Contributor: Ann Poorboy
Often the topic of conversations these days is what happened to civility in America? We used to get along for the most part, and even if we didn’t understand another person’s perspective, we certainly didn’t threaten them with physical violence, shame them out of restaurants, or try to close their businesses because they disagreed with our lifestyle. What happened to all those nice “Coexist” bumper stickers?
There are many theories. Among these, are the potential root causes of everyone gets a trophy, video games, social media, the actual media, hollywood, politics, and a host of other theories that lead more towards conspiracy thinking. But what if these were all just playing a part in something far more powerful, and more primal? How does Colin Kapernick polarize a nation, even though he keeps changing the reason he’s kneeling? First it’s police brutality, then it’s President Trump and at one point there was something about religion in there. Still he as an individual has Nike on it’s knees pulling a shoe design off the shelves just because he doesn’t like it.
We see this phenomena in social media. A conversation about just about anything will motivate a person to share an impassioned social media post in knee-jerk response to perceived societal standards. It’s a yield to “perceived group pressures” by publicly expressing whatever sentiment is in agreement with the majority. It’s a reaction so most of us aren’t even aware when we are doing it!
Humans are hard wired to imitate each other. We end up professing beliefs and acting out in ways which we would have never otherwise done or considered independently. Psychologists refer to this occurrence as mob mentality. That’s why, it feels natural to pass along gossip and counterintuitive to stop it. It’s a basic survival instinct to be socially adaptive, but failing to assume the best, and think independently can have dire consequences.
When a group of people has assembled because they’re angry about something, it only takes one act of violence to whip the crowd into a fury. Others will follow the initial rioter’s lead and begin destroying property or hurting people. A lot of research has been conducted into the mindset of a violent mob. Being part of a group can destroy people’s inhibitions, making them do things they’d never otherwise do. They lose their independent values and principles and submit to the group’s principles, which, during a riot, are usually to cause destruction and avoid detection. This standard can seem to be a just and righteous one at the moment, since the mobs assembled after an act of perceived inequality or unfairness, and the communal emotion can make the cause seem even more important. Being in the midst of a mob can be exciting and powerful, and it can make people feel invisible — they are part of a huge group, and they won’t be detected or held responsible for their actions.
This research may help to explain why so many riots occur at sporting events. In these situations, there is already a heightened sense of group solidarity — everyone is wearing the same thing (either a jumpsuit or team colors) and has the same goal.
The longer a riot continues, however, the harder it may be to find people who remember why everyone assembled in the first place. While participants feel their actions are justified, they may not be able to articulate the specific act that motivated the riot, and often as a result, damage is done to property or people that can’t even be tied to the riot’s trigger. Some people will show up simply to loot the damaged businesses and homes. Many of the victims of riot violence did nothing to deserve their fate other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So what’s an optimist to do? We need to first recognize it for what it is. The main quality of individuals who are susceptible to mob mentality is a sensitivity to shame, as opposed to guilt.
Shame requires an audience; guilt does not.
The more a person is susceptible to shame, the more likely he or she is to join a mob or a herd. This is because that person is likely to have experience with fitting in. From childhood on, they learn to conform to what everyone else is doing. They learn to dress the way everyone else does and like the same music everyone else does. We all learned this in elementary school. Call someone a name – and game over.
We also need to understand that there are many entities, trying to manipulate you for their own good. Some because they want you to be in their mob, some for profit, some for political power, some for control, the list is long. They become effective by praying our our human nature to avoid shame. That’s where the name calling becomes so effective. Racist, Nazi, Snowflake.
When a mob forms, a person susceptible to shame will be vulnerable to the pressure: join us, or know we will hold you in contempt. Or in extreme cases, not joining in would have dire consequences.
If we dig deeper, mob mentality (also called as herd mentality) describes how humans adopt behaviors, buy merchandise, and follow trends based on one or more circles of influence. It explains how one’s point of view can be easily altered by those around them. So the easiest step is to recognize it for what it is and separate yourself from it. Refuse to participate.
