Essay on Deindividuation
Deindividuation is one of the key concepts in modern social psychology in the field of group behavior. Rooting in the findings of the first social psychologists, it has become most influential in the second half of the 20th century. Zimbardo, one of the psychologists that made great contribution to deindividuation theory defined it as “a psychological state of decreased self-evaluation, causing anti-normative and disinhibited behavior” (1969). He believed that being in a large group, being a part of it, allows individual avoid responsibility for her actions, letting one be more aggressive, impulsive and violent._________________________________________________________
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The state of deindividuation appears when an individual joins a large group or a crowd. Deindividuation theory is one of the most used theories of group behavior, as it allows to explain the behavior of violent crowds. While social psychologists who worked in 1950-1970 emphasized that deindividuation is, in the first turn, a loss of self awareness, scientists, who researched this concept later, argue that it is more of attaining collective identity instead of individual identity (Reicher, 1987). Nevertheless, all the scientists agree that deindividuation is a psychological state when aggressive and anti-normative behavior is exhibited by the individuals who become the part of the crowd.
The theory of deindividuation is of great interest to me, as it provides an explanation of the behavior of mass crowds of people. Many years ago, when I was in junior high, I noted that people behave differently when they feel they are a part of the group. Children tend to choose a victim and bully it as they feel support from their classmates, and their behavior towards the victim is changed once they are left without backing. After I got older I researched about bulling and found out that it is one of the more dangerous behaviors that a child can exhibit, because it has extremely serious social repercussions – both short-term and long-term. In the short-term, this behavior can lead to physical violence. Long-term bullying results in such things as mental and emotional trauma, serious enough to force a child into committing suicide or becoming violent themselves. The infamous school shootings are a very good example of what precisely such behavior can lead to on the part of the bullied when the pressure on them is applied far enough. I was always wondering what made children act violently, as they knew their behavior was not right, and confessed they felt guilty for their actions. Deindividuation theory provided a comprehensible explanation of this phenomenon to me. Nevertheless, I feel my apprehension of deindividuation is not very deep, I suspect I am oversimplifying the mechanisms of this process; that is why I chose to research this concept.
Few years ago I came across a very bright example of deindividuation in school setting. One of my friends has a younger sister, Brenda. At that time she was in elementary school, and her classmates chose her as the object of bullying. Brenda was beaten regularly; her classmates took her things, poked her and abused her verbally. The girl suffered, she refused to attend school, and there were several cases when she just ran away from lessons, because the pressure was too hard for her. School psychologist worked with Brenda and with the most active bullies, but the results were scarce, as the girl still remained the most favored object of mockery and abuse.
What seemed to be positive in that situation, at the first glance, was that Brenda had a friend, Scarlett. The girl was her classmate, she visited Brenda after school, and they prepared their lessons together, and seemed to be the best friends. Nevertheless, when Brenda’s parents suggested inviting Scarlett to Brenda’s birthday, she refused. Her parents and brother tried to find out what was wrong, but Brenda refused to talk about it, her only comment was that “I will invite real friends, and Scarlett is not a real friend”. The mystery was resolved couple of weeks later, when my friend asked me to come with him to take Brenda from school. We were standing on some distance from the school yard busy talking, when we heard Brenda crying. Her classmates were mocking her again, and Scarlett was among them, laughing on her, and calling Brenda names. Nevertheless the next day Scarlett came to Brenda after school, acting as if nothing had happened the day before.
Scarlett’s behavior in this situation is a vivid example of deindividuation. When communicating with Brenda one-to-one she was a normal kid, she talked to her friend, they did things together, their relationship seemed perfectly normal for the girls of their age. But when Scarlett was at school with their classmates she felt herself the part of the group, and mocking Brenda was one of the traits that characterized the members of this group, thus she joined other kids in this amusement. The phenomenon of individual identity being replaced by the collective one can be easily seen in the situation described. Norms are one of the characteristics of identity. Scarlett’s individual norm was to behave properly with Brenda, help her, and spend time with her, while the group norm was to bully her. As soon as Scarlett joined the group her individual norms were replaced by group’s norms, and she came into the psychological state of deindividuation.
Other vivid example of deindividuation is the activity of Ku Klux Klan. People, who were loving fathers and husbands, and respected community members harassed and even murdered people of other race they wanted to drive from their communities. The masks they wore were the key element that provoked such behaviors. Ku Klux Klan members felt themselves the parts of the group, and, what is even more important, masks they wore granted them anonymity, which allowed them to exhibit the kinds of behaviors they would never show in other situations. Still laws in many American states prohibit wearing masks on public for any reasons except religious, medical, or safety reasons (Unmasking the Klan, 1999).
Deindividuation is a psychological state person enters when she becomes a part of the crowd. In fact it is a process when individual identity is replaced by collective identity. The feeling of belonging to the group allows people to demonstrate anti-normative behavior. As we can see people of any age, gender and social class are liable to this psychological condition. In my opinion the phenomenon of deindividuation needs to be researched further, as this knowledge could help to manage the behavior of the crowds, find the solution to conquering the phenomenon of child and teenage bullying, and control the activities of sects and other societies whose activities are destructive.__________________________________________________________
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One of the areas of social interaction that social psychology focuses on is crowd behavior, or, why individuals sometimes and in some circumstances feel compelled to act as a collective (e.g. in riots, protests, or other forms of group action). Social psychology has been able to identify patterns, processes, and boundaries associated with crowd behavior. One such process is deindividuation. Deindividuation refers to the way that groups can absorb individuals such that they lose their sense of identity and react to a situation based on the atmosphere created by a group (Moreland & Hogg, 1993). A consequence of this loss of identity is an accompanying sense of anonymity and diffused responsibility. People who experience this process may find themselves engaging in actions and practices that they would not do in normal circumstances. Therefore, deindividuation is a description of a group process that also has moral and ethical dimensions.
Keywords Deindividuation; Disinhibition; Antisocial Behavior; Conformity; Anonymity; Suggestibility; Contagion; Emergent Norms
Social Interaction in Groups
Social psychology, which emerged in the 19th century but really expanded after World War II, is concerned with the study of face-to-face interaction and interaction within small groups such as the family or organizations. It is influenced by both psychology (and its emphasis on behavior and the mind) and sociology (and its emphasis on the importance of symbols and interpretation in the creation of social meaning). Like psychology in general, social psychology uses scientific methods "to understand and explain how the thought, feeling and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of other human beings" (Allport, 1985). As such, it focuses on group and nonverbal behavior, social perception, leadership and other topics such as conformity, aggression and prejudice.
One of the areas of social interaction that social psychology focuses on is crowd behavior, or, in other words, why individuals sometimes and in some circumstances feel compelled to act as a collective (e.g. in riots, protests, or other forms of group action). At the turn of the 20th century, social psychologists (and those also associated with sociology at that time, such as Emile Durkheim) were interested in explaining what compels people with little otherwise in common to act in similar ways at a single point in time (Worchel, 2003). Their interest in part stemmed from an assumption that crowd, or mass behavior was to some extent irrational and out of control. However, social psychology has, in the interim, been able to identify patterns, processes and boundaries associated with crowd behavior. One such process is deindividuation. Deindividuation refers to the way that groups can "suck in" individuals such that they lose their sense of identity and react to a situation based on the atmosphere created by a group (Moreland & Hogg, 1993). A consequence of this loss of identity is an accompanying sense of anonymity and diffused responsibility. People who experience this process may find themselves engaging in actions and practices that they would not do in normal circumstances. Therefore, deindividuation is a description of a group process that has also moral and ethical dimensions.
