What Is Deindividuation And What Is The Danger?

By Stephanie Kirby

Updated December 20, 2018

Have you heard of "mob mentality"? Most people have heard this phrase, but many have never heard the actual term for it, which is deindividuation. The basics of the term are that when people are put together in a group they can lose their sense of identity and behave in ways they normally wouldn't. Many times it is innocent behavior that people are participating in, but that isn't always true. Deindividuation is a very serious and dangerous issue for many reasons.

Source: flickr.com

What Is Individual Identity And Self-awareness?

Before we understand what deindividuation is we need to understand what it's not. In the simplest form, your identity is who you are. It is what makes you who you are. It includes your self-awareness, your thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. Self-awareness is knowing who you are and being aware of self in relation to the standards you have created. It is knowing your character, your morals, and your desires. These are things that make you the person that you are.

What Is Deindividuation?

Deindividuation refers to when a person becomes part of a crowd or group and then begins to lose their individual identity. They become less aware of self and who they are as an individual. The more that the person becomes involved in the group the less self-awareness they have, which includes knowing their morals, characters, and beliefs. These things start to be replaced by the identity of the group. The individual then begins to take on the morals and character that is held by the group as a whole.

Classic examples of groups that people think of for this type of behavior include gangs, cults, and large mobs of people. However, there are many different examples including the military. Not all deindividuation is a bad thing. Studies have found at large charity events when people feel that they are part of the group they tend to donate and raise larger sums of money than they would if they would normally. The large donations of sum inspire others to do the same. Or, in military training people are more likely to push themselves harder than they would if they were not part of the group. They have taken on the identity of the group which has made an impact on their behavior and what they believe they are capable of.

Deindividuation also occurs when people are wrapped up in a hobby or activity. For example, when people are sitting in the bleachers watching a football game they become wrapped up in the game. They are no longer thinking about self or what their beliefs are. Then, when a ref makes a bad call people are more likely to yell at them or boo a player that they don't like. The more the crowd becomes involved the more they do as well.

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

The Dangers Of Deindividuation

While there are some positive situations with deindividuation like those mentioned above it usually works the other way. As people become part of a group they begin to lose their moral compass. Therefore, they are willing to do things that they would normally not do because they would know that it was wrong. Now, even though they ultimately know that it's wrong they are still willing to do it anyway. Why?

  • People loosen up their self-restraint. They get caught up in the crowd mentality and begin to just act in the way the crowd is acting. They are not choosing the focus on the right or wrong of the situation. Studies have found that groups will take things further than they would if they were all acting individually.
  • There is a sense of anonymity. When acting as a crowd people feel like they cannot be found. This feeling gives them a sense of freedom to act in ways they might not normally act.
  • There is diffused responsibility. When acting as a group people get the feeling that responsibility is shared. This makes them take less responsibility for their own actions. They don't believe that the consequences will be as drastic because they will be shared by all involved.

Bad Decisions Are Made

When people are acting as a group they often get caught up in the emotion of the crowd and they cross lines they would not normally cross. For example, studies have been conducted that show if a person is standing on a windowsill of a tall building contemplating suicide and there is a large group watching they are more likely to encourage the person to jump. However, the same is not true if there are only a few people or a small group that is in the area. The crowd mentality actually carries people to yell out encouraging someone to kill themselves. That's the power of deindividuation.

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Let's look at gangs as another example. When someone enters a gang they take on the identity of that gang. They wear certain colors, might go by a different name, and lose the sense of what they consider right from wrong. They give up their individual identity to belong to this group, and that means crossing lines they wouldn't cross on their own. For examples, there is usually an initiation that is completed to become a part of the gang. This act is showing that you are willing to do what the group does and that your individual identity and values will not hold you back from doing what they want you to do.

Real Life Examples

In 1971 a psychologist by the name of Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment to test the impact of deindividuation. In one of his experiments, he split up a group of male students from Stanford University. Half of them were to act as prisoners and the other half were to behave as guards. The experiment was to last for two weeks and everyone was told to play their assigned role. However, the time frame had to be cut short and the experiment stopped after only six days. The guards were treating the prisoners so badly that they could not continue on with the activities.

There are also many examples of times in history when looting has occurred. Take for example when Hurricane Katrina hit Lousiana. In the days when the city was shut down, there was mass looting that took place all around. There were videos on television from helicopters of people walking out of stores carrying televisions and just about everything else that you can think of. Would these people do this on a normal day? Some of them might. But, during this time there were so many people doing it that it became easy for others to get caught up in the activity as well. They didn't feel that they would be held responsible for their actions so they crossed a line they might not have crossed otherwise.

How To Reduce The Effects Of Deindividuation On A Person

The first step in reducing deindividuation is to help people be and stay self-aware. If you are going to be going somewhere with a large group of people think through what your morals and values are. Know what you stand for and where the line is that you are unwilling to cross. If you are in a situation and feel yourself starting to get caught up in the energy of the crowd remove yourself from the situation before you start to change your behavior. Remind yourself that you are responsible for your behavior regardless of how many other people are doing the same thing. Avoid drinking as this lowers your ability to remain self-aware.

If you are trying to help reduce the effects of deindividuation on someone else than focus on helping them see their individual identity. Talk directly to them and address them by name. Look for ways that make them more self-aware. Talk to them about their specific activities and what it is that they are doing. Talk about the impact that their actions are having on other people. Try to help them see their actions.

There is a story of a young woman that was kidnapped, held in a house, raped, and tortured by a man for several days. She credits the fact that she is still alive to the fact that she did these vary things mentioned above. She called him by name. And, she spoke about herself and what she was feeling. She tried to help him see her as a person and become self-aware of his own actions.

Source: incirlik.af.mil

Take Deindividuation Seriously

It is easy to think that this is a small problem when you hear the stories of sporting events and the military. But, in all reality, this is a very important issue that needs to be addressed in society. The longer someone lives a deindividualized life the harder it is for them to regain their sense of true identity. If you are struggling with this or know someone that is then seeking the help of a trust professional. Better Help has online therapists that are ready to help you regain your awareness of self and keep control of it even when you are with a large crowd.

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