When all else fails, believe harder, recruit bigger

September 8, 2009

If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must after all be correct.” – Leon Festinger

A prediction had been made that the world would end in a great flood before dawn on December 21, 1954.   A group of believers in this prophecy took strong behavioral steps to indicate their degree of commitment to the belief, which included that believers would be “saved”  by a flying saucer (!) that would rescue “true believers”.   They had left jobs, college, and spouses, and had given away money and possessions to prepare for their departure on the flying saucer.

Leon Festinger, a psychologist, theorized that the inevitable disconfirmation of the prediction would be followed by an enthusiastic effort at proselytizing.

In order to study his theory, Festinger and some colleagues infiltrated the group (cult).  They observed the following:

  1. Prior to December 2o, the group shunned publicity. 
  2. By the afternoon of December 21 (at which time, it is clear that the prophecized event has failed occur), the group began to actively and aggressively seek to spread its message and entice others to join. 

Interesting on so many levels.   Religion, yoga, human behavior in general.

YC