Tag Archives: Cognitive dissonance

Why do people join cults?

The first thought that came to mind was Scientology.

The Age of Unreason

Story H/T: @ Skeptic Wars

The Internet was meant to usher in a new enlightenment, instead it is became the breeding ground of ideas increasingly at odds with reality.

By Jamie Stanton via Medium


Shapeshifting human-reptilian alien
hybrid or a video glitch?

The Reptilian’s cloaking field breaks down and begins to phase shift, its inhuman visage briefly visible through a haze of holographic error. Slowed down and set to music, it is an eerie, emotive, and strangely beautiful sight. Our alien slavemasters the Annunaki are getting sloppy, not even caring if their true forms are visible to us any more. Wake up, sheeple, wake up and see what is before your eyes!

Or, at least this is what some followers of David Icke and other reptilian “researchers” seem to think. According to this video, which at time of writing has over 155,000 views, it appears that some of his disciples are so seduced by the strange worldview that they see trans-dimentional shapeshifters where others see video glitches or interference errors. A new face for an ancient malevolence, hitherto visualised mentally in dragon statues or crumby drawings of lizard-men. YouTuber MKirkbll comments “Finally! A legitimate shapeshifting video! I so badly wanted to believe. Now I can. Thank you.” Like an X-Files era cliche, MKirkbll here “wants to believe”. And he is so desperate to believe in something, he is willing to believe in anything, as long as it all fits together to tell an understandable story and gives him a sense of belonging.

Icke - Remember what you are_250pxIt is easy to look at such nonsense and laugh, but the existence of such beliefs tell us something much deeper about human psychology and our need to make sense of the world. Since the earliest times humans have together woven complex and colourful mythologies to explain the the world around them, and today is no different. During our evolution, our brains’ storytelling ability acted as a form of data compression to keep track of what information it deemed useful, tying sensory prompts to emotional and behavioural responses. The consequence of using language and stories to keep track of environmental information was the gradual development of a narrative Self. Through studying psychology, we also know how identity construction within a social environment leads to emergent group behaviours that in turn tell us how group narratives are formed.

Some of those lessons are particularly relevant to the online realm, where a breezy brand of digital utopianism has led to a belief that the free flow of information will lead to an end of ignorance and the triumph of reason. Instead, we see the rise of bizarre new ideologies and ideas spreading virally across the web, ushering in not a New Enlightenment, but an Age of Unreason.

Emergent Hierarchies

Group Psychology has been extensively studied over the last half century with theories supported by strong experimental evidence and predictive ability. Leon Festinger’s famous 1956 study of a flying saucer cult documented the moments in which the group’s ideology evolved in light of a failed doomsday prophecy. bethurum_225pxCult leader Marian Keech had told her followers the world would end at midnight while they, the chosen few, would be swooped away to safety in the comfort of a spacecraft. However as armageddon failed to materialise, minutes ticked awkwardly by and the cult members began to wonder what was going to happen next. Eventually Keech concocted an absurd excuse to explain why the world had not ended; our prayer averted the apocalypse!

The study, which was a precursor to his theory of Cognitive Dissonance, is famous for predicting which members of the group would drift away and which would rationalise away the failure and turn in into something to strengthen rather than weaken their beliefs. But also interesting is that Festinger reported that  .  .  .

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Also See: David Icke: Methods Of A Madman

Conspiracy theories: Why we believe the unbelievable

Michael ShermerBy Michael Shermer via latimes.com

With the passing of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy last week, and the accompanying fusillade of documentaries purporting to prove there was a conspiracy behind it, we might expect (and hope) that cabalistic conjecturing will wane until the next big anniversary.

conspiracy_theory 831_250pxDon’t count on it. A poll this month found that 61% of Americans who responded still believe that JFK was the victim of a conspiracy, despite the fact that the preponderance of evidence points to Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin.

Why do so many people refuse to accept this simple and obvious conclusion? The answer: psychology.

