Undue Influence and Written Documents: Psychological Aspects
Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D.
University of California at Berkeley
Experts investigating a purported undue influence situation need to study the mental and physical condition of the influencee, general social influence techniques, tactics of thought reform, and responses and behavior found in other high-control, intense influence situations ranging from the Stockholm syndrome to abused women and the methods of corrupt caretakers. The case of the "evil nurse" is discussed to illustrate these factors. In addition the following conditions of influence are discussed in their relationship to undue influence: isolation, creating a siege mentality, dependency, sense of powerlessness, sense of fear and vulnerability, and being kept unaware.
The law gives special attention to the issue of the fairness of the balance of power between the signer and the person(s) who obtained the signature on the document (Dawson, 1947). When the issue of undue influence in securing the signatures on documents is raised, the court is asking: What was the process which constituted the undue influence? What is the history of how this document and signature came about? What were the circumstances - psychological, social, physical, medical, and so forth - which have bearing on how free, informed, and capable the signer was at the point of signing the designated documents to freely express his or her own desires? What undue influence (improper exploitative persuasion) was exerted on the signer?
A physician needs a thorough medical, social, and environmental history to properly diagnose a patient. The investigator analyzing the circumstances surrounding the signing of a document in which the issue of undue influence is raised must secure a thorough, multifaceted history and integrate the processes, interactions, and conditions that impinged
Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1993
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