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  • Writer's pictureShrikant Soman

Mob Mentality

Mob Mentality

Mob mentality -- also called herd or hive mentality -- is the inclination that some humans have to be part of a large group, often neglecting their individual feelings in the process, and adopting the behaviours and actions of the people around them. It is also called herd mentality, pack mentality, groupthink, or crowd psychology. Mob mentality is also explained as the idea that people can get swept up in the madness of a crowd and lose their ability to reason and follow their own good judgement.

Scientists have observed that in following situations the mob mentality syndrome is most prominent : 

  • Your group is going through a stressful situation.

  • Group leadership is intimidating or overbearing.

  • The group has a tendency to agree on every decision.

  • There is no predetermined process for decision-making.

  • The group only interacts with itself.

The research suggests that humans flock like sheep and birds, subconsciously following a minority of individuals. The study at the University of Leeds shows that it takes a minority of just five per cent to influence a crowd's direction - and that the other 95 per cent follow without realising it.

Scientists have done research about the mob mentality. They kept 10 monkeys in an enclosure. 

Stage 1

At a high point, they kept a plate of ripe sweet bananas. Monkeys love bananas. There was a ladder to reach upto the plate of bananas kept at a high point. Monkeys used to climb that ladder and eat the bananas kept in the plate. 

There was a metal ceiling on the enclosure. There were holes in the metal sheet of the ceiling. Above the metal ceiling was kept an equipment containing chilled water. On press of a button, the chilled water used to drop on the monkeys below through the holes in the metal sheet. The monkeys could not see the equipment kept above the metal sheet. They could only see the chilled water coming from the holes in the metal sheet. 

Stage 2

In stage 2 of the experiment, whenever any monkey started to climb the ladder, the scientists would press a button and chilled water would fall down on all the monkeys. Initially the monkeys had no clue as to why the chilled water was falling on them. But eventually they realised the ‘cause and effect’ relation between a monkey attempting to climb the ladder and the chilled water falling on them through the ceiling. Then whenever any monkey made any attempt to climb the ladder, all the monkeys would pull him down and also beat him up  to avoid the chilled water falling from the ceiling. Over a period of time all the monkeys adopted this practice of pulling down any monkey attempting to climb the ladder and beating him up. No monkey then dared to even go near the ladder. 

Stage 3

In stage 3, the scientists removed the equipment which was kept above the ceiling which was used to pour chilled water on the monkeys below. However the monkeys below were not aware of this development as they could not see beyond the metal ceiling. Interestingly, now even though the chilled water equipment was removed from above the ceiling, the monkeys continued with their practice of pulling down and beating up any monkey who went near the ladder. Had any monkey really climbed up the ladder and eaten the bananas from the plate which was kept above, no chilled water would have fallen on the monkeys because the equipment was removed from above the ceiling. But the monkeys were now ‘programmed’ to blindly behave in the way they behaved earlier. 

Stage 4

Then the scientist removed one monkey from the group of 10 monkeys and put in a new monkey in his place. This new monkey had no idea of the history of the place - that chilled water would fall on the monkeys if any monkey would try to climb the ladder. In total ignorance, he attempted to climb the ladder. Immediately all the other 9 monkeys pounced on him, pulling him down and beating him up. Eventually this new monkey also learned the rule in a hard way (by getting beaten up several times) and then he also followed the group rule of pulling down and beating up any monkey trying to climb the ladder, though he had no clue as to why these other 9 monkeys behaved the way they did. 

Stage 5

 Scientists then removed one more monkey. He also eventually learned the group rule like the earlier monkey, though he also did not have any clue about the reasons for this strange behaviour of the other monkeys. Now there were 2 new monkeys and 8 old monkeys. 

Eventually the scientists removed one more monkey, then after a few days one more, then one more … like this they removed all the old monkeys and put in new monkeys. Now there were all the ten new monkeys. None of these new monkeys had personal experience of chilled water. But still all of them followed the group rule blindly. 

Eventually these monkeys had children who took over their place. This new generation had no contact with any of the old monkeys who had experienced the chilled water. But still all of them got programmed to follow this rule. It became their religion of sorts to pull down any monkey who attempted to climb the ladder. 

The experiment ends here.

What can we learn and profit from this experiment?Many times we follow this mob mentality sub-consciously whenever we support or criticise a member of the group by just following what others are doing and without finding out and verifying ourselves why they have been doing what they have been doing. This may take the form of ‘trolling’ on social platforms. Most of the ‘trollers’ have no first hand knowledge of the actual reality behind the original post which they have been trolling. Similarly whenever we are in a group, we subconsciously follow the behaviour of the leader and powerful person in the group. In order to safeguard against the dangers of mob mentality, it is recommended not to punish people who are honest or disagree.



Further reading   

  • Bloom, Howard, The Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century. (2000) John Wiley & Sons, New York.

  • Freud, Sigmund's Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse (1921; English translation Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, *1922). Reprinted 1959 Liveright, New York.

  • Gladwell, Malcolm, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. (2002) Little, Brown & Co., Boston.

  • Le Bon, Gustav, Les Lois psychologiques de l'évolution des peuples. (1894) National Library of France, Paris.

  • Le Bon, Gustave, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. (1895) Project Gutenberg.

  • Martin, Everett Dean, The Behavior of Crowds (1920).

  • McPhail, Clark. The Myth of the Madding Crowd (1991) Aldine-DeGruyter.

  • Trotter, Wilfred, Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War. (1915) Macmillan, New York.

  • Suroweicki, James: The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, *Societies and Nations. (2004) Little, Brown, Boston.

  • Sunstein, Cass, Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge. (2006) Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.

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