Feb 4, 2021

Cognitive Dissonance

Joseph Szimhart
January 10, 2021

Cognitive Dissonance theory was tested by Leon Festinger and others in the mid-1950s when researchers infiltrated a small cult that was predicting the end of the world by flood. Their results were published in When Prophecy Fails in 1956. The cult in question was led by Dorothy Martin (1900-1992) who channeled a “space brother” called Sananda (the Christ) and Ascended Master Sanat Kumaris. As Sister Thedra, Martin eventually established her group ASSK in Sedona, AZ.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Alison Lurie published Imaginary Friends in 1967, a fictional account of When Prophecy Fails.

I was motivated to post this by the recent assault on Congress by the Trump cult which is a mix of para-militias, QAnon operatives, and citizens gone mad and amuck over a false belief in a “stolen election.”

Cognitive dissonance occurs when disconfirming evidence counters string beliefs. The theory says that rather than change your mind, you will double down and rationalize your strong beliefs even after they are proven false. Indeed, the Sananda cult members for the most part stuck with the group beliefs after the prophecies by Sister Thedra failed several times.

It is painful to admit to being fooled or being wrong especially after investing a lot of time and effort and sacrifice to hold into a belief. Dangerous behaviors can arise when people who believe in the existence of a “deep state” feel cornered by the reality that they have been living in a fantasy world.

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