respondents.

Mediational processes.  Mediational processes were indirectly measured by trying to determine the degree of perceived congruence between the student-respondent and the cult recruiter, as well as the extent of similarity perceived between the student and prototypical cult members.  A series of questions asked the student's reaction to the person who had made the contact.  Some reactions were of a general type: friendly/unfriendly, afraid/unafraid, interested/disinterested, angry/pleasant.  Other items focused on the recruiter's specific verbal and non-verbal aspects that the student felt affected him/her (either favorably or unfavorably).  Among them were: eye contact, enthusiasm, affection, hand gestures, dress, tone of voice, product being sold, and so forth.  Affective reactions were also elicited to a series of eight items asking about imagines transactions within cults, such as: if a relative dated a cult member, if parents attended a cult meeting, or if parents objected to the student's joining the group.

Outcome measures.  Outcome measures were of three kinds.  The most basic question is that which established whether there had been any contact with a cult recruiter: "Have you been approached by a member of a group that you thought was a cult?  Answers to this item divided our sample into two broad groupings of those contacted and those never contacted.  Number of contacts and consequences of that contact (what it led to) were also assessed. Another major outcome measure we developed probed the student's interest in attending a cult group meeting, if invited.  Those who "definitely would not go" (non-negotiators) were categorized separately from all the rest of the respondents who were accessible to further exposure to a cult, namely, all who answered "definitely would go," "might go out of curiosity," "might go with a friend," and "not sure" (negotiators).

Survey Administration

During the spring of 1980, one of our staff administered the eleven-page survey to classroom groups of 15-30 students.  A standard introduction provided general guidelines for taking the survey, along with explanations of those items with a potential difficulty of interpretation.  Most students completed the task in about 30 to 40 minutes.  Contingency (or filtered) questions made it easy for students to answer only relevant items by skipping sections if they had not heard of the word "cult," or if they had never been approached by a cult member.

For classes with low reading levels, the survey was guided by a local radio announcer's tape-recording of instructions and questions.  When requested by a teacher, a lengthy question-and-answer session followed the survey administration.

Data analysis

The questionnaire responses were sorted into categories, assigned code numbers, and then manually transcribed onto optical scanning forms.  These data were verified by independent judges who visually compared the scanning form numbers with the original survey responses and assigned codes. Statistical analyses were conducted at the Stanford University Computer Center with the aid of various SPSS software programs (Nie, Hall, Henkins, Steubrent, & Bent, 1980).

In order to provide a general portrait of the respondents, descriptive statistics of selected characteristics of the entire sample will be presented first.  Percentages for any item reported have been adjusted for valid codes only, that is, excluding missing or faulty data.  Significance tests of relationships among measures were computed using Chi Square (corrected for continuity).  With more than two categories within variables, an additional test for ordered categories (Goodman and Kruskal's Gamma) was applied.  Following this preliminary data presentation, we will use our multivariate analyses to address the primary questions of this investigation:  is it possible to identify a set of characteristics that predict which individuals will be contacted by a cult recruiter, and if contracted, which of these students will reject or be receptive to further inducements for affiliation with a cult?  Chi square analyses and discriminant function analyses were used to assess the predictive utility of components of our theoretical model for each of these two outcomes.


Our results will be presented in four sections: (1) data related to the two outcome measures; (b) data that provide information about the students' conceptions of cults and the descriptions of their contact with cult recruiters; (c) the associations between selected independent variables from the students' pre-conversion background (predispositions, knowledge, and attitudes) and the dependent outcome variable and (d) multivariate analyses of a composite of attributes that predict which type of students are most likely to have contact with a recruiter, and which are likely to be receptive to future affiliation with cult groups.

Outcome measures

There has been a substantial degree of direct contact between representatives of cults and these high school students.  The majority of students in our entire sample (535, or 54%) reported at least one contact with a recruiter.  But more unexpected were the large number of multiple contacts noted by those who had been approached.  One-third reported one or two contacts, two-fifths had three to five contacts, and a fourth claimed to have been involved in six or more such exposures.

An analysis of student reactions to the hypothetical invitation to a cult meeting provides the following breakdown:  46% definitely would not go, while among those not rejecting the officer: 21% were "not sure" if they would go, 21% might go out of "curiosity," 17% might go "if a friend did," and 2% would definitely go (some students checked more than one category).

After deleting subjects with invalid answers on either the question of contact with a recruiter or likelihood of accepting an invitation, we still were left with 51% who were open to considering or accepting such an invitation, and 49% who stated they would reject that offer.  Table 1 presents these data analyzed according to those who had/had not been approached by cult members.

Among students who had been approached by a cult recruiter, 70% reported never having thought about joining a cult group, 2% thought of joining but never would, 1% were currently thinking about joining a cult, and 3% reported that they were members of a cult group.  Among the groups they had joined were: hare Krishna, New Wave, The Way, Dianetics, Est, Communist Youth Brigade, and the Ku Klux Klan.  Other groups students were thinking about joining were the "Moonies" and Eckankar.

Table 1

The Frequencies (and Percentages) with which Students Rejected Versus Considered/ Accepted a Hypothetical Invitation to a Future Cult Meeting as a Function of Whether or not They had been Previously Approached by a Cult Recruiter

Approached by

Recruiter                                                           If Invited to Meeting:

                                Consider/Accept        Reject                        Totals[PARA]

                                        N (%)                N (%)                        N (%)

Yes                                        234 (44.7)        289 (55.3)                523 (57.3)

No                                        235 (60.4)        154 (39.6)                389 (42.6)

Totals                                        469 51.4)        443 (48.6)                N = 912*

chi sq. = 21.93 p <.001

*88 Ss were deleted whose answers to one or the other items were invalid.

Addenda - Table 1

Among those who had been approached, we find a non-significant trend favoring rejection over receptivity to an invitation (55% vs. 45%, z = 1.42, p = .08).  However, among the students without prior contact, the majority clearly lined up on the side of being willing to consider/accept an invitation to a cult function than would reject one (60% vs. 40%, z = 3.80, p < .001).

It is interesting to observe that more of those students who had no contact with a cult recruiter were receptive to an invitation than were those who had been approached (60% vs. 45%, p < .01).  Although a sizeable percentage of those contacted would be open to attending a cult function, even more students would reject such an offer.  This result may show that there is a considerable amount of curiosity about cults that is diminished somewhat by prior contacts with cult members.  Or, looked at differently, the generally high receptivity of naïve students (60%) remains fairly high even after one or more contacts with a cult recruiter (45%).  To discover the circumstances of the contact experience, as well as other aspects of that exposure and of cult-relevant attributes of the students, we turn to our next set of results.

Contact-Related Measures

What is the nature of the typical contact between a high school student and cult member? The most typical contact can be described as one in which an older cult member, of either sex, approaches a solitary student on the street in order to seek donations.

About 60% of the time the cult member was older than the student, half as often of about the same age, but equally often of the same or opposite sex as the student. Curiously, 7% of those teenagers who had been contacted perceived the cult member to be younger than they were.

The student was alone on 55% of the contacts, was with one other person on 43% of the contacts, with a small group of friends 20% of the time, and with a large group only 4% of the time. On 14% of the occasions when approached by a cult member the student was with his or her family.

The location of the contacts varied considerably, with the ten most frequently reported sites being: on the street corner or middle of sidewalk (56%);   at an airport (29%); in student's home (29%); at a bus stop (25%); in a parking lot (24%); on school grounds (14%); while  on vacation (13%); at a friend's home (12%); at work place (12%), and on a park bench (11%). Contact occurred less often in restaurants, theatres, at church group meetings, at summer camps, or in public auditoriums (not on school grounds).

