Was reaction to leader's death a result of love, fear – or a more sinister thing?

Such devotion appears to be both a survival mechanism and a product of mind control

The rows of weeping North Koreans, their hands clamping to their mouths in uniform horror at the death of their Dear Leader, look as choreographed as the mass gymnastics demonstrations held in Pyongyang every year.

But for many North Koreans – close to starvation, deprived of any information about the outside world, and indoctrinated from birth with Stalinist ideology – such blind devotion appears to be genuine, a survival mechanism and a product of sophisticated state mind control. "They've been very much brought up to think 'this is our saviour'," said Eileen Barker, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at London School of Economics.

Ms Barker points to the Asch Experiment, when psychologist Solomon Asch put an individual with a group of 'fake' participants and set them basic tests. After establishing the group dynamic, the 'fake' participants gave an obviously wrong answer to simple tests – in most cases the real test subject went along with them.

"Because everyone else seems to be believing it, we doubt our own capacity. Questioning is seen as a lack of faith, lack of belief," she said.

There are other possible explanations. In her book about North Korea, 'Nothing to Envy', Barbara Demick writes of participants in the 'spontaneous' outpouring of grief at the death of Kim Jong-il's father Kim Il Sung who said that they had only wept out of fear of the consequences if they were seen to be unmoved. Or, like many a dictator trying to boost support, the regime could have bussed in people to play the part of the devoted.

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