The Group Psychological Abuse Scale: A Measure of the Varieties of Cultic Abuse
William V. Chambers, Ph.D.
University College, Mercer University
Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.
American Family Foundation
Arthur A. Dole, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
James W. Grice, M.A.
University of New Mexico
The Group Psychological Abuse (GPA) scale was developed from a factor analysis of 308 former cult members’ characterizations of their groups. Four subscales were derived: Compliance, Exploitation, Mind Control, and Anxious Dependency. Reliability and validity findings suggest the GPA should be useful in characterizing the varieties of abuse and in differentiating cults from innocuous groups.
The major apprehension surrounding cults is not that they represent new religious creeds, dissenting political views, or alternative therapeutic methods. The driving concern is that these groups tend to abuse their members, and sometimes nonmembers, unlike bona fide new religious (and other) movements, which treat members and outsiders with relative respect.
How much do we really know about abuse in cults? From experiential, clinical, and philosophical perspectives, we know quite a lot. From the viewpoint of scientific theory, based on quantitative measurements, we know less. A few steps toward quantitative measurement of abuse have been taken, however. Dole and DubrowEichel (1985) used a Delphi strategy to study experts’ perceptions of cults. They collected descriptions of numerous dangerous practices found among cults. Ratings of the practices by experts showed that abuses by cults could be quantitatively differentiated. The Dole and DubrowEichel study thus provided precedence for further quantitative studies of abuse in cults.
Some years after the Dole and DubrowEichel (1985) study, Langone and Chambers (1991) conducted a factor analysis of former cult members’ interpretations of terms used in cultic studies. Five dimensions of meaningfulness and terminological acceptability were found: Mind Control, Social Manipulation, Group Intensity, Trauma, and Abuse. The former cult members rated the Abuse and Trauma dimensions as most meaningful and acceptable to people leaving cults. The views of the former cult members thus concurred with those of Dole and DubrowEichel in emphasizing the significance of abuse and trauma in cultic groups.
Taking the lead offered by Dole and DubrowEichel (1985), as well as by the subjects in the factor analysis study, Langone (1992) developed a theoretical model of abuse, with the idea of respect for the person as the central concern and contrast to abuse. The respect-versus-abuse model emphasizes four aspects of personhood: Mind, Autonomy, Identity, and Dignity (MAID). These aspects may be construed as needs in a psychological sense or as rights in a philosophical sense.
Disrespect for Mind concerns the violation of the person’s right to pursue truth and goodness through reality testing, logical thinking, and objective inquiry. These violations of respect are often described in the literature as mind control, coercive persuasion, or thought reform (Langone, 1993; Lifton, 1961; Schein, Schneier, & Baker, 1961).
The second aspect of respect for the person/Autonomy summarizes the person’s right to make decisions independent of the interests and dictates of others. These issues of conformity and compliance are found throughout the literature and reflect the authoritarian features of most cultic groups.
The Identity aspect of personhood concerns the inner integration of the person and integrity as a member of a family, community, and culture. Violation of the rights of people to define themselves is frequently described in the literature (see especially Yeakley, 1988), with the person’s identity generally being preempted to serve the group’s goals and daily needs.
Dignity, the final aspect of personhood, concerns the person’s right to feel worthwhile in the eyes of others, to feel ?equal? in the sense enunciated in the Declaration of Independence (?all men are created equal??that is, with equal inherent worth). The destruction of the person’s sense of inherent worth is common to most forms of psychological abuse.
The four aspects of respect, then, appeal to the legitimacy of the person as an end, rather than as a means to be exploited. Langone’s theoretical formulation of psychological abuse derives from his work with former members of cultic groups, which, being exploitatively manipulative, place the abuserespect distinction in bold relief. Other clinical and empirical investigations clearly place abuse at the heart of the controversy surrounding the cult phenomenon.
Given this background and our assumption that abuse is the essence of a cult, it is reasonable to proceed to a scientific study of the nature of the abuse in cultic groups. We need a quantitative measure of abuse that can be applied to any group by anyone with experience of the group. Development of such a scale is the purpose of this study.
Development of a measure of psychological abuse could begin in either of two ways. Descriptive items could be selected that discriminate between groups commonly considered abusive (e.g., cults) and groups commonly considered nonabusive. Discriminant function analysis is the statistical method of choice for this kind of item analysis (Ghiselli, Campbell, & Zedeck, 1981). This method is frequently used, for example, in research on psychiatric diagnosis. The approach assumes, however, that accepted validity criteria exist–for example, the diagnostic decisions of expert clinicians. Unfortunately, there are no equivalent authoritative diagnostic criteria for cults. Therefore, a measure of the psychological abuse associated with cults must first focus on describing what is meant by cultic abuse.
Clinical studies, philosophical analyses, and surveys of personal and expert experience can help explicate definitional issues and assumptions, as well as provide potential items for scales. Accumulated observations must be systematically organized, however, before sophisticated scientific theories can be developed or derivative hypotheses tested empirically. Factor analysis is the appropriate method for this approach.
As Kerlinger (1973) states: ?Factor analysis is a method for determining the number and nature of the underlying variables among larger numbers of measures…. Factor analysis serves the cause of scientific parsimony…. It tells us, in effect, what tests or measures belong together–which ones virtually measure the same thing? (p. 659). Gorsuch (1983) adds that the aim of factor analysis is to ?summarize the interrelationships among the variables in a concise but accurate manner as an aid in conceptualization? (p. 2).
Thus, factor analysis can enable us to distill the varieties of abuse by separating numerical themes. Delineation of the combinations and permutations of these varieties may, in turn, help us to empirically elaborate the dimensions, meaning, and nature of cultic abuse.
