Conditioning: Aversion therapy & Desensitization
By Harry V. Martin and David Caul
Copyright, Napa Sentinel, 1991
Part Nine in a Series
Tuesday, October 22, 1991
In mans quest to control the behavior of humans, there was a great breakthrough established by Pavlov, who devised a way to make dogs salivate on cue. He perfected his conditioning response technique by cutting holes in the cheeks of dogs and measured the amount they salivated in response to different stimuli. Pavlov verified that “quality, rate and frequency of the salivation changed depending upon the quality, rate and frequency of the stimuli.”
Though Pavlov’s work falls far short of human mind control, it did lay the groundwork for future studies in mind and behavior control of humans. John B. Watson conducted experiments in the United States on an 11-month-old infant. After allowing the infant to establish a rapport with a white rat, Watson began to beat on the floor with an iron bar every time the infant came in contact with the rat. After a time, the infant made the association between the appearance of the rat and the frightening sound, and began to cry every time the rat came into view. Eventually, the infant developed a fear of any type of small animal. Watson was the founder of the behaviorist school of psychology.
“Give me the baby, and I’ll make it climb and use its hands in constructing buildings or stone or wood. I’ll make it a thief, a gunman or a dope fiend. The possibilities of shaping in any direction are almost endless. Even gross differences in anatomical structure limits are far less than you may think. Make him a deaf mute, and I will build you a Helen Keller. Men are built, not born,” Watson proclaimed. His psychology did not recognize inner feelings and thoughts as legitimate objects of scientific study, he was only interested in overt behavior.
Though Watson’s work was the beginning of mans attempts to control human actions, the real work was done by B.F. Skinner, the high priest of the behaviorists movement. The key to Skinner’s work was the concept of operant conditioning, which relied on the notion of reinforcement, all behavior which is learned is rooted in either a positive or negative response to that action. There are two corollaries of operant conditioning” Aversion therapy and desensitization.
Aversion therapy uses unpleasant reinforcement to a response which is undesirable. This can take the form of electric shock, exposing the subject to fear producing situations, and the infliction of pain in general. It has been used as a way of “curing” homosexuality, alcoholism and stuttering. Desensitization involves forcing the subject to view disturbing images over and over again until they no longer produce any anxiety, then moving on to more extreme images, and repeating the process over again until no anxiety is produced. Eventually, the subject becomes immune to even the most extreme images. This technique is typically used to treat people’s phobias. Thus, the violence shown on T.V. could be said to have the unsystematic and unintended effect of desensitization.
Skinnerian behaviorism has been accused of attempting to deprive man of his free will, his dignity and his autonomy. It is said to be intolerant of uncertainty in human behavior, and refuses to recognize the private, the ineffable, and the unpredictable. It sees the individual merely as a medical, chemical and mechanistic entity which has no comprehension of its real interests.
Skinner believed that people are going to be manipulated. “I just want them to be manipulated effectively,” he said. He measured his success by the absence of resistance and counter control on the part of the person he was manipulating. He thought that his techniques could be perfected to the point that the subject would not even suspect that he was being manipulated.
Dr. James V. McConnel, head of the Department of Mental Health Research at the University of Michigan, said, “The day has come when we can combine sensory deprivation with the use of drugs, hypnosis, and the astute manipulation of reward and punishment to gain almost absolute control over an individual’s behavior. We want to reshape our society drastically.”
A U.S. Navy psychologist, who claims that the Office of Naval Intelligence had taken convicted murderers from military prisons, used behavior modification techniques on them, and then relocated them in American embassies throughout the world. Just prior to that time, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee had censured the CIA for its global political assassination plots, including plots against Fidel Castro. The Navy psychologist was Lt. Commander Thomas Narut of the U.S. Regional Medical Center in Naples, Italy. The information was divulged at an Oslo NATO conference of 120 psychologists from the eleven nation alliance. According to Dr. Narut, the U.S. Navy was an excellent place for a researcher to find “captive personnel” whom they could could use as guinea pigs in experiments. The Navy provided all the funding necessary, according to Narut.
Dr. Narut, in a question and answer session with reporters from many nations, revealed how the Navy was secretly programming large numbers of assassins. He said that the men he had worked with for the Navy were being prepared for commando-type operations, as well as covert operations in U.S. embassies worldwide. He described the men who went through his program as “hit men and assassins” who could kill on command.
Careful screening of the subjects was accomplished by Navy psychologists through the military records, and those who actually received assignments where their training could be utilized, were drawn mainly from submarine crews, the paratroops, and many were convicted murderers serving military prison sentences. Several men who had been awarded medals for bravery were drafted into the program.
The assassins were conditioned through “audio-visual desensitization”. The process involved the showing of films of people being injured or killed in a variety of ways, starting with very mild depictions, leading up to the more extreme forms of mayhem. Eventually, the subjects would be able to detach their feelings even when viewing the most horrible of films. The conditioning was most successful when applied to “passive-aggressive” types, and most of these ended up being able to kill without any regrets. The prime indicator of violent tendencies was the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Dr. Narut knew of two Navy programming centers, the neuropsychiatric laboratory in San Diego and the U.S. Regional Medical Center in Italy, where he worked.
During the audio-visual desensitization programming, restraints were used to force the subject to view the films. A device was used on the subjects eyelids to prevent him from blinking. Typically, the preliminary film was on an African youth being ritualistically circumcised with a dull knife and without any anesthetic. The second film showed a sawmill scene in which a man accidentally cut off his fingers.
In addition to the desensitization films, the potential assassins underwent programming to create prejudicial attitude in the men, to think of their future enemies, especially the leaders of these countries, as sub-human. Films and lectures were presented demeaning the culture and habits of the people of the countries where it had been decided they would be sent.
After his NATO lecture, Dr. Narut disappeared. He could not be located. Within a week of so after the lecture, the Pentagon issued an emphatic denial that the U.S. Navy had “engaged in psychological training or other types of training of personnel as assassins.” They disavowed the programming centers in San Diego and Naples and stated they were unable to locate Narut, but did provide confirmation that he was a staff member of the U.S. Regional Medical Center in Naples.
Dr. Alfred Zitani, an American delegate to the Oslo conference, did verify Narut’s remarks and they were published in the Sunday Times.
Sometime later, Dr. Narut surfaced again in London and recanted his remarks, stating that he was “talking in theoretical and not practical terms.” Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Naval headquarters in London issued a statement indicating that Dr. Narut’s remarks at the NATO conference should be discounted because he had “personal problems”. Dr. Narut never made any further public statements about the program.
During the NATO conference in Oslo, Dr. Narut had remarked that the reason he was divulging the information was because he believed that the information was coming out anyway. The doctor was referring to the disclosure by a Congressional subcommittee which were then appearing in the press concerning various CIA assassination plots. However, what Dr. Narut had failed to realize at the time, was that the Navy’s assassination plots were not destined to be revealed to the public at that time.