USA Insider Exclusive

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive show news, updates, and more!

Sign Up For Free to View
USA Insider Chucky

Would The Brainwashing In 'Chucky' Actually Work? Experts Say ...

How does someone go about "reprogramming" someone like Chucky? 

By Tyler McCarthy

The latest episode of “Chucky” saw the intrepid kids fight Charles Lee Ray in a way that’s never been done before: By brainwashing him. 

How to Watch

Watch Chucky on the USA app and Peacock.

After capturing one of possibly many Chucky dolls at the end of Episode 2, Jake (Zackary Arthur), Devon (Björgvin Arnarson), Lexy (Alyvia Alyn Lind), and their new friend Nadine (Bella Higginbotham) attempt to “reprogram” him by subjecting him to so much violence that he eventually becomes repulsed by the mere sight of it. 

The method of tying him to a chair and propping his eyelids open is ripped directly from “A Clockwork Orange” and has been used as a TV and film trope in many projects since that movie premiered in 1972. While it’s not exactly a clinical method, it acts as an over-the-top example of aversion therapy.  

As Psychology Today notes, it’s very similar to Ivan Pavlov’s famous experiment in which he trained a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell by feeding it immediately after. That forced an automatic response from the dog by having it associate the sound with the positive reinforcement of food. Aversion therapy flips that script, punishing someone with pain or something else unpleasant to condition them to avoid certain behaviors. 

RELATED: Is Chucky Real? The Story Behind Serial Killer Charles Lee Ray, Explained

In Chucky’s case, it seemed to scramble his brain and essentially make him someone he isn’t — that is, someone who not only isn’t violent but is almost childlike in his kindness toward others. He even seems to forget parts of who he was prior to his "therapy." 

While it’s sound in theory and TV and film have led many to believe that aversion therapy is effective, Irving Kirsch, the associate director of program and placebo studies at Harvard Medical School, told USA Insider that it’s not practiced in earnest today outside the realm of academia. 

“Aversion therapy is a form of behavioral therapy that is currently not really practiced much, if at all. It was evaluated in studies many years ago and it can have some effect,” he explained. “I use my own sense that some of these results are expectancy mediated. In one study, we used aversion therapy procedures to help counter fear, which should not work, but we were able to give a convincing rationale for that. Using it to punish the fear response, it worked as well as standard desensitization procedures in that study.”

So, could someone’s behavior be completely changed overnight through the use of aversion therapy? It’s doubtful. However, there are similar methods that have led to quick, sustained changes in people’s behavior. One of them is hypnosis.

Kirsch, who has studied hypnosis extensively, notes it is another practice movies and TV tend to either get wrong or exaggerate. While it is an incredibly effective tool, it does not stand alone as any kind of behavioral treatment.

“It's something that can be added to any treatment … Think of it as a context in which treatment can be administered. But it can be any treatment,” he explained. “So, your treatment might be giving medication for pain and you can use hypnotic suggestions to increase the effectiveness of that treatment.” 

So, while behavioral changes are possible through methods such as conditioning and hypnosis, the question remains whether four amateurs can do it to one of the world’s most prolific psychopaths overnight. As it turns out, there isn’t a lot of skill involved with inducting someone into a hypnotic state. It’s what happens after that’s tricky.

“The hypnotic induction can be a five-page recording and it works as well as any other kind of induction,” Kirsche explained. “So, it's not a question of the skills of the hypnotist."

He adds: “Where the hypnosis the hypnotist comes in is not in how to do hypnosis, but in having been trained in some therapeutic modality, which they're going to use in an instant out of context.” 

If someone knows what they're doing with someone in a hypnotic state, change can happen instantly. Not to the degree that is seen in "Chucky," obviously. However, a willing participant, Kirsch says, can often see immediate effects of hypnosis when supplemented with other therapeutic or clinical treatments.

So, the key that would lead the kids in the show to either success or failure in their endeavor to condition Chucky to be good isn’t within their power. Instead, Kirsch notes, the real power is with the person being hypnotized. It only works on a willing participant, someone who has opened their mind to the possibility of changing. 

In other words, if Chucky doesn’t want to change, nothing can make him change. Will that be the case for this new “Good Chucky” or will the kids’ tactics somehow work in this unusual circumstance? 

Those curious will just have to tune into the remainder of “Chucky” Season 2 every Wednesday at 9/8c on USA Network and SYFY to find out. They can catch up on past episodes on Peacock as well.

Read more about: