Mob mentality, it is a saying that I am sure many of you have heard before and for anyone that was awake during the late hours of October 3rd during the clown hunt hysteria you experienced this phenomenon first hand. For those of you that were already asleep at the time and have yet to been informed of the details of that night this article link will inform you of the events that unfolded that night.
This phrase is thrown around a lot in today’s society but few actually know the science and reasoning behind this behavior. According to Ben Wolford of the Medical Daily mob mentality relates to the loss of standards, whether they be societal or moral, by individuals when in a group setting. This can lead to abnormal behavior such as rioting, mobbing the streets chanting inappropriate things and in the more violent cases smashing shop windows, flipping cars, and even confronting police. Now you may be asking yourself, what leads up to to act the way that we do in group settings? Wouldn’t my own moral standards kick in? According to Mina Cikara, a Carnegie Mellon sociologist, in many contexts in which an individual is faced with situations, they prefer the morally “right” approach, but all of that is changed when they become a part of something bigger. It is no longer “what I would do” it turns into “what we will do”. Her, along with her co-author Rebecca Saxe, a MIT professor of cognitive neuroscience, puplished a paper on the subject stating the the actions that are taken in group settings often conflict with one’s own moral standards. Cikara and her colleagues are researching the claim that the main culprit behind this unruly behavior may in fact be the brain.
One of the main causal theories behind mob mentality is anonymity. This refers to one’s ability to disappear into the crowd and not be picked out individually. For those in the clown riot, they were not thinking about the possible individual consequences of running rampage through the streets of state college, they were only considered with being a face in the crowd and joining in on the fun. The likelihood of the same behavior being exhibited from a crowd of two people is
a lot less because you can be easily identified. This same mentality can be applied to being in a large lecture hall like the Forum or being in the student section at a football game. It is a lot easier to hide being on your phone or avoid getting called on when in those large lecture halls and it is a lot easier to get away with yelling profane things at the opposing team when you have thousands of students chanting with you.
However, Cikara and her colleagues wanted to delve deeper into the causes behind this mentality and see if one’s sense of self is in fact lost when in a group setting. Their null hypothesis was that group settings have no influence on one’s sense of self while their alternative hypothesis was when acting in a group one losing their moral compass and diminishes their sense of self. To study this effect they hooked participants up to fMRI machines which allow you examine activity within specific parts of the brain. The part of the brain responsible for thoughts about oneself is called the medial prefrontal cortex and fMRI’s have the ability to monitor its activity to determine when someone is thinking about themselves. Throughout the study the participant’s moral judgement was tested through the asking of questions as individuals and then again when in a group setting. They were then shown pictures and asked to select some to be their teammates and others to be the opposing team. The results showed that the lower the activity in that region, meaning a lower sense of self, the more attractive images were selected for their team and the opposite affect for the opposing team. Now this studying does not truly provide any substantial evidence of a diminished sense of self in a group setting, but it is a step in the right direction of attempting to research a behavior phenomenon that has been hard to explain. So the next time you think about jumping into a mob of people just think about your own morals and values and if what you are doing is align with them.