Charles Manson, who died November 19, famously attracted a coterie of men and women to do his bidding, which included committing a string of murders in the late-1960s.
Manson is undoubtedly a fascinating figure with a complicated life story. But as someone who studies human cognition, I’m more interested in the members of the Manson “family” like Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel, and how they become drawn to leaders of cult-like organizations in the first place.
The illusion of comfort
Emotional comfort is central to the allure of cults.
California Institute of Technology psychologist Jon-Patrik Pedersen, in attempting to explain why people are drawn to cults, has argued that the human longing for comfort leads us to seek out people or things that can soothe our fears and anxieties.
In and of itself, the urge to quiet internal demons is not a negative trait. I’d argue that, to the contrary, it’s an effective adaptation that allows us to cope with the stressors, big and small, that bombard us on a regular basis.