Topic Blog 1: Introduction to cults; Jonestown.

Topic Blog 1: Introduction to cults; Jonestown.

For my next four blog posts I’ll be focusing on the topic of cults. This is a topic many have my other classmates have done, however I will be trying to further the analysis section and relating it to social cognition more.

To start this series off, I’ll be choosing “Jonestown“, a well known case of a cult that will be an easy start to these next blogs that everyone has most-likely heard of.

The Peoples Temple had its humble beginnings, originally known as the Wings of Deliverance, founded by Jim Jones. Having no more than 20 followers, Jones then renamed it the People Temple, known for its racial activism, allowing people of color to join the congregation, setting up soup kitchens and an orphanage. Jones promoted equality, preaching about the intolerance he has to racial segregation, and commenting on the flaws of capitalism. In 1960 Jones and his wife and him were the first white people to adopt a black child in Indiana (Ksander, 2o07). The Peoples Temple started to grow in popularity, growing from a few hundred to 20,000 in a short amount of time. With the mixed congregation, people believed this sort of equality was only something Jones could accomplish. Many of Jones’ followers were homeless, or addicts, and Jones offered shelter and guidance, an offer many couldn’t afford to turn away (Nelson, 2007).

As the Peoples Temple continued to gain followers, he began to gain political power. This attention drew the media, in which his following swayed slightly. Humiliated, Jones went to Guyana and began his commune there.It was during this time that Jones became increasingly belligerent as his drug addiction becoming more apparent, and his captivating speeches that entranced so many people were becoming more difficult to understand and no longer were about this “better future”, and were much more pessimistic in nature. Jones’ methods of manipulation became more aggressive, and word continued to spread, Congressmen Leo Ryan came to Jonestown to see if these rumors were true, along with family members and journalists. During Ryan’s visit, many of the members made their situation apparent, having several ‘defectors’ asking to leave with them. This pushed Jones to a breaking point, and some of the Peoples Temple members shot several of the defectors, Ryan, and some of the journalists. Jones then called an “emergency meeting”, distributing his poisonous mix of Kool-Aid and cyanide. Many drank willingly, those who didn’t were injected with it through syringes, forced to drink, or shot.

Whether the tragic end of the Peoples Temple was planned from the beginning with the Wings of Deliverance, or he fell victim to his own madness; a further analysis is necessary to better relate the tactics Jim Jones used against his followers to Social Cognition.

Jones first gained traction by his social manipulation, catering to the public and gaining followers through his passionate and intense speeches, many people report getting easily caught up in what Jones was saying, just because he was so emotional about it. Jones offered a hand to people in need, those that were homeless took up refuge under Jones, easily convincing them that he saved them, and that he was someone that they owed something to (Nelson, 2007). He encouraged his followers to sell their belongings and turn away from their families, as Jones deliberately tried to “break down” his followers outside ties, believing that family relationships were “sick” (Ross, 2008). He quickly became a sort of Messianic-figure to his followers, demanding that they call him father, staging spiritual healing presentations, and even drugging his own followers to further their belief in him as a saviour (Webb, 1978).

Jones was not only convincing, but also coercive, and often humiliated his followers by having them sit naked in meetings, and would criticize them during congregations (Kilduff, 1977). Jones would also put on suicide-rehearsing “White Nights” in which a portion of his followers would ingest a liquid that was said to have poison in it, demanding that they drink if they want to prove their devotion (Ross, 2008). These methods were so degrading and psychologically damaging, that a majority of his followers had no opposition, as they were just mentally exhausted. In this broken state, Jones was able to further manipulate them, encouraging them to spy and report on each others actions, creating a system of anxiety and paranoia. Shortly after the death of Leo Ryan, Jones ordered that children drink first, severing the final ties any members might have to family. The community in Jonestown was so broken down at this point, many no longer saw the point of living, and the fact that many members willingly drank the poison becomes easier to understand.

In conclusion for this blog, as I am way over my word count, Jim Jones used manipulative forces to socialize his followers into believing the Peoples Temple was concordant to their own beliefs, and a movement worth joining. Jones quickly stripped them of personal identity, and punished them when they questioned his authority, and through the methods already discussed, Jones was able to socialize his followers into becoming helpless and completely dependant on him, some; even willing to end their lives for him. Thank you for reading! 🙂


Nelson, S. (2006). Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple. Fireflight Media, October, 20.

