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Transcript of Jonestown
Role of Persuasion
Role of Conformity
Role of Obedience
Jim Jones and the People’s Temple
Role of Cognitive Dissonance
As he gradually increased his demands, Jones also exposed cult members to the concept of a “final ritual,” which was the mass suicide. Rehearsals of this ritual were to test followers and their faith in Jones. In a way, Jones was making use of what social psychologists call the foot-in-the-door phenominon by getting people to agree to a moderate request like a rehearsal. Once cult members had agreed to engage in frequent rehearsals of mass suicide, it became easier for them to go through with the real thing.
Jones was a charismatic man. He found people who needed to hear his message: the urban poor, minorities, the elderly, ex-addicts, and convicts. Potential members of the People’s Temple first saw an almost perfect scene where Blacks and Whites lived, worked, and worshiped together in harmony. Guests were greeted warmly and invited to share a meal. Jones also gave them "miracles". He cured diseases; he made predictions that came true with uncanny frequency. Members were pushed to believe in Jones; they liked the racial harmony, sense of purpose, and relief from feelings of worthlessness that the People’s Temple offered.
Jim Jones founded the People’s Temple in Indiana in 1958, preaching a message of brotherhood, racial integration, and freedom from poverty. His group helped feed and employ the poor. Jones presented a public image of a beloved leader who promoted a vision of racial harmony.
The tragic mass suicide of hundreds of members of the People’s Temple in Jonestown illustrates many social–psychological concepts. In late November 1978, under the direction of the Reverend Jim Jones, members of this cult fed a poison-laced drink to their children and then drank it themselves. More than 900 people died; most were found lying together, arm in arm.
Conformity played a role in the People’s Temple from the start. Even getting into the group wasn't easy. People underwent a strict initiation process that actually drew members more firmly into the group. As they became more involved in the People’s Temple, they committed themselves more strongly to the group because they were required to donate their property and 25% of their income to the church. Before they entered the meeting room for each service, they wrote self-incriminating letters that were turned over to the church. If anyone objected, the refusal was interpreted as a “lack of faith” in Jones. All of these rules were in place to make the group more important than individuals, which makes conformity to the group all the more likely.
The Jonestown Cult
Most of the members of the People’s Temple did this willingly. Why? After years of isolation from mainstream society, they had been led into complete commitment to Jones and the People’s Temple. People’s Temple was a cult. A cult is an extremist group led by a charismatic, totalitarian leader in which coercive methods are used to prevent members from leaving the group.
If we apply social–psychological theory to an analysis of these events, they become more understandible because we can see that the members of the People’s Temple were not very different from us. Four principles of social psychology—persuasion, conformity, obedience, and cognitive dissonance—can show the tragedy of Jonestown.
Jim Jones and the People's Temple
Role of Persuasion
Jones carefully managed his public image. He used letter writing and hundreds of cult members to praise him and impress politicians and reporters who supported the People’s Temple as well as to criticize and intimidate its opponents. Most important, Jones limited the information available to members.
Victims of Jonestown Massacre
Throughout the 1960s, the group grew in size and popularity. Rumors surfaced of unwilling followers. In the mid-1970s, after bad publicity, Jones and his followers moved to a jungle outpost he called Jonestown in Guyana, South America. In 1978, U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan heard reports that the People’s Temple was holding members against their will. He led a group of government officials, reporters, and concerned relatives to Jonestown to talk with people about how they liked living there. Two families secretly informed Ryan that they wanted out. As Ryan’s party and these two families tried to leave, Temple gunmen ambushed and killed five people, including Congressman Ryan. This ambush precipitated the mass suicide, an act that Jones and his followers had rehearsed many times.
"Reverand" Jim Jones
Compound in Guyana
Church in Indiana
Jones and followers children
Image from The Peoples
Image from The Peoples
Jones and his followers
Role of Obediance
The suicides at Jonestown can be viewed as the product of obedience—people complying with the orders of a leader and reacting to the threat of force. In the People’s Temple, whatever Jim Jones said, the members did. By the early 1970s, the members of the People’s Temple lived in constant fear of severe punishment—brutal beatings coupled with public humiliation—for committing even the smallest offenses. Milgram’s experiments show us that the power of authority doesn't need to be so explicitly threatening to create compliance with demands. Nor does the consensus of the group need to be coercive. Yet Jones’s power was both threatening and coercive.
Jones used threats to impose the discipline and devotion he demanded, and he took steps to eliminate any behavior that might encourage resistance among his followers. As Asch found in his experiments on conformity, if just one confederate expressed an opinion different from that of the majority, the rate of conformity drastically declined. This is minority social influence. In the People’s Temple, Jones tolerated no dissent, made sure that members had no allegiance other than their loyalty to him, and tried to make the alternative of leaving the church unthinkable. Anyone who dared to dissent was terrorized as a traitor, thereby stopping the possibility of minority social influence.
Followers devotion to Jones
Jones used informers who reported rule breaking, split families to prevent allegiances, and forced parents to give over their children to the Temple. He created conditions in which kin selection could not promote helping between members. Similarly, Jones worked to dissolve marital bonds by forcing couples into extramarital relations (sometimes with Jones himself). “Families are part of the enemy system,” Jones said, because they weakened the individual’s dedication to the cause. Not surprisingly, it was very hard to leave the cult. Not being able to defect or escape from the group, people had little choice but to conform.
How Conformity and Obedience was Gained
Followers of Jones
Role of Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive dissonance helps explain why cult members believed Jones to the end and why so few left. People did not become cult members all at once. The process of justifying their choice and becoming committed to Jones unfolded slowly over the course of weeks and months, sometimes years. Jones knew what he was doing. Starting the process with harsh acts of initiation is a perfect way to get people to rationalize their otherwise embarrassing behavior. If people don’t see the group they are about to join very positively, how could they possibly justify going through such humiliation in order to get in?
Even so, how could members not seek to escape and accept killing themselves and their children so easily? These acts were the product of a situation that made dissent impossible and faith in Jones and the Temple absolute. Once they were isolated from the rest of the world at Jonestown, escape was impossible. When escape is impossible, people rationalize their predicament. The members of the People’s Temple reduced their cognitive dissonance by changing their attitude to conform with their behavior. In this case, they told themselves that Jones was great and his message was wonderful. When the time to commit suicide finally arrived, most of the members clearly drank the juice quite willingly and by their own choice, so strong was their belief in Jones and his message.
Since Jonestown, many social psychologists remain unaware of the psychological impact of these controlling techniques, often explained in social psychology research, that cults use to recruit and retain members. Those who study cults, maintain that psychologists need to study how cults abuse social psychology research, and believe they need to develop effective treatments for cult victims to help them break free from a cult's influence before it's too late, so that, in cases like Jonestown, history does not repeat itself.
Names of the victims
By: Rebecca Hynes