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When Prophecy Fails

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  222 ratings  ·  39 reviews
2009 reprint of 1956 First edition. When Prophecy Fails [1956] is a classic text in social psychology authored by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. It chronicles the experience of a UFO cult that believed the end of the world was at hand. In effect, it is a social and psychological study of a modern group that predicted the destruction of the world, and ...more
Paperback, 260 pages
Published November 12th 2009 by Martino Fine Books (first published 1956)
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T-bone
I love cults. I have belonged to many and hope to join more in the future. Cults are a great way to meet new people. So imagine my disgust when I realized this book was not about a cult, but about a bunch of delusional psychologists who infiltrate a perfectly rational doomsday group so they can peddle their ludicrous "research" as a legitimate contribution to learning. I don't mind psychologists when they confine themselves to wondering why they themselves are crazy, but I do not abide them tryi ...more
Jonathan
On oft repeated chestnut in the perpetual debate between Christianity and its non-believers goes something like this: There are three possibilities about Jesus and/or the Apostles or Early Christians. They were either madmen, liars or telling the truth. Each of the former possibilities is then addressed with what might not be terrible arguments and, thus discounted, the third branch of the argument is arrived at as being true. I have never heard the previous two possibilities adequately dismisse ...more
Chad Kettner
In 1954 Leon Festinger, an experimental social psychologist, invented and tested the theory of cognitive dissonance. "Cognitive Dissonance" is today a recognized term for having a state of mind which seeks to deny an inconvenient truth - perhaps someone with a smoking habit denies the health risks of smoking, or someone with a gambling habit denies their overall losses, or whatever else. In Festinger's original study, "When Prophecy Fails", he discusses a cult who denies the continued failures o ...more
Tom
A fascinating and ambitious study but I can't really accept its conclusions because the method of study was so invasive. I mean let's work this out, we've got a cult of maybe a dozen people, six or seven of which are true believers (which is actually on the high side if you get right down to it). These people are horrible at recruiting new converts and aren't really interested in doing so. So you infiltrate this group with FOUR observers and sit back and watch. SUDDENLY the group adepts an attit ...more
Isidore
As a glimpse into the largely unknown world of Eisenhower era mysticism, the book is fascinating. As an exemplification of cognitive dissonance, it is pretty much a failure. Festinger & Co.'s methodology was so flawed as to hopelessly compromise any conclusions they wished to draw.

Festinger heavily infiltrated and manipulated the cult. At one key moment, of the fourteen participants, no less than five were his secret "observers". Naturally, as even Festinger admits, the advent of so many "c
...more
Louise
This is a now classic study testing the then fledgling theory of cognitive dissonance, the process by which people respond to evidence that conflicts with their deeply held beliefs. It begins with what little is known of past doomsday believers when their prophesies did not come to pass. From there it describes a 1950's group expecting the world to end in a flood and that they would be rescued by a space ship.

The text is not reader friendly. Its plodding may result from an attempt to present the
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Sam
What an odd, fascinating book this is! It comes from a time when the social sciences could get away with a lot of things that nowadays would be considered highly unethical -- many of the critiques of the book center on Festinger & co.'s covert infiltration of the Seekers, as well as the ways in which their doing so changed the dynamic of the group. As a proof of its scientific theories, it's interesting, though much flawed. But as a portrait of an intriguing group of people at that strange m ...more
Andrew
Nobody could write this book today. The researchers and their graduate students document their undercover penetration of a Apocalypse cult in pitch-perfect, meticulous detail; the only problem is that they violate just about every principle of scientific inquiry and social psychological ethics in the process. Despite its scientific shortcomings, the book is a fascinating and occasionally touching portrait of people who are desperately looking for self-validation in an impersonal world. The dry h ...more
Gary Daly
Published in the early 1950s this psychological study of 'dissonance' (look it up) straight from the coal face of people (the subjects) peddling busllshit at the expense of logic, rationality and sensitivity to the real world around them. A group of pie-holes in isolation who wait for their UFO's and mystical 'space-men' to beam them up (on one occasion whilst sining Christmas Carols on a suburban street corner) as well as the channeled truths (beamed in from the planet Clarion) about an end of ...more
James Hatton
This is one of the landmark studies in the field of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is something our brains adjust to, often, not rarely. It's worth knowing what it is. Not that one can really do anything about it. Rather, so that one will know why the people around them function as they do.