Webb, A. (1978). Jonestown Survivors Describe Their Escape. The Bryan Times, Nov.

Kilduff, M., & Tracy, P. (1977). Inside Peoples Temple. New West, 8(1), 77.


13 thoughts on “Topic Blog 1: Introduction to cults; Jonestown.

  1. I run a blog for people who were or currently are involved in the Alexandrian witchcraft cult. It is UK based and contains contributions from people who were psychologically and spiritually scarred by the behaviour of some of their leaders and later prevented from speaking out about it. It’s not just that ‘to keep silent’ is a tenet of every occult community. The silencing often occurs through assassination of character and by spreading vicious insinuations that victims are to be ignored because the magic has driven them to madness – whereas it doesn’t take a psychologist to work out what gaslighting can do to someone already dealing with the trauma of abuse. Breaking the silence, even when the teachers are wrong and known to be wrong, inevitably leads to mobbing and being turned into a pariah. It’s not the best of blogs intellectually speaking, but it is written by insiders and hopefully will add something to your research.


    1. Hello! Thank you for your comment! That sounds very interesting! This blog is for a university psychology class, but I am very intrigued by your comment, and would love to be able to use the Alexandrian witchcraft cult for my next blog topic, if thats okay? Thank you again for your comment! 🙂


  2. I found this really interesting article, the researchers have a theory that most Americans are in a cult without even knowing it. Americans are so fond of pharmacological medication that we rely on them to help with every psychological and physical problem and if an individual refuses to take the meds they are ridiculed and sometimes punished or forced to take them. It is a really good read and it makes you think, it would be helpful in your future blogs if you want to look into modern- day cults or cult like behaviour.


  3. This incidence can lead us to think about many aspects, drug abuse disorders, depression, anxiety and etc. One thing drags my attention is that Jones ask his followers to leave their families. In the treatment of depression, family support or support from close people is most affective and important to the success of recovery. It is can be actually said that the support from close relationship can be more influential than any mental treatment. Therefore, turning away from families means the followers lose their reliever and are forced to intake the passive feeling alone. Our mind does not just go with any feeling we currently have. There is emotion we keep seeking, which is tranquilness. The purpose of regulating emotion is for that matter. So I think it is perceivable that when we lose the most important technique for regulating emotion, people become easily confused into the depressive state.
    Berking, M., Wupperman, P., Reichardt, A., Pejic, T., Dippel, A., & Znoj, H. (2008). Emotion-regulation skills as a treatment target in psychotherapy. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 46(11), 1230-1237. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2008.08.005
    Hawton, K., Witt, K. G., Taylor Salisbury, T. L., Arensman, E., Gunnell, D., Hazell, P., . . . van Heeringen, K. (2016). Psychosocial interventions for self-harm in adults. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (5), CD012189.


  4. Great topic!
    While I was reading through your post, I thought it might be interesting to look at how cults are perceived by the general population. In an article I found, Paul J. Olson (2006) discusses how the term “cult” has become a pejorative word which is often used by people to describe religious groups when they don’t like or understand these groups (p. 97). Once this label has been applied, Olson notes that it is very difficult to alter people’s opinions, and the religious group becomes stereotyped without being given a fair chance to be understood, Not only does this label affect the appearance of the group though, it also affects the individual members by “dehumanizing” them, causing the group members to suddenly be viewed as brainwashed, crazy, and deviant (Olson, 2006, p. 91).

    Olson, P. (2006). The Public Perception of “Cults” and “New Religious Movements” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 45(1), 97-106. Retrieved from


  5. Very cool topic, I’ve always found cults to be extremely interesting. I’ve also read a lot about the Jonestown massacre, and I’ve even come across recordings that were made during the mass suicide (not for the faint of heart for sure, it’s some really chilling stuff).

    To tie your topic into what I’m focusing on (the Dark Triad of personality traits), it has been noted that charismatic leaders such as those of cults possess many narcissistic traits (Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006). Jim Jones is one of more well-known leaders believed to be narcissistic, up there with leaders like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin (Zee, 1980, as cited by Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006). Evidently the jury is still out on whether or not narcissism is a good trait for leaders to have, but it is interesting food for thought. Negative aspects that tie into narcissistic tendencies are things like arrogance, feelings of inferiority, need for recognition and hypersensitivity (Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006). As I’m sure you’ve seen in your research, Jim Jones reportedly fits many of those traits listed. However, it should be noted that the confidence and dominance exuded by narcissistic leaders is what can draw people to them, as can be seen in cult settings (Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006).


