What driving force could be so powerful that it could transform a serene group of individuals into a potentially violent mob? What could sway the minds of half a stadium, based on the influence of only a handful of people?
It’s the same thing that motivates a person to share an impassioned social media post in knee-jerk response to societal standards. It’s a yield to “perceived group pressures” by publicly expressing whatever sentiment is in agreement with the norm. It’s so easy to do that most of us aren’t even aware when we are doing it!
Humans have a predilection to imitate one another’s behavior. 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, for instance, it feels natural – and even pleasurable – to pass along gossip and counterintuitive to stop it.
Still, it could get channeled in positive ways, too.
Mob mentality, also called as herd mentality, describes how humans adopt behaviors, buy merchandise, and follow trends based on their circle of influence. It explains how one’s point of view can be easily altered by those around them.
Mob mentality psychology can impact pop culture, political ideals, and even stock market behavior. The origin of superstition lies in mob mentality psychology, as well. 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)
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. Another example could be a peaceful protest. Violence doesn’t have to be an emergent feature, but is a 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.
Other examples of “mob mentality:”
Large sporting events are an excellent mob mentality psychology example. Because they have been grouped in a crowd or large arena, many sports fans would take on collective moods and actions of the assembly. Conditions like extreme weather or alcohol can enhance mob mentality. Have you ever seen fans charge a field on an especially hot day? Or get especially riled up over a close call made by an official when a few too many drinks were consumed?
The Salem Witch Trials
Perhaps one of the most enduring examples of mob mentality is that of The Salem Witch Trials, wherein an entire population came to believe that completely innocent victims were witches possessed by the devil. They arrived at this conclusion without any physical or rational evidence. There was simply a snowball effect once one person claimed to see the devil, claimed a conspiracy of witches, and then accused another woman of being a witch. Widespread panic ensued. Women were lynched one right after the other without a fair or reasonable trial because, by that point, those making the determination were incapable of fair reasoning. They had already been entirely swayed by mob mentality.
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
“The Salem Witch Trials, 1692.” Eyewitness To History. 22 Feb. 2017 http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/salem.htm