In addition to seeking donations, as reported by 73 percent of the respondents, the recruiter's activity was perceived as providing information about the cult (64%); selling a product or services (47%), and actively recruiting new members (43%).

Global reactions to the recruiter were quite varied among the students. The recruiter was as likely to be seen as "friendly" (28%) as "unfriendly" (25%), with a third subset (47%) describing the person as between these extremes. A nearly equal percentage of students felt "angry" (24%) as felt "pleasant" (20%) because of the contact, while most (55%) were effectively neutral. The majority (64%) were "uninterested' in the recruiter who had approached them, but some (12%) expressed a decided interest, while about a fourth answered this semantic differential scale in the neutral mid-range. Although the modal reaction was to be unafraid (52%), there were clearly some students (i2%) who reported feeling afraid and over a third who had mixed feelings toward the cult member with whom they had their initial contact.

Analysis of specific features of a recruiter's impact on those who had been approached revealed that virtually all had more of an unfavorable than favorable impact. However, each recruiter characteristic that affected some students negatively also had a positive impact on other students. Reactions to specific components of the recruiter's appearance and  actions arranged according to the percentage of students who responded negatively and positively were-. wearing a costume or special clothing (78% negative vs. 16% positive); wearing jewelry or badges (84% vs. 11%); using slogans and mottos (78% vs. 12%); selling food (65% vs. 22%); showing pictures (62% vs. 20%); selling flowers (60% vs. 30%); distributing pamphlets or brochures (55% vs. 2%); describing group's program (74% vs. 15%); making eye contact (64% vs 25%); showing affection (63% vs. 28%); using hand gestures (64% vs. 25%); talking in a loud voice (78% vs. 15%), or in a soothing voice (52% vs. 37%). When the recruiter was perceived to be "enthusiastic", evaluations were evenly divided, 46% responded positively and an equal amount negatively. Few students mentioned that the recruiter requested donations from them, and as might be expected, more of those who did so tended to react negatively than positively to such requests.

Perceptions of Cults

From the list of thirty groups named, the majority of students reported the following as qualifying for cult status: Moonies (90%); Peoples Temple (89%); Hare Krishha (83%); Manson Family (81%); Divine Light Mission (72%); Unification Church (64%); Children of God (63%4); Friends of Love ('-)9%); and Eckankar (51%).  There was divided opinion about whether cult was the appropriate term for Sri Chinmoy, Scientology, Love Israel, Kundalini Yoga, Sikhs, The Way, and Est. The importance of labels in categorizing a group as a cult is shown by the marked difference in response to three terms used for Reverend Moon's Unification Church. Nearly all respondents saw the "Moonies" as a cult, while about two-thirds (64%) qualified the Unification Church as a cult, but only 38 percent identified CARP as a cult group. CARP is the acronym for Collegiate Association for Research on Principles, a more recently developed branch of the Unification Church.

The majority of students included in their spiritual vocabulary these terms attributed to "new age groups" by expects: Bible study, cult, meditation, commune, fellowship, consciousness raising, and The Family.

In general the descriptors selected for cults (on the semantic differential scales) tend to be those with strongly negative connotations.   Among the most frequently designated terms for cults. are. "not worthwhile" (64%); "threatening" (62%); "crazy" (60%); "Profit-minded" (58%); "irresponsible" (50%); "anti-freedom" (35%); "Painful" (35%); "political" (35%); and "non-religious!' (22%). A smaller percentage of students endorsed positive cult descriptors: "religious" (43%); "non-political" (22%); "Pro-freedom"(21%); "Pleasurable" (14%); "responsible" (10%); "charity-minded" (9%); "worthwhile" (9%); "safe" (8%), and "sane" (7%).

This generally negative view of cults extends to the respondents' characterizations of a typical member. Nearly three-fourths (74%) of the students perceived the typical cult member to be "different from me," while a mere 4 percent saw him or her as "similar to me." The remaining 22 percent checked middle positions on the semantic differential scale, indicating a mixture of similarity and dissimilarity. The prototypical cult member was judged to be a person who was: "vulnerable" (63%); "lonely" (60%); "weak" (63%); "foolish" (54%); "dependent (54%); "depressed" (53%); "stupid' (40%); "irresponsible" (38%); "crazy" (36%); fishy" (34%), and "immature" (31%). The most extreme positive descriptors given as characteristic of a cult member were: "friendly" (27%); "honest" (18%), and "clean" (17%)

What do these students believe to be the primary purposes of cult groups? Positive purposes are reported by only a minority of the subjects. Among them, in order of decreasing frequency, are-. "to protest against social injustice" (39%); "to encourage personal development of members" (35%); "to improve the world" (30%); "to provide a place to live" (25%); "to provide a finer, purer physical and moral environment" (21%); "to lessen cultural differences" (19%); "to provide an alternative to employment and dead-end jobs" (19%), and "to strengthen the American family (13%). Many more respondents believed cults had negative purposes. The three major purposes perceived by these high school students were self-serving: "to recruit new members" (75%); "to make members totally dependent on the group" (70%), and "to raise money" (66%). Other negative goals attributed to cults were: "to ensure a source of power for the few in charge" (51%); "to destroy individual freedom" (37%); "to rule the world" (37%), and "to destroy the American family" (29%). Three percent added on a fill-in open response that "brainwashing" was a primary purpose of cults.

These negative views are less likely to be the result of personal experience than of mediated experience derived from the mass media. There is little overall difference in the negative stereotype of cults held by those who have never had any contact with a cult recruiter and those who have. When media exposure is analyzed, we find students reporting that the information they received was disproportionately negative. Radio, TV, newspapers, and magazines are each perceived by about three-fourths of the respondents as providing negative information on cults. Only 11% to 14% of the students report getting some positive information from any of these sources.  Incidentally, the entire sample is one that is highly exposed to media input. Radio is listened to daily by about 91% of the students, and at least once/twice a week by the rest. Next most exposure is to TV, which is viewed daily by 67% of the students, and at least once/twice a week by another 33%. Fifty-one percent report reading a newspaper daily, while another third say they read a paper once/twice a week. Magazines are read daily by 14% of the sample, and once/twice a week by an additional 86% of the students.

A smaller number of students reported receiving knowledge about cults from direct experience. Sixteen said they were currently members of a cult, while 15 more reported being ex-members. Information on cults was also said to come from ex-cult members (N = 73, 62% of it negative), from cult members (N = 104, 61% of it positive), a friend or relative (N = 293, 59% of it negative), a lecture or discussion at school (N = 318, 70% of it negative). Thus from both mediated and direct channels of communication, students get a largely negative characterization of cults.

Student Predispositons

Assessment of type and extent of religious practices and spiritual/mystical experiences was determined by a check list that inquired how of ten each of a number of events or activities had been engaged in by the student. Table 2 summarizes these data on religious practices.

