When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of A Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World [Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken. When Prophecy Fails – David Sielaff, March 10, When Prophecy Fails. A social and psychological study of a modern group that predicted the destruction. When Prophecy Fails. LEON FESTINGER,. HENRY W. RIECKEN, and STANLEY SCHACHTER. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, vii, pp.
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Full text of "Festinger-Riecken-Schachter-When-Prophecy-Failspdf (PDFy When PROPHECY FAILS ~ — BY Leon Festinger Henry W. Riecken and. This public document was automatically mirrored from ronaldweinland.infoal filename: Festinger-Riecken-Schachter-When-Prophecy-Failspdf. When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the . Create a book · Download as PDF · Printable version.
Back in the s three social psychologists joined a cult that was predicting the imminent end of the world. On the contrary, they become even more fervent, and proselytize even harder. This insight seems highly relevant as draws to a close. After all, a lot of people came to believe that we were on the brink of catastrophe — and these views were given extraordinary reach by the mass media. As it turned out, of course, the predicted catastrophe failed to materialize. No, the people who told us that a fiscal crisis was imminent will just keep at it, more convinced than ever. Oh, wait a second — did you think I was talking about the Mayan calendar thing?
She had previously been involved with L. Ron Hubbard 's Dianetics movement, and she incorporated ideas from what later became Scientology. They had left jobs, college, and spouses, and had given away money and possessions to prepare for their departure on a flying saucer which was to rescue the group of true believers. She claimed to have received a message from a planet named Clarion.
These messages revealed that the world would end in a great flood before dawn on December 21, After the failure of the prediction, she left Chicago after being threatened with arrest and involuntary commitment.
She later founded the Association of Sananda and Sanat Kumara. Under the name Sister Thedra, she continued to practice channeling and to participate in contactee groups until her death in The Association is active to this day.
Premise of study[ edit ] Festinger and his colleagues saw this as a case that would lead to the arousal of dissonance when the prophecy failed. Altering the belief would be difficult, as Keech and her group were committed at considerable expense to maintain it.
Another option would be to enlist social support for their belief. As Festinger wrote, "If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must after all be correct. Festinger and his colleagues predicted that the inevitable disconfirmation would be followed by an enthusiastic effort at proselytizing to seek social support and lessen the pain of disconfirmation. Sequence of events[ edit ] Festinger and his colleagues infiltrated Keech's group and reported the following sequence of events: Before December The group shuns publicity.
Interviews are given only grudgingly. Access to Keech's house is only provided to those who can convince the group that they are true believers. The group evolves a belief system—provided by the automatic writing from the planet Clarion—to explain the details of the cataclysm, the reason for its occurrence, and the manner in which the group would be saved from the disaster. December The group expects a visitor from outer space to call upon them at midnight and to escort them to a waiting spacecraft.
As instructed, the group goes to great lengths to remove all metallic items from their persons. As midnight approaches, zippers, bra straps, and other objects are discarded. The group waits. Maybe you are a bit of a dick. Maybe, when it comes right down to it, you're just a jerk who knows how to hide it.
That right there is some painful truth, and very few people are willing to face up to it. So you turn to your other option: The spouse you cheated on? Well, maybe if they paid a little more attention to you,you wouldn't have to do it.
The friend you lied to? Well, was he honest about that "business trip" that made him miss your annual Memorial Day Meatapalooza Barbecue? Hell, no.
He was "in the hospital," visiting "his sick mother. You rationalize what just happened, which allows you to not only move on with your life, but paves the way for similar actions in the future, making it that much easier to cheat, lie, and steal the next time. Welcome to cognitive dissonance. The classical view of humankind was that we were, ultimately, rational animals.
That if you show a person sufficient evidence, that person will alter his opinion accordingly. So, under that model, our Imaginary You tm would admit to your inherent badness when confronted with the evidence if your misdeeds. In the 20th century, however, psychologists were noticing that this wasn't true at all. In fact, in a lot of cases the direct disconfirmation of a belief merely made that belief stronger.
Show a smoker data on how dangerous cigarettes are, and she'll tell you that they help her relax, or they only take off the bad years at the end.
Show a climate change denier data on the warming of the planet, and you know who you'll hear from only minutes after the first snowfall of the season. Humans, as it turned out, were a lot less rational than we had suspected. By being able to hold two thoughts in our minds that are mutually incompatible, we set ourselves up for mental disaster, and the only way out is to fool ourselves.
In the mid s, the authors of this book were looking into this phenomenon, especially as it applied to groups and millennialism — the belief that the world is rapidly in danger of ending.
