In 1954, social psychologist Leon Festinger joined a sect called The Seekers, whose leader, Dorothy Martin, preached that a UFO would save them before destroying the planet on December 21 of that year. When this did not happen, many cult members left. But most of the inner circle remained, inventing all kinds of reasons as to why the prophecy didn’t come true (for example, their faith persuaded the aliens to give Earth a second chance) and redoubled their devotion.
From this research, Festinger developed the theory of cognitive dissonance: that human beings will do just about anything to resolve the contradictions between our deeply held beliefs about the world and the reality of the world itself. Cognitive dissonance is so unpleasant, so messy, and catastrophic for the ego, that no absurd and tortured reasoning is worse than reality contradicting a deeply held belief.
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