His father, an embroidery manufacturer, had "left Russia a radical and atheist and remained faithful to these views throughout his life. It was at MIT that Festinger, in his own words, "became, by fiat, a social psychologist, and immersed myself in the field with all its difficulties, vaguenesses, and challenges. As Festinger himself recalls, "the years at M. Although the proximity effect or propinquity was an important direct finding from the study, Festinger and his collaborators also noticed correlations between the degree of friendship within a group of residents and the similarity of opinions within the group,  thus raising unexpected questions regarding communication within social groups and the development of group standards of attitudes and behaviors. He then moved to the University of Minnesota in , and then on to Stanford University in
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Click here to go to the Introductory Overview of that movement. When Prophecy Fails From the time that Jesus Christ returned to heaven after His resurrection, there have been people yearning so badly for his return to earth that they have poured over the prophecies of the Bible to try to "discern the times" in which they lived. And in many of those generations, Bible students have been convinced that they have been able to determine, through the prophetic hints in the Bible, that Jesus was, indeed, coming soon, in the lifetime of most living in their own generation.
Not content with just the general hope, many have also worked out elaborate mathematical schemes whereby they could pinpoint not just the generation, but the decade, the year, the month, perhaps even the day that their "blessed hope" would be fulfilled. This phenomenon has increased greatly in the past two centuries, and even more in the past two decades. Teacher after teacher, group after group has arisen to publish magazines, books, pamphlets, study guides and more to convince others of the certainty of their predictions of chronological details of "the Return.
The pace of this speculation grew even more frantic in some religious circles as the year approached. Surely, thought many, the Lord will tarry no longer than the end of the millenium. Thus dogmatic pronouncements on specific dates were plastered on websites, trumpeted on radio talk shows, circulated in newsletters. Many ministries have arisen with the primary goal of bringing together in fellowship under one teacher or group those who were convinced of the prophetic scenario of that teacher or group.
Each of these may have also taught elements of the Gospel and truths from the scriptures, but in many settings these almost seemed to be an afterthought.
The biggest publicity, the most printed material, the most "bandwidth" on radio and on the Internet was devoted to endless feeding of the desires of followers for more and more details about the prophetic scenario. To date, ALL of these many, many, many prophetic pronouncements of the past years have failed.
Common sense would suggest that they would abandon the ministries which had misled them. Common sense would indicate they would accept the reality of the failure and get on with their life, adjusting their priorities to give more attention to Bible basics and daily Christian living.
Common sense would be incorrect. Examination There is a famous book from the s that is a classic in Social Psychology courses called When Prophecy Fails. The researchers preparing the book stumbled on a "flying saucer cult," which was predicting "the End," just then forming.
In studying apocalyptic groups of the past which set dates for the Return of Christ or the End of the World, the researchers had come to some theories about what happens to members of such groups "when prophecy fails.
They did, perfectly. This theory has since been applied to other modern cults, and found to be accurate. This is introductory material which explains the basis of the theory. Italics and bolding have been added in a few places to call attention to words or indicate a title.
Riecken and Stanley Schachter. The authors comprised a research team who conducted a study of a small cult- following of a Mrs. Marian Keech, a housewife who claimed to receive messages from aliens via automatic writing.
The message of the aliens was one of a coming world cataclysm, but with the hope of surviving for the elect who listened to them through Keech and selected other mediums. What Festinger and his associates demonstrated in the end was that the failure of prophecy often has the opposite effect of what the average person might expect; the cult following often gets stronger and the members even more convinced of the truth of their actions and beliefs!
Festinger observes: "A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point. We are familiar with the variety of ingenious defenses with which people protect their convictions, managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks.
Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen?
The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting other people to his view. His theory presupposes the cult having certain identifying features, such as: a belief held with deep conviction along with respective actions taken, b the belief or prediction must be specific enough to be disconfirmed i. All of these characteristics were present in the saucer cult.
Keech reacted to each disconfirmation failed date. Little attempt was made to deny the failure. The strength to continue in the movement was derived, not largely from the rationalizations , but from the very energy of the group itself and its dedication to the cause. Festinger relates: "But whatever explanation is made it is still by itself not sufficient. The dissonance is too important and though they may try to hide it, even from themselves, the believers still know that the prediction was false and all their preparations were in vain.
The dissonance cannot be eliminated completely by denying or rationalizing the disconfirmation. But there is a way in which the remaining dissonance can be reduced. If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct. Consider the extreme case: if everyone in the whole world believed something there would be no question at all as to the validity of this belief.
It is for this reason that we observe the increase in proselytizing following disconfirmation. If the proselytizing proves successful, then by gathering more adherents and effectively surrounding himself with supporters, the believer reduces dissonance to the point where he can live with it.
The book was required reading. When this failed, a number of followers had become disillusioned and left the organization, but a large percentage had not. At the time, it did not occur to me to apply the information I was learning in the course to my own personal circumstances! But it surely did apply. In looking back and examining why I was not totally disillusioned by the disconfirmation in , I can only conclude it was because my husband and I had already invested so much of our time, efforts, and financial resources in the organization.
The level of discomfort and confusion at the single event of the disconfirmation was not high enough to off- set what we viewed as positive aspects of our involvement. This off- set was upset, however, in For details of the circumstances which led to our departure from the WCG, see our abbreviated auto biography elsewhere on this site. In summary, in that year there was a huge upheaval in the church leadership, with Herbert Armstrong disfellowshipping his own son Garner Ted, who had been the primary spokesman for the church on television and radio, and managing executive of most of its operations.