They looked at various historical examples, such as the early Christian church, who believed that Jesus' return was right around the corner, the Anabaptists of the 16th century, the followers of Sabbatai Zevi in the 17th century and the Millerites of the nineteenth.
They all believed that the end of the world was at hand, they all collected groups of followers who believed wholeheartedly that they were right, and they were all, without exception, wrong.
Despite that, not only were they not swayed from their beliefs, they actually became more convinced that they were, ultimately, right. What could account for such patently irrational behavior? Festinger and his partners believed they knew what it was, and set out five simple conditions under which the phenomenon could arise.
In brief: The believer must believe implicitly and that belief must have an effect on how he or she behaves. The believer must have committed him or herself to the belief, performing actions that are difficult or impossible to undo. For example, giving away all their money, quitting their job, etc. The belief must be specific, related to the real world, and able to be proven unequivocally wrong. Evidence disconfirming the belief must occur, must be undeniable, and must be recognized by the believer 5.
Under these conditions, Festinger hypothesized, not only would a person persist in their belief, but they would become more convinced, and likely try to convert more followers. After all, if more people believe that you're right, then maybe you are. But how to test it out?
Their best cases, after all, were at least a hundred years gone, and time travel hadn't been invented yet. Fortunately, they got wind of a group of UFO believers who held that the earth was going to be ravaged by floods and that aliens would rescue the faithful to make them the new enlightened rulers of the species.
Led by a woman out of Chicago who was receiving messages through automatic writing, this group held that the event would take place before dawn on December 21, Knowing a good chance when they saw one, Festinger and his colleagues managed to infiltrate the group and observe their progress, attitudes and beliefs up to, during, and after the event that never happened. In the book, they go through the timeline and touch on all the major players — names changed to protect the innocent, of course — and watched to see if their hypothesis would hold.
Would the media-shy Mrs. Keech do an about-face once the disaster didn't show? What would happen to people like Dr. Armstrong, who sacrificed his job and his good name in order to assure that he would be picked up by the aliens?
How would the group handle predictions that never came true, follow orders that never worked out, and rationalize this fundamentally irrational behavior?
The study does have some fairly glaring flaws, which the authors themselves point out in the epilogue.
For one, they had barely enough time to get involved with the group, and gaining entry was a matter of brute force more than finesse. For another, it was almost impossible not to influence the group. Observers were taken as believers, and expected to act as such.
Acting undercover, they couldn't record meetings or, in many cases, take notes until after the fact. Any meeting with the academics had to be carefully arranged so as not to blow their cover, and the long hours, erratic schedule and generally high tension of the group made being an academic double agent very difficult indeed.
Despite that, Festinger and his group present a textbook case of group cognitive dissonance that follows the pattern they expected it to. Believers who met all five criteria were much more likely to seek out new believers than the ones who, for example, were not with the group when the world didn't end. Of course, the reason I picked up the book was because of the May 21, Rapture prediction by Harold Camping. He had the Rapture scheduled down to the minute, and had attracted followers who met the initial criteria set out by Festinger more than fifty years ago.
Sure enough, when the Big Day came and went, Camping and his followers kept to the script. They saw that the Rapture hadn't come, then revised their predictions and went out looking for people to convince.
More interestingly, though, is how this can apply to other group dynamics. It can be applied to political parties, regional differences, racial differences, bigotry of every flavor and color. It can be connected to celebrity worship and religious fervor, to economic theories, institutional groupthink and scientific biases.
Almost any common belief that can gather a crowd is an open invitation to Festinger's five criteria. Lovers of organic food. Adherents to market capitalism, homeopathy, religions of every size and shape. The antivaxxers, conspiracy theorists, Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers, Klansmen, environmentalists, educators The list is endless. What slowly dawned on me the day after I originally wrote this review was the implications of the Internet on Point Five the need for social support.
Let's say it's , and you have a favorite political candidate. For our purposes, let's call her, I dunno, Kara Whelan. You really believe she is a good candidate, and you've spent a good deal of time and energy supporting her.
Maybe you've tried to convince friends and family — perhaps encountering resistance, maybe had a few arguments - donated money, or even worked on her campaign in the belief that she is smart and capable, thus fulfilling the first three of Festinger's requirements. Then she says or does something that is breathtakingly stupid, thereby disconfirming your opinion of her. Point four. In the s, it might have been harder to find people to commiserate with. In the book's case study, people who were away from the group when the flood didn't happen almost invariably gave up on their belief and went back to their lives.
