Mob mentality is an extremely influential force that is often present in several situations throughout history. It causes people to act irrationally and follow the behavior of others around them. It is human nature to mimic other people in order to survive. However, mimicry can sometimes lead to irreversible incidents with horrific outcomes. There are multiple examples of mob mentality in human history, although it is not always identified until the event is over. Many times people do not realize that what they are doing is wrong, because they blindly follow the lead of others. The reasons for the prevalence of mob mentality in these circumstances can be seen clearly when human needs are taken into consideration. Mob mentality occurs as a result of the human desire for acceptance as exhibited through the Second Red Scare, the Asch Conformity Experiment, and the Stanford Prison Experiment.
Throughout the course of the Second Red Scare, unsuspecting American citizens fell victim to mob mentality because of society’s pressures during that time. The Second Red Scare was a nationwide spread of mass hysteria that occurred due to the belief that communists had infiltrated the United States during the 1950s. It was largely caused by Senator Joseph McCarthy resulting in the loss of people’s jobs and the blackening of their reputations. In “Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Speech to the Republican Women’s Club of Wheeling, West Virginia” McCarthy explains the threat of communism that Americans are most definitely facing when he states, “I have in my hand 57 cases of individuals who would appear to be either card carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party, but who nevertheless are still helping to shape our foreign policy…” (Dorau 2). By accusing several high ranking people of being communists, Senator Joseph McCarthy incited mass hysteria in the United States. People’s fear of communism and of not being accepted in society caused mob mentality to spread. Proof of communism in America struck fear in the hearts of American citizens because they had heard of the monstrosities occurring in other countries and did not wish their country to become that way. Nobody wanted to stand out from the crowd, as doing so could put them in great danger. Consequently, their need for acceptance and safety led them to blindly follow McCarthy, putting him in a position of immense power. Therefore, mob mentality caused by human needs took over people’s rational thinking during this time and produced a single illogical way of thinking throughout the United States.
The Asch Conformity Experiment reflects the ways in which humans behave when faced with the choice between independent thinking or conformity. In this experiment conducted by Solomon Asch, participants were asked to state which line out of a group of three matched a previously shown line. Most of the participants were asked beforehand to deliberately declare the wrong answer in order to determine whether the experimental group would conform to the majority. In the article “Solomon Asch – Conformity Experiment,” Saul McLeod describes Asch’s findings after the experiment by pointing out that “Over the 12 critical trials, about 75% of participants conformed at least once, and 25% of participants never conformed. In the control group, with no pressure to conform to confederates, less than 1% of participants gave the wrong answer” (McLeod 3). Most participants conformed without hesitation even when they knew that the answer the majority of the group gave was wrong, while the opposite was true in the control group. People wanted to fit in with the group and did not want to seem unusual to others. Their desire to conform overpowered them and caused them to make an irrational decision. The participants gave in to mob mentality and cast aside all of their own individual beliefs. Independent thinking generally prevailed only when the volunteers were not in the presence of a group, because there was no majority to conform to. For that reason, being in a group caused people to hunger for acceptance— even by the means of ignoring their better judgement.
The events of the Stanford Prison Experiment demonstrate the need for acceptance within groups even in an artificial setting. During this psychological study conducted by Philip Zimbardo participants were placed into the brutal environment of a prison to study their behavior. People were assigned the role of either a prisoner or a guard and had to perform the tasks they were instructed to do. In the article “The Real Lesson of the Stanford Prison Experiment” author Maria Konnikova dissects Zimbardo’s testimony about prison reform to the United States Congress by highlighting that “In explaining the results, he said that the ‘majority’ of participants found themselves ‘no longer able to clearly differentiate between role-playing and self,’…” (Konnikova 8). The pressures of a prison environment precipitated a loss of individuality and rational thinking. People viewed themselves as actual guards or prisoners rather than just ordinary people who were participating in an experiment. This led to the occurrence of mob mentality because participants mimicked each other’s appalling behavior in the prison and lost sight of reality. The guards conformed to their roles very quickly for acceptance within their own group and for power over the prisoners. The prisoners had no real control, therefore acting in a submissive way around the guards. Overall, by adapting to their roles for the acceptance of others, the participants’ behavior reflected how people act in real-life societies in order to have a sense of belonging.
Evidently, an unquenched thirst for acceptance leads to the occurrence of mob mentality, as portrayed through the Second Red Scare, the Asch Conformity Experiment, and the Stanford Prison Experiment. The cause of many events in history such as these examples can be traced back to irrational thinking and commonly unsatisfied human needs. Society demands a specific image to be portrayed by each individual, and this can easily cause people to follow the thinking of others. People also conform because they do not want to stand out or be ridiculed for being different. Furthermore, humans find comfort in groups because it fulfills their need for belonging and helps them satisfy their other desires over time. Mob mentality can have truly devastating consequences but it cannot be easily avoided because of the powerful effects of human needs. Human beings are hardwired to follow others and this characteristic essentially acts as a catalyst for some of the most astonishing events in history. Mob mentality has imprinted itself all throughout the human timeline and it cannot be denied that human nature makes it an inescapable force.
- Works Cited
- Dorau, Bethany Groff. “VOLUME 1: THE RED SCARE: Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Speech to the Republican Women’s Club of Wheeling, West Virginia.” Defining Documents: The Cold War (1945-1991), Oct. 2016, pp. 262–265. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=khh&AN=127106326&site=eds-live.
- Konnikova, Maria. “The Real Lesson of the Stanford Prison Experiment.” The New Yorker, Condé Nast, 12 June 2015, https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/the-real-lesson-of-the-stanford-prison-experiment.
- McLeod, Saul. “Solomon Asch – Conformity Experiment.” Simply Psychology, Creative Commons, 28 December 2018, https://www.simplypsychology.org/asch-conformity.html.