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Conversion

 

Explanations > Theories > Conversion

Description | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

This is a sudden change in beliefs, such as when someone ‘experiences’ a religious conversion. The experience is often felt very strongly and leads to radical changes in behaviors.

Cults often attract people who are searching for meaning in their lives and who have built up massive tension around this. The converts experience a significant emotional release, often within a carefully engineered context of ritual and socialization, as they ‘see the light’.

When this happens to an individual, it is often after they have been thinking about something for some time, and a cognitive breakthrough at last appears. This happens with beliefs much in the same way as an inventor or scientist gets an ‘eureka’ experience on how to solve a problem.

Example

When H.G. Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’ was read on the US radio by Orson Welles in 1938, many listeners suddenly believed the world really was being attacked by aliens, and mass panic ensued. This was due to the ‘news broadcast’ style that was used, as well as the way radio-listening was, at that time, a social activity. The impending war probably did not help either.

So what?

Using it

Find or build significant tensions in the other person. Let them build to almost breaking point, where they are desperately looking for a solution. Then provide the solution, preferably in an engineered context where all cues point to the same conclusion. Follow up by giving them experiences that allow them to ‘prove’ the change to themselves.

Defending

When you have a significant tension in your life, such as when you have been searching for meaning, beware of people offering pat solutions. In particular question what they might be getting (or might ask in return) from your conversion.

See also

Commitment, Conversion techniques

References

Berger (1963), Berger and Luckmann (1967)

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