Regarding the choice of factor analysis over discriminant analysis, we should find that if the concept abuse is meaningful, then scales derived from factor analysis should discriminate between noncultic groups and the varieties of cultic groups. Discriminant function analysis could, indeed, later be applied to the factor analytically derived scales to predict group membership. The result should be both statistically efficient and theoretically meaningful discrimination of groups.
A pool of items was created through several strategies. First, the 20 highest-rated items in the Dole and DubrowEichel (1985) study of cult dangerousness were included. Next, Langone’s (1992) model of respect/abuse as well as other theoretical formulations (Lifton, 1991; Ofshe & Singer, 1986; Singer, Temerlin, & Langone, 1990) were used to select additional items. Lastly, the authors’ clinical experience and conversations with other experienced clinicians yielded other items. A pilot study that analyzed the responses and comments of 12 former cult members resulted in further modification of the item pool. The items that were ultimately chosen fell into three domains of interest: (1) the purpose of the group, (2) the relationships within the group, and (3) the relationships with others outside the group. In all, 112 items were selected and included in a much larger survey sent to former cult members.
Subjects were instructed: –Please rate the degree to which the following statements … characterize the group … according to experience and observations … of how [it] … ACTUALLY functioned … 1=not at all characteristic; 2=not characteristic; 3= can’t say/not sure; 4=characteristic; 5=very characteristic.?
Procedures and Subjects
A 20page questionnaire booklet with explanations and consent forms was sent to 375 members of FOCUS (a national network of former cult members) and approximately 200 excult members on the American Family Foundation’s mailing list. (The precise number in the group is not known because duplications to the FOCUS list were unfortunately not removed before mailing.)
In addition, varying numbers of questionnaires were sent to 153 cult educators and organizations, who were asked to distribute the questionnaire. Altogether 800 questionnaires were mailed. Completed questionnaires were returned by 308 persons, a response rate of about 35%. (The precise response rate cannot be determined because it is not known exactly how many questionnaires given to experts and organizations were actually passed on to exmembers.) Most of the respondents had contacted the American Family Foundation (AFF) or the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) seeking information concerning cults. Approximately 37% of the subjects, however, had no or little contact with AFF or CAN and were presumably given questionnaires by others.
This sample could be described as a combination of a network and a snowball sample. It is not necessarily representative of the excult population at large, but probably is reasonably representative of that subgroup of exmembers who come into contact with cult education organizations.
As questionnaires came in, they were given an identification number and separated from the consent forms (which were placed in a safe deposit box) in order to ensure anonymity. Although no subjects were formally interviewed, approximately one dozen initiated contact with the investigators either by phone or mail. The most common and striking aspect of these contacts was subjects saying that the questionnaire helped them better understand their experiences. Most asked for additional questionnaires to give to friends who had also left cults.
The subjects had involvements with a total of 101 groups, including Eastern, Biblebased, political, and other types. The average length of membership was 6.79 years. Fortythree percent reported obtaining leadership status in their group. Sixty percent left the group on their own–that is, without formal outside assistance from exit counselors or mental health professionals and not as a result of legal conservatorship. Ratings on five-point scales, with 2 being important and 1 being very important, revealed the following reasons for leaving their group: time spent away from group, m=1.98; disillusioning experience with leader, m=1.65; becoming aware of being manipulated, m=1.59; and feeling abused and/or exploited, m=1.73.
Fortyseven percent of the subjects were raised Protestant, 24% Catholic, 8% Jewish, and 8% other, with 13% reporting no childhood religious affiliations. Postcult religious affiliations included 30% Protestant, 8% Catholic, 5% Jewish, 46% none, and 12% other.
Sixtyfour percent of the subjects were female, 36% male. Subjects reported an average of five persons in their family of origin. Sixtyseven percent reported that their parents were living together at the time that the subjects joined the group. When asked how well their families got along before the subject’s cult involvement, 66% reported ?average? or ?above average.? Sixteen percent reported that their family of origin’s income, before taxes, was less than $20,000; 72% reported incomes between $20,000 and $100,000; 12% indicated incomes greater than $100,000.
Eighteen percent were married when they joined their group, with an average of two children per couple. Fortythree percent of those who had been married reported that they did not get along well in their marriage, with 40% reporting that they were separated or divorced at least in part because of their group involvement.
Subjects reported that they had completed an average of 14.84 years of school at the time of completing the survey. The average at the time of joining their group was 13.64 years. Occupations at the time of group membership included 7% clerical, 4% craft, 1% labor, 1% machine or transport operator, 3% managerial or administrative, 16% professional or technical, 4% sales, 11% service, 6% none, 30% student, 16% other. Postcult occupations were similarly distributed, except that fewer were now students (12%), and more were now professionals (34%).
In summary, the sample consisted of individuals who became disenchanted after having made substantial commitments to a wide array of cultic groups. In general, the subjects were raised in the middle class; they grew up in intact, supportive families, with moderate incomes, and with childhood involvement in various mainstream religious denominations.
The subjects represent those people who are most likely to appreciate the nature and extent of abuse in cults–that is, the victims. By factor analyzing their ratings we stand to develop scales that differentiate various kinds of cultic abuse as well as an index of the extent of cultic abuse. We assume this strategy will produce a much narrower range of variance than would be the case if we had included noncult members and current members. But this does not mean that we should not later include such groups.
Having built greater sensitivity into the scales by focusing on variances within former cult members, subsequent applications to samples including other groups should produce even stronger results. Reliability and validity statistics are probably attenuated by the constricted sample and should increase in discriminative power with a broader sample. The choice of selfdescribed victims as the base sample is, therefore, not only theoretically appropriate but also statistically conservative.
