Introductory Note to Family Studies
Are cult members’ families different from those of persons who do not join cults? Since this much-discussed question has received almost no systematic attention, the Cultic Studies Journal is pleased to present in this issue two scientific studies that investigate this important question.
The Maron and the Sirkin and Grellong studies that follow were competently designed and executed. But, as is often the case in psychological research, their findings contradict each other. Sirkin and Grellong found that their sample of cultists’ parents differed in some respects from a comparison sample; Maron found no differences.
These contradictory results underline the fact that a handful of studies rarely suffices to answer psychological questions authoritatively. Unlike research in the physical sciences, where scientists have considerable control over the variables under study, “real-world” (as opposed to laboratory) psychological research is fraught with contaminating factors. Measuring instruments may not accurately and/or reliably measure that which they were designed to measure. Data collected in a study may be analyzed according to different statistical procedures, the appropriateness of which may be debated even by statisticians. Subjects’ knowledge of or inferences about a study may influence their responses (which is why “pro-cultists” and “anti-cultists” question the reliability of reports from ex- cult members and present cult members, respectively). And the samples used to investigate questions about a large population (e.g., cult members’ families) may not be representative of that population.
For these reasons, the CSJ encourages others to follow the lines of inquiry opened by Maron and Sirkin and Grellong. Ultimately, the accumulation of scientific evidence will enable us to answer with confidence the key question stated earlier.