Some of our recent discussions have been concerned with topics relating to how individuals tend to underestimate the role of environmental or situational influences on behavior, and to overestimate individual personality factors, when concerning other people. To recap, the fundamental attribution error is a term, which refers to the common human error in which people tend to underestimate situational influences and overestimate individual personality factors, when explaining behavior. We also looked at one example of the fundamental attribution error, crimes of obedience, which is defined as: an act performed in response to orders from authority that is considered illegal or immoral by the larger community. We discovered that this phenomenon can occur in various circumstances of violence, even in cases of nonviolence including white collar crime or government scandal such as Watergate.
This post will explore the concept of deindividuation, which is based on the classic crowd theory in the book The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind by Gustave Le Bon. Deindividuation tends to refer to the fact that when people are placed into groups or surrounded by a crowd, many people seemingly lose their sense of identity or individuality, resulting in the loss of normally implemented self-control or moral restraints. As one researcher says, “deindividuation is closely associated with the feeling of not being scrutinized or accountable when submerged in a group.”
When Does Deindividuation Occur?
Philip Zimbardo, a relatively well-known psychologist, believes deindividuation usually follows as a result of a complex set of events:
- The presence of many others encourages a feeling of anonymity.
- The individual tend feels that he/she has lost their sense of identity and becomes part of “the group”.
- The group identity gives comfort in the fact that he/she can no longer be singled out or held responsible for their behavior.
- This then generates a loss of self-awareness, reduced concern of his or her behavior being evaluated by others, and an increasingly narrowed focus of attention.
Deindividuation is commonly used to explain various circumstances of violence, including: genocide, violent riots or crowds, gangs or antisocial group behavior, and the lynch mob. The process of deindividuation is used in any career path requiring uniforms to be worn, including the military or police officers. Work uniforms allow people to lose a bit of their sense of identity in order to fulfill the role required of them. Although deindividuation is no excuse for criminal or violent behavior, it should be considered a mitigating circumstance in the court of law.
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