Principal components analysis with varimax rotation revealed four interpretable factors, each with eigenvalues greater than 3. The analysis was restricted to components with eigenvalues greater than 3 (as opposed to the Kaiser criterion of 1) because the smaller components contained few items loading substantially (.30 or larger) and because the items failed to be conceptually interpretable. Eigenvalues for the first four components were 20.21, 5.33, 3.72, and 3.64 respectively, accounting for 29.4% of the total variance. Four is probably an underestimate of the number of dimensions of abuse. Our conservative selection, however, provides more confidence in the validity of the dimensions that we do interpret.
The strategy for scale development was to choose items that loaded substantially on the factors, assuming that the scales made up of such items would reflect the factors from which they were chosen. The scale scores were the sum of the ratings originally given on the item by the subject.
Seventyfive of the 112 items loaded substantially on one or more of the four retained factors. The large number of substantial loadings facilitated identification of the factors. The fact that most items loaded on more than one factor, however, considerably narrowed the pool of items for inclusion in the scales. We sought to use items that loaded substantially on only one of the four factors in order to increase the unidimensionality, and thus interpretability, of the scales. An equal number of items per factor/subscale were chosen in order to facilitate scale comparisons.
We settled on 7 items per subscale, with a total of 28 (or 4×7) items in the summary Group Psychological Abuse (GPA) scale (see Appendix A). Thus, each subscale could produce scores from 7 to 35, while the GPA index, as the summary index of psychological abuse, could range from 28 to 140.
Analysis of the loadings of the items on the factors suggested the following labels: Compliance, Exploitation, Mind Control, and Anxious Dependency (the rationale for these labels will be provided later). Table 1 includes the abbreviated items for each subscale. Included is the loading of each item on its factor, the correlation of the items with the subscale total scores, the correlation of the items with the summary GPA scale, and the communalities (proportion of variance explained) for items across the four factors. (An identical factor analysis based on these 28 items revealed the same factor structure. The four factors accounted for 42% of the variance.)
Alpha coefficients are included for each subscale. Alpha for the GPA summary scale was .81. Alphas for the subscales were .81 for Compliance; .75 for Exploitation; .70 for Mind Control; and .72 for Anxious Dependency. These reliabilities are sufficient for research purposes.
Table 1. Item Descriptions and Statistics by Scale
= Sc1+Sc2+Sc3+Sc4 GPA alpha
Sc1: Compliance alpha = .81
.01 .20 .31 .36 sex lives not dictated
.25 .28 .24 .42 sacrifice own goals
.14 .16 .17 .40 group lives together
.06 .31 .22 .48 intimacy dictated
.20 .23 .31 .30 serve leaders
.05 .25 .21 .40 members make decisions
.06 .29 .21 .42 members must consult
Sc2: Exploitation alpha
.13 .21 .26 women seduce for group
.20 .22 .42 breaking law okay
.02 .06 .27 politics major goal
.13 .20 .50 violence to outsiders
.04 .10 .46 money major goal
.25 .12 .27 critics threatened
.12 .17 .34 recruiting major goal
Table 1. (continued)
Sc3: Mind Control alpha
.22 .08 .26 members part of elite
.18 .27 .38 coercive persuasion
.24 .21 .42 stay because deceived
.20 .15 .30 can think critically
.19 .16 .39 mind control used
.30 .06 .30 little psycholog’l pressure
.18 .02 .27 criticism rare
Sc4: Anxious Dependency alpha
.15 .11 .21 .23 medical help okay
.32 .09 .17 .55 leaving is damnation
.25 .05 .07 .22 no negative emotions
.28 .14 .13 .46 criticism is evil
.12 .09 .20 .17 exercises remove doubt
.15 .09 .13 .30 no medical help
.22 .18 .15 .28 leader is divine
Note: with =300, the <.01 critical value for is (+,) .14. Column 1, the item number (#), refers to the scale in the appendix. Column 2 is the loading of each item with its factor (F1, etc.–the mathematical abstraction). Columns 3-6 are the correlations of the item with the four scales (the 7 concrete items constituting the scale). Column 7, h, is the communality, that is, the proportion of variance the four factors account for with respect to an individual item. Column 8 is the abbreviated description of the item.
Psychometric Rationale and Implications
Because the Cultic Studies Journal is multidisciplinary rather than a strictly psychological journal, and because this article reports on a study that is technically complex, we have chosen in this section to elaborate on the psychometric rationale for the development of the four subscales and the composite GPA index. We hope that readers unfamiliar with the technical aspects of the study might thereby better understand the methods, results, and implications–including theoretical implications to be discussed further in another paper.
As noted earlier, factor analysis distills the various numerical patterns characterizing items that are analyzed. Uncorrelated variances between items cancel one another as each factor is derived, leaving principal themes or factors. These factors are mathematical abstractions. Naming each factor requires a parallel cognitive, or psychological, abstraction (to be discussed further in another section). In looking for the common theme among the items that load highest on a factor, the analyst tries to distill the essence of that factor. Since loadings are correlations between the items and the abstract factor, they point to meanings that the items share with the factor. The higher the loading, the more the item contributes to the meaning of the factor.
