|>SNIP<------ Prometheuspan on Mob Psychology:|
The first thing I did when I started researching Mob Psychology was to figure out the direction I wanted to go on this topic. Mob Psychology has many different aspects, and I decided I needed to narrow my search. I decided to eliminate research on Freudian theories because I am not interested in the unconscious state of mind and the technical writings of Freud. I also decided to eliminate most of the evolutionary and scientific ideas on Mob Psychology. The things I am interested in are the motives people have for joining "mobs" and deindividuation, which is when you lose your sense of individuality.
The first place I looked for information on Mob Psychology was the Internet. I had a little trouble finding the right keywords, because group thinking, crowd mentality, herd instinct, and many other terms for Mob Psychology that mean basically the same thing. But I've managed to find a fair amount of information on my subject. I went to the library and got some good information from the Encyclopedia of Psychology, but I failed to find any books that were good enough and focused on my topic. All the ones I did look at were either way too technical or fiction books that incorporated mob psychology into the story line. I think I will look into some of the fiction books and do some of my own psychoanalysis on the characters in the books. I checked out Lord of the Flies at the movie rentals and it used mob psychology as a central part of the story. I have been somewhat disappointed by the people who I have asked to help me with my topic. Most people either pointed me to books about Al Capone or the DVD of the third season of "The Sopranos," or they just plain didn't know what mob psychology is.
For the most part, the Internet has been the most helpful research tool for my topic. It is definitely the fastest way to separate out what I want to learn about Mob Psychology from the huge pile of information on psychology. I found a very good video stream on the Internet that is an interview done by the professor in New Zealand that I sent my letter to. He talks about everything that I'm looking for with my I Search. I still plan on getting a fiction book that has good examples of mob psychology. I want to read Lord of the Flies book even after seeing the movie, as well as another book.
I found some great information about deindividuation in some books, and the motives behind it. One of the motives for joining a mob is having anonymity. The Ku Klux Klan wore hoods to hide their identity and also so that they couldn't be singled out in the crowd and be responsible for their own actions. Another motive for joining a mob is avoiding negative evaluation by the group. Everyone strives to be accepted, and if you aren't part of the crowd you're probably the enemy. When you join a mob you are put under its security and defense, and you're never punished as long as the mob has control of a situation. Another motive for joining a mob is dropping your individual responsibility. Blame can no longer be placed on an individual, but now the entire group has responsibility for any of its members. Isolation and loneliness are other motives for joining a group.
Another interesting part of mob psychology is the loss of individuality when you merge into a crowd. Self-awareness and self-regulation suffer when you join a mob. You lose your sense of right and wrong, often leading you to do things you would never normally do. You become more prone to act on immediate stimuli and lose your sense of foresight.
This type of psychology can be classified into two groups, passive and active. An example of a passive group is a sports audience. The audience boos when everyone else boos and they cheer when everyone else cheers. An example of an active group is a riot. People destroy and vandalize for sometimes-unclear reasons. They do that because everyone else is doing it. Personally, I am more interested in passive groups and their mentality.
Many months ago, before I had even started thinking about the I Search, I heard about something called Flash Mobs. Flash Mobs are organized mobs that meet at a designated time, do some random activity, and then disperse. For example, people would have instructions to meet at Memorial Park at precisely 2:42 pm and make a giant human circle. Next they would play duck duck goose for 7 minutes, and at exactly 2:49 they would all run away as fast as they could in all different directions. Flash Mobs are organized over the Internet. The leader sends out an email to a few hundred others who usually participate, giving them instructions on where to meet, what they'll do, and at what times.
I googled "Flash Mobs" and I found a Yahoo group based in San Francisco full of people who regularly participated in Flash Mobs. I signed up for the group, joining the 2,600 other people who had already joined. Sadly, the site has been very quiet, and there haven't been any new Flash Mobs since I joined.
What interests me about Flash Mobs is the number of people who participate, usually in the hundreds, and why they do it. One leader tells hundreds of people what to do, and they do it. It's that easy, taking very little power and effort to get people to do what you want. I think people do these Flash Mobs mostly for fun to get away from the office. But there is definitely mob psychology at play. For example, there was one Flash Mob outside of a BART station in San Francisco where 150 people stood outside with cameras and notepads and greeted everyone who came out of the station as a celebrity, taking pictures and asking for autographs. Certainly, one person would never do this on his/her own. Flash mobs are definitely a weird urban phenomenon that wouldn't be possible without the Internet.
I received a letter from one of the people I wrote to for my letters on February 17th. The person I wrote to is a sociology professor at Canterbury University in New Zealand whom I watched in an interview on the Internet. I asked him many questions in my letter, and he answered all of them very clearly and with great detail. He talked about the U.S. soldiers who massacred 500 civilians in a village in Vietnam. He said that it would have been impossible for them to do if they weren't under the influence of crowd behavior. He talked about how leaders are often the most hysterical and fanatical. One interesting thing he emphasized was that people who join one group often join many others later in their lifetimes. He gave the example of gang members joining extreme religious groups when they got older. Another interesting thing he said was that when people join crowds, they don't give up their sense of right and wrong, they just morph their sense of right and wrong to those of the crowds'.
He recommended a book for me, The True Believer by Eric Hoffer. My mom happened to have it on one of her bookshelves, and she gave it to me to read. The book is about mass movements and the fanatics who participate in them. It has tons of good examples of mass movements, including the Nazification of Germany and the rapid modernization of Japan. I found the book very dry, and it was hard to decipher what it was trying to say.
