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mob mentality (herd/hive mentality)

Mob mentality -- also called herd or hive mentality -- is the inclination that some humans have to be part of a large group, often neglecting their individual feelings in the process, and adopting the behaviors and actions of the people around them. The term is used to describe how humans blindly follow the crowd and take on different manners, follow trends and buy merchandise based on their circle of influence. The concept of mob mentality was first introduced by social psychologists and group think pioneers Gabriel Tarde and Gustave Le Bon in the 1800s.

In a group think scenario, consensus is often derived by social pressures or by workflow processes that cannot accommodate change. Group thinking, which carries a negative connotation, can be contrasted with  collaboration, a scenario in which individual group members are encouraged to be creative, speak out and weigh many options before arriving at a consensus.

How mob mentality works

Being part of a group can cause a person to lose their self-awareness -- or experience deindividuation. When people deindividuate, they become less likely to follow normal social restrictions and more likely to lose their sense of an individual identity. This can lead to the destruction of a person's natural inhibitions, causing them to perform an activity they would never normally do; their individual values and principles have been replaced by those of the group.

Furthermore, being a part of a large group can make people feel invisible and, therefore, invincible. In other words, a person's fear of repercussion is reduced. People believe they will not be detected or held accountable for their actions as long as they exist under the shield of the group.

While everyone is vulnerable to mob mentality, there are certain situations that may make it more likely to occur. For example, adolescents with shared antisocial tendencies and a lack of family bonds are more likely to join gangs as they search for their social identity. Also, looting is more likely occur in dire situations when resources are limited, such as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Mob mentality can be hard to sustain, but the influence of peer pressure and the fear of rejection often prohibits most members from speaking up and dissenting the group's activities, thus allowing mob mentality to survive.

Issues and drawbacks of mob mentality

Mob mentality arises from a natural desire to fit in. However, as has been mentioned, this often depletes an individual's personal decision-making skills. It becomes more challenging to evaluate and stand by personal beliefs when they contrast with what others are doing.

This disregard for personal opinions and fear of dissenting is one major issue with mob mentality. In a reasonable discussion, disagreeing viewpoints are considered with respect and the reasons behind the conflicting ideas are discussed. However, in mob mentality, contrasting voices are frequently silenced, either through mockery or the individual's fear of speaking up. This immediately stops individual thought and reveals to the other group members that disagreements are not welcome. This peer pressure leads to a consensus decision that may not have everyone's best interests in mind.

A lack of human decency can also be found in mob mentality. When alone, individuals are unlikely to be open about or express racist, abusive, destructive opinions or other harmful traits. However, when introduced to mob mentality, these hateful characteristics become more common. Even if something begins as a peaceful protest, it can easily turn into a violent outburst with looting and willful destruction as individuals become more concerned with following everyone else and are no longer willing to make their own decisions.

Notable examples of mob mentality

Mob mentality arises naturally. It can be seen in the herding of grazing animals and in groups of humans.

The principle is induced and manipulated by advertisers, political leaders, Social influencers through social media and individuals in order to gain and protect their social influence. Financial analysts observe the effects of mob mentality when masses of investors behave emotionally and rashly together. For example, investors may all rush to buy one stock because somebody says it is "hot."

The Salem Witch Trials -- between 1692 and 1693 -- are one of the greatest examples of mob mentality. Hysteria started in the small colonial Massachusetts town after a group of young girls claimed to be possessed by the devil, accusing several local women of witchcraft. Other villagers quickly adopted the fear, and the accusations of witchcraft grew, resulting in the unfair imprisonment and trial of over 200 people. In the end, 30 people were found guilty of witchcraft, 19 were executed by hanging and 7 died while in jail.

A more common example of mob mentality can be seen at sporting events, where attendees frequently adopt the collective moods and actions of the sports fans around them. Game day conditions -- such as weather and alcohol availability -- can enhance the mob mentality further, making it more likely for the group to carryout extreme activities, like charging onto the field or major outbursts when the referee makes a disagreeable call.

History of mob mentality

As mentioned before, mob mentality was first identified by Gabriel Tarde and Gustave Le Bon in the 1800s. The principle has since been analyzed in numerous behavioral psychology studies.

For example, a study performed by Professor Jens Krause and Dr. John Dyer of the University of Leeds in England found that subjects told to walk randomly around a room will instinctively start following whoever has more confidence.

In the study, subjects were told to follow their own random path around a large hall. A separate, smaller group of subjects were told to walk a specific path. Those following random paths quickly started copying the subjects who were given specific paths. Krause and Dyer found that it only takes 5% of people walking confidently to influence the other 95% of walkers to follow them.

How to avoid mob mentality

There are a few simple ways to avoid getting pulled into a mob mentality. First, take time to think through responses and actions before making them. It's best not to engage when feeling stressed, pressured or disconnected.

Second, always be sure to research before forming an opinion and be open to new information that emerges. This will help individuals form their own thoughts and ideas rather than copying those of their peers.

Third, find comfort in being unique and develop the courage to stand out from the crowd. This includes speaking out against bullies and others that are causing harm.


This was last updated in December 2019

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