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Source: Laura Brannon, 785-532-0604, lbrannon@k-state.edu
News release prepared by: Tyler Sharp, 785-532-2535, media@k-state.edu

Thursday, June 2, 2011

AWAITING THE END: DOOMSDAY PROPHECIES ATTRACT VARIETY OF BELIEVERS

MANHATTAN -- The world was supposed to end May 21; it's been changed to Oct. 21.

It also was supposed to end Sept. 6, 1994, and many other dates throughout history. Some now are predicting Dec. 21, 2012, as the end of it all.

Doomsday prophesying has been in vogue for many generations and attracted a variety of believers. But according to a Kansas State University social psychology expert, there is a wide variability in our acceptance of doomsday prophecies.

"Obviously some people take them very seriously, while many people dismiss them," said Laura Brannon, associate professor of psychology.

The people who dismiss the predictions include well-versed Christians, Brannon said. They cite Jesus from the Bible in stating, "No one knows the day or hour" of the end of the world. Others just do not take the warnings seriously, she said.

Meanwhile, people who believe the predictions include those who are prone to worry more about any perceived threat, she said. A small percentage of these people take extreme actions, including giving up their possessions or making other life changes.

"Research has examined groups where members had given up everything they owned and made other drastic life changes because of doomsday predictions, and looked at what the group members did when the world didn't end as predicted," she said. "Somewhat surprisingly, the members tended to think that the world didn't end because of their own actions."

Brannon said these people tend to believe their faith and actions saved the world, and this belief is how doomsday prophecies remain popular and believable.

The results were similar to a study Brannon conducted before and after Y2K, the supposed widespread failure of computers, data storage and documentation devices to occur Jan. 1, 2000. Before Jan. 1, people were surveyed on how likely they thought negative outcomes such as computer failures would be. Several months after the event, the same people were asked to recall their prior predictions. Those people tended to underestimate their level of concern at the time, a concept called hindsight bias, Brannon said.

"Most people who hear doomsday prophecies and become a little anxious about them are quick to dismiss and forget their earlier concern when they don't come true," she said.