Table 2

Percentage of all respondents who report engaging in each type and extent of religious practice and spiritual-mystical experience (among those who gave valid answers, N=907)

                                                Regularly        Not Regularly                        Never

Pray                                                66                        33                        1

Religious services attended weekly                48                        50                        2

Read parts of the Bible                                45                        54                        1

Attend religious youth groups                        41                        58                        1

Revelations received personally from God         35                        62                        3

Felt soaring "peak experiences"

(bliss, cosmic consciousness,

transcend-ence, a sense of universal oneness)        36                        60                        4

Meditate                                        33                        65                        2

Experienced psychic phenomena, ESP,

telepathy, etc.                                        37                        60                        4

Read parts of Koran                                  4                        88                        8

Read parts of Bhagavad Gita                          7                        86                        7

It is the rare student who reports never having practiced nor experienced these activities. The majority of students either engage in them regularly or have done so in the recent past. While it may not be surprising to note that most pray regularly and many attend religious services and religious youth groups regularly, it was not expected that so many of these high school students would report divine revelations, psychic phenomena, peak experiences and meditation. Comparative data from other geographical regions of the country are needed to determine if the extent of this religious/spiritual emphasis is a local or widely shared phenomenon among today's youth.

Attitudes Toward Authority and Structure

Many cults are organized as hierarchical power structures headed by a designated authority figure with a formalized chain of command between the leader and followers. To assess the extent to which students feel attracted to structured settings and authority, survey questions asked about their preferences for type of school class, need for knowledgeable leaders and reliance on the judgments of others.

More than twice as many students preferred structured classes (38%) to unstructured ones (15%), the rest of the students (47%) preferred some mix of these extremes. An even greater difference was found between the many who preferred a lecture-type class (48%) and the few who liked the less organized discussion format (10%); with the remainder (42%) preferring a combination of the two. The overwhelming majority of these high school students believed that, "to know what is going on, it is really necessary to have a leader who knows." Only 14% disagreed with that point of view, while 41% endorsed the proposition strongly and another 45% generally agreed with it. A similar finding emerged when most students supported the idea that, "it is better to postpone judgment until you hear from people whose opinion you trust." While 21% disagreed, 24% agreed strongly and an additional 55% agreed somewhat. Thus, it appears that among this sample of adolescents there is a marked preference for structured learning settings, a reliance on knowledgeable leaders over personal discovery of information, and a willingness to postpone making judgments until trusted others present their opinions.

Empathetic Associations

The students were asked to project the emotional reactions they might have to each of a set of hypothetical scenarios concerning cults. If they were asked to lie for the group, they would be angry (56%), disgusted (32%), afraid (10%), surprised (6%), or embarrassed (4%), while 3% would feel sad about being asked to do so, but 1% would be happy to. Collecting funds for the group also elicited a range of primarily negative emotions: angry (35%), embarrassed (26%), disgusted (25%), afraid (3%), sad (4%), surprised (3%),  while 2% would be happy to collect funds. Negative empathetic associations to cults were also shown on items asking students to imagine: giving their names to the group's mailing list, having parents sign them up for an introductory session, and being asked to defend the group physically. However, the dominant reaction to imagining a sibling dating a group member was "nothing felt" (30%), and surprised (24%). They can't imagine their parents attending a group's meeting (31%, surprised), but 2% would be angry and 19% would be disgusted. Mixed reactions were uncovered when students were invited to Imagine how they would react if their parents or guardians objected to their joining such a group. More responded "happy" (36%) than with any other mood label. But many (29%) said they'd have no reaction to such an intervention. A significant 17% fell into the category of those who would respond negatively--with anger--against this interference with their freedom of choice. Another 6% would be disgusted, 3% sad, and 1% embarrassed. The issue of parental intervention then seems to divide the students into opposite factions: those who would welcome such "concern" versus those who would reject such "controlling" influence by parents.

Another way to interpret these data suggests that students were more readily aroused emotionally by responding to scenarios in which they personally experienced the consequences compared to those scenarios that took the perspective of others. They react most intensely to a loss of their personal freedom, whether the source is cults or parents.

Who Makes Contact With Cults?

If the process were random by which a cult recruiter selected an individual for contact-conversion or by which an individual made him or herself available for such an approach, we would not expect to find variables that operated in a systematic fashion to differentiate those contacted from those never contacted.  On the contrary, we have found a number of variables that do contribute to a statistically significant degree to this dynamic process of being selected for contact and/or being available for a contact agent's advances.

From an initial set of thirty-four possibly relevant variables (from our student survey responses), a discriminate function analysis identified a subset of eleven predictor variables.  Taken together, these variables separate all students into two groups: those approached and those not approached by a cult member.  This composite of variables is accurate in predicting 61% of the cases where contact either occurred or did not occur. The index of the discriminating power of this multivariate analysis, Wilkes' Lambda of .786, is highly significant beyond the .0006 level (see Table 3A).

The description of each of these eleven contact predictor variables is outlined in Table 3B.  An analysis of the contribution of each of the predictor variables to group separation along this discriminant function revealed that the first five variables are the strongest predictors of contact, while the remaining six, thought important, were relatively less powerful.  These scaled vectors for the five best predictors were: positive group purposes (.423), father's occupational status (-.486), media exposure, TV (.424), accuracy in identifying cults (.331), and media exposure, newspapers (-.376).

The portrait of a high school student in our sample who was most likely to be available for/targeted for contact by a cult member can now be drawn – in contrast to the youngster not contacted  he or she is someone who tends to perceive the purposes of cults in more positive terms, has a father in a higher status occupation (manager and proprietor rather than clerical worker and salesman), does not watch TV as often as peers, is reasonably accurate in identifying groups as cults, and reads newspapers more regularly.

The second set of six predictor variables adds the following characteristics of those who are likely candidates for contact.  They don't read magazines as often, want more exposure to opposing views, attribute more positive features to a prototypical cult member, have only average academic grades (B- to C), engage in more religious and spiritual practices, and have fewer brothers.

Table 3A

Discriminant Function Analysis of 11 variables that predict contact with a cult member

Dependent Variable:                                                                          Predicted Group

    Been Approached                                 Wilkes'                        No. of              Membership

Selection Criteria                                 Lambda           Actual Group          Cases                  Grp 1  Grp 2

    Heard of Cult

1        Positive Group Purposes                .950458

2        Occupational Status: Father                .913071        

3        Media Exposure: TV                        .882857  Group 1                

  1. Cult Identification:                                   Have Not Been  139                88        51

Accuracy                                .858457    Approached                        63.3%        36.7%                                                                                        (Accuracy)

5        Media Exposure: Newspaper                .844662                         

6        Media Exposure: Magazine                .831067

  1. Dogma 4: Unnecessary to have

exposure to opposing views                .820155  Group 2

8        Prototypical Member                        .811437  Have Been

9        GPA                                        .803416  Approached        226                92        134

9        GPA                                        .803416  Accuracy                        40.7%        59.3%

10        Spiritual Practices                        .794348                        

11        Siblings: Brothers                        .785520

                                          Wilkes' Lambda            Chi Sq. DF          Significance

                                          .7855204        32.711            11               <0.0006

11 Variables Included F>1.0                                Percent of "Grouped" Cases

23 Rejected                                                Correctly Classified: 60.82%

34 Total

*Listwise Deletion

It is reasonable to conclude that those students who are contacted by cult members differ in systematic ways from those not approached.  But the differences between them  are rather subtle, more a matter of degree than of a qualitatiave nature.  On some of the dimensions it is readily apparent why they would be more "approachable" - where they are more positive about the purposes of cults, hold more positive stereotypes of typical cult members, are more involved in religious and spiritual practices, and know something about cults. Their poorer grades might reflect less interest in and rewards from school, therefore greater readiness to get involved in extracurricular activities. Their desire for more exposure to opposing points of view indicates an intellectual receptivity to new, different ideas rather than a rigid, dogmatic refusal to consider them. However, their complex pattern of media exposure is open to several alternative explanations, as are the findings of having fewer brothers, and fathers in higher status occupations. Without additional data to help evaluate those explanations, we choose to present the evidence at an empirical level, open for illumination by subsequent research. Now we may turn to the next important issue in the process by which a contact is made between cult recruiters and potential recruits and then is intensified through further, more involving affiliation. Of all those contacted by a cult member, which students were amenable to additional exposure and which ones were closed to any further association?

