Robert Jay Lifton on the thought-terminating cliché

'The thought-terminating cliche is sometimes used in a deliberate way to shut down debate, manipulate others to think a certain way, or dismiss dissent'

Thought reform and the psychology of totalism : a study of “brainwashing” in China Cover art

The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.

Robert Jay Lifton (1961, p. 429)

Lifton, R. J. (1961). Thought reform and the psychology of totalism : a study of “brainwashing” in China. Penguin Books.


Sometimes [thought-terminating clichés] are used in a deliberate attempt to shut down debate, manipulate others to think a certain way, or dismiss dissent. However, some people repeat them, even to themselves, out of habit or conditioning, or as a defense mechanism to reaffirm a confirmation bias.

Wikipedia. (n.d.) Cliché. Retrieved from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cliché