Just Sayin'

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What in the World is DEINDIVIDUATION?

DEINDIVIDUATION is a concept in social psychology that pertains to loosening of social norms in groups. In another language, it simply refers to the psychological account and explanation of the apparent transformation of rational individuals into an unruly group or crowd. It is more descriptive of "group think" and "collective behaviour" of the lynch crowd, mindless hooligans or the violent rioters.  And the obvious question is "What turns ordinary people into mob monsters?"

There are numerous instances when a group of ordinary people suddenly turn into an angry mob and albeit the limited research on the study of this psychological phenomenon, we watch in shock when on an average day, with your regular crowd, something "snaps" then suddenly, hell freezes over.
I reckon it's really simple to understand.  I personally have three (3) reasons why it is so easy to lose oneself and become part of a larger whole.  I mean, come on, this is no different from the behaviour of mass hysteria watching a "rock concert", is it?
Whilst social psychologists argues that deindividuation is NOT a loss of individual identity but a shift or transition into a social identity, I reckon otherwise.  Of course I am taking the advocate's stance, because this mindset makes it easier for me to digest the atrocities that is happening in the world.

Well firstly, the seduction of NO RESPONSIBILITY. I am not solely accountable on how I behave when I am in a crowd. I can fully submerge myself in the group norm, lose all of my self-restraints and inhibitions, become a senseless puppet of whoever is taking the lead, and act in the most barbaric or heroic manner.  I don't really have to rattle off countless historical evidences to prove this point, do I?

A very strong second argument is of course, ANONYMITY.  "There is refuge in numbers." My own personal identity is fused into the group's identity or the "cause."  It is not my face, but the face of the crowd that you see.  I am just but one of the mob.  When we are opposed, we strike back.  We are stronger as a collective unit.  We have "it in us" to face daunting barriers raised by people in authority.  We are "fearless."  Even animals uphold this principle, so why can't humans?

Being in a mob, gives me a sense of POWER.  What I may not be able to do alone, I totally can, when everybody else behaves and acts in the same way I do.  Any sense of power, wrongly attributed or otherwise, is a very strong push for any individual to go over the edge and risk everything in total abandon.  

The complete mix of Power, Anonymity and Absence of Responsibility and Accountability is way too suggestive and irresistible.  This is particularly true for idiots or even individuals with weak egos, who don't draw from the strength of their rational mind and ego to choose a better way than to act with a mindless mob.  Most times, people don't realize they are shifting from their own individuality into a group norm, until they are way too late, and deeply submerged in the process.

It is a very sad reality, that we choose to behave like savages, become faceless and nameless and allow ourselves to be become beasts. There is no amount of poverty or injustice that can justify decent individuals to act like common criminals and street thugs.  The last time I checked, Human Beings still hold the highest tier in the Food Chain and Ecological Pyramid.  But when I look at what is going on in the world, we behave no better than an irrational carnivore,  a creature, an animal, a predator.

"The line between good and evil is permeable and almost anyone can be induced to cross it when pressured by situational forces."
Philip Zimbardo 


  1. How true and sad. Removal of responsibility for your own actions seems to remove all good in us.

  2. Psycho this is very interesting.

    If you don't mind I'd like to link this on the end of my last post ?

  3. You are a very intelligent and articulate woman Petite ,I hope maybe some of the rioters read this maybe then they will see how their actions actually make them look weak no matter how strong they felt in amongst the mob.

  4. There are many theories trying to explain why the 'ordinary man on the streets,'felt the need to implicate themselves in such atrocities. But for the opportunists amongst them, I think you hit the nail on the head with those 3 points. Great post PB.

  5. I'm curious to know what you think of the media, particularly BBC, referring to the Youth are protestors? Your analysis is great but I wonder how come people still haven't caught on yet? These actions aren't justified.

  6. Jamie, it's so true isn't it? Try telling me I will not be accountable to any consequence, and I might be lured to rob a bank. Poetic seduction.

    DCG, any time my dear friend. Link away!

    Kiki, thanks for your feedback and compliment. Truly appreciate it. Well I wish they would pause awhile and think why they are doing it, it can help.

    Lily, those 3 points arguably are the most exotic and sexy, even to me.

    Anonymous Moderate, you mean BBC as part of the media industry? It is a British corporation, not unlike others; that have their own target revenues, profitability, growth and return on equity. Why would they even be part of the equation? People do know. It is not a matter of catching up, it's a matter of making a choice on HOW TO ACT when the situation arises.

  7. I'm actually writing another post on the subject and I'm going to link it in that instead :)

  8. Petite, I just now got a chance to read your post, and to think about it. There is definitely something about the power of anonymity which gives people the extra push that they need to often do the unthinkable. I've just been to Chicago for a conference, and on the way into town I almost got my wallet stolen, by some very clever crooks. One of whom pretended to get his foot caught in the subway door, while the other one scurried in behind, as I was 'helping' his comrade in crime, then he tried to grab my wallet, and the two of them scurried off. It made me feel bad all over for the sake of humanity. And then I read your thoughtful post.
    Ah, well I'm so glad that there are good people in this world, too.

  9. There is another mob mind-set , “the bystander effect” or “Genovese syndrome”, where the more people who witness an emergency the less likely anyone will help.

    I’m not entirely sure why this does not seem to apply to a situation where someone breaks into a shop and the mob all join in…I guess it’s the greed factor, which is a real shame because the physiological benefits of helping someone in need over stealing a TV or a pair of crappy designer trainers must be immense. ….

  10. Everybody has an excuse. Sometimes it seems life is just a struggle to justify our actions.

  11. maybe its also related to aggression built into us. it comes out in men more than woman.
    it also reminds me of how some animals hunt in groups to get what they need done.
    great post :)

  12. This is an interesting post. I think this idea of collective behaiviour is also displayed in many positive ways as well. My parents are beekeepers, and I find it fascinating to note the way bees work together, as one 'hive mind', to acheive things it would be impossible to achieve on their own. It is interesting to see this idea playing out in different areas of society - for example in a company, or in the church, or elsewhere. Here instead of 'no responsibility', it is shared responsibility, instead of anonymity there is individuality, yet each member of the group bringing their indivuduality to bear to complete the jigsaw of different skills and compliment the rest of the group. In a mob situation, people maybe become 'senseless puppets', but wouldn't it also be true that in a positive situation people would discover their individuality through working together?
    To summarize, I think the 'collective behaviour' concept can play out in two ways - we either degenerate into mindless puppets, following the crowd and accepting no responsibility, or in a positive situation our sense of responsibility is enhanced and the group can achieve a lot through power in numbers.

    Sorry for the ramble, but you got me thinking! Great post. x

  13. Hi,.
    Whilst social psychologists argues that deindividuation is NOT a loss of individual identity but a shift or transition into a social identity, I reckon otherwise.