Mob mentality, groupthink, these terms all describe the same frightening thoughts that a large group of people come up with when they’re scared or desperate. There are examples of it in normal life and extraordinary emergencies, but invariably normal, rational people end up thinking and doing things that are extreme and even bizarre. Whether you’re dealing with a post-football celebration/riot, a political rally that gets out of hand, a Black Friday sale, or a mass of starving people who are clawing for a single loaf of bread, let’s see what affect a mob mentality can have both on others and yourself.
What really is the mob mentality?
In short, it’s the idea that people think and act differently in groups than they would alone. There are many different ways this can manifest depending on the size of the group, but what we tend to think of as “mob” mentality usually involves tens or hundreds of people at once.
Take post-football game riots for example. How many of those fans, even the most dedicated, do you think intentionally planned to go out and destroy things (some riots have involved smashed toilet stalls for no discernible reason) and even hurt or kill people? Yet when the passion of the event and the roar of the angry crowd swept them up a group of average people degenerated into animals that smashed and destroyed completely at random.
But to really understand what mob mentality is, you have to look beyond what you see and get into the heads of the participants. Why destroy toilets because a team won or lost a meaningless game? Why crush people underfoot for cheaply priced goods during a Black Friday sale? The answer can be broken down into 3 main parts:
- Anonymity. Let me point out that being anonymous is a very valuable thing and should not always be considered a negative. Being able to write anonymously allowed many people in past ages to put forth ideas and complain about policies when it might otherwise have resulted in arrest or vigilante violence against them. That said, when in a group being able to hide as one of the hundreds of faces in a crowd bolsters you to do just about anything that comes to mind. After all, how could the authorities find out what you specifically did in the midst of all of the damage and theft going on around you?
- Group Emotions. Basically, if you’re in a crowd of dozens of angry people you’ll tend towards anger even if there’s no logical reason why. Your brain unconsciously presumes that a group of people has more and better information than you, so it should at least start tuning into what they’re doing. This is why afterwards people describe “being caught up in the moment” like they were thrown into a river and pushed along. In a sense they were carried along by the emotions of the rest of the group, and strong emotions like fear, anger, frustration and revenge tend to override the logical side of your brain.
- Deindividuation. This means that you consider everything that happens to have been done by “the group” rather than take responsibility for the things you did. You didn’t run over someone trying to get a $25 TV, “the crowd” did, even if your foot was planted firmly in that unfortunate person’s face! This is also why people who have strong moral convictions against theft, murder, rape etc will pass right by it when they’re part of the overall group. It allows you to mentally distance yourself from the actions at hand as if you never had any choice in the matter. You become a “limb” for the group brain, rather than an individual.
Can this affect you?
If you read the title of this article, you already know that the answer is yes! Mob mentality (or groupthink) does not really sync with the rational side of your mind. Rather, it overrides it with powerful emotions and a lack of individual responsibility. This means that even if you’re aware of how it works, groupthink can still affect you quite strongly! Indeed, the larger the group the easier it is to get “swept away” by the emotional flood.
Although there are some ways to protect yourself and your loved ones from this sort of thing, in all honesty overcoming the effects of groupthink can be extremely difficult so don’t underestimate it. The best thing to do is to get away from the “mob” entirely. If you’re in a stadium, get into a place that is less crowded and more quiet so that you have room to think, or else get out to your vehicle or to some other safe area. If you’re on the street as a protest starts breaking out into violence, get into a building or head away from the main body of the crowd. Not only does getting away help you once you’re out of the main group, but even just walking or running in the opposite direction from the mob helps reassert your individuality. You’re going against the stream, which is definitely an individual decision rather than a group one!
For those with family, focusing on keeping them safe and protected can be useful in most situations. Again, it is a very personal goal that has nothing to do with the group which helps keep you thinking and focused on individual safety and survival over fulfilling group goals.
Regardless of what you do, always try to keep inconspicuous and avoid attracting attention any more than you have to to get away. Groupthink tends to establish a strong “us vs. them” mentality, and anyone not going with the group is a potential enemy in that state. Stay low, don’t make lots of noise, and especially avoid talking to or interacting with people caught up in the groupthink. If you happen to run into first responders, whether the local police or the local militia, the best thing is to be calm and show yourself to be in control of your own faculties. Assuming they’re not in the “arrest/shoot anyone moving” mode, you may be able to have them assist you in getting out of that situation safely if you demonstrate that you’ve not allowed yourself to go bonkers.
Let me emphasize that groupthink is a scary thing. It’s about as close to “mind control” as most people may ever experience and it is supremely unsettling to watch it happening. However, you can and should be prepared for it and be ready to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
Have you ever experienced the “mob mentality”? Do you have any tips on avoiding being caught up in it yourself? Let us know in the comments below!
This article first appeared at Prepared For That: Mob Mentality: How it Affects You and Others For Survival