When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World

By Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, & Stanley Schachter
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"When Prophecy Fails" is a seminal work by Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schachter that explores the psychological phenomenon of cognitive dissonance in the context of failed doomsday prophecies.

The book delves into the case study of a small doomsday cult led by a woman named Dorothy Martin, who predicted that the world would end on December 21, 1954. As the date approached, Festinger and his team infiltrated the group to observe the reactions of its members when the prophecy ultimately proved false.

Drawing from extensive field research, interviews, and participant observation, the authors unravel the complex mechanisms at play when individuals hold onto beliefs despite evidence to the contrary. They investigate the processes of rationalization, selective perception, and group dynamics that allow believers to maintain their faith in the face of disconfirming evidence.

Through this captivating account, Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter shed light on how individuals and groups adapt their beliefs when faced with contradictions, challenging prevailing assumptions about cognitive dissonance. They offer a thought-provoking analysis of the social and psychological factors that influence the willingness to maintain beliefs even when confronted with undeniable evidence.

"When Prophecy Fails" is a pioneering work in social psychology, illuminating the intricate interplay between belief systems, cognitive dissonance, and group dynamics. It has far-reaching implications for understanding human behavior, belief formation, and the mechanisms humans employ to preserve their worldview in the face of mounting contradictions.
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