Being cut off, or only having access by phone just wasn't enough to keep their belief supported. So, our person might read the paper, think, "Holy cow, Kara Whelan is dumber than a box of dead ducklings," and have no one around to help fight against that realization. But here in the 21st century, that kind of support is just a click away. You can go to the Kara Whelan website or supporters' forum and talk to dozens of people who are all busy rationalizing the boneheaded thing she just said and finding reasons why it actually makes her a stronger candidate.
The Internet makes it easier to find support for whatever you believe, no matter how untethered to reality it may be, and it allows these beliefs to survive and propagate in a way that would have been unthinkable fifty years ago. Working together, your fellow supporters can elevate your belief and trash those who disagree, generating an internal logic that confirms your belief despite evidence to the contrary.
If Mrs. Keech had had a website, this would have been a very different story. So what does this do for us, other than make us skeptical of anything that more than five people believe at a time? Just that: When you know what to look for, you can figure out who is likely to be persuaded by reason and who is not. You know who is a valid source of information and who is not. You know who you want to trust, and who you do not. Most importantly, it allows you to check yourself, to see if you're being as skeptical as you should be.
None of us are exempt from this little psychological phenomenon, but we are all equipped with the ability to deal with it properly. Let Mrs. Keech and her UFO cult serve as an object lesson. The way to teach people a lesson, or the way to educate people is to educate them slowly; you can't educate them with one big jolt.
And it seems rather silly to drown people and hope to educate them in the astral life. It doesn't seem very logical, does it? Feb 01, Mike rated it really liked it Recommended to Mike by: It turns out that while disconfirmation of the prophecy causes some of the cult members to abandon their convictions, the convictions of others are strengthened- as is their desire to proselytize.
In some of these cases, but not all, there is a noticeable correlation between reluctance to abandon the conviction and the enormity of what the person has chosen to give up for the conviction job, relationships, respect of peers.
It stands to reason that the greater the price of the conviction, the more incentive an individual has not to abandon it. Empathy stems in this case from the understanding that while these people take things slightly further than most of us would, we are all vulnerable to the desire for certainty…and not just certainty exactly, but I guess the word is consonance , as opposed to dissonance.
The experience of dissonance, therefore, as far as I understand it, is not necessarily a bad thing; it's the unconscious desire for consonance , however you can get it, that fucks you up or eventually fucks the world up, anyway- you sleep like a baby. Dissonance on the other hand is sort of an alarm bell that lets you know something's not right That's the tricky part.
This is not exactly the Manson family. The general ideas- that belief is often more about the believer than the content of the belief itself, that rational counter-argument does not necessarily change conviction- seem well worth thinking about. Again, it is not hard to feel some empathy for these people; they're just lost souls. View 2 comments. Jan 31, Andrew rated it it was amazing Shelves: Nobody could write this book today. The researchers and their graduate students document their undercover penetration of a Apocalypse cult in pitch-perfect, meticulous detail; the only problem is that they violate just about every principle of scientific inquiry and social psychological ethics in the process.
Despite its scientific shortcomings, the book is a fascinating and occasionally touching portrait of people who are desperately looking for self-validation in an impersonal world. The dry h Nobody could write this book today. The dry humor of the writers is evident throughout, particularly in the climactic chapter entitled "Four Days of Very Imminent Salvation" -- a chronicle of the time leading up to midnight on the prophesied last day. How does the cult deal with life when the world does not, in fact, end as expected?
Read to find out, but keep in mind that their conclusions have been largely discounted by subsequent researchers. Mar 29, Francis Bezooyen rated it really liked it. Some reviewers have criticized this study for the fact that by infiltrating the cult in question the researchers influenced the events that took place within it.
However, the authors do a good job of outlining just what kinds of influence their actions had, and I feel assured that it was as minimal as possible if any kind of deep observation of this group were to be conducted at all, and also that there remains an enormous amount of "clean" data from which one may pluck out very useful insights. If nothing else - it is a fascinating account.
Required reading in the age of QAnon, Jordan Peterson and the catastrophic failures of neoliberal centrism. Aug 13, Louise rated it it was ok Shelves: This is a now classic study testing the then fledgling theory of cognitive dissonance, the process by which people respond to evidence that conflicts with their deeply held beliefs. It begins with what little is known of past doomsday believers when their prophesies did not come to pass.
From there it describes a 's group expecting the world to end in a flood and that they would be rescued by a space ship. The text is not reader friendly.
Its plodding may result from an attempt to present the This is a now classic study testing the then fledgling theory of cognitive dissonance, the process by which people respond to evidence that conflicts with their deeply held beliefs.