Typically, factor analysis produces, as with the GPA, several factors composed of a number of items. When each item loads on only one factor, the data is said to manifest simple structure (Thurstone, 1947). This is the ideal of factor analysis. When a particular item loads highly on more than one factor, the item is considered to be complex, rather than simple. Such items are constructions (rather than abstractions) because they unite the orthogonal (independent) features of the factors on which they load. These complex items are rich in meaning and can aid in factor interpretation. Often they reflect syndromatic combinations of factors that characterize the dynamics of nature’s concrete and psychological events. The psychometric unreliabilities of individual complex items, however, make them less useful than combinations of orthogonal subscales in illuminating syndromes because subscales, being composed of numerous items, are more reliable than individual items.
Table 2 (below) includes complex items excluded from the scales because of pronounced lack of simple structure. Also included are abbreviations of these items, major factor loadings, scale correlations, and communalities. Table 2 reflects the relevance of the subscales, for as abstract as they may be, they in combination give meaning to the relatively unreliable, complex items that lack simple structure. In other words, they illuminate the construct validity of psychological abuse by revealing permutations of abuse.
For example, item #224, –devotes all free time to group,? loads substantially on factor 1 (Compliance) and on factor 2 (Exploitation). This item suggests the outcome of compliance to an exploitative leader. Items #231, –confess sins and limitations,– loads on the Compliance and Mind Control factors, suggesting both a demand for confession and abasement (Compliance) and the use of confession and abasement in mind control strategies. Item #231 may also be interpreted to reflect a syndrome, such as the cult of confession, as described by Lifton (1961). These kinds of interpretations are rather speculative, however, because the meaning of the constructional items is obscured by brevity of expression and measurement errors. A more useful approach, which we have followed in this article, is to begin with simple abstractions (i.e., items loading on only one factor) and build up from these to complex constructions (i.e., combinations of factors or items loading on more than one factor).
Table 2: Relevant Items Excluded from Scales
.16 .29 .35 .23 serving leader #1 goal
.16 .33 .14 .28 disagreement respected
.31 .27 .21 .49 all free time to group
.26 .39 .11 .38 confess sins
.36 .25 .36 .46 will die for leader
.41 .30 .15 .48 work to exhaustion
.11 .40 .26 .37 fail to meet standards
.08 .28 .29 .40 feel much guilt
.01 .33 .26 .33 feel inadequate
.12 .29 .37 .36 fear leaving
.16 .42 .22 .31 leaders are obeyed
.25 .31 .33 .34 dissent not tolerated
.31 .22 .44 .50 allegiance to death
Table 2. (continued)
.16 .32 .52 assets given to group
.25 .19 .34 physical punishment
.22 .18 .23 live as well as leader
.22 .20 .46 lying okay for goals
.19 .16 .28 fronts not used
.06 .12 .30 structured indoctrination
.38 .18 .49 lies to look good
.00 .16 .20 secret agency supports
.42 .29 .41 lack time to sleep
.30 .26 .28 no contemplation
F3: Mind Control
.26 .09 .30 questions encouraged
.31 .12 .31 do not disagree
.18 .16 .18 dissenters humiliated
.33 .34 .37 alters personality
.33 .23 .30 time for recreation
.27 .20 .32 stay because of abuse
.24 .10 .42 enlightenment outside
.30 .24 .28 dissenters respected
.24 .39 .41 info denied prospects
.45 .15 .41 childlike dependency
.18 .39 .50 proselytize by deceit
F4: Anxious Dependency
.41 .09 .21 .40 severe discipline kids
.46 .18 .34 .45 terrible if leave
.38 .16 .31 .47 punishment for dissent
.30 .10 .30 .30 fear self-expression
.38 .09 .23 .29 nothing without group
.34 .05 .33 .27 friends and family okay
Table 2. (continued)
F4: Anxious Dependency
.36 .11 .21 .22 nongroup frightening
.28 .24 .32 .38 loyalty above all else
.17 .36 .31 .28 totalitarian view
.36 .43 .32 .51 deceit okay for religion
.31 .31 .37 .41 only leaders true
.44 .21 .19 .44 avoid family and friends
Summary GPA Index. As the sum of orthogonal subscales, the summary GPA index, or scale, is a construction of the overall extent of abuse. The summary scale combines reliable variances, as reflected in the internal consistency (alpha) coefficients of the subscales. The subscales are refined abstractions, approximating simple structure. Conjugating (i.e., elaborating all the combinations of) these subscales will suggest various profiles that reflect the theoretical varieties of psychological abuse. One possibility, for example, is high Compliance, Anxious Dependency, and Mind Control, with low Exploitation. Another is high Compliance with low scores on the other subscales. Still another is high Mind Control with low scores on the other subscales. Although these profiles, or varieties of abuse, are theoretically possible, some may not occur in nature (e.g., the last profile example). If given to enough people from a wide enough spectrum of groups, the GPA Scale can help determine which profiles nature indeed produces.
With regard to statistical efficiency, constructing a GPA summary scale from the refined subscales has the same rationale as the derivation of orthogonal predictor variables in multiple regression, in that the use of orthogonal subscales (or orthogonal predictor variables) helps avoid redundancies and consequent noncollinearity problems. The extent of abuse reflected in the GPA Summary Index will be unchanged by the conjugation of varieties, much as orthogonal variables can be entered into a regression equation in any order without affecting the summary index. As a result, the GPA index should be a statistically optimal measure of the extent of perceived abuse.
In practice, the above statistical optimization will be slightly compromised because the subscales are modestly correlated (see Table 3). This is the price of imperfect simple structure and of weighting each item in the scale by 1, instead of by the item’s more refined factor loading, when summing scores of subscales. Nunnally (1978) suggests, however, that such refined weighting makes little difference in practice. This contention is supported by the fact that the correlations between the subscales are much smaller than those between the items within the subscales (summarized by the substantial Cronbach alphas).
