Do you base your decisions on rationality or do you find it better to follow the crowd? The human thought accepts what the deranged masses believe to be the gospel truth. Our perception of our own selves claims that we are rational creatures; therefore we won’t be deceived by the general herd ideologies. However, this stands to be a fallacious belief as we fail to realise how susceptible we are to the influence of crowds.
It’s quite easy to believe the fallacy that when a large crowd is supporting something, there is validity and conformity attached to it. This myth is what the mobs thrive on. The psychology behind this entire notion comes under the idea of “mob mentality“, which was first proposed by nineteenth-century social psychologists – Gabriel Tarde and Gustave Le Bon. Mob mentality, also known as herd mentality or pack mentality, is a psychological phenomenon in which individuals are influenced by their peers to adopt specific actions driven by emotion rather than rationale. Individuals who are influenced by mob mentality might make those decisions that they would not have made otherwise.
When people unify on the basis of their objectives, causes, or beliefs, they form a crowd where every individual’s thought process is affected in some way or the other. These crowds can be centred on their political, religious, racial, or cultural mindset. Based on their circle of influence, humans adopt certain behaviours and follow the trends. Pop culture, political ideas, and even stock market activity are all influenced by mob mentality psychology. When some stock rises amid a storm of hype, the investors scramble to buy it, even if they don’t personally approve of it. Superstitions, however irrational they may be, are followed by people in abundance. Absurd trends spread like wildfire, especially on social media. In all these cases, the pack mentality is seen to be at play. The theory of pack mentality seeks to highlight why a crowd accumulates, its physical composition, and how a crowd engages, so as to comprehend the behaviour of a crowd.
Many individuals have wondered how large crowds could do extremely awful deeds, such as the riots targeting particular communities. Some attribute this to cultural differences. There is, however, a third component at work which is the crowd itself. According to the concept of herd mentality, crowds have a psychological influence on their members. Irrational and emotionally charged behaviour is a product of a hypnotic effect paired with the anonymity of belonging to a huge group of individuals, even if it is only for that particular moment. Psychologists confirm that it is a natural impulse for humans to follow the mob. Crowds can turn out to be harmful because they foster a mob mentality. Individuals often feel faceless and less responsible for their actions, especially in acts of aggressiveness, when acting alongside others. They may even wilfully commit crimes in order to gain the approval of others around them. Evidence suggests that being swept up in a crowd’s exuberance might cause people to lose touch with their particular code of morality, and as a result, be more prone to break it.
As history demonstrates, a lack of awareness of the importance of the crowd, or a misperception of its nature, frequently leads to security practices that inadvertently aggravate social outrage. One of the most famous examples of herd mentality from the past is the “Salem Witch Trials”. Salem, Massachusetts, was the site of the infamous witch-hunting activities. In the summer of 1692, from June to September, nineteen men and women who were accused of “practising witchcraft” were brought to the Gallows Hill and hanged. The rapid escalation of the proceedings was due to a mob mentality. This is because people had to point their fingers at others if they didn’t want to be implicated themselves. The report stated that those who “scoffed at claims feared becoming targets themselves“. The Salem witch trials were extremely powerful due to the mob mentality. It compelled everyone who wanted to live to become active prosecutors and enthusiastic supporters of the witch-hunting processions. People put their personal beliefs aside and followed the mob’s beliefs. The Salem witch trials were completely driven by the psychology of pack mentality, which is why they grew rapidly.
Crowds are developing as society’s instrument for shaping the operating strategy of the twenty-first century, as proven by recent events. Social media is the dominant mechanism for driving crowd behaviour. Herd behaviour is influenced by social media in multiple ways. It is a key tool for provoking and organising a crowd. Social media is also responsible for maintaining and feeding a crowd’s passion, and it is accountable for broadening the reach of the crises across philosophical and social lines.
Being deliberate is the greatest approach to avoiding herd or mob mentality. We often tend to overlook who the figurehead is behind the recurring affirmations and end up believing what the mobs follow. It’s only human to want to go along with the wave. But one must be willing to go against the norm, be it for positive or negative reasons.
“Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.”The Stakes of Diplomacy (1915) by Walter Lippmann
Ambrisha Zubeen is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Anzal Khan