John Hunter Ph.D.

Dr. Hunter teaches undergraduate and postgraduate students in research methods and psychology, and – as someone who lives with bipolar disorder himself – provides educational workshops and consults to family members and friends of those with the illness.

About Me

My Story

Dr. John Hunter is a South African researcher and lecturer, based in Johannesburg. His interest in large group awareness trainings (LGATs) – and their impact on mood and psychosis – is grounded in his personal experience of bipolar disorder and his participation in an LGAT in 2010. In 2017, he completed a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, proposing a neurobiological explanation for the relationship between LGAT conditions and results. Specifically, Dr. Hunter put forward the dopaminergic-defense hypothesis, which offers insights into both: (i) the “transformational” experiences associated with LGAT participation; and (ii) the common claims of psychological harm and problematic behaviour associated with LGAT participation. In 2022, Dr. Hunter published an article explaining the dopaminergic defense in the Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion (Hunter, 2022) and in July 2023, presented this work at the annual International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) conference in Louisville, Kentucky.


University of KwaZulu-Natal

Doctor of Philosophy (Psychology) 

University of Johannesburg

Post-graduate Diploma in Advanced Banking Law

University of Cape Town

Bachelor of Business Science (Finance)

Industry Skills​

Research Supervision




Quantitative Research


Qualitative Research


My Work

Work relating to LGATs & Bipolar Disorder

Ph.D. Dissertation

Detailed explanation of LGATs

My Ph.D. provides a detailed explanation of LGATs – their history, their processes, and the “transformational” experiences they elicit. LGAT conditions and results are compared with the triggers and symptoms of bipolar disorder, and a neurobiological explanation for LGAT results is offered. READ MORE

Other Selected Publications

Short article on LGATs

Large group awareness training (LGAT) is the generic term used to describe a type of “transformational” seminar that typically takes place over a few days to a week. At least four million people on six continents have participated in some form of these trainings since they were popularised in San Francisco in the 1970s. 

Interview with Matt Dooley

In this interview, Dr. Hunter describes what an LGAT is, the undue influence these groups appear to exercise over participants, and his intriguing theory about the role that dopamine plays in these groups. In particular, he investigates how stress, sleep deprivation, and reward are used to manipulate participants’

Journal article

Published in 2022 in the Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, this article outlines the dopaminergic defense hypothesis – the neurobiological mechanism by which stress can result in “peak experiences” in most people. There is evidence that dopaminergic excitation contributes to certain religious experiences

LGATs and Fight Club

In 1989 Chuck Palahniuk participated in a controversial type of “personal development” seminar, known generically as a large group awareness training (LGAT) and, according to Palahniuk, this seminar inspired him to become a writer. In the two decades since Fight Club was published and released, film reviewers,

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Researcher & Lecturer

Johannesburg, South Africa

Consulatation: Available

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