Doomsday believers tend to pick up and get on with their lives more successfully if they have strong networks of family and friends, Kent said. The grassroots nature of the Mayan apocalypse predictions is therefore troubling, he said.

“The isolated individuals who encounter these predictions on the Internet may be terribly alone,” he said. Some may be “really quite lost” in the wake of the uneventful day.

“It’s not just the usual suspects,” said DiTommaso of the 2012 apocalypse believers. “Lots of people can buy into 2012 for different reasons.”

Part of the reason that failed doomsdays can be so traumatic, Kent said, is that they appear to be a way that people grapple with their mortality. Believers usually think they’ll survive the end, whether by being one of God’s chosen people, by building an underground bunker, or by hitching a ride on a friendly UFO. If you survive the end of the world, Kent said, you never have to face your own death.