Table 3b

Hypothesized Relation of 11 variables that predict contact with a group member

                                        Group I                                Group II

                        Categories of Subjects For Whom Contact With a Group member is Relatively

Predictor Variables

                                        Unlikely                                Likely

1        Positive Group Purposes        Less Positive                        More Positive

2        Occupational Status: Father        Less Status                        More Status

3        Media Exposure: TV                More Exposure                        Less Exposure

4        Cult Identification: Accuracy        Average Accuracy                Above Average Accuracy

5        Media Exposure: Newspaper        Less Exposure                        More Exposure

6        Media Exposure: Magazine        More Exposure                        Less Exposure

  1. Dogma 4: Unnecessary to have

exposure to opposing views        Agree                                Disagree

8        Prototypical member                More negative                        More Positive

9        GPA                                Above Average                         Average

10        Spiritual Practices                Low Amount                        Medium Amount

11        Siblings: Brothers                More                                Fewer

Variables Influencing Decisions for Cult Affiliation

The next data set consists of chi square analyses of variables that bear a significant relationship to the outcome measure of reject a future recruitment invitation versus consider/accept such an inducement. The data were analyzed separately for: (a) those who had been approached (N = 523) by reject (N = 289) and consider/accept (N = 234), and (b) those who had not been approached (N = 389) by reject (N = 154) and consider/accept (N = 235) a future invitation. Because of the considerable amount of data involved, for economy we will usually summarize results without presenting a tabled data array. In data tables only statistically significant results will be presented with non-significant results merely mentioned. Where there were more than two categories having a natural ordering, we applied a further test for ordered categories (Z-Gamma). Following presentation of these data, we will examine the discriminant function analysis which combines the individual variables into a composite function that effectively predicts to the likelihood of a contacted student being open or closed to further association with a cult.

In examining the characteristics of the student, recruiter, contact setting, and mediational processes on the decision for further contact with a cult, we will be able to show the applicability of our general model to

understanding the pre-conversion phase of affiliation with a cult.

Among the fixed predispositions relevant to accepting/being open to the recruitment invitation were religious preferences, family size, and ordinal position of birth. Those not approached (Group 1) who would accept the invitation tend to be: a) without religious preference (p < .05) (although of those with a religious preference, Catholics were much more accepting than Protestants or Jews), b) from larger families, with more siblings (p < .05), and c) later-borns rather than first-borns (p <.05). Analysis of Group 11 (those approached) uncovered no fixed predispositions significantly related to affiliative behavior. Sex, race, age, and grade level did not play a role in the decision to reject/accept a cult invitation.

A number of modifiable predispositions figured into the decision to go to a future cult activity. Those not approached (Group 1) who are open to affiliation tend to be students with poorer G.P.A. (p < .001), with more residential mobility (p < .001), and a shorter time at their current address (p < .01) than those closed to affiliation. For those who had been approached (Group 11), more of the affiliators came from families where both parents were managers or proprietors (p < .05), and had moved to their current address within the last year.   Among those with the most stable residential mobility-never moved--rejection of a cult invitation is more typical than is acceptance (p < .05).

Shy students were more likely to reject the invitation if they had been approached (56% reject), while the opposite is true for those without prior contact: more shys would then accept the invitation (62%) (p < .05). Incidentally, given the senior author's interest in this shyness variable (Zimbardo, 1977; Zimbardo and Radl, 1981), two additional findings merit mention. First, the vast majority of students described themselves as "moderately" or "very shy" (91%), while only 9% reported themselves to be "not shy." Secondly, not shy students were much more likely to be approached by a cult recruiter (73%) than were the shy students (57%) (Z = 2.58, p = .001).

There Is a strong tendency for those who need knowledgeable leaders to accept the cult invitation, but only if they have not been approached (p < .01). Engaging in religious, spiritual, and mystical practices predisposes the students to be more open to cult invitations. Among those not approached, affiliation is greatest for those receiving personal revelations from God, meditating, reading parts of the Koran and Bhagavad-Gita, and especially those who have felt peak, transcendental experiences (p values between .05 and .001). A similar significant pattern holds for those who have been approached. But, in addition, they are significantly more likely to have read other religious material than those who reject the invitation (p < .05). One difference between the two groups of students, not approached and approached, shows up as less affiliation among those contacted students who practice traditional forms of religious worship. By contrast, among not contacted students, affiliation is greater for those engaging in either traditional or non-traditional religious/spiritual practices.

Knowledge of terminology attributed to new age groups by experts is found to be one of the determinants of accepting/rejecting prospective inducements. But, it is a case of less knowledge leading to greater receptivity, or of move knowledge resulting in rejecting cult invitations. Among those not approached, having heard about  "cults", "communes," and "sects" reduces the likelihood of affiliation relative to those students with less knowledge (p values between p < .05 and p < .001). A similar set of results holds for those approached, but they are not statistically significant. Indeed, those previously contacted, who have acquired a vocabulary of terms related to cults and new religious movements are most likely to reject affiliation with a cult.

The knowledge students develop about cults often comes packaged with a strong evaluative component. Therefore, we must consider the Impact of mediated and direct channels of communication on decisions to reject or accept cult invitations in terms of the positive-negative nature of that information. In general, students are more likely to be receptive to cult affiliation where they perceive the information they have gotten from the media is positive toward cults, while those who believe cults are portrayed negatively tend to reject the invitation. This pattern is significant for TV, radio, and newspaper presentations as judged by those not approached (p values between .05 and .001), marginally so for magazines. Those with contact are most likely to reject the cult invitation where the radio programs they listen to are negative toward cults (p < .05). They tend to be more rejecting regardless of how cults are presented on TV, in newspapers, or magazines. Where books they read and other media they are exposed to (leaflets, posters, etc.) are anti-cult, rejection is more likely, while acceptance Is greater among students who are exposed to pro-cult views in those media (p < .05). It is not possible to determine any causal direction in these results since: a) there may be selective exposure to biased points of view that fit the student's already formed attitudes, b) those attributes may lead to distortion of an assimilative nature in evaluating the position of certain media, or c) media evaluations of cults may influence both student attitudes and their decisions to accept/reject a cult invitation.

A fair number of students have had some direct information about cults, that is, delivered by other people. Among those not approached, the most powerful effect of information bias on affiliation decision is that from friends or relatives. The majority of students who report those portrayals as negative reject the invitation (57%), while more of those receiving positive cult views accept the invitation (60%) (p < .05). There is also a tendency to accept the invitation by students not approached if one of their friends or relatives is positive about cults. But negative information from such sources does not influence their decisions to either accept or reject the invitation.

Contact variables exert a strong impact on a student's expressed desire to accept or consider a cult invitation. The greater the number of prior contacts with cult members, the larger the percentage of students who are open to further affiliation (p < .05). If the initial contact was effective in getting the student actually to go to a second event, she/he becomes more willing to endorse the Idea of attending some future event.   Although not many students did attend an event suggested by the cult member who contacted them, doing so reduced their resistance to further affiliation. For example, of the 41 students who went to a general introductory meeting, 31, or 76%, would accept the hypothetical invitation, in contrast to the 58@, of the 482 contacted students who did not go to that event and who rejected the invitation (p < .001). Similarly positive decisions were made by those who went to a lecture (15/18, 83%, p < .01), film (8/9, 89%, p < .05), camp meeting (10/15, 67%, n.s.), dinner (8/13), 62%, n.s.), or workshop (9/16, 56%., n.s.).

