Mental Health Matters: Mob mentality can happen anywhere
Vancouver police have indicated they are anticipating charging at least 200 more people for their involvement in the Stanley Cup riots in 2011.
What is wrong with people and how can this happen?
If you think you are immune to the pressures and pulls of a mob mentality, think again.
Many people who are in legal trouble for their participation in the riot never broke the law before in their lives.
For those watching on television or reading about it in the news, it seems incomprehensible and defies logic that “normal” or “everyday” people would do such things.
And, yet, that is exactly what happens when a mob mentality forms and, given this is the case, what is the psychology behind mob mentality?
According to social psychologists, when people are part of a group, they often experience de-individuation — a loss of self-awareness — and they are less likely to follow normal restraints and inhibitions and more likely to lose their sense of individual responsibility and identity.
One’s emotions can start to run wild and a sense of excitement and adventure kick in — and this is a powerful and pleasant experience for some people.
When we feel emotions strongly — be they positive or negative — our ability to think or reason decreases.
The larger the size of the group, the greater the feeling of being anonymous and, with that comes the belief a person can get away with behaviour they would never consider doing at other times or when alone.
When part of a very large group, people experience a shift of responsibility from themselves to the group and this can lead to a feeling of lowered inhibitions.
How can they trace this back to me?
Some people report a belief they cannot be held responsible for violent behaviur when part of a mob because they perceive the violent action belongs to the group (as in, “everyone was doing it”).
Although it is true some situations and personality types are more likely than others to become involved in a destructive mob, all of us are susceptible to behaving this way.
Yes, all of us, including judges, police officers and mental health experts.
Our look into this issue reveals the scary truth that group violence is most likely to occur when the group is large, people believe they are able to remain anonymous and when people experience a belief responsibility is shared among the group rather than held personally.
Certain situations can also play a huge role, such as when we are surrounded by like-minded people, or when emotions are aroused, like the situation of the Vancouver Stanley Cup riots.
Just because you are a kind, thoughtful and law-abiding person day in and day out does not mean you are immune to the pressures of a group or that you will remain on the outside of a mob mentality starting to foment.
A great deal of bad behaviour and human misery is caused through the mistaken belief we have been wronged and we are entitled to get our revenge.
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