There are three psychological effects at work here, starting with “cognitive dissonance,” or the discomfort felt when holding two ideas that are not in harmony. We attempt to reduce the dissonance by altering one of the ideas to be in accord with the other. In this case, the two discordant ideas are 1) JFK as one of the most powerful people on Earth who was 2) killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, a lone loser, a nobody. Camelot brought down by a curmudgeon.

The most powerful person on Earth was killed by a nobody. This doesn’t feel right. To balance the scale, conspiracy elements are stacked onto the Oswald side.

The most powerful person on Earth was killed by a nobody. This doesn’t feel right. To balance the scale, conspiracy elements are stacked onto the Oswald side.

That doesn’t feel right. To balance the scale, conspiracy elements are stacked onto the Oswald side: the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, the Mafia, Fidel Castro, Lyndon Johnson and, in Oliver Stone’s telling in his film “JFK,” the military-industrial complex.

Cognitive dissonance was at work shortly after Princess Diana‘s death, which was the result of drunk driving, speeding and no seat belt. But princesses are not supposed to die the way thousands of regular people die each year, so the British royal family, the British intelligence services and others had to be fingered as co-conspirators.

By contrast, there is no cognitive dissonance for the Holocaust — one of the worst crimes in history committed by one of the most criminal regimes in history.

A second psychological effect is the “monological belief system,” or “a unitary, closed-off worldview in which beliefs come together in a mutually supportive network,” in the words of University of Kent researchers Michael J. Wood, Karen M. Douglas and Robbie M. Sutton in a 2012 paper titled “Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories.” A conspiracy theory, they wrote, is “a proposed plot by powerful people or organizations working together in secret to accomplish some (usually sinister) goal.” Once you believe that “one massive, sinister conspiracy could be successfully executed in near-perfect secrecy [it] suggests that many such plots are possible.”

With this cabalistic paradigm in place, conspiracies can become “the default explanation for any given event.” For example . . .

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Why do people believe things that science has proved untrue?

Via HowStuffWorks

Why do some people still believe Earth is flat? Thousands of people across the planet believe that the world is flat. Why? Their 'evidence,' while not convincing, is certainly bizarre. Tune in and learn more about one of the craziest conspiracy theories on Earth in this episode.

Why do some people still believe Earth is flat?
Thousands of people across the planet believe that the world is flat. Why? Their ‘evidence,’ while not convincing, is certainly bizarre. Tune in and learn more about one of the craziest conspiracy theories on Earth in this episode.

Nearly half of Americans are sure that life began no more than 10,000 years ago [Diethelm]. This would have humans and dinosaurs co-existing, make carbon-dating a fraud and outright dismiss any evidence of evolution.

Creationists are not alone. About one-fifth of Americans believe vaccines can cause autism, even after the discovery that the study data used to make the connection was faked [Gross, CNN]. A 2010 Gallop poll found that half of the U.S. population thinks human actions have nothing to do with climate change, despite the countless studies linking the effect to CO2 emissions [Rettig].

Don’t forget these, either: Smoking does not cause cancer; sex positions can help you conceive your gender of choice; raw milk can’t really do any harm.

The thinking might be rational in people who don’t buy science at all — no germs leading to illness, no evolution or genetic code, no “heat-retention” nonsense. But in those who do believe in the principles of science, in the scientific method and in most of its conclusions, how does this happen?

Psychologists call it “belief perseverance,” and it’s a widely studied phenomenon. All of us fall prey to it to some extent, but some people are more prone to it than others.

What exactly is at work here? To put it very simply, the human mind will go to great lengths to keep the peace.

Now That’s Perseverance

At the Flat Earth Society Web site, an open membership list reveals a group about 500 strong, all of whom apparently believe the society’s core theory: “Earth is a flat disk centered at the North Pole and bounded along its southern edge by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, planets, and stars only a few hundred miles above the surface of the Earth”

The world was going to end on Dec. 21, 1954, in a flood. But the cult members had no fear. They had faith, so they would be saved — rescued by a spaceship and whisked away from God’s wrath.