    – Rosenthal, S. A., & Pittinsky, T. L. (2006). Narcissistic leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 17, 617-633.


  6. this is a very interesting topic and ill definitely be looking for the future posts. i find cults and secret societies very interesting, i also find it very interesting that a previous comment linked this cult and scientology. i looked up the definition of a cult and it comes up with “a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.” i find this definition very interesting because that same definition could also define religion. i found a great article that talks about cults and how the people blindly follow. it does discuss some of the things mentioned in your blog but it also goes more in depth on why humiliating the followers works and having them worship one person or ideal works for control over them.

    Walsh, Y. (01.06.2001). Counselling psychology quarterly: Deconstructing ‘brainwashing’ within cults as an aid to counselling psychologists Carfax Pub. Co. doi:10.1080/09515070110058558

    Liked by 1 person

  7. very interesting topic. I agree that he was quite manipulative and understood human vulnerability and how to take advantage of it for it own selfish use and ego inflation. Even though this Kool aide killing occurred in the 78′, I think that there are modern cults that exist today. one example of this is Scientology. where they use human behavior against people manipulating and deceiving the members and celebrities. to which they are the organization is guard by US amendments and psychological warfare to manipulate thousands into their Corporate religion. This is a interesting cult and is currently being taken on by Leah Remini on her documentary show ‘Scientology and the Aftermath’
    I think that one interesting avenue to research in relation to cults is personality and the psychological manipulation that occur to make a cult successful in deception and social conformity.

    Lewis, J. & Hammer, O. (2011). Handbook of religion and the authority of science (1st ed.). Leiden: Brill.

    Straus, R. (1986). Scientology “Ethics”: Deviance, Identity and Social Control in a Cult-Like Social World. Symbolic Interaction, 9(1), 67-82.

    Wallis, R. (1975). Scientology: Therapeutic Cult to Religious Sect. Sociology, 9(1), 89-100.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Kassie! Thank you for your comment! 🙂
      I agree, Scientology is a great example of a questionable religion that is thriving today. I think the evolution of the classification for a cult is also very interesting, as the definition has changed greatly over the years, and is still debated in length today. In Robbins and Zablocki’s book (that I’ll cite below), they explain the objectivity scholars and society has regarding the perception of cult. I’ll be touching on Laveyan Satanism next blog, which is also a good example of a modern day ‘cult’, and takes on a much different method for cognitive manipulation, and will challenge how the class thinks about these groups! Thank you again for the comment:)

      Robbins, T., & Zablocki, B. D. (2001). Misunderstanding cults: Searching for objectivity in a controversial field. University of Toronto Press.


  8. The Jonestown massacre is nothing shy of tragic. The idea of cults and blindly following a leader has me thinking about another classmates talk on mob mentality. As humans we all just want a sense if belonging within a collective which can make you do and act in a way you would not otherwise do. Much like I believe the individuals following Jim Jones, and caring out his wishes were consumed by. I came across a reading outlining the very essence of mob mentality and its threat to community and safety, I think it ties in very nicely with the notion of a cult. Check it out!

    Atkinson R. (2006). Mob mentality: the threat to community sustainability from the search for safety. Building on the Past. Great Britain: Polity Press.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Brittini! Thank you for your comment! I agree, mob mentality plays a role in cult following! I think that we can add a third component into that, which would be the correlation between psychopathy and leadership, which could explain Jim Jones’ manipulative qualities. The results found that CEO’s with psychopathic qualities such as egocentricity, deceptiveness, lack of empathy and irresponsibility had a higher chance of abusive supervision. So, perhaps a supervisor with abusive qualities (like Jones) could foster the mob mentality (like the growth of the Peoples Temple), and thus resulting in a flourishing cult! 🙂 Thank you again!

      Mathieu, C., Neumann, C. S., Hare, R. D., & Babiak, P. (2014). A dark side of leadership: Corporate psychopathy and its influence on employee well-being and job satisfaction. Personality and Individual Differences, 59, 83-88.


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