These contrasting patterns of correlation generally support the convergent and discriminant validities of the GPA scales, and suggest that efficient statistical discrimination is highly likely. Furthermore, the predominantly orthogonal nature of the scales allows us to conjugate the varieties of abuse, affording us powerful heuristic strategies for theory development. A subsequent paper will elaborate upon the heuristic value of conjugating the GPA scales.
Table 3. Correlations Between Scales
Sc1: Compliance 1.00 .16 .36 .33
Sc2: Exploitation .16 1.00 .21 .19
Sc3: Mind Control .36 .21 1.00 .27
Sc4: Anxious Dep. .33 .19 .27 1.00
Group Psych. Abuse
Psychological Rationale for Factor Names
Compliance. The concept of compliance is nearly selfevident in the factor loadings: sex lives dictated (#01), sacrificing own goals (#04), intimacy dictated (#14), serving leaders (#18), leaders making decisions (#21), and consulting leaders on decisions (#28). The group’s living together (#13) is not overtly reflective of compliance but becomes so when one considers that such communal living is typically demanded by leadership and makes noncompliance to group norms more difficult.
Most of the excluded but relevant items in Table 3 also describe compliance situations, ranging from the minimum needed to meet the definition of compliance (#275, leaders are obeyed) to fanatical devotion (#235, will die for leader). Items #231, #249, #262, and #263 (which relate to feelings of guilt, inadequacy, failure) describe the reactions of someone who believes in compliance but, for whatever reason, does not measure up.
Exploitation. At first we wanted to label this factor ?power? but decided that the word was too general in meaning. Many people can seek power ethically. For example, a benign political or religious movement may seek to raise money (#19), recruit members (#27), or gain political power (#06). These items reflect the power dimension of exploitation. A cult, however, will tend to use unethical means to gain power. They manipulate, abuse, and use people–that is, cults exploit people.
This sense of unethical means comes across rather clearly in other factor items, such as approving of violence against outsiders (#12), threatening outside critics (#20), advocating lawbreaking (#03), or directing women to use their bodies for the group (#02). The power-seeking dimension of exploitation is also reflected in some of the excluded items in Table 3: assets given to group (#222), lives at lower standard than leader (#237), and secret agency supports (#305). Most of the other items reflect the manipulation/abuse/use component of exploitation.
Mind Control. The items in the Compliance factor refer to behaviors that leadership values: serve leader, follow group guidelines, live with other members, and so on. The items in Factor 3 (including most of the excluded items in Table 3) refer to a particular type of relationship between the leaders and followers. Item #15 (people stay because deceived and manipulated) captures much of the meaning of this factor.
Other items of the subscale and those included in Table 3 reflect methods by which leadership sustains the deception: the leader criticizes members (#26), critical thinking is impaired (#22), psychological pressure from leader (#25), members feel they are part of elite (#09)–(this latter item is one of the few “carrots” among the many “sticks”).
Even most of the excluded items describe techniques for sustaining the deception and dominance of the leader: questions are discouraged (#225), dissent is not tolerated (#243, #254), information and time are controlled (#261, #290), a childlike dependency is enforced (#301).
We had considered naming this factor “manipulation” but decided the term was too general. The items in this factor seem to be pointing to a special kind of manipulation in which the manipulator seeks not only compliance on some dimension (as would an ordinary con man) but personal dominance as well. Given that the second- and third-highest loadings were “mind control used” (#24) and “group used coercive persuasion” (#11), we concluded that “mind control” was an appropriate label for this factor.
Anxious Dependency. At first, the items in this factor seemed rather disparate, and we wondered if the factor had a coherent meaning. Terms that came to mind included “exclusivity,” “dependency,” “isolation,” “totalism,” and “fear.” Eventually, “anxious dependency” seemed most effectively to summarize this factor. This conclusion was based partly on clinical observations, partly on empirical findings (Martin, Langone, Dole, & Wiltrout, 1992), and partly on theoretical reasoning. An article by Craig and Weathers (1990) on archetypal dependency in cult members was particularly helpful in illuminating the psychological dynamics reflected in the simple and complex items of the subscales.
Craig and Weathers pointed out that the dependency of the member on the group extends beyond physical levels to deep psychological and spiritual needs. This dependency resembles the unconditional archetypal bond between an infant and a parent. Upon leaving the group, the member is thrown into severe separation anxiety. The highest-loading item in the subscale (leaving group means eternal damnation, #07) reflects both the absolute dependency on the group and the anxiety associated with that dependency. Although dependency is often associated with anxiety (because one tends to fear losing that on which one is dependent), this connection is not always necessary (e.g., one may realistically depend on a person for certain things and feel reasonably secure in that relationship). In a cult situation, however, dependency can be absolute fear tends to color all experiences (except perhaps in the early “honeymoon” phase of recruitment/ seduction).
As a way of consolidating absolute dependency, negative emotions toward the group (#08) are rejected, thus contributing to the numinosity of the archetypal possession (Jung, 1972, 1973; Stein, 1984). The archetypal inflation of the leader reaches its ultimate rarefied expression in the leader’s supposed divinity (#23). Through apotheosis, the leader becomes like an all-powerful parent. The member, although mortal, is among the elite children of god. Between the divine and the elite mortal, however, stands an infinite “competency gulf,” untraversable by the ever-groping mere mortal. Smaller distances are perhaps found when an abusing husband indoctrinates his wife to believe that she could never make it without him (Tobias & Lalich, 1994).
The archetypal base of cultic dependency is further consolidated by the assumption that critics of the group are under an evil power (#10) and, therefore, are to be feared and avoided by those remaining dependent on the group. In extreme cases, not even the medical establishment is to be trusted (#05 and #15).
