What are some mind-blowing facts about social psychology?

What are some mind-blowing facts about social psychology? by Dylan James

Answer by Dylan James:

Ordinary people like you and me can turn evil in the right circumstances. Deindividuation is a theory to explain the tendency of violence to emerge in large crowds of people (see also: vigilante justice). It refers the process of losing hold of our own identity, which can occur with the anonymity and diffusion of responsibility offered to us when in large groups.

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Do you know why firefighters, when responding to the possibility of an active suicide jumper, push onlookers away from the scene? It is because people will gather and taunt the suicide jumper. Take the 2008 suicide of teenager Shaun Dykes, who jumped to his death after 3 hours of failed police negotiations when bored onlookers began to shout for him to jump. Does this shock you? This sort of behavior is actually common enough that it has its own term "Suicide-Baiting."

Or how about the rioting and looting that takes place after a tragedy such as Hurricane Katrina? You may suspect that only hardened criminals are doing the looting, but that would be wrong!  In fact, you or I might do the same if placed in a similar situation.

So what's happening here? How can ordinary people behave in such an atrocious manner? Deindividuation is affected by 3 factors:

  1. Anonymity (such as when browsing the internet, or hidden in group)
  2. Diffusion of Responsibility (the feeling that responsibility for what occurs is spread out among your group, and thus you are absolved)
  3. Group Size (a very large group contributes both to anonymity and diffusion, and you effectively vanish as an individual)

Take this classic study on the night of Halloween in 1976. Researchers Ed Diener and colleagues set out a large bowl of candy for trick-or-treaters, and controlled the independent variables of anonymity (some kids were asked their names), group size (recorded whether kids were alone or in group), and responsibility (some children were "placed in charge" or the group and told they would individually be held responsible if group took extra candy). Finally, all groups were instructed to take only 1 piece of candy- the researcher then closed the door so that the kids were alone.

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What the study found was that alone and identified children stole candy only 8% of the time, whereas anonymous children in a group stole candy nearly 60% of the time. Furthermore, when the anonymous group had been left in the symbolic hands of one child (not shown on graph) the group stole candy 80% of the time! This because the group felt less responsible for their actions when they knew there was a "leader" who would take the blame for them.

It is wise to keep this in mind the next time you see a large group behaving terribly. Whether they are children stealing candy, teenagers vandalizing property, or adults engaging in vigilante justice- breaking up the group and calling out individuals is paramount to stopping the influence of Deindividuation.

To Kill a Mockingbird

One of the best examples of this is in the film To Kill a Mockingbird, when a large mob gathers to lynch the innocent black character Tom Robinson. The mob is threatening Atticus Finch, who refuses to stand aside- when suddenly his little daughter Scout Finch steps up and confronts the mob. She gets nowhere talking to the crowd, but is successful when she singles out the familiar Walter Cunningham, telling him that she goes to school with his son. Suddenly his features contort, he transforms into an individual again, and tells the crowd to leave. What a powerful idea.

What are some mind-blowing facts about social psychology?