Crowds are typically defined as large numbers of people in close proximity to each other characterized by a common concern (e.g. spectators at a sports event). In theory, crowds can be focused and instrumental (people attending a political rally) or expressive and unstructured (participants at Burning Man in the Nevada desert) although in practice, instrumentally focused crowds can also be emotional and expressive. Collective behavior usually refers to behaviors that occur in groups that are not governed by the normal conventions of social interaction, that is, among crowds. Crowd psychology is:
The study of collective behavior in which large numbers of people who are in the same place at the same time behave in a uniform manner which is volatile, appears relatively unorganized, is characterized by strong emotions, and is often in violation of social norms (Hogg, 1996, p. 151).
Such behavior might include the "wave" that is typically found at baseball or other sporting events or the collective hysteria that accompanied the broadcast of Orson Welles's War of the Worlds in 1938. It includes large-scale spontaneous celebrations or demonstrations (e.g. rock festivals or mass responses to political changes, such as the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989). However, not all collective or crowd behavior is benign and some of it involves violence and aggression, such as the Nazi rallies of the 1930s and the Los Angeles riots in 1992. Moreover, inherent in studying crowd behavior is the notion that any individual can, by virtue of being part of a crowd, be compelled to engage in behaviors that she would not normally engage in. Social psychologists are interested in explaining such behavior beyond labeling it as the outcome of troublemakers or as random acts of madness, and in examining how the group contributes to such behaviors.
Explaining Crowd Behavior
Psychoanalysis has been used to understand the irrational and unpredictable aspects of crowd behavior. For instance, Freud suggested that when someone becomes part of a crowd, the super-ego, which in normal circumstances helps to maintain society's moral standards and civilized conventions, is displaced by the leader of the crowd (Hogg, 1996). The leader symbolizes the "primal father" to whom people regress in crowd situations and individual unconscious is effectively "unlocked" in ways that unleash uncivilized, primordial behaviors. Other early understandings of crowd behavior also emphasized this unruly and unpredictable side to crowd behavior.
In the 19th century, Gustave Le Bon was one of the first social psychologists to conduct research on crowds. He became interested in crowd behavior by reading classic accounts of crowd behavior during the French revolution in novels such as Emile Zola's Germinal (Hogg, 1996). In particular he was fascinated by the way such accounts described how crowds seem to change from civilized to animalistic behavior. Concomitantly, his own book The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895), described how an individual's behavior transforms when in a crowd. One of his basic premises is that a crowd has the ability to psychologically take control of an individual's mind, and the person thus becomes weak and prone to the deviant behavior that is suggested by the group that has formed. In essence, the person becomes a "puppet" of the group and the group develops a "crowd mind" (i.e. herd instinct or mass imitation) that is primitive and homogenous.
Le Bon (1908) identified three components that contribute to crowd behavior (i.e. behavior that was no longer bounded by normal social conventions and was in contrast animalistic):
- Suggestibility and
First, he argued that members of a crowd became universally irrational because of the anonymity that accompanies crowd membership. This encourages people to no longer feel responsible for their actions. Second, he observed that ideas spread rapidly through crowds and, like many other theorists of the period, he drew on medical metaphors to describe this process as a form of contagion. Third, he claimed that crowds are suggestive because of the way they permit the release of antisocial motives.
Although many scholars have challenged his theory because of its unscientific basis, it has nonetheless influenced the study of crowd behavior as a specialist branch within social psychology. In particular, social psychologists developed Le Bon's ideas into what is now known as deindividuation theory.
In modern societies that are accompanied by a strong emphasis on the individual as unique and highly identifiable, people are typically constrained from indulging in anti-social behaviors by shared moral codes and social conventions. In small groups, such conventions are continually reinforced through face-to-face interaction and shared awareness of the consequences of ignoring or flouting such constraints. In crowds, the recognition provided by face-to-face interaction is relaxed or even non-existent in ways that contribute to a sense of anonymity, which, as Le Bon argued, minimizes the sense of responsibility that people feel over their own actions. Some researchers have suggested that a person's personality and behavior may become anti-normative in crowd scenarios and focus on explaining why the average rational person can allow an incited crowd to change his or her normal behavior. This process of transition is called deindividuation and entails a loss of identity. It draws on Carl Jung's concept...