Where the contact took place and the recruiter's activities, dress, and behavioral style all affected the student's decisions to accept/reject a cult invitation. The greatest facilitation of acceptance to further affiliation occurred when the initial contact location was either one of the student's private channels or the recruiter's private channels.  The majority of those contacted were open to invitation if the contact were made: in a friend's home (42/56, 72%, p < .001), on school grounds (42/66, 64%, p < .01), at camp (18/24, 75%. p < .01), or in an auditorium (22/30, 73%, p < .01). No significant effects were found relating contact locations to accept/reject future Invitation when the location was a public one for both recruiter and student.

It made no difference on the decision for the future affiliation if the contact was made when the student was alone or in a small or large group. Surprisingly, the sex and age of the recruiter relative to that of the student also has no measurable impact in the hypothetical decision to affiliate. There is, however, a non-significant trend for contact with same age, peer cult members to be related to greater openness to further affiliation than when contact was made with older recruiters.

The recruiter's activities that may be related to rejection of the future invitation were: selling a product or ware (60% rejection), seeking donations (58%) rejection, or providing information (56% rejection).  When the contact was perceived as one in which the cult member was recruiting, then that activity had most relative impact on the subsequent decision to accept the hypothetical invitation - half of the 226 uncontacted students would accept and half reject it.  The majority of contacted students who did not think the cult member was trying to recruit them (59%) rejected the invitation (p< .05).

A systematic and strong effect emerged from the relationship between student evaluations of recruiter impact features and the subsequent decision to attend the hypothetical cult event, as can be seen in Table 4.

With few exceptions, the same behavior, costume, activity, and product being distributed by the cult recruiter elicited negative reactions and subsequent rejection by many students, or, in other students, positive reactions associated with a receptivity to further contact. What "works" for some targeted students works against developing favorable attitudes in others. This divergence is clearly apparent in the case of the recruiter's display of affection. A nearly equal percentage of students react positively as react negatively--and those reactions, in turn, are associated with approach or avoidance of future contact. The same result recurs in much of the rest of this data set. At the same time, it is instructive to note the minority decision, that is, many students who react negatively to the recruiter still go on to consider/accept the future invitation, while many of those on whom the recruiter had a positive impact decide they want no further contact--even in the hypothetical instance.

These specific reactions to the recruiter merge into more global impressions that we tried to tap by semantic differential   scales   of interest/disinterest,    friendly/unfriendly, pleasant/angry, unafraid/afraid. The majority of students disinterested in the recruiter rejected the invitation (218/318, 69%), while those who were interested (48/62, 77%) accepted it, as did those who reacted more neutrally (72/114, 63%; p < .001). In like fashion, those who felt unfriendly or angry at the recruiter were much more likely to reject the invitation. Where the contact resulted in friendly feelings or pleasant reactions, the majority of students were open to further association. However, students with mixed or neutral reactions on these dimensions of friendliness and pleasantness tended to reject the invitation (p values for these patterns of results exceed the .001 level). Regardless of how they responded on the dimension of afraid to unafraid, the majority of students--of those afraid, neutral, and even unafraid--rejected the future invitation. Perhaps defining oneself on a fear dimension is sufficient to create a negative reaction to the object of that judgment.

Table 4

Recruiter Impact Features: The impact of recruiter's behavior on students' attitudes toward rejecting or accepting future recruitment invitations involving discrete variables

Recruiter's                 Students who        Students who would                Row totals        Chi

nonverbal                 would reject        consider/accept                                        Square/

behavior/                 the invitation        the invitation                                        zg

students'                 N=289                N=234                                N=523 (1)

response (Q. 15)        

______________        ___________        _________________                _________        ________

                        N        %        N                %                N        %

  1. Kinesic


A        Emblems/


  1. Recruiter's

Hand Use




a        Negative        51        61.4        32                38.6                83        100.0

b        Positive                8        24.2        25                75.8                33        100.0

c        Undecided        5        33.3        10                66.7                15        100.0

d        No Answer        225        57.4        167                42.6                392        100.0        17.768**


B        Affect Display

  1. Recruiter's




a        Negative        70        65.4        37                34.6                107        100.0

b        Positive                40        36.0        71                64.0                111        100.0

c        Undecided        11        55.0        9                45.0                20        100.0

d        No Answer        168        58.9        117                41.1                285        100.0        22.628**


  1. Recruiter




a        Negative        59        59.6        40                40.4                99        100.0

b        Positive                15        36.6        26                63.4                41        100.0

c        Undecided        1        11.1        8                88.9                9        100.0

d        No Answer        214        57.2        160                42.8                374        100.0        14.212**


  1. Recruiter Eye




a        Negative        102        61.4        64                38.6                166        100.0

b        Positive                23        34.8        43                65.2                66        100.0

c        Undecided        12        48.0        13                52.0                25        100.0

d        No Answer        152        57.1        114                42.9                266        100.0        14,606**


II        Artifacts

A        Costume

  1. Recruiter's




a        Negative        139        65.3        74                34.7                213        100.0

b        Positive                23        53.5        20                46.5                43        100.0

c        Undecided        9        56.3        7                43.7                16        100.0

d        No Answer        118        47.0        133                53.0                251        100.0        14.606**


  1. Recruiter's





a        Negative        82        56.2        64                43.8                146        100.0

b        Positive                6        35.3        11                64.7                17        100.0

c        Undecided        5        55.6        4                44.4                9        100.0

d        No Answer        196        55.8        155                44.2                351        100.0        2.837


B        Product

  1. Food/



a        Negative        18        54.5        15                45.5                33        100.0

b        Positive                7        63.6        4                36.4                11        100.0

c        Undecided        2        40.0        3                60.0                5        100.0

d        No Answer        262        55.3        212                44.7                474        100.0        0.790


  1. Flowers/         



a        Negative        88        68.2        41                31.8                129        100.0

b        Positive                29        46.3        33                53.2                62        100.0

c        Undecided         10        50.0        10                50.0                20        100.0

d        No Answer        162        51.9        150                48.1                312        100.0        12.195**


  1. Jewelry/



a        Negative        26        53.1        23                46.9                49        100.0

b        Positive                6        40.0        9                60.0                15        100.0

c        Undecided        5        45.5        6                43.4                11        100.0

d        No Answer        252        56.3        196                43.7                448        100.0        2.114


  1. Books/



a        Negative        41        65.1        22                34.9                63        100.0

b        Positive                5        25.0        15                75.0                20        100.0

c        Undecided        9        75.0        3                25.0                12        100.0

d        No Answer        234        54.7        194                45.3                428        100.0        11.815**

C        Brochures, Fliers

  1. Program




a        Negative        110        62.5        66                37.5                176        100.0

b        Positive                11        33.3        22                66.7                33        100.0

c        Undecided        9        75.0        3                25.0                12        100.0

d        No Answer        159        54.8        131                45.2                290        100.0        13.233**


  1. Slogans/




a        Negative        66        59.5        45                40.5                111        100.0

b        Positive                7        41.2        10                58.8                17        100.0

c        Undecided        5        35.7        9                64.3                14        100.0

d        No Answer        211        55.4        170                44.6                381        100.0        4.321


III        Paralanguage

A        Tone of Voice

  1. Recruiter's

Low Voice/



a        Negative        73        67.6        35                32.4                108        100.0

b        Positive                20        32.8        41                67.2                61        100.0

c        Undecided        9        47.4        10                52.6                19        100.0

d        No Answer        187        55.8        148                44.2                335        100.0        19.626**


  1. Recruiter's

Loud Voice/



a        Negative        36        53.7        31                46.3                67        100.0

b        Positive                4        33.3        8                66.7                12        100.0

c        Undecided        0        00.0        4                100.0                4        100.0

d        No Answer        249        56.6        191                43.4                440        100.0        7.653


3        Recruiter's

Soothing Voice/



a        Negative        81        64.3        45                35.7                126        100.0

b        Positive                30        36.1        53                63.9                83        100.0

c        Undecided        11        45.8        13                54.2                24        100.0

d        No Answer        167        57.6        123                42.4                290        100.0        17.916**


*        P < .05

**        P < .01

***        P < .001

  1. Note:  Ten subjects who checked more than one response and 78 subjects who did not answer Q.18 were eliminated, bringing the total study population to 912.  523/912 subjects reported that they had been approached by a group member.

