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Showing posts from March 29, 2011

Why Nothing Will Change On May 21

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The March 12 issue of New Scientist offers an explanation of doomsday cult thinking in an article by psychologist Richard Wiseman:

"In 1954, psychologist Leon Festinger of the University of Minnesota investigated a cult in Chicago that was convinced that the end of the world was nigh. The leader, Dorothy Martin, prophesied that there would be a great flood on 21 December and that a flying saucer would rescue her and her follower just before disaster occurred.

Festinger had several observers infiltrate the group and record what happened. As the appointed time approached, the members were buoyant and worked hard to spread word of the impending catastrophe. However, when 21 December came and went without any flooding or extraterrestrial visitation the mood changed.

Did the group suddenly change its beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence? No. Instead, members concluded that they must have averted the cataclysm by spreading the word.

Festinger's investigation led him to d…