Social psychologists have been studying all relevant topics relating to mob mentality and surmised that there are three psychological theories to crowd behavior: Contagion Theory, Convergence Theory, and Emergent-Norm Theory.
1. Contagion Theory (Crowd Frenzy)
Contagion theory is a theory of collective behavior which explains that the crowd can cause a hypnotic impact on individuals. The theory is first developed by Gustave Le Bon in his book called “the crowd: a study of popular mind in France” in 1885. Crowds easily become uncontrolled, wild, and frenzied. In this state, they can exert a hypnotic impact that results in unreasonable and emotionally charged behavior among the members. For example, with mob mentality, superstitions can evolve from a misconception or rumor between a small group of people and escalate quickly.
2. Convergence Theory
In this theory, like-minded individuals come together by focusing on a limited number of choices as possibilities, then choosing the “correct” answer from said choices. In today’s America it’s for Trump or against Trump. It goes without saying that everyone who supports the position must, by virtue of the mob mentality, be against everyone with a different opinion. An optimistic solution would be a peaceful protest. Violence doesn’t have to be an emergent feature, but would be result if the people wanted it to be and came together in a crowd to make it so.
3. Emergent-Norm Theory (and The Anonymity of The Internet)
In this mentality, a combination of like-minded individuals share anonymity and emotions which lead to overall group behavior. The anonymity of the internet allows people the freedom of yielding to mob mentality and those messages exchanged via social media, as they are able to let go of the social restraints that would otherwise hinder them in a face-to-face setting.
Stay Independent of Mob Mentality
If you sense you are in a mob situation, or one that is about to devolve into one, evaluate as much information available as you can. Consider everything being presented to you as unproven. Remember, we are constantly bombarded with information presented as facts such as a sensational headline designed to provoke comments that has little to do with the article inside. They are hoping for engagement, good or bad interactions are irrelevant to them – so long as they get everyone talking.
There are more than a few people who probably have ideas about how yu should run your life. Politely, and kindly maintain your independence by using your own imagination and forming your own thoughts and ideas about any given topic. This is a lot more rewarding then by going off what people tell you to do when you don’t necessarily want to do it. Getting ideas from others is different but remember to stay creative.
Set Standards for Yourself and Stick To Them
Standards provide a foundational baseline of behavior. It makes decision making in our day-to-day lives easier and less ambiguous because we know who we want to be, and when we are able to tap into our individual sense of honor, ethics, and pride.
Just Say No
If you don’t agree to something even if the rest of the crowd are pushing you, it doesn’t mean you have to follow them. Stay independent. It’s typically called being a sheep because sheep don’t question the herd they just follow and walk in unison. Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you have to. Say no to what you’re against and walk the opposite way. You don’t have to push your ideas on them, you don’t have to be right, you just have to be kind and hold yourself accountable to your personal ethical code. You may be surprised with the end result.
Stop Apologizing for Being Yourself
It is important to embrace who you are and not hide who you truly are. You have to remember when someone is surround you with hate or negativity for being different its not because your necessarily in the wrong or did something wrong but its people’s emotions which they project onto you out of in the moment
The world can be harsh and self serving — it wants to have its way with you. We are saved only by love — love for each other and the love that we pour into the gifts we are given to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a child; being a friend. As evil tries to win, we must preserve and spread love.
Donley, Megan. “Examining The Mob Mentality.” South Source, South University. 14 Jan. 2011. 20 Feb. 2017. http://source.southuniversity.edu/examining-the-mob-mentality-31395.aspx
James, Wendy, Ph.D. “The Psychology of Mob Mentality and Violence.” Life Consultants, Inc. (2013). 20 Feb. 2017. http://www.drwendyjames.com/the-psychology-of-mob-mentality-and-violence/
McLeod, S. A. “Obedience to Authority.” Simply Psychology, (2007). 20 Feb. 2017. www.simplypsychology.org/obedience.html
McLeod, S. A. “What is Conformity?” Simply Psychology, (2016). 20 Feb. 2017. www.simplypsychology.org/conformity.html
“What makes one susceptible to the mob or herd mentality?” Quora.com. Accessed July 3, 2019