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How to Become a Cult Leader: The Social Psychology of Groups Sue Frantz Psychology May 16, 2003.

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Presentation on theme: "How to Become a Cult Leader: The Social Psychology of Groups Sue Frantz Psychology May 16, 2003."— Presentation transcript:

1 How to Become a Cult Leader: The Social Psychology of Groups Sue Frantz Psychology May 16, 2003

2 What is a Cult? An organization operating on the fringes of society “New Religious Movements” Faith Groups High Demand Faith Groups Destructive Cults

3 Create Your Own Social Reality Choose something people already believe in and put your own spin on it. Marshall Applewhite & Heaven’s Gate Jim Jones & the People’s Temple L. Ron Hubbard & Scientology David Koresh & the Branch Davidians Fred Phelps & the Westboro Baptist Church

4 Create Your Own Social Reality Eliminate all sources of information except that provided by the cult. Remote area No mass media Limited contact with people outside the organization

5 Create Your Own Social Reality Provide a cult’s eye view of the world “Shirley Phelps-Roper, the attorney for the Westboro Baptist Church, explained that Rogers, as a Presbyterian minister with a television program, had a responsibility to comment on the issue. By not doing so, she explained that he was helping to promote homosexuality, which the group says falls into the category of ‘whoremongery and adultery, which will damn the soul forever in hell.’ She added that the support some Americans have given to homosexuals was the reason behind tragedies including the Sept. 11 attacks, the crash of the NASA shuttle Colombia (sic), and the nightclub fire in Rhode Island. “‘You don't get to pretend to decide what form God takes,’ Phelps-Roper said. ‘He's the God who could have stopped the shuttle crash, the nightclub fire, but instead he sent those things. This country has forgotten God and effectively flipped him off, and Fred Rogers is in part responsible.’" -- Daily Illini, March 20, 2003

6 Create Your Own Social Reality Regarding the Sept 11 th attacks, Jerry Falwell said on the 700 Club: "[T]he pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America," Falwell continued, "I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'" -- ABC News, Sept 14, 2001 "Throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools," he said. "The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad.

7 Create Your Own Social Reality Keep repeating it. “Fiction if heard frequently enough can come to sound like fact.” -- Pratkanis & Aronson, Age of Propaganda

8 Use the Ingroup Bias Initiation Distinctive clothes Changed diet Changed name

9 Send Your Members Out to Witness Brings in new members Reestablishes current members’ beliefs How?

10 Cognitive Dissonance Perform a boring task. “Can you tell the next person how much you enjoyed it?” IV: $1 vs. $20 DV: “So, how much did you really enjoy it?” Those paid $1 found the task much more enjoyable than those paid $ Festinger & Carlsmith (1959)

11 Cognitive Dissonance “This was really a lot of fun” Why did I say that? It wasn’t really fun at all! Cognitive dissonance! The thought doesn’t mesh with the behavior.

12 Cognitive Dissonance Am I liar? Nah! Not me!

13 Cognitive Dissonance I lied because they paid me $20. That’s a lot of $. I was doing my job. “The task really was BORING!” Cognitive dissonance resolved!

14 Cognitive Dissonance They only paid me $1. Certainly I wouldn’t sell my soul for $1. So why did I do it? “The task really was ENJOYABLE!” Cognitive dissonance resolved!

15 Cognitive Dissonance & Witnessing Why did I say that? I really think that joining this organization was a bad idea... “This organization is great! Join us!”

16 Cognitive Dissonance & Witnessing Am I liar? Nah! Not me!

17 Nobody forced me to say that, so why did I do it? “This group really is GREAT!” Cognitive Dissonance & Witnessing Cognitive dissonance resolved!

18 Create Commitment Foot-in-the-door technique IV: “Sign a petition supporting safe driving?” vs. no request About 2 weeks later -- DV: “Can we place this large, ugly ‘Drive Safely’ sign in your front yard?” Those who had signed the petition were 3 times more likely to agree to the second request. --Freedman & Fraser (1966)

19 Create Commitment Foot-in-the-door technique as used by Scientology Time Magazine, 1991

20 Create Commitment Foot-in-the-door technique – continued Time Magazine, 1991

21 Create Commitment Foot-in-the-door technique – continued Time Magazine, 1991

22 Establish Leader’s Credibility and Attractiveness L. Ron Hubbard is God David Koresh is the second coming of Christ

23 Distract Members from Thinking “Unthinkable” Thoughts Especially important for new members Chanting Singing Meditation Constant group interaction

24 Fixate Members’ Vision on a Phantom It looks solid, but is never accomplished “Better world for the faithful” Doomsday has been moved to some future point

25 Recap Create your own social reality Use the ingroup bias Create commitment Establish leader’s credibility & attractiveness Send members out to witness Distract members from thinking the “unthinkable” Fixate members’ vision on a phantom

26 Further Reading Pratkanis, A. & Aronson, E. (2001). Age of propaganda: The everyday use and abuse of persuasion, revised. Freeman. Cialdini, R. (2000). Influence: Science and practice, 4 th ed. Allyn & Bacon.


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