Have we humans given so much power to strangers that they can influence our thoughts? The Mob mentality has been one of the most intriguing elements for researchers and psychologists for years.
The recent Capitol riots in the US were one of the most uncalled events in the 21st century. Several media outlets fell short of words to depict the nature of the riots. Was it planned, was it initially supposed to be silent but then a wave of violence overtook the masses? The whole world was left confused by the riots.
Several people from the masses were found carrying grenades, nooses, guns, and other forms of weaponry, while other protestors were quite engaged in attacking police personnel, journalists, stealing items, breaking windows, and vandalising the Capitol. Post the riots, arrests have been made.
However, this has stirred up a conversation amongst several researchers, psychologists, and people once again, why is the ‘Mob Mentality’ so profound even to this date? Do birds of a feather truly flock together?
Let’s find out.
Studies on mob mentalities
Remember the proverb, birds of a feather, flock together? Similar to that is the concept of group polarization. Group Polarisation is the assumption that people with similar views about certain aspects, be it political, scientific, religious, cultural, or even morals, come together to reinforce their views much more strongly. This can also contribute itself as confirmation bias.
A research project by two French psychologists Serge Moscovici and Marisa Zavalloni conducted a study to find answers. Participants were first individually asked about their opinions on the French President. After that, the participants were questioned about their feelings towards Americans. Scientists then asked the participants to discuss these questions in a group environment.
After the discussion, people who had faltering and cautious opinions about the French President and the Americans were strengthened in their opinions. This led to them developing an even firmer sense of opinion. For example, participants who were mildly favouring the French President had their opinions even more magnified and strengthened after engaging in a group discussion.
These participants initially had a slightly negative opinion about Americans. However, as each member shared their views and thoughts, the contempt against Americans grew stronger and further intensified. According to the Researchers: “Group consensus seems to induce a change of attitudes in which subjects are likely to adopt more extreme positions.”
This means that if someone were to be uncertain about their opinions or even decisions, after engaging with people who hold similar opinions, their assumptions were strengthened. This also explains why people love to be in groups who hold similar views about different topics.
In another study, researchers had volunteers discuss several controversial issues, including same-sex marriage, positive actions, and climate change. One team had volunteers from the Liberal Boulder in Colorado, while the other team mostly had people from the conservative Colorado Springs.
The discussions among the teams on these controversial topics observed an increase in agreement and strengthening of their beliefs. This means that if you were someone who hated choco-chip mint ice cream and met someone who had the same feelings towards that ice cream flavour, after a discussion, you both would end up hating the ice-cream even more.
In many circumstances, humans tend to believe that the majority is always right
Psychologist Robert Cialdini utilised the principle of social proof to stop environmental thefts in a park in an eye-opening study. He took down a ‘Don’t Steal’ sign from a certain route in a park to observe if the sign’s removal had any impact on the passers-by. It turns out, that the path with no sign had a one-third drop in environmental thefts than the path with the sign. People at the park thought that the sign had permitted them to steal.
In other words, people interpreted that since a sign was put up about not stealing small pieces of wood from the park, a lot of it would get stolen anyway. So if they did it too, then not many would realize their theft since it has already happened so many times every year.
This principle of social proof can even be observed in personal situations too. Let’s say the class was debating on a mathematical equation. The answer most of the class got was 48. But you got 46.42. as your answer. You know your answer is right, however seeing the majority of the class say that the answer is 48, you too will most likely change your answer to 48 since the majority is right. In one probability, 48 would be right, but 46.42 would be the right answer in the other probability.
History has documented the most impactful Mobs
The first-ever impactful mob movement would be the French Revolution in 1789, where people from all ages, classes, and backgrounds came together to protest against King Louis the XVI’s policies. This revolution lasted till 1794, and a once peaceful revolution turned violent and worse with time. Soon bloodshed and riots were observed.
The Capitol Riots served as a mirror towards history’s prevalence of mob mentalities, and according to research, thanks to social media and news, mob mentalities are growing stronger. Why? Because people with just one click can easily have their opinions strengthened by observing another person’s views on social media, even though they know somewhere that they might be wrong.
Many agree that President Donald Trump has exploited this ‘mob mentality’ and used it to his advantage. However, not all mobs are bad.
Several mobs and riots have observed beneficial changes for themselves. Case in point, the National Uprising of 1857, Climate Change Protests, Farm Bill protests, BLM, etc. But, the catch within these protests is that these protests happened for the welfare of humanity. This was agreed upon by many of the supporters. However, some of these people resorted to dark methods and incited violence, which was the complete opposite of what the mob wanted to achieve as a whole.
Scientists are staggered as to why humans do this
This sudden rise of mobs has confused researchers for years and even to this date. Have we humans given so much power to strangers that we can get influenced by crowds so easily to a great extent? According to the English philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead, “Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.”
Another reason could also be that our world is so interwoven and complex that any minuscule action could lead to a butterfly effect.
Since ancient times, humans have always relied on social harmony as a survival tact, which has carried on into the modern world. However, with so many stimuli like social media, television, news, movies, etc. many people have discord amongst themselves and thus will act on this survival instinct and thrive along with groups who share similar ideas and minds.
Popularity could be another factor as to why people get influenced so much, and it can be observed everywhere. From fashion to music to even politics, the popularity of an item or view can exponentially draw like-minded people towards it. But the actual reason is still mysterious to scientists. However, this saying definitely holds truth: “Birds of a feather, flock together.”