Its plodding may result from an attempt to present the group clinically, without developing the character of the individuals. A chart of participants would have been helpful. I read this over 3 days and was constantly flipping back to see who was who especially when different names are used, such as Marian for "Mrs. Keech" or "Thomas" for "Dr.
The reader is never really oriented to place and time. No year is ever given and only towards the end when Minneapolis is mentioned can you guess where are "Lake City" and "Collegetown" really the places? While this is a respected study, it seems that observers couldn't help but contaminate the results. There are 5 of them in the two groups that seem to have 10 key individuals. Observers are in close quarters with group members for long periods of time and their presence alone had to have bolstered the morale of the group.
Quite a bit is made of signs derived from pranksters the spacemen from Clarion and the flooded bathroom are two that come to mind , and it would seem that the observers themselves contributed similar signs. One observer entered with a cover story that re-enforced the group beliefs and was welcomed as a sign from their outer space advisers.
Even if the observers were hidden behind one way mirrors, this study does not seem valid. Can observations from a small group holding such extreme beliefs be applied to the wider population? Members of this group behave as predicted by Festinger's theory. They become more intense in their beliefs in proportion to what they have sacrificed for them and how much contact they have with each other when they receive the disconfirming information. The book has some interesting moments and in some points seemed like the basis for a TV drama.
But as a research study, I had higher expectations. Others, who lacked strong social support or remained isolated from other group members and had weaker beliefs to begin with, will simply come to see their faith dwindle until the give up completely. Both these people the strong believers and the weaker believers experienced cognitive dissonance when their belief that the world was going to end on December 21, coincided with the cold hard fact that the world did not indeed end on that day.
However, because of various factors, both groups resolved their dissonance in different ways. Ultimately, this book goes to show you that when cognitive dissonance is present that is, when people hold two or more conflicting beliefs which cause us to be psychologically uncomfortable , we are invariably driven to resolve these inconsistencies in ingenious ways. Although the book uses a group of UFO-driven, God-fearing, Scientology-induced group to prove their theory, the lessons learned may well be applied to our every day lives as well.
For example, you are very environmentally-friendly. You download a car and it turns out that cars spends a lot of gas. How do you feel? What do you do? Cognitive dissonance Overall a fairly lengthy book and somewhat dull, however.
I wouldn't read an entire book about cognitive dissonance. I'd much rather a small article that summarize the findings, etc. Jan 30, rebel rated it it was ok Shelves: As several other reviewers have noted, this study absolutely does not follow today's psychological ethical guidelines and so can never be repeated. No attempt is made to inform the group members of the study or to gain their consent to be studied and then written about in a book! Through the participant observers and the actions of the researchers themselves, the group seems to have been manipulated into becoming something other than what it wanted to be--something that suited the purposes of the researchers much better.
Festinger and company were looking for a group that exactly suited their hypothesis and therefore made this one do. Additionally, the researchers seem so committed to their hypothesis that they minimize or discard any data that contradicts it, making me doubt the findings of this dubious study. I find it the opposite of confidence-inducing that Leon Festinger, the man who came up with cognitive dissonance, seems to have such a poor grasp of the scientific method.
I would have finished the book just out of curiosity to see how this trainwreck ends, but I have too many other books to get to and too little time. Sep 25, Samuel rated it it was amazing. What an odd, fascinating book this is! As a proof of its scientific theories, it's interesting, though much flawed. But as a portrait of an intriguing group of people at that strange m What an odd, fascinating book this is! But as a portrait of an intriguing group of people at that strange moment in American history that was the s, it's remarkable.
As other reviewers have noted, "Mrs. Keech" aka Dorothy Martin and her group actually come across very sympathetically -- there's none of the dangerous lunacy of Heaven's Gate or the sneering sociopathy of Jim Jones to be found here. And, for all his faults, Festinger writes clearly and is easy to follow, which isn't always the case with social sciences authors.
A perfect study? No, not at all. But a truly engrossing and interesting snapshot? Published in the early s this psychological study of 'dissonance' look it up straight from the coal face of people the subjects peddling busllshit at the expense of logic, rationality and sensitivity to the real world around them. A group of pie-holes in isolation who wait for their UFO's and mystical 'space-men' to beam them up on one occasion whilst sining Christmas Carols on a suburban street corner as well as the channeled truths beamed in from the planet Clarion about an end of Published in the early s this psychological study of 'dissonance' look it up straight from the coal face of people the subjects peddling busllshit at the expense of logic, rationality and sensitivity to the real world around them.
