Undue Influence and Written Documents:
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 circum-
stances 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