Mob mentality, herd mentality, pack mentality, groupthink, or crowd psychology — the concept has many names. These all boil down to the same idea: Individuals are influenced by a larger group. Regardless of whether that group includes people in your class, your neighborhood, or an entire nation, you may experience mob mentality.
In the 1950s, researchers conducted a famous conformity experiment that showed how readily people conform or change their behavior to match social norms. It involved:
- A single participant was put in a room with seven undercover accomplices.
- Asch presented the group with four lines, and the goal was to determine which two lines were the same length.
- Even though the answer was obvious, the undercover accomplices purposefully gave an incorrect answer.
- The real participant answered last.
- The intent of the experiment was to see if the real participant would give a false answer — conforming with the accomplices — even if the correct answer was clear.
The results were surprising. About one-third of the real participants answered incorrectly. They conformed to the wrong answer given by the rest of the group.
Why did they do it? When the participants heard the incorrect answer, some started to believe the incorrect answer was actually correct. The participants conformed mainly because they wanted to fit in with the rest of the group and thought the rest of the group was more informed than they were.
Degrees of Mob Mentality
The Asch conformity experiments were artificially created scenarios that you probably won’t encounter in real life. However, you probably have regular chances to get caught up in mob mentality without realizing it.
Everyday mob mentality. Conforming to the group is rarely conscious or dramatic. In your everyday life, consider how often you go to specific places, watch specific shows, or eat certain foods because your friends do. This process makes decision-making easier and keeps you from standing out in a group.
Crowd behavior. Public groups and mobs are the most obvious examples of mob mentality. Whether gathering to grieve, protest, or cheer on a sports team, a crowd can quickly adopt a group mentality.
One of the dangers of mob mentalities is the type of influence it can have. According to research about mob mentality, a small population within the mob makes the informed decisions that other people conform to. The larger the group gets, the fewer informed members there are.
This situation can become dangerous. As a crowd’s perceptions and actions change and conform, an event can become violent. However, with organized leadership, a crowd’s beliefs can be informed and directed in a more appropriate way.
You might get caught up in mob mentality for a few reasons. If disagreeing with the group poses a risk, you are more likely to stay silent. That risk can be small, like getting dirty looks, or large, like being punished.
You probably won’t conform to a group you have nothing in common with. There are several situations you may find yourself in that may make you more open to mob mentality.
- Your group is going through a stressful situation.
- Group leadership is intimidating or overbearing.
- The group has a tendency to agree on every decision.
- There is no predetermined process for decision-making.
- The group only interacts with itself.
What Are the Signs?
It can be easy to spot mob mentality from an outside perspective. You can look for the following signs:
- Optimism disregarding risks (feeling invulnerable)
- Frequent rationalization of dissenting opinions
- The belief that the group’s moral standards should apply to all people
- Self-censorship to maintain the status quo
- Belief in the illusion that everyone is on the same page
How to Avoid Mob Mentality
Going against mob mentality might feel like going against the grain. If you want to help stop mob mentality, there are tools you can use:
- Emphasize including people and their points of view
- Identify and analyze unspoken rules or assumptions within your group.
- Regularly acknowledge any biases you may have.
- Practice decision-making.
- Don’t punish people who are honest or disagree.