It covered almost of the points of Mob Psychology that I have studied, but mostly on a larger scale. While I have been studying mob psychology in small groups, this book was about movements on national and global scales. The book also included information about religious movements, which is an area of mob psychology that I have not studied much. It amazes me that religious fanatics can preach weird philosophies and that people will believe them and be willing to die for someone else's cause. All of today's major religions became popular on what I believe is that principle of mob psychology. Overall, I much preferred the book that I read for my book report, Among the Thugs, than The True Believer.
Nancy Ulmer, the person I interviewed for my fourth paper, suggested that I watch The Crucible, a movie about the Salem Witch Trials. She suggested it because it displays very well the mob hysteria that consumed Salem during that time period. I rented it at Five Star that night and watched it. In the movie, a group of about 15 girls start a panic in their town when they all start acting very strangely. Their leader, Abigail (played by Winona Ryder), gets the girls to all behave like they were seeing the devil and they were being tortured by the devil's agents, who happened to be people in the town whom Abigail didn't like. The town eats up everything they say and do, putting people in jail and hanging them because the girls insisted they were practicing witchcraft. These girls merely had to name someone that they had "seen" doing some strange activity and they would be arrested. The girls would follow their leader, Abigail, in anything she did. If she pointed at some invisible thing on the ceiling and started screaming, they would follow her, yelling and wailing at this invisible figment of their imagination. This movie documented the phenomenon all started by one little girl who managed to get 80 people in jail for ìwitchcraftî and all the people in the town who believed them. I enjoyed this movie a lot and I am glad that Nancy suggested it to me.
Another suggestion I got from Nancy Ulmer was that I research Jonestown and how mob psychology played a part in it. Jonestown was where a very strange incident took place: Bay Area citizens moved from their homes to a secluded jungle in Guyana, South America. They were following their leader, Jim Jones, an influential Minister who managed to coax about 1,100 people to his commune, called the People's Temple. When a U.S. senator, Leo Ryan, came to the commune to investigate, he was murdered by gunmen belonging to the People's Temple. This sparked a media uproar, but not before Jim Jones convinced his people to drink poisoned Kool-Aid in a mass suicide. Nine-hundred thirteen people died in the suicide, making this the biggest mass suicide ever recorded.
The mob psychology in all of this is centered around the fanatical Jim Jones and the willingness of his followers to do whatever he told them to do. First, he told them to move to the jungle and then he told them to commit suicide, which they did. This is one of the most outstanding and freakish instances of mob psychology. The people at Jonestown remind me of lemmings, falling to their death without ever looking back. Incidences like these are bound to happen again, and they can hardly be prevented. I am learning more about Jonestown all the time, and am hoping to find more material about it at the library.
I rented Lord of the Flies on my mom's suggestion. Lord of the Flies is about a bunch of kids who get stranded on an island and they squabble over leadership and break into different groups. One of the most vivid connections with Mob Psychology this movie has is in a scene where a group of kids wearing face paint and hollering war cries start a mob and kill another one of the kids, a behavior that none of the people in the mob would ever have dreamed about doing anything close what they did. They went into a mad craze and killed the kid just because everyone in the group was doing it. I found a quote on the Internet about killing and mob psychology:
"Of tribal warriors in Africa, those who wore face paint or other masks while in battle (i.e., depersonalize themselves) are more likely to kill their enemy in battle than those who did not."
This is a great example of anonymity and deindividuation, and the stronger results of the group that used deindividuation. The warriors were in a state where everyone was fighting for the same thing and no one ever thought of themselves and their self-preservation, making them even more dangerous. One psychologist's theory gives a good reason for joining a mob:
"You act in a mob because if everyone is acting a certain way, the actions cannot be wrong. The mob's behavior is 'correct.'"
I think this an excellent analysis of why people join mobs. If a mob is in control of a situation, it must have something good going for it. People like to be on the good side of things. And once you've joined mob, there is no question if you are right...because you are.
The information that surprised me was the amount of violence and destruction that was related to a "mob." When I started researching mob psychology, everything was kind of boring because I was researching action, and yet everything I was working with was on paper. I couldn't wait until I did my on-site observation because I thought I'd be able to observe exactly what I had been reading about. Early on, a lot of the searches I did turned up some weird references to mob psychology. But as I learned more about mob psychology and the lingo that goes with it, I was able to refine my searches and turn up better information. Some of the weird references to mob psychology were about the stock market and in religiously-oriented writings. I think the religious aspect of mob psychology is that the priests have power over many people because the people tend to believe anything their priest says, and they act accordingly as a passive group. It has been kind of weird to have religion mixed in with my research.
In the beginning, it was very hard finding books on my topic. I think the reason it was so hard was because I didn't know a lot of the terms used in mob psychology, so google searching for books was difficult. At the beginning of this assignment, I was more interested in passive mobs and the way they work, but I have found that active and aggressive mobs are a lot more interesting to study. When I sent my letters, I didn't expect to get replies because both of the people I wrote to are college professors and were probably very busy, but I was pleasantly surprised when I got a letter back from one of them. I also didn't have big expectations for my parent network person, but they turned out to be the person who I interviewed, which was very convenient. Overall, I think I was pretty lucky in finding my information. In the beginning, I was a little scared because I had no idea what I was going to do for most of my major papers. Being able to observe a mob that formed when a seal came ashore was very lucky, as was having my cousin happen to know of a great book about mob psychology.