A group of UFO believers predict visitors from space. They prophesy a date. Broadcast it. And wait. Nothing shows up. Do they say?, "Oh, well I guess there are no such visitors en route." Or do the
...more
Stringy
This report on cognitive dissonance was the beginning of the shift in psychology from Behaviourism to Cognitivism in the USA. The researchers observed a group expecting spacemen to pick them up before a predicted flood, to see how they'd react to being wrong. Behaviourism predicted they'd abandon their beliefs, but history shows people doubling-down on their belief system after being proved wrong. The idea was to find a group and observe them before and after such an event so a complete data set ...more
Alex
When Prophecy Fails is an interesting, if imperfect, look at cognitive dissonance in movements that experience disconfirmation of belief -- to put it another way, what happens when prophecies fail. After an interesting initial historical summary, the book for better or worse spends most of its time recounting the establishment and failure of a 1950's UFO cult in great, sometimes painful, detail. The story is interesting at first, but eventually both the sheer meticulousness and the weight of the ...more
Chris
You're a good person, right? Of course you are, I never doubted it for a moment. We all like to think were good people - fair, honest, generous, all that. Very few people, if asked, would say, "Well, I'm a right bastard and I don't care who knows it!"

So imagine that you - a good person - do something bad. Genuinely bad. You cheat on your spouse. You lie to a friend. You steal from your boss. You commit an act which, if someone else did it, you would roundly condemn them, forcing them into public
...more
R.
Being a psychology nerd, I picked this book up during the May 21st rapture scare at the suggestion of an NPR article I read one morning because I wanted to see what happens to people who have faith in something so strong, but are proven to be wrong. When Prophecy Fails is the study which laid the foundation of one of the most important and groundbreaking theories in psychology -- Cognitive Dissonance Theory.

The first half of the book was very interesting. It gave brief, yet thorough, history on
...more
Jack Barrow
I read this as research for my next novel in which I'm planning to write about an end of the world cult. Strangely I'd written an essay on Festinger for my very first assignment in my Open University degree some time in about 1994. Years later when a friend told me about cognitive dissonance theory I didn't make the connection. Even stranger, it was on December 21st 2012 when everyone was talking about the Mayan calendar so called end of the world ( http://www.aquarius-atlanta.com/artic... ) tha ...more
Robert Herald
The book is excellent, but there has to be a very large caveat. "When" is a true story written in detail about a group of people who believed that the United States would be deluged by a flood on December 21st, but they would prior t that they would be taken up to another planet by flying saucers. One woman believed that she was being communicated with by spacemen through "automatic righting." The author enabled several observers to infiltrate the group so they would learn firsthand how the stor ...more
Randall C. Scott
Empty of substance

if your looking for something to sink you're teeth into as real science find another book. This is a long winded story of religious fanatics and you probably won't learn anything a high school student couldn't deduce by watching an episode of "Happy Days" with Ron Howard.
Ramón Pérez
Un clásico imprescindible de la psicología social. En esta obra el autor nos presenta el concepto de disonancia cognitiva, clave para entender muchas de nuestras contradicciones, mediante la historia de la secta milenarista que Festinger observó para poner a prueba dicho concepto.