These evaluative reactions to the recruiter are part of the mediational processes that are triggered either by direct contact with a cult member or by information from the media and sources of interpersonal communication; they then direct the student's behavior toward rejection/acceptance of any further cult affiliation. Mediational processes are those cognitive activities that transform the individual's knowledge, values, stereotypes, and information-processing biases into action intentions toward rejection, consideration, or acceptance of further contact with cults. The relevant data are those bearing upon the dimensions of affective ties, perceived congruence with a prototypical cult member, evaluation of cult purposes and activities, along with the extent of empathetic association with cults. The attribution of positive or negative purposes to cults is taken as one measure of the potential value-satisfaction cults might offer the individual.

Students accepting/considering the invitation differ significantly from those rejecting it on the dimension of perceiving more positive purposes of cults. Specifically, more of them see cults as encouraging personal development (56% vs. 43%, p < .001), improving the world (59% vs. 40%, p < .001), providing a finer, purer physical and moral environment (63% vs. 37%, p < .001), providing an alternative to employment and dead-end jobs (56% vs. 46%, p < .01), and strengthening the American family (60% vs. 40%, p < .01). These differences between receptive and rejecting students are greater for those who were contacted than for those not approached.

Perceived congruence of the student to a prototypical cult member was assessed by the descriptions they selected to portray the average member across 15 semantic differential scales. When these data are arranged by those who would consider/accept the invitation versus those who would reject it, the following pattern emerged among the uncontacted students. Students reject the invitation with significantly greater frequency than accept it when the prototype of a cult member is a person who is: weak, vulnerable, lonely, depressed, stupid, crazy, irresponsible, shy, and immature (p values for individual comparisons are largely < .001). There were no significant differences between rejecting and accepting students in attributing the traits of dirty/clean, dishonest/honest, unfriendly/friendly to the average cult member. Finally, for uncontacted students, acceptance of the invitation was influenced by whether they perceived the typical member to be similar to them but not when he or she was imagined as dissimilar. In virtually all instances, those accepting/considering the invitation construed a prototype from the positive end of the semantic differential subscales: strong, invulnerable, not lonely, wise, happy, smart, sane, responsible, outgoing, mature, and clean.

In general, a similar pattern was found for students who had been approached-rejection was associated with a lack of congruence while acceptance/consideration went together with perceived congruence to the prototypical member. The only variations from the pattern reported for the uncontacted students were: nearly twice as much rejection as acceptance when the average member was imagined as "different from me" (p < .001); an equal percentage of rejection/acceptance choices when the prototypical cult member was thought to be "not lonely" (but more rejection when he or she was described as "lonely"), and more rejection than acceptance regardless of whether that person was seen. as dependent or independent.

We mentioned earlier that acceptance of the invitation was influenced by positive affective ties with the cult member who contacted them. As might be predicted, these affective ties and perceived congruence with a prototypical member tend to be positively related. When affective ties are positive, congruence is higher, when negative, congruence is low, and neutral affective ties tend to be paired with moderate degrees of perceived congruence. Thus, among students who would consider accepting the hypothetical invitation, the contingency coefficient is .31 (p < .001) between the three levels of affective ties (for interested/disinterested in the recruiter) and the three levels of perceived congruence with a prototypical member. Where congruence was high, the majority of students showed positive affect (53%), where congruence was medium, the major reaction was that of neutral affective ties (44%), while low congruence was most often found among those with negative affective ties (55%).  For students rejecting the hypothetical offer, this overall pattern was also comparable, but the modal composite reaction (in 69% of all these respondents) was one of negative affective ties and low perceived congruence.

Perception of the primary descriptive attributes of cults in negative terms characterized the reactions of students rejecting the invitation, while those who were more receptive perceived cults in more positive terms.  For those approached, significant differences were found between rejectors and those who would consider/accept on each of the following dimensions: not worthwhile/worthwhile, threatening/safe, crazy/sane, profit-minded/charity-minded, against freedom/for freedom, painful-pleasureable (all p values < .001). For the dimensions of political/non-political and religious/non-religious the non significant trend was for both of these extremes to be more often chosen by students who rejected the invitation than were receptive. Interestingly, a virtually identical pattern was shown by the students who had not been approached. Negative cult descriptions and rejection were associated as were positive descriptions and being in the category of students who would consider/accept the hypothetical invitation (p values falling between < .01 and < .001). Again, to those who reject or accept cult recruiters, It does not matter whether cults are perceived as political or not, or religious or not. Across all students in this study, then, two of the major dimensions on which most cults are commonly described--the religious and the political-appear to have no value in predicting the outcome measure of reject versus consider/accept a cult invitation.

The final measure that belongs within the category of mediational processes is the empathetic association students revealed when asked to project their current feelings about cults elicited by a number of imagined cult-relevant scenarios. Among contacted students, more of those rejecting the invitation projected negative feelings (of anger, disgust, fear, sadness, and embarrassment) than did those who would consider/accept the invitation. Most of these reactions to scenarios were significantly different between the non-negotiators and negotiators. Scenarios included: if a relative dated a cult member, if parents attended a cult meeting, if parents signed up the student for a cult event, if asked to lie for group, defend group, or collect funds. Among the small number of students who were "happy" in imagining these events, almost all were receptive to the cult invitation. They also predominated over the rejecting students in reporting feeling "nothing" in response to most of these scenarios. Across both subgroups of these contacted students, the strongest feelings projected (most students reported) were: surprise and disgust if a relative dated a cult member, surprise if parents attended a meeting, anger if parents signed up the student, happiness if parents objected to their joining a cult, anger if asked to lie, anger and fear if made to defend the cult, anger and embarrassment if made to collect funds.

A generally similar pattern of empathetic associations exists for the uncontacted students. One major difference between their pattern and that of the contacted students is their greater frequency of responding "feel nothing" to almost every one of the scenarios. That finding may mean that without some actual contact with cults it is more difficult to project strong emotional reactions to these imaginary scenarios. Or, alternatively, prior contact enables students more readily to get effectively involved in these hypothetical situations.   For both contacted and non-contacted students, the "happy" response (N = 120) to all these scenarios (excluding "if parent objected to your joining") is given 87% of the time by the receptive students and only 13% of the time by the rejecting students (p < .01). Those open to further affiliation tend to express less negative affect related to imagined cult experiences, along with more neutral and more positive feelings than do those who flatly reject the hypothetical invitation.

