or brain-wash·ing, brain wash·ing

[breyn-wosh-ing, -waw-shing]


a method for systematically changing attitudes or altering beliefs, originated in totalitarian countries, especially through the use of torture, drugs, or psychological-stress techniques.
any method of controlled systematic indoctrination, especially one based on repetition or confusion: brainwashing by TV commercials.
an instance of subjecting or being subjected to such techniques: efforts to halt the brainwashing of captive audiences.

Origin of brainwashing

First recorded in 1945–50; brain + washing


or brain-wash, brain wash

[breyn-wosh, -wawsh]

verb (used with object)

to cause (someone) to undergo brainwashing.


the process of brainwashing.
a subjection to brainwashing.

Origin of brainwash

First recorded in 1950–55; back formation from brainwashing
Related formsbrain·wash·er, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for brainwashing

persuasion, influencing, conditioning

Examples from the Web for brainwashing

Contemporary Examples of brainwashing

Historical Examples of brainwashing

  • "They certainly did a good job of brainwashing you, boy," Osmond sighed.

    The Blue Tower

    Evelyn E. Smith

  • But the targets of this brainwashing will do well to look to their Central European neighbours for an antidote.

    After the Rain

    Sam Vaknin

  • The Lhari don't watch me too closely—they figure that anything I do they'll catch in the brainwashing.

    The Colors of Space

    Marion Zimmer Bradley

  • They should have done a better job of brainwashing, if they expected him to skulk in like a scared rabbit!

    The Colors of Space

    Marion Zimmer Bradley

  • The world was going to be run by telepaths, psychosis eliminated by brainwashing, intellect developed by hypnotic suggestion.

    This Crowded Earth

    Robert Bloch

British Dictionary definitions for brainwashing



(tr) to effect a radical change in the ideas and beliefs of (a person), esp by methods based on isolation, sleeplessness, hunger, extreme discomfort, pain, and the alternation of kindness and cruelty
Derived Formsbrainwasher, nounbrainwashing, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for brainwashing

1950, a literal translation of Chinese xi nao. A term from the Korean War.



1955 (past participle adjective brainwashed attested from 1953); see brainwashing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

brainwashing in Medicine




Inducing a person to modify his or her beliefs, attitudes, or behavior by conditioning through various forms of pressure or torture.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

brainwashing in Culture


Indoctrination that forces people to abandon their beliefs in favor of another set of beliefs. Usually associated with military and political interrogation and religious conversion, brainwashing attempts, through prolonged stress, to break down an individual's physical and mental defenses. Brainwashing techniques range from vocal persuasion and threats to punishment, physical deprivation, mind-altering drugs, and severe physical torture.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.