The Prophesy from Planet Clarion is a psychological carried out by Leon Festinger and his colleagues Henry Riecken. and Stanley Schacter. The article was featured in the 1956 book When Prophesy Fails. According to the prophesy the world would end on December, 21 (Festinger et al., 1956). The prophesy was formulated by Mrs. Dorothy Martin who purported that she had received automatic messages. She claimed that they would be picked by a flying saucer of which it never happened (Festinger et al., 1956). The doomsday prediction caught the attention of Festinger who was fascinated by how humans deal with the information that fails to match their beliefs. As such, he developed a psychological theory cognitive dissonance. The theory stipulates that the inconsistency of attitudes with other beliefs or with ones own behavior produces an uncomfortable tension state dissonance that motivates either change or defensive strategies (Festinger et al., 1956). Therefore, to test the practicality of the theory, he together with Schacter and Riecken decided to infiltrate Keechs group together with a group of hired observers to study how the cult would respond if flying saucers failed to fly above earth and pick them up (Festinger et al., 1956). They hypothesized that the dissonance created by disconfirmation of their belief would motivate them either to change their beliefs or seek strategies to re-confirm them (1956).
Festinger and his colleagues volunteered to join Mrs. Keechs group as participants to collect data. The study involved recording how the seekers abandoned their jobs, homes and spouses (Fetsinger et al., 1956). Basically, the research design was basically interviews and overt observation in which the study participants are aware of the presence of a researcher. Furthermore, Festinger trained 2 men and 2 women as observers in the pretence of them being true believers (Fetsinger et al., 1956), an aspect of covert observation in the methodology aspect of the study.
The study found out that Mrs. Keene believed that doom and the flying saucers did not happen because of the devotion of the cult. Likewise, some members of the cult left the group after de-confirmation in that the chronology of prophetic events did not occur. Most importantly, the study found out that the group has rationalized the outcome so that members could maintain their confidence and self-esteem (Fitsenger et al., 1956).
The participants of the study were mainly students. Apart from that, the study involved covert observers which raise ethical questions of whether they could have influenced the results of the study. The covert observers had to alternate note taking when visiting the bathroom to avoid suspicion. Lastly, the observers did not reside together with the cult, implying that meetings were the only way they could make observations. The study fairly achieved its objectives. Fetsinger would not have used a covert team to make observations. It was not efficient. He would have added test conditions and employ a quasi type of experiment to account for the unassigned variables, advocated in the study of human beings. The strength of the cult belief system in members should have been measured too.
The study tells us that the human will and beliefs is very strong and plays a big role in human psychology. The study has affected the science of psychology by promoting better research methods and data analysis for more informed and accurate results. I think that the reading was intriguing and it helped to improve my research skills.
Festinger, L., Riecken, H. W., & Schacter, S. (1956). When prophecy fails.
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