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When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of A Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World Paperback – January 1, 1956
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Top Customer Reviews
This is partly a study of how followers of cult movements can paradoxically become more committed even when the central tenet has been disproven. The first few chapters are fairly dry, but they move quickly and are very interesting, especially since the hypothesis is so counterintuitive.
Things really pick up once they get into the day-to-day details of the flying saucer group they've infiltrated. The group goes to extremes of self-deception to keep believing (and they want to believe so badly) that "the boys upstairs" (ie, flying saucer people) are in contact with them. The dry, scholarly tone reads as subtle dry humor when describing, for example, a woman in a suburban living room bellowing "I AM THE CREATOR" (she is supposedly "channeling" the Creator) and then complaining about the chair she is forced to sit in. I didn't expect this book to be laugh-out-loud funny but it certainly was in places.
The book is an easy read; at times it feels more like a novel than a psychological study. After the initial first few chapters of background information, it falls into an easy description of Marian Keech and her fellow Seekers. Festinger and his co-authors do a fine job of illustrating Mrs. Keech's ideology and the history of her doomsday prophecies. The description of the group members on the days leading up to and after the predicted cataclysm is very detailed.
However, this high amount of detail is also what makes me hesitant about truly endorsing this book as an ethical psychological study. Festinger & co. gave ample enough hints at the location and press coverage of the group that confidentiality cannot have been preserved. Just a few minutes with google provided me with the real identities of the cult members described in the book. Though I think the study may have been conducted before the APA created the ethical guidelines, I still found myself somewhat horrified by the looseness of the confidentiality. While "When Prophecy Fails" is an interesting read, it does very little to scientifically prove its hypothesis in a way that could not have been done in a less damaging way. Though my searches seemed to indicate that Mrs. Keech and her fellow believers moved on, I still feel a great deal of pity for the woman and her comrades. Even though their beliefs were absurd, did they really deserve to be so cruelly tricked? I am not sure about this. And so I am not sure that the means justifies the end in this particular landmark study.
Nevertheless, the book is certainly a must-read for anyone who is interested in landmark studies and the history of psychology.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is one of the most difficult books to find in Spain so I'm very happy for having it.Published on February 4, 2011 by Guillermo Albertus Lattner
Leon Festinger et. al. promise their study will shed light on the mysterious psychological forces which drive people to commit to millenarian groups of various kinds, especially... Read morePublished on March 17, 2009 by Fred W. Hallberg
I am flabbergasted that so few have (so far) seen the relevance of Festinger's and his colleagues' theories to what is going on in the US today. Read morePublished on December 4, 2005 by Worried man