Variables Predicting Cult Affiliation

It is possible to predict with reasonable accuracy the kind of students most likely to be open to considering or accepting an invitation to attend a cult event, and to discriminate between them and those who would be opposed to such affiliation. When 27 of our possibly relevant variables were entered into a discriminant function analysis, 15 variables formed a rich predictor composite. As can be seen in tables 5A and 5B, these variables correctly assigned 74% of the students to the group of those who would reject the invitation, and correctly assigned 71% of those who would consider/accept the invitation (a highly significant discrimination, p < .0001; Wilkes' Lambda = .781).

Table 5A

Discriminant Function Analysis Of 15 Variables That Predict Students' Attitudes Toward Rejecting Or Accepting Future "Recruitment Invitations."

Dependent Veriable:                                                        Predicted Group Membership

   If Invite                        Wilkes’                Actual        No. of

Selection Criteria:                Lambda        Group        Cases*                Grp 1                Grp 2

--Heard of Cult and

--Have Been Approached

1        Prototypical member        0.932364

2        Recruiter Impact

Positive Features        0.892067        Group 1

  1. Negative Group

Purposes                0.877483        Students Who

Would “Reject”        221        163                58

  1. Contact Locations                        The Invitation                73.8%                26.2%

Recruiter's Private                                                 (Accurate)

Channels                0.859283        

5        Spiritual Vocabulary        0.847480

6        Target Group Size:

Large Group of My

Friends                        0.836838

  1. Recruiter Character-

istics: Older,

Opposite Sex                0.827650        Group 2

  1. Positive Group                0.819732        Students Who

Purpose                                 Would "Consider/        

Accept" the Invitation        153        45        108        

29.2%         70.6%


  1. Recruiter Impact:

Negative Features                0.8120110

10        Contact Location

Students' Private

Channels                0.805115

11        Cult Descriptors                0.800495

12        Cult Identification

Accuracy                0.796027        Ungrouped Cases        11        4        7

36.4%        63.6%

13        Familiar with

Cult and

Non-Cult Groups        0.789291

  1. Target Group:

With Family                        0.784669

  1. Reaction to


Affect Bonds                0.781210

                Wilkes'                         Chi Square         DF                Significance


0.7812096                89.999                15                <0.0001

  1. Variables included F>1.0

12 Rejected                                Percent of “Grouped” Cases Correctly Classified: 72.46%

27 Total

*Listwise Deletion

Table 5B

Hypothesized Relation Of 15 Variables That Predict Students' Attitudes Toward Rejecting Or Accepting 'Recruitment Invitations'

                                                        Group I                Group II

                                                Categories of Subject for Whom Acceptance of

Predictor Variables                                Recruitment Invitation is Relatively:

                                                Unlikely                        Likely

1        Prototypical Member                        More Negative                More Positive

2        Recruiter Impact: Positive Features        Slightly Fewer                Slightly More

3        Negative Group Purposes                More Negative                Less Negative

4        Contact Location:

Recruiters' Private Channels                No                        Yes

5        Spiritual Vocabulary                        Familiar                        More Familiar

6        Target Group Size:

Large Group Of My Friends                Yes                        No

  1. Recruiter Characteristics:

Older - Opposite Sex                        Yes                        No

8        Positive Group Purposes                Less Positive                 More Positive

9        Recruiter Impact: Negative Features        More Negative                Less Negative

10        Contact Location:

Students' Private Channels                No                        Yes

11        Cult Descriptors                                Neutral                         Slightly         Positive

12        Cult Identification Accuracy                Above Average                Average

13        Familiar With Cult And Non-Cult Groups        Less Familiar                More Familiar

14        Target Group: With Family                Yes                        No

15        Reaction To Recruiter: Affect Bonds        Slightly Positive                More Positive

Of these 15 predictors, seven fall under our category of contact variables, five are mediational variables, and three are assigned the status of pre-contract variables. Each of the three major divisions of our theoretical model then adds some variables to the composite function that predicts to the outcome of anticipated affiliation, or negotiation with a cult-by deciding whether to consider, accept or reject a hypothetical invitation to a cult function. What ire these variables and what do they tell us about the dynamic process whereby a student who has been approached by a cult member  is open or closed to further contact?

The five most important contributors to the student's affiliation decision are: (a) (mediational)  perceiving the prototypical member as possessing more positive characteristics, such as, wise, honest, friendly, responsible; (b) (contact) noticing (and remembering) more positive features of the cult recruiter, such as, eye contact, enthusiasm dress, voice; (c) (mediational) interpreting the purposes of cults in less negative terms, such as, to destroy freedom and the family, to rule the world; (d) (contact) having experienced the contact with a recruiter in a location that was one of the recruiter's private channels, such as, a dinner, film, camp or auditorium not on school grounds, and (e) (pre-contact) possessing a greater familiarity with spiritual vocabulary terms, such as, meditation, spiritual community, cosmic consciousness.

The second five predictors, in order of the amount of variance they account for in the outcome measure are: (a) (contact) not being with a large group of friends when the contact was made with the recruiter; (b) (contact) not being contacted by a recruiter who was older and of the opposite sex; (c) (mediational) perceiving cults to have more positive purposes, such as personal development of members, protest social Injustice, lessen cultural differences; (d) (contact) noticing (and remembering) fewer negative features about the recruiter, and (e) (contact) being approached by the recruiter in one of the student's private channels, such as, home, friend's home, school, at work.

The final set of five variables that contribute significantly to the outcome, though less so than those already mentioned, are.  (a) (mediational) organizing the conception of cults around a set of more positive descriptors, such as, worthwhile,   responsible, pleasureable, charity-minded; (b) (pre-contact) being slightly less able to accurately identify the names of many groups thought to be cults; (c) (pre-contact) having reported hearing about more cult and non-cult groups; (d) (contact) not being approached by a recruiter when the student was in a family setting, and finally, (e) (mediational) developing more positive affective bonds to the recruiter, feeling more friendly, interested, pleased, and unafraid.

Conclusions and Discussion

This final section of our report will present an overview of major conclusions, mention reservations in over generalizing these results, and suggest some future research directions.  (See Fig. 2, which summarizes our conclusions.)

A surprisingly sizable proportion of high school youngsters report having had personal contact with a cult member, many of them on a number of different occasions.  Some of these students have joined cults or were thinking about joining.  More than half of all students surveyed were receptive to the possibility of attending a cult function if invited to one, whether or not they had prior contact.  Indeed, the majority of those never approached by a cult recruiter expressed an interest in having some contact with a cult activity.

This high degree of contact and receptivity to some affiliation with cults must be evaluated within the context of the overwhelmingly negative characterization of cults that these students receive from both the media and their direct channels of communication.  Despite that negatively biased input and their generally negative evaluation of cult activities, purposes, and cult recruiter features, many of these students remain open to considering an invitation to a cult meeting.  This is one reason why we conclude that the subject of a cult recruitment attempt should not be viewed as a passive target overwhelmed by coercively compelling "mind control tactics."  In this initial stage of the contact-recruitment-conversion process, it is important to appreciate what that "target person" brings Into the contact setting, as well as focus upon the recruiter's strategies and tactics.  It is not so much what the cult recruiter says, does, or how he or she looks that directly influences the decisions of the person contacted. Rather, it is the person's perception, evaluation, and interpretation of the recruiter's impact features that figures prominently in the decision to accept, consider, or reject a cult invitation.

