When prophecy fails: a social and psychological study of a modern group that predicted the destruction of the world

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Harper & Row, 1964 - Psychology - 253 pages
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Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance can account for the psychological consequences of disconfirmed expectations. One of the first published cases of dissonance was reported in the book, When Prophecy Fails (Festinger et al. 1956). Festinger and his associates read an interesting item in their local newspaper headlined "Prophecy from planet Clarion call to city: flee that flood." A Chicago housewife, 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 21. The group of believers, headed by Keech, had taken strong behavioral steps to indicate their degree of commitment to the belief. They had left jobs, college, and spouses, and had given away money and possessions to prepare for their departure on the flying saucer, which was to rescue the group of true believers.
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." In this case, if Keech could add consonant elements by converting others to the basic premise, then the magnitude of her dissonance following disconfirmation would be reduced. 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.
Festinger, Leon; Henry W. Riecken, Stanley Schachter (1956). When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 1-59147-727-1. Reissued 2008 by Pinter & Martin with a foreword by Elliot Aronson, ISBN 978-1-905177-19-6.
 

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User Review  - sgerbic - LibraryThing

Really enjoyed the book, been hearing a lot about this study for years. This book is really detailed and I enjoyed reading it. Read full review

Contents

Unfulfilled Prophecies and Disappointed
3
Teachings and Prophecies from Outer Space
33
Spreading the Word on Earth
58
Copyright

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