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What Does "Hive Mind" Mean?

Mob mentality can drive people to hatred and violence.
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  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2014
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The hive mind, which is also often referred to as collective consciousness, is a collection of attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge that is shared by a group of people. In most cases, individuals in a society are aware of their individuality and the information in the hive mind, though there, are extreme cases that can cause many people to become absorbed by group thinking. Groups can form out of entire communities or out of subgroups within a community.

The idea of the hive mind was first articulated by Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist. His original term, "conscience collective," in French, has been translated into English as either collective conscience or collective consciousness. The intent of the French term falls somewhere between these two translations in English. The collective consciousness, or hive mind, however, is not itself a consciousness. It is a rational set of beliefs and ideas rather than an emotionally-driven group conscience.

In many cases, the hive mind is beneficial to a society. It helps a group remain connected by reinforcing shared values and allows information to spread throughout the members of a community. Historically, small tribal communities would have had a hive mind that incorporated all of the members of the tribe. Individuals did not have information or ideas that the group was not also aware of. Essentially, individuals became inseparable from the community, creating a strong group dynamic.

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In modern societies that contain many members, the hive mind is often broken up into a number of subgroups. There may be an overarching collective identity, but there are also small group identities that break off from it. Graduates of a certain university, people from a specific line of work, people living in a neighborhood, and other similar subgroups will emerge with their own sets of values and ideas that are compatible with those in the larger hive mind.

Though the hive mind helps people in a group to stay connected, group consciousness can also lead to destructive acts and violence. This type of group thinking is often termed mob mentality because it can easily lead to situations where violent, unruly mobs form. People are especially likely to fall into this sort of mentality when they are angry or frightened and consider themselves to be anonymous. When confronted with a person or group that does not fit into the identity, people acting under the influence of a hive mind can turn on those people even though they may have no problem with them under normal circumstances.

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