Figure 2.  Variables That Predict Who is Likely to Be Contacted and Who Will be Amenable to Negotiation. (unavailable)

Our data force us to reject the notion of a random process by which someone gets contacted by a cult member and by which a decision is made for future contact with a cult group. Two discriminant function analyses enable us to make a highly significant assignment of students to categories of approached/not approached, as well as to the categories of would reject versus would consider/accept a recruitment invitation.

Only a few of the variables that influence the contact outcome also operate to influence the affiliation outcome. Most notable of the variables playing a dual function in these decisions are perception of the purposes of cults, and evaluation of the characteristics of a prototypical member. Accordingly, we need to think of these two outcomes as qualitatively distinct and not merely as sequential phases of unidimensional process. For example, extent and nature of media exposure affects likelihood of contact, but is not relevant for likelihood of affiliation. The same is true of father's status, grades, religious practices, and several other variables. To understand the process by which the cult affiliation decision is made by students who have been previously contacted, we must take into account the complex interaction of pre-contact knowledge and values of the student, recruiter impact on the student, the contact setting, and especially the student's cognitive transformation of these inputs into affective ties, perceived congruence, and empathetic associations.

Attention should also be drawn to the rather small and subtle differences between the groups on each of the outcome measures. Contacted students who would "consider/accept" are not necessarily uninformed students, with low grades, shy, poor, or gullible. They have lots of media exposure, average grades, know what cults are, engage in a moderate amount of religious practices, and are undogmatic about being exposed to contrary views. They are also more likely to come from high status homes. There is also a "socially normative" look to the youngsters who are willing to admit to being open to future association with a cult. We found nothing deviant, nor even qualitatively distinct about them--as compared to students rejecting the invitation. The major dimensions which seem to guide them away from the "reject" decision are: a) having developed more positive attitudes and values about cults and the cult recruiter, and b) not having the contact made in the wrong setting by an inappropriate recruiter.

These apparently subtle features of the "contact-prone" and "affiliation-prone" person contrast with the starkly drawn journalistic and clinical case portraits of the "cult seekers" and "innocents" deceptively manipulated to become cult converts.  (U.S. News and World Reports, 1978; Conway & Siegelman, 1978; Richardson, 1978, among others).  Our sample is much younger than those typically studied, and we are dealing only with the initial stage in a long, complex process of cult indoctrination. Perhaps there is a filtering or tracking mechanism at various decision stages. At each stage, from initial contact to indoctrination to conversion, ever more extreme reactions are demanded and more unique attributes called for in recruits, loyal members, and deployable agents, (see Hirschman's important analysis of the dynamics of "exit, voice, and loyalty" in organizations, 1970). This is not to question the validity of prevailing sociological conceptions of troubled-youths-in-distress, nor of adolescents alienated from their families (Doress & Porter, 1978). But rather, to note that what emerges at later stages in the process of becoming a cult member may differ from what goes into it at the start (see also Ullman, 1982).

The predictive utility of our conceptual model of the pre-conversion phase of recruitment into cults encourages us to suggest its potential value in studying other stages in this overall process, as well as its applicability to non-cult recruitment settings.

Needless to say, proper evaluation of this model awaits future studies that do not rely as heavily upon self-report recollections of different stages in the process. We recognize the many sources of bias that luck about such survey data, and the distortions that reconstructive memory imposes on "what actually took place". (Klatsky, 1980; Anderson, 1980). Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that many subjects were influenced by specific aspects of the cult recruiter's verbal and non-verbal behavior, yet were unaware of that influence (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977; Roloff, 1980).

Ideally, one should first identify those individuals who have had no prior contact with a cult recruiter in order to assess their pre-contact characteristics. Then, they can be time-sampled for subsequent contact exposure and retested on measures of contact impact and mediational processes. Or, preferably from a social psychological perspective, researchers might work with cult recruiters (or confederates playing standardized roles as cult recruiters or prospective recruits) to observe and record the contact interaction. Follow-up interviews and surveys could then be conducted with both target persons and recruiters at selected time delays. A real invitation to attend a cult function in place of our hypothetical invitation is also a better outcome measure, but should be one similarly predicted by the components of our model. (Ethical considerations, of course, render such suggestions as unlikely to be approved by a Human Subjects Research Committee).

Recruiter's tactics and strategies need also to be systematically studied, especially as they change with different stages of contact and are varied over time for different target audiences and purposes.  Since the focus of the present research was on the recruit's perception of the recruiter, our discussion plays down the power of "compliance-gaining strategies" used by skillful recruiters (McLaughlin, Cody, & Robey, 1980; Miller, Boster, Roloff, & Seibold, 1977). We are well aware that many recruiters artfully guide and shape the responses of the target person. They may misrepresent their identities and intentions. They may falsify their relationship to the organization for which they are recruiting while they manipulate the affective ties and desired perception of congruence in the minds of potential recruits (Anderson & Zimbardo, 1984). We also acknowledge the persuasive power that effective recruiters may have upon the attitudes, beliefs, and decisions of unsuspecting recruits. And we are sadly cognizant of the destructive power that can be wielded by cults that compromise the freedom and integrity of their members (Sullivan & Zimbardo, 1980). However, our attempt has been to conduct a relatively unbiased, empirical investigation of only the initial stage in the recruitment process.

It is during this first phase in the global conversion process that recruiters test the waters for a promising catch, while the curious among us are checking-out the attractiveness of the bait. The odds may be evened out in this confrontation when we provide those potential recruits with better information about new religious movements than they currently receive from home, school, and media sources.


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We are grateful for the financial support this project has received from the institutions and individuals noted below. However, conclusions and opinions expressed in this report are not necessarily endorsed by any of them, but represent our own point of view. Thanks are extended to: Center for the Study of Youth Development at Stanford University; The San Francisco Foundation; Center for the Study of New Religious Movements (Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California); The Kaltenborn Foundation; Jerome Kozlowski; Peter Cochran, and Fred Hartley.

In addition, the scope of this report involved many people whose cooperation and expert assistance were essential to its successful completion. Among the school officials and teachers to be singled out for special thanks are: Tom Sammons, Walter Denum, Jim Peatry, Elaine Brody, Father Harriman and Sister Maureen of The Catholic Youth Organization, and Sandy Gerson of Tochnit Katzir.

For guidance with developing our survey research design, data processing, statistical analysis, and computer programming we relied upon the wisdom and efforts of: Chris Bachen, Robert Somers, Lupe Cardoza, Bill Juarez, Pedro Hernandez-Ramas, Tom O'Toole, and Emily Hartley. Valuable conceptual input came freely from our colleagues, notably: Pat Hunt, Margaret Singer, Jacob Needleman, Herb Simons, Everett Rogers, Gary Cronkite, Jo Liska, Percy Tannenbaum, Lowell Streiker, Keith Harari, Flo Conway, Jim Siegelman, and Clyde Rich.

A fuller account of this study is presented in Cynthia Hartley's Masters Thesis "Predicting Adolescent Affiliation with Religious Cults: Empirical Analysis Guided by Pre-Conversion Theory" submitted to San Francisco State University, Department of Speech and Communication Studies, June, 1983. Copies of the survey may be obtained by sending $2.00 to the American Family Foundation, P.O. Box 336, Weston, MA 02193.


Philip G. Zimbardo, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Dr. Zimbardo, holder of many academic awards, has published widely in the field of social psychology, including books and articles on attitude change, cognitive control, cults, and shyness.

Cynthia Hartley, M.A., is a specialist in the areas of gerontology and programs for volunteers in health and social service fields. As an advocate for seniors, she has developed innovative programs for seniors and intergenerational groups-work that has won her numerous awards.