Most of the excluded items also reflect an explicit or implicit anxious dependency–for example, items #257 (punishment for dissent), #315 (only leaders true), and #317 (avoid family and friends), which among the complex items have the three highest loadings on this factor.
An empirical definition of cult. Emerging from this analysis is an empirically based definition of cultism that seems to be concise and consistent with the views of most clinicians who have worked with cult victims:
Cults are groups that often exploit members psychologically and/or financially, typically by making members comply with leadership’s demands through certain types of psychological manipulation, popularly called mind control, and through the inculcation of deep-seated anxious dependency on the group and its leaders.
It is important to remember that the conjugation of subscales may produce GPA profiles that vary from the set of related profiles that would fall within this definition of “cult.” Rational analysis and empirical investigations (e.g., discriminant analysis) of the spectrum of profiles can result in a classification system for the varieties of psychological abuse, with “cult” being one of many possible categories within this system.
Discrimination and Variations on the Theme of Abuse
Although noncultic groups were not included in the study, a sense of the GPA’s discriminatory power may be gleaned by comparing the means of the scales with the ranges of ratings. The means and standard deviations of the items and subscales (see Table 4) suggest that, on average, most of the cults score positively on the four types of abuse. We define positivity by reference to the midpoints of the possibilities. The midpoint of the items’ rating range is 3. The subscales’ midpoint is 3×7=21. The GPA summary scale midpoint is 21×4=84. A positive score implies that the means fall above their respective midpoints. That is, they indicate a rating of characteristic to very characteristic.
The mean for the GPA scale was 110.70. A test comparing this mean with the midpoint of 84 was significant: =31.98, =264 (due to missing values), .0001. Thus, the summary scale falls well within the positive range of the GPA scores. The subscale means also fell above their midpoints, but they differed substantially from one another. In order to compare the subscale means with one another and their midpoints, the subscales were treated as hypothetical levels in an analysis of variance. The Duncan multiplerange test showed that the scales differed significantly from one another: =150.25, =3, 1129, <.0001.
The Exploitation scale mean of 22.88 was the lowest. Its 95% confidence range was 22.18 to 23.59, placing it and the other scales above their midpoint of 21. The mean for Anxious Dependency was the next highest: m=26.48; its 95% confidence range was 25.83 to 27.13. The
Table 4. Means, Standard Deviations, Standard Error of Means,
and Ranges of the GPA and Scales
GPA 110.70 13.42 .835 70139 Group Psychological Abuse
(3.95 .48 .030 2.5-4.96)
Sc1 29.27 5.30 .309 835 Compliance
(4.18 0.76 .044 1.1-5)
 1.01 .063 15 sex lives not dictated
04 4.19 1.00 .062 15 sacrifice own goals
13 3.82 1.34 .084 15 group lives together
14 4.24 1.05 .066 15 intimacy dictated
18 4.34 1.02 .064 15 serve leaders
21 4.35 1.04 .065 15 members make decisions
28 4.24 1.11 .070 15 members must consult
Sc2 22.96 5.91 .352 735 Exploitation
(3.28 0.84 .050 1-5)
02 2.00 1.21 .076 15 women seduce for group
03 3.48 1.37 .085 15 breaking law okay
06 3.10 1.53 .095 15 politics major goal
12 2.69 1.40 .087 15 violence to outsiders
19 3.81 1.41 .088 15 money major goal
20 3.62 1.22 .076 15 critics threatened
27 4.38 1.06 .066 15 recruiting major goal
Table 4. (continued)
Sc3: Mind Control
Sc3 31.64 3.43 .202 2135 Mind Control
(4.52 0.49 .029 3-5)
09 4.86 0.36 .024 25 members part of elite
11 4.52 0.81 .051 15 coercive persuasion
15 4.56 0.67 .042 25 stay because deceived
0.78 .049 15 can think critically
24 4.61 0.67 .042 15 mind control used
1.02 .064 15 little psychological pressure
1.14 .071 15 criticism rare
Sc4: Anxious Dependency
Sc4 26.52 5.55 .326 835 Anxious Dependency
(3.79 0.79 .046 1.1-5)
05 3.39 1.21 .075 15 medical help okay
07 4.03 1.26 .079 15 leaving is damnation
08 4.24 1.08 .067 15 no negative emotions
10 4.06 1.33 .083 15 criticism is evil
16 3.71 1.52 ,095 15 exercises remove doubt
17 2.99 1.34 .084 15 no medical help
23 4.07 1.28 .080 15 leader is divine
Compliance scale mean was next highest: m=29.27; its 95% range was 28.66 to 29.87. The Mind Control scale produced the highest mean: m=31.66; its 95% range was 31.26 to 32.07.
Consideration of the means and ranges for the specific items listed in Table 4 suggests that most but not all of the item means were above the midpoint of 3. As a group, the cults did not have women seducing for them (m=2.00) and did not advocate violence against outsiders (m=2.69). The factor analysis loadings, however, indicate that groups that advocate these items did tend to score higher on the general factor of exploitation.
The loadings reflect the meaning of the factor at all levels. Seduction may be rare in general, but it nonetheless falls into the pattern of exploitation. Thus, the fact that 2 of the 28 items were not generally characteristic of the cults does not invalidate the factorial meaningfulness of the two items. We would expect the more extremely exploitative groups to encourage seduction and violence.
