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The History of Mob Mentality

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

When did the angry mob begin?

Grab your pitchforks! Grab your torches! Give the beast what he deserves!

Pick any movie with a “monster” and you’re likely to see a ‘classic’ example of mob mentality. Frankenstein is probably the first one that comes to mind, but Hollywood has included it in many. From the horror genre to Beauty and the Beast to The Simpsons– we love a good, angry mob.

While cancel culture might be our modern,
digitized version of the mob, the truth is:

mob mentality has been around for a long time.

Mob mentality is also called herd mentality or hive mentality and the concept was first introduced by social psychologists and group think pioneers Gabriel Tarde and Gustave Le Bon in the 1800s. [X]

Let’s start with how mob mentality works and what it means.

Sometimes when people become part of a group (especially those who may be “looking for their place” who lack a solid friend or family unit, to begin with) they can lose their sense of self or even begin to experience deindividualization. This can cause that person to go along with the group, even if it’s something they personally may not do in a normal situation. There is also the chance of feeling invisible and therefore invincible in a large group setting like nothing can touch you no matter what you’re doing– the old strength in numbers idea.

When Le Bon began studying this idea, it was when French society was volatile, and riots were common. He theorized that being part of a larger group with a single goal could make an individual act out in ways they normally wouldn’t, believing to be protected within the group. They were more likely to act on impulse within that setting, which could lead to outbursts and acts of violence. He also thought that people in crowds could become more suggestible, and the way a loss of control could sweep through like a ‘contagion’ within the group.

“In the 1920s the British-born American psychologist William McDougall argued that crowds bring out people’s instinctive primary emotions, such as anger and fear. Because everyone experiences those basic emotions and because people are less likely to have more complex emotions in common, the basic emotions will spread rapidly within a crowd as people express them.” [X]

Mob mentality can force an individual to feel pressured to fit in. How scary is it to be going against an entire group’s idea? How isolating and threatening! So, it can become almost a snowball effect that grows out of control, and people partaking in the act of mob aggression may regret their actions when the situation is over. But they can also feel like they have no other choice than to go along with the herd.

The Salem Witch Trials is a prime example of the dangers of mob mentality. From spring to September of 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, hysteria over people being possessed by the Devil ran rampant. Over 150 people were accused of witchcraft during that time before it wore off and the public began turning against the trials. The town was fueled by rivalry and suspicion of their neighbors and resulted in one of the most popular cautionary tales of mob mentality gone very, very wrong.

Sporting events can be another place to see the extremes of a mob mentality in action.

So, how does social media further this dangerous situation?

The internet is a breeding ground for mob mentality. It’s incredibly easy to find others who share your views (whether these are extreme views or not) and being behind a computer VS face-to-face gives the ultimate air of anonymity. On its darker side, we see racisms, sexism, verbal abuse, death threats– things that a person might never say in real life. And they can be fueled by the rest of the world at any given time of the day. It doesn’t matter if it’s 2 in the morning– if you want to start a riot, someone will be online.

Cancel culture can be the ultimate tool for an angry crowd. One tweet snowball into hundreds and thousands of retweets, the ability to comment on anything, to speak your mind in a second, to send it out to the masses with the press of a button. It has truly never been easier to ignite the flame of an angry mob than in the digital era. And there are plenty of hungry people waiting for the next person to fall from grace so that they can strike.

None of this is to say that people in a group or crowd are inherently evil. There is no guarantee to turn into a mob or a riot. Peaceful protests can, and do, happen frequently. Tides within a group can change and shift. It truly comes down to which group or which ideas have the most hold within a group.

A mob could be shut down by a strong person, or a peaceful protest could be ignited with mob rage if the right thing is uttered. Remember that people within these crowds are not ordinarily mindless sheep, following the shepherd. They are individuals with complex thoughts and feelings.

Herd mentality can even have some good sides– the way a group can unite under unfit environments and change things for the good. Protesting for human rights, freedom of speech, safe working conditions, ample pay– having the same views as the group doesn’t always dissolve into anarchy. The most important thing is a sense of self and knowing where you want to be standing within that group. The Z Form provides you with a tool to show your authentic self, no filters.

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