Psychotherapist Dr Hugh Willbourn says lockdown zealots are displaying all the classic signs of cult members by doubling down on their beliefs despite having been proven wrong.
In an article on his website, Willbourn highlights the work of respected social psychologist Leon Festinger, who analyzed the beliefs of a UFO cult in the 1950’s who believed that a flying saucer would rescue them from the apocalypse.
Festinger’s “When Prophecy Fails” is a classic of social psychology.
However, after the catastrophic earthquakes and floods they expected to hit the United States never arrived and their beliefs were totally disproved, “the cult members would become not less but more convinced of their beliefs.”
Festinger identified five conditions that needed to be met in order for the cult members to double down on their beliefs and avoid cognitive dissonance.
- 1. There must be conviction
- 2. There must be commitment to this conviction
- 3. The conviction must be amenable to unequivocal disconfirmation
- 4. Such unequivocal disconfirmation must occur
- 5. Social support must be available subsequent to the disconfirmation.
“Festinger’s five conditions and the behaviour of the cult believers correspond closely to the situation with Brexit, Climate Change and Covid-19: a prophecy is made, believers invest themselves, their time, money and prestige in it, the prophecy fails and the believers become more fervent,” writes Willbourn.