A group of pie-holes in isolation who wait for their UFO's and mystical 'space-men' to beam them up on one occasion whilst sining Christmas Carols on a suburban street corner as well as the channeled truths beamed in from the planet Clarion about an end of world flood on December 21 Only for these dates to pass, what follows is this great study in dissonance. The study has its faults and these for the most part explained, as much as you can in this short text aimed at the psychological dilettante.
Mar 13, Katy Mulvaney rated it really liked it. A very intriguing read. The tone is most academic without becoming dry usually , but the story is a heartbreaking portrait of people desperate to believe, desperate to be special, desperate to cede guidance of their life to a higher power. Desperate to be the chosen ones. Desperate for what they've dedicated their lives to to be real. The sociologists get the closest to proof they can for their intriguing theory that disconfirmation of a prophecy a sincerely believed one will cause an INCREASE A very intriguing read.
The sociologists get the closest to proof they can for their intriguing theory that disconfirmation of a prophecy a sincerely believed one will cause an INCREASE in proselytizing rather than the decrease or abandoning of faith that might be expected The scale of the study is too small to really prove their point, but the portrait of the band proved one thing to me: They were in sincere and increasingly desperate search for a guiding light from the aliens they idolized.
Which makes reality all the crueler. Completely blown away by this incredibly insightful book, which must have been painstaking to compile. Very engaging, and interesting account of a cult. Festinger and his crew were very timely and opportunistic in finding a group that was specific about a prophecy that was sure to fail. Succeeded in infiltrating and studying the cult, which proselytized selectively and infrequently before the prophesized date of the worldwide flood and rescue by aliens, but proselytized more than ever af Review: Succeeded in infiltrating and studying the cult, which proselytized selectively and infrequently before the prophesized date of the worldwide flood and rescue by aliens, but proselytized more than ever after prophecy failure.
Festinger and his crew predicted this behavior based on dissonance theory. Favorite Quote: Jun 29, Chris rated it it was amazing. A landmark social study that reads at time like a Christopher Guest movie. The authors infiltrated a group of UFO believers to examine what would happen when their belief that the world would end by flood on Dec. I find belief just the idea of it fascinating, which is what led me to pick up this book.
The hypothesis was interesting and - I'm sure - true, but author's scientific methods are pretty suspect and compromise a lot of his findings. Still, it was an interesting insight into the psychology of belief and how things like religious faith work.
Liked it a lot Really interesting to see behind the curtain, as it were. Jul 11, Daniel Schulof rated it it was amazing. You can never know too much about this subject. Easy to see why it is a classic. Detailed study of strange group A bit long in the telling and more analysis might have been helpful. I learned some important things about how people hold unreasonable beliefs and why they become hard to back away from.
The role of group support. Those who were alone when disconfirming events happened doubted but those in company accepted the group rationalization.
Interesting stuff!! I read this as research for my next novel in which I'm planning to write about an end of the world cult. Strangely I'd written an essay on Festinger for my very first assignment in my Open University degree some time in about Years later when a friend told me about cognitive dissonance theory I didn't make the connection. Even stranger, it was on December 21st when everyone was talking about the Mayan calendar so called end of the world http: The ultimate irony is that the people Festinger was writing about were predicting the end of the world on December 21st exactly 59 years to the day that the Mayan calendar apparently predicted the end of the world.
Of course that's a coincidence but let's not get into all that coincidence nonsense right now. So the book was a fascinating read. There was a vast amount of information on the cult itself and the way the people behaved.
I'm going to have to develop my ideas quite a bit as the material is so good that, had I not read this my version of the cult would have been very flat indeed. From an academic point of view I'm not so sure. I saw another book listed at the same time as this that appeared to claim that Festinger's case was in some way flawed. As a psychology graduate half a century later I would imagine that the methodology would be questioned by everybody from ethics committees to general academics who would suggest that you simply cannot collect data in this way without contamination.
On the whole it was a fascinating read, a real eye opener and well worth the effort and I really hope my version of these totally bonkers people will be even half as entertaining. Apr 09, Malwae rated it really liked it Shelves: This book looks at some of the odd things people twist themselves into believing when they get involved in a belief system, and what makes them commit or back away.
The cult used for this study wasn't one of the flashier ones - nobody got killed and it wasn't that big, nor were the leaders abusive or controlling of their members, which is frankly one of the things that one thinks of with the term 'cult'. Still, even though the cult in the book was mild, it is still enlightening to read the accou This book looks at some of the odd things people twist themselves into believing when they get involved in a belief system, and what makes them commit or back away.
Still, even though the cult in the book was mild, it is still enlightening to read the account of how the members cycled through different types of belief and commitment. The writing is dry, blow by blow, what happened according to psych students who were sent in to infiltrate the group.