De esta manera, con un trato riguroso y a la vez respetuoso y amable con los implicados, vemos cómo somos capaces de decir una cosa y hacer la contraria, cómo nos aferramos a nuestras creencias incluso (y especialmente)
...more
Shelly Fabian
I read this book only because my daughter was required to do so for college. It was a tough read for me and a very difficult beginning. In my opinion, it did get better middle to end...
Phil
Detailed and dry true story of a Scientology-influenced group who saw the end of the world in the middle of the 20th century. This is a fascinating study of the nature of belief.
Lars Roest
I discovered this book by looking up the the term "cognitive dissonance" on Wikipedia.
I am interested in this since I at 18 years old was persuaded to join a cult called the "Church" of Scientology.
That fact changed the direction of my life considerably and was the reason why I at 20 "immigrated" to the US.
I found the book a little tedious at times with its detailed descriptions. But overall it was an interesting read.
Cognitive dissonance have very broad applications in life. The term doesn'
...more
Stephen Cranney
As a piece of social science it wasn't much. His observers were too numerous in such a small group not to have an affect on the group, always raising the question of what might have happened had they not been there. More recent research has since challenged many of the claims made in the book.

However, it was still entertaining. Unlike the more recent research, this book provided ample details about the specific individuals involved, making me get into the story more. Informative and entertainin
...more
Peter
After two years of trying to get though the first handful of chapters I finally broke through into the meat of this book. Considering its history as the first modern scientific observations of cognitive dissonance and the boldness of the study that this book is about, I gave it four stars. Reading between the lines some, you have to imagine the difficulty of objective observation under such duress, and in such weird circumstance. I definitely recommend this if you have any interest in human beha ...more
Jo
This is a wonderful book on so many levels. It's a pioneering example of participant observation - it's an example of participant observation where the observer became part of the experiment. It's an account of how a group of people convinced themselves that the apocalypse was coming, and how they convinced themselves that it had been averted. It's an account of all these things happened in ordinary American suburbia circa 1954. If you've got any kind of interest in sociology I demand that you r ...more
Alex Reinhart
Psychologists infiltrate a group whose leader believes she receives messages from aliens; they must prepare for the destruction of Earth, where the close followers will be transported off Earth in the nick of time by the aliens. This is the book largely responsible for popularizing the idea of cognitive dissonance, and it's fascinating. The story could be better told -- it's written by social scientists proving their hypothesis, not journalists writing a good story -- but it's fascinating and hi ...more
Marita
Bryn really wanted me to read this book and after the controversial Betrayal book I was ready. Very interesting and entertaining story, but since it is an actual case study it was not very enjoyable to read. Cognitive dissonance is very real and I was shocked to read it does not nessessarily lead to abandoment of belives quite the opposite. I should have known that since this country is so full of religious people, is it because americans are so social??!!
Erik Graff
Dec 02, 2014 Erik Graff rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: millenarians
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: psychology
What an interesting topic! An American cult claims the end of the world is immiment and sets the date. The date comes...and goes. What happens to the members of the cult?

Festinger et alia insinuated colleagues into this UFO cult to observe just this and found that many were actually reinforced in their delusional belief system by its very failure. Somehow Festinger et alia managed to discuss this without writing an engrossing bestseller...
Oliver
Originally published in 1956, it was a cutting edge study of Leon Festinger's now famous theories that formed the basis of cognitive dissonance. The book follows a small group of a flying saucer cult that believes that end times is near. It would have been neat to follow the believers for longer than a few months, but that's obviously not the intent of the study or book. I've watched too many 'Where Are They Now?' episodes.
Ricardo
Interesting book on an important concept. However, the narrative of Mrs. Keech's group is too detailed, to the point of being almost just an academic exercise. In contrast, this same academic value is diminished by the problems in the research methodology already mentioned by others.

If you're just curious about the theory, download the Kindle version's free chapters on Amazon.
Reed
Randomly, this ended up being the first psychology book I ever read. Fascinating study done by undercover psychologists who managed to infiltrate an ET-worshipping cult (akin to scientology) and chart the progress of their decaying prophecy. Anyone interested in the psychological phenomenon known as 'cognitive dissonance' would certainly get a kick out of this book!
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Leon Festinger was interested in science at a young age, and decided to pursue a career in psychology. He received his bachelor's degree from City College of New York and went on to Iowa State University for his master's degree and his Ph.D. (which he received in 1942). For the next several years he made his living teaching at different universities until he went to Stanford in 1955.

At Stanford, F
...more
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