The notion of a continuum of abuse, as discussed for the items, may also be of relevance to the subscale means but with a very important difference. The ANOVA showed that the subscale means differed significantly from one another. The subscales, however, are different from the items in that they are generally uncorrelated. They are not points along an essential continuum. Nevertheless, factors do lend themselves to various nonessential but characteristic continuums. This point is potentially confused by the differences and correlations between the subscales, which may suggest a slightly prevalent continuum of factors.
The hypothetical continuum ranges from Mind Control (m=31.66) to Compliance (m=29.27) to Anxious Dependency (26.48) to Exploitation (m=22.88). Similarly, Mind Control is most highly correlated with Compliance (=.36); while Compliance’s next highest correlation is with Anxious Dependency (.33), which is followed by the remaining correlation linking Anxious Dependency with Exploitation (.19). Although each correlation is statistically significant, they do not collapse the general simple structure. At worst, the factor structure is slightly oblique. Thus, the hypothetical sequence of factors is certainly not the only sequence suggested by the data.
Because the factors are orthogonal, the subscales and their combinations are best viewed as varieties of the species psychological abuse. Each item and subscale contributes to the overall level of abuse; but there are many potential paths that could be constructed through the matrix of varieties, each characterizing a different behavioral sequence or syndrome of abuse.
Thus, in addition to the static (profile) perspective on the GPA discussed earlier, there is a dynamic (sequence) perspective that one can take. The delineation of sequences through a matrix of varieties can be useful in explicating the dynamics of cultic abuse. For example, the sequence of Mind Control to Compliance to Anxious Dependency to Exploitation is consistent with Dole and Dubrow-Eichel’s (1985) findings. It is vital, however, that we recognize that cult leaders may freely conjugate the varieties of abuse and that none of these permutations provides an essential definition of cultic abuse. These permutations may, nonetheless, prove very useful in elaborating the existential nature of cultic abuse. Thus, an unscrupulous, charismatic leader may follow the sequence above or may stumble upon a small group of already anxiously dependent individuals and take advantage of their psychological weakness to persuade them to comply to his exploitative demands without resorting to much mind control. This is a different permutation, or sequence, from that listed above. But both participate in the common existential nature of psychological abuse.
Relating these ideas to the classification of profiles discussed earlier suggests that the varieties of psychological abuse implied by the GPA subscales may be viewed from both dynamic (sequence) and static (profile) perspectives.
Conclusions and Recommendations for Further Research
Content validity for the GPA has been built from the Dole and DubrowEichel (1985) Delphi study, the Langone and Chambers (1991) factor analysis of terms, and Langone’s (1992) philosophical analysis of the respect/abuse continuum. Factorial validation of the GPA employed principal components analysis with varimax rotation. Items were selected in order to promote the simple structure of the GPA. Reliability coefficients for the GPA and its subscales support the use of the GPA in research contexts. Much additional research is needed, however, before we can claim definitive construct validity for the GPA scales.
As alluded to earlier, discrimination is a crucial element in construct validity. Indeed, discrimination of cultic and noncultic groups would probably be the most common application of the GPA or of any other cult abuse scale. Steps toward establishing discriminant validity have already been taken.
In her master’s thesis, Adams (1993) used the GPA subscales to contrast former members of the Cincinnati Church of Christ (CCC) with former members of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). The CCC is described by many as a cult, while the IVCF, a mainstream campus group, is not considered cultic. Adams found the CCC scored much higher on all four GPA subscales than did the IVCF. These results are encouraging and represent important steps in the establishment of discriminant validity. Additional studies of this nature will be conducted.
Many applications of the GPA scales may be envisioned. As a standardized objective instrument, the GPA would lend considerable clarity to legal, philosophical, and psychological debates concerning the extent and manner of the abuse inflicted by cultic groups. Do therapy cults differ from religious cults in their emphasis on mind control? Do women report abuse in cults differently than men do? Do former members alter their ratings if they have participated in an exit counseling session? How do the ratings by former members compare with those of cult leaders, apologists, exit counselors, parents, and others? Does the convergence of former members’ views with their parents’ views of the group herald the reintegration of the family? Are there groups (academic, corporate, religious, professional) that would not ordinarily be considered cultic but that score high on one or more of the subscales? Could the GPA be used to monitor the transformation of an innocuous group into a cult or of a cult into an innocuous group? Literally hundreds of questions could be answered using the GPA or a similar scale.
For now it is important that validation research with the GPA continue before the scale is used to make any conclusive judgments. More construct validity studies should be performed. The GPA factors should be crossvalidated with different samples of subjects, including panels of experts. The sample used in this study must be broadened to include more ex-members outside the countercult network, current cultists, and members and former members of noncultic groups. It may be necessary to improve some of the items in order to simplify the factor structure. Testretest reliability should be examined. Norms should eventually be gathered.
The good news is that all of these steps toward validation are well-established procedures. It will take some work, but the fruits will be worth the labor. We will come to a more systematic understanding of the psychological abuse in cults. These possibilities more than warrant the investment of additional research with the GPA scales.
Adams, D. (1993). The Cincinnati Church of Christ: How former members rate the group on the cultism scale. Unpublished master’s thesis, Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH.
Craig, N. W., & Weathers, R. (1990). The false transformational promise of Biblebased cults: Archetypal dynamics. Cultic Studies Journal, 7(2), 160?173.
Dole, A., & DubrowEichel, S. (1985). Some new religions are dangerous. Cultic Studies Journal, 2, 17?30.
Ghiselli, E. E., Campbell, J. P., & Zedeck, S. (1981). Measurement theory for the behavioral sciences. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.
Gorsuch, R. L. (1983). Factor analysis. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Jung, C. G. (1972). Two essays on analytical psychology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1973). Mandala symbolism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kerlinger, F. N. (1973). Foundations of behavioral research. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
Langone, M. D., & Chambers, W. V. (1991). Outreach to excult members: The question of terminology. Cultic Studies Journal, 8(2), 134?150.