When I saw confusion all around me, when I saw outright lies published by the church Headquarters, when I saw mountains of evidence of corruption and greed and profligate extravagance and distortion of the facts, I was unable to just gloss it over in order to resolve the dissonance and bring my mind into a peaceful state again.
I had to have answers. And even though the answers were painful, I found facing them more tolerable than staying in ignorance, and having my mind in a state of perpetual cognitive dissonance.
The same sort of internal politics that I experienced in the WCG and CGI, that forced me out of those groups, were rampant in these other groups. And thus thousands upon thousands of folks For if they had not, the presence of dissidents and their questions would have increased the level of cognitive dissonance present in the minds of those members who did not have immediate knowledge of the many issues.
Thus the "disconfirmations" presented by dissidents within these groups not only did not lead to reformation or dissolution of the groups, but rather the proselyting of the groups increased greatly after the dissidents were removed. The following is an excerpt from an article on prophetic speculation which I wrote in It gives further commentary and documentation on some of the points above. We think a spirit of reverent humility, and openness of mind, would be more becoming in those seeking to interpret a book like this.
Why has it been so widely ignored among modern commentators? I offer a possible answer: with a limited audience among which to garner supporters for evangelistic ministries, the most dogmatic teachers are often the most successful at gathering around themselves the most enthusiastic- and financially generous- followers.
We live in confusing, troubling times. Sure answers to "what will happen next" give people a secure anchor in the stormy sea of life. Numerous articles and booklets were published by both groups about these events, complete with detailed chronological charts and sometimes gruesome line drawings of the coming horrors. Of course, when came and went with no great cataclysm, the Worldwide leadership denied the title was ever meant to be taken as a "specific" prophecy.
This was news to most of the members, who also remembered many sermons and articles and prophetic charts that all pointed to that date! This would leave only seven more years from the autumn of to complete 6, full years of human history. That seven year period will evidently finish in the autumn of the year But for them also, came and went with no cataclysm.
And what was the response of the leadership of both organizations to this failure of prophetic interpretation? Yet some misunderstood and took it as a definite prophecy for a definite date.
But to say I am not disappointed would be untruthful, for, when I know my feelings regarding were fostered because of what I read in various publications, and then I am told in effect that I reached false conclusions on my own, that, I feel, is not being fair or honest. This is not really surprising, as both organizations had successfully weathered many unfulfilled prophecies over a period of decades: The Witnesses had set many dates in their publications for the "probable" beginning of the Millenium, including, particularly, and Each "disappointment" led to some drop in membership, but most members soon developed "amnesia" about the incidents, and new proselytes were seldom aware of past Witness failures- and the organization soon picked up momentum in growth again.
For instance, in , the total U. Below is a chart showing the net change in membership for each year from then until If a group gains as many new members as it loses old members in one year, its net change in total membership for that year would be zero.
Note the huge net increase for In that year, they gained enough new members to make up for any lost to death or disaffection, plus another 66, It would be logical to attribute this unusually high increase in total membership to the "urgency" of the door- to- door preaching by Witnesses who felt "The End" would come that year in the fall, and the panic effect this might have on susceptible converts who were frightened by the preaching into joining the ranks of those who claimed the only safety in the perilous times to come.
And note the rapid drop almost immediately! The trend down, starting in and hitting a "low" in , was likely directly related to the disillusionment and defection of many current members, deeply cutting into missionary efforts of the group. Net change in membership
When Prophecy Fails
One of the first published cases of dissonance was reported in the book, When Prophecy Fails Festinger et al. Festinger and his associates read an interesting item in their local newspaper headlined "Prophecy from planet clarion call to city: flee that flood. Marion Keech, had mysteriously been given messages in her house in the form of "automatic writing" from alien beings on the planet Clarion, who revealed that the world would end in a great flood before dawn on December The group of believers, headed by Mrs. Keech, had taken strong behavioral steps to indicate their degree of commitment to the belief.
Cognitive Dissonance Theory
Click here to go to the Introductory Overview of that movement. When Prophecy Fails From the time that Jesus Christ returned to heaven after His resurrection, there have been people yearning so badly for his return to earth that they have poured over the prophecies of the Bible to try to "discern the times" in which they lived. And in many of those generations, Bible students have been convinced that they have been able to determine, through the prophetic hints in the Bible, that Jesus was, indeed, coming soon, in the lifetime of most living in their own generation. Not content with just the general hope, many have also worked out elaborate mathematical schemes whereby they could pinpoint not just the generation, but the decade, the year, the month, perhaps even the day that their "blessed hope" would be fulfilled. This phenomenon has increased greatly in the past two centuries, and even more in the past two decades.
Feb 01, Mike rated it really liked it Recommended to Mike by: Mark Shelves: failed-visionary-cults , thes This is an account of a small and relatively benign mid-century millenarian cult in Chicago. They believed that the world would end in a great flood on December 21st, , and that they would be rescued by a spaceship- but what happens after the leaders prophecy fails to come true? It turns out that while disconfirmation of the prophecy causes some members of the group to abandon their convictions, the convictions of others are strengthened- as is their desire to proselytize. One of the authors This is an account of a small and relatively benign mid-century millenarian cult in Chicago.