The term “mob mentality” is used to refer to unique behavioral characteristics that emerge when people are in large groups. It is often used in a negative sense, because the term “mob” typically conjures up an image of an aggressive, chaotic group of people. Social psychologists who study group behavior also use terms such as “herd behavior,” "herd mentality" or “crowd hysteria” to describe similar behaviors. The study of mob mentality is used to analyze situations that range from problems during evacuations to public gatherings that turn violent.
The study of herd behavior considers groups of all animals, not just humans. People have been observing group behavior of flocks, herds, pods and other assortments of animals for centuries, but it was not until the early 20th century that observers started applying scientific theories about crowd behavior to humans. Several books published in the 1910s discussed mob mentality, along with various ways to minimize or control it.
One reason for herd behavior is that people and animals tend to do what others around them are doing. This usually is because those who join the group in the behavior figure that if several others are doing something, it must be worthwhile, or they would not be doing it. For example, people figure that a crowded restaurant must be serving good food, or it would not be as busy. In most cases, this thought process comes naturally or subconsciously, which is one reason why animals take part in herd behavior.
The term "herd mentality" is often used to something that involves more conscious thought than herd behavior. This type of mentality can be influenced by things such as peer pressure, conformity, the need for acceptance and the desire for a sense of belonging. These things often cause people who are in groups to behave in ways that are similar to others in the group. For example, a person might choose to listen to different music when in a group of friends than he or she would when alone, because the others might make disparaging remarks if another type of music is chosen. Another example might be a teenager who drinks alcohol or smokes cigarettes because of peer pressure from his or her friends.
Other factors come into play when the term "mob mentality" is used to refer to something negative. Two of the main factors are the greater anonymity that exists within a group and the distribution of responsibility for the group's actions. These factors sometimes make a person believe that they can act a certain way within a group and not have the same consequences that the same actions would have if he or she acted alone. For example, if a person is in a group that is vandalizing a building, he or she might believe that there is less of a chance of getting caught than if he or she was acting alone, because it might be difficult to identify every person who was involved. He or she might also feel less guilt because other people also vandalized the property.
Another factor in mob mentality is the sense of confusion or even panic that can exist in a large group. An example of this can be seen when people in crowds suddenly begin rushing in one direction. Although many people in the group might not know why this is happening, they see the urgency in the group and begin rushing in that direction, too. In extreme cases, the urgency and panic increases, creating a sort of crowd hysteria, and some people might even get trampled as a great number of people try to move in the same direction as quickly as possible. Even for something as seemingly innocent as a department store sale, a mob mentality might be evident as dozens of shoppers rush toward the sale items, push each other out of the way and fight over the items.