Langone, M. D. (1992). Psychological abuse. Cultic Studies Journal, 9(2), 206?218.
Langone, M. D. (1993). Helping cult victims: Historical background. In M. D. Langone (Ed.), Recovery from cults: Help for victims of psychological and spiritual abuse. New York: W. W. Norton.
Lifton, R. J. (1961). Thought reform and the psychology of totalism. New York: W. W. Norton.
Martin, P. R., Langone, M. D., Dole, A. A., & Wiltrout, J. (1992). Post-cult symptoms as measured by the MCMI before and after residential treatment. Cultic Studies Journal, 9(2), 219?250.
Nunnally, J. C. (1978). Psychometric theory. New York: McGrawHill.
Ofshe, R., & Singer, M. T. (1986). Attacks on peripheral versus central elements of self and the impact of thought-reforming techniques. Cultic Studies Journal, 3(1), 324.
Schein, E., Schneier, I., & Baker, C. H. (1961). Coercive persuasion. New York: W. W. Norton.
Singer, M. T., Temerlin, M., & Langone, M. D. (1990). Psychotherapy cults. Cultic Studies Journal, 7(2), 101?125.
Stein, M. (1984). Jungian analysis. Shambhala: London.
Thurstone, L. L. (1947). Multiplefactor analysis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Tobias, M. L., & Lalich, J. (1994) Captive hearts, captive minds; Freedom and recovery from cults and abusive relationships. Alameda, CA: Hunter House.
Yeakley, F. (Ed.). (1988). The discipling dilemma. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate.
Appendix A:GPA Scale
This inventory is designed to evaluate certain aspects of religious, psychotherapeutic, political, commercial, and other groups. Please rate, as best you can, the degree to which the following statements characterize the group under consideration. Rate each item according to experience and observations (in retrospect) of how the group actually functioned. If your group had different levels of membership (within which the group’s dominant features differed), please apply the ratings to the level with which you have greatest familiarity. Circle the best answer, using the following ratings:
1 = not at all characteristic
2 = not characteristic
3 = can’t say/not sure
4 = characteristic
5 = very characteristic
1.[R] The group does not tell members how to conduct their sex lives.
1 2 3 4 5
2. Women are directed to use their bodies for the purpose of recruiting or of manipulation.
1 2 3 4 5
3. The group advocates or implies that breaking the law is okay if it serves the interests of the group.
1 2 3 4 5
4. Members are expected to postpone or give up their personal, vocational, and educational goals in order to work for the group.
1 2 3 4 5
5.[R] The group encourages ill members to get medical assistance.
1 2 3 4 5
6. Gaining political power is a major goal of the group.
1 2 3 4 5
7. Members believe that to leave the group would be death or eternal damnation for themselves or their families.
1 2 3 4 5
8. The group discourages members from displaying negative emotions.
1 2 3 4 5
9. Members feel they are part of a special elite.
1 2 3 4 5
10. The group teaches that persons who are critical of the group are in the power of evil, satanic forces.
1 2 3 4 5
11. The group uses coercive persuasion and mind control.
1 2 3 4 5
12. The group approves of violence against outsiders (e.g., ?satanic communists,? etc.).
1 2 3 4 5
13. Members are expected to live with other members.
1 2 3 4 5
14. Members must abide by the group’s guidelines regarding dating and intimate relationships.
1 2 3 4 5
15. People who stay in the group do so because they are deceived and manipulated.
1 2 3 4 5
16. The group teaches special exercises (e.g., meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues) to push doubts or negative thoughts out of consciousness.
1 2 3 4 5
17. Medical attention is discouraged, even though there may be a medical problem.
1 2 3 4 5
18. Members are expected to serve the group’s leaders.
1 2 3 4 5
19. Raising money is a major goal of the group.
1 2 3 4 5
20. The group does not hesitate to threaten outside critics.
1 2 3 4 5
21.[R] Members are expected to make decisions without consulting the group’s leader(s).
1 2 3 4 5
22.[R] Members are just as capable of independent critical thinking as they were before they joined the group.
1 2 3 4 5
23. The group believes or implies its leader is divine.
1 2 3 4 5
24. Mind control is used without conscious consent of members.
1 2 3 4 5
25.[R] Members feel little psychological pressure from leaders.
1 2 3 4 5
26.[R] The group’s leader(s) rarely criticize members.
1 2 3 4 5
27. Recruiting members is a major goal of the group.
1 2 3 4 5
28. Members are expected to consult with leaders about most decisions, including those concerning work, child rearing, whether or not to visit relatives, etc.
1 2 3 4 5
Note: [R] items are reversed in scoring by finding the absolute difference between the rating and the number 6. Do not include the [R] designations when administering the test.
At this time the GPA Scale should be used only as a research instrument. We request that researchers wishing to use the GPA Scale contact Dr. Langone (AFF, P.O. Box 2265, Bonita Springs, FL 33959).
William V. Chambers, Ph.D., is a statistical consultant and assistant professor at University College, Mercer University. He is coauthor with James Grice of CASPER, a software package for psychometric analysis.
Michael D. Langone, Ph.D., is editor of the Cultic Studies Journal and executive director of AFF. He is editor of Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse (W. W. Norton, 1993).
Arthur A. Dole, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus, Division of Psychology in Education, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania.
James W. Grice, M.A., is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of New Mexico. He was awarded the 1994 Mariani Award as the outstanding student by the New Mexico Psychological Association.