Everyone has heard a story of a group of individuals committing a heinous crime against another individual. We often wonder where is the humanity in these individuals and think, “Well I would never do a thing like that!”
Myers (2004) in his book, Exploring Social Psychology, describes an event that occurred in 1991 in which an eyewitness videotaped four Los Angeles police officers hitting unarmed Rodney King more than 50 times – fracturing his skull in nine places with their nightsticks and leaving him brain damaged and missing teeth – while 23 other officers watched passively. People all over the nation watching the video were shocked and began discussing police brutality and group violence. Another event that demonstrates the concept of doing something in a group that we would never do alone is the 1967 incident of 200 University of Oklahoma students gathering to watch a disturbed fellow student threatening to jump from a tower. The 200 students began chanting, “Jump, Jump….” The student jumped to his death.
These events all have something in common: They are somehow provoked by the power of a group. In certain kinds of group situations, people are more likely to abandon normal restraints, lose their sense of individual identity, and become responsive to group or crowd norms, which has been labeled “deindividuated.” Self-awareness is considered to be the opposite of deindividuation. Individuals made self-aware by acting in front of a mirror or TV camera exhibit increased self-control, and their actions more clearly reflect their attitudes. Deindividuation decreases in circumstances that increase self-awareness: mirrors and cameras, small towns, bright lights, large name tags, undistracted quiet, individual clothes and houses.
When a teen leaves for a party, a parent’s parting advice should be, “Have fun and remember who you are.” In other words, enjoy being with the group, but be self-aware, maintaining your personal identity and don’t become deindividuated.
Myers, D.G. (2004). Exploring social psychology, 3rd ed. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies.
Cindy Geil, MA
WKPIC Doctoral Intern