On Dec. 22, 1954, some of those cult members felt pretty foolish. But, to the shock of psychologist Leon Festinger, who had been studying the cult, others went the opposite way: They believed even more strongly than they had before the prophecy failed. In fact, to these true believers, the prophecy had not failed at all. They, the cult members, had managed to stop the flood with the power of their faith [Mooney]. That there was no flood was proof that they were right to believe.

In 1957, Festinger coined the term cognitive dissonance to describe what he had seen.

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Also See: the Flat Earth Society

Cognitive Dissonance

via Unnatural Acts that can improve your thinking

Cognitive dissonance is a theory of human motivation that asserts that it is psychologically uncomfortable to hold contradictory cognitions. The theory is that dissonance, being unpleasant, motivates a person to change his cognition, attitude, or behavior. This theory was first explored in detail by social psychologist Leon Festinger, who described it this way:
Dissonance and consonance are relations among cognitions that is, among opinions, beliefs, knowledge of the environment, and knowledge of one’s own actions and feelings. Two opinions, or beliefs, or items of knowledge are dissonant with each other if they do not fit together; that is, if they are inconsistent, or if, considering only the particular two items, one does not follow from the other (Festinger 1956: 25).
He argued that there are three ways to deal with cognitive dissonance. He did not consider these mutually exclusive.
  1. One may try to change one or more of the beliefs, opinions, or behaviors involved in the dissonance;
  2. One may try to acquire new information or beliefs that will increase the existing consonance and thus cause the total dissonance to be reduced; or,
  3. One may try to forget or reduce the importance of those cognitions that are in a dissonant relationship (Festinger 1956: 25-26).
For example, people who smoke know smoking is a bad habit. Some rationalize their behavior by looking on the bright side: They tell themselves that smoking helps keep the weight down and that there is a greater threat to health from being overweight than from smoking. Others quit smoking. Most of us are clever enough to come up with ad hoc hypotheses or rationalizations to save cherished notions. Why we can’t apply this cleverness more competently is not explained by noting that we are led to rationalize because we are trying to reduce or eliminate cognitive dissonance. Different people deal with psychological discomfort in different ways. Some ways are clearly more reasonable than others. So, why do some people react to dissonance with cognitive competence, while others respond with cognitive incompetence?
Cognitive dissonance has been called “the mind controller’s best friend” (Levine 2003: 202). Yet, a cursory examination of cognitive dissonance reveals that it is not the dissonance, but how people deal with it, that would be of interest to someone trying to control others when the evidence seems against them.

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ESP Special Pleading

by via NeuroLogica Blog

We all do it. In fact, we are generally very good at it. Smart and educated people are better at it.

Rationalizing is a daily practice, part of the “default mode” of human thinking. We make up reasons to justify believing what we want to believe. Often we are only dimly aware of why we want to believe something, the calculus largely occurring in the subconscious depths of our brains.

We defend beliefs because they are pleasing to our egos, because they minimize cognitive dissonance, and just because they are our beliefs. They resonate with our world-view, our internal model of reality.

We have at our disposal a long list of logical fallacies that we can marshal to the defense of our beliefs. Notions that are based on solid evidence and logic do not require such vigorous defense. Those beliefs that cannot be defended by logic and evidence require that bad logic and bad data be invoked to defend them. Luckily we have no problem distorting and cherry picking facts and twisting logic into pretzels.

One very common bit of bad logic is called special pleading. I think it is common because it is so insidious – it creeps up on us unaware. Special pleading is the process of inventing a special reason to explain away inconvenient evidence or the lack of predicted evidence.

Take, for example, ESP research.

Keep reading: NeuroLogica Blog » ESP Special Pleading.

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