After all the events that have taken place in the past few weeks at Penn State there is something that I have been giving thought to that could relate to class. I don't want to delve too much into the proposed scandal that is going on at our university, but I do want to talk about the term "mob mentality" or "herd mentality". A term that was thrown around fairly often by the media during the student riot at Penn State.
What is disappointing is that I had trouble finding
experiments or statistics about this topic. And when I say I had a hard time, I
mean I had to travel past the first page of my Google search. Crazy, I know. I
found a pretty interesting study though done by professors at Leeds University.
The researchers conducted a series of experiments that really brings to light
how easy "herd mentality" occurs in humans. The researchers instructed volunteers
to aimlessly walk around a hall with no instruction on where to walk or what to
do. Then the researchers gave a select few individuals slightly more detailed
instructions on where to walk. Wouldn't you know it, the scientists discovered
that people blindly started following people who appeared to know where they
It is actually quite surprising to me how a small of a group can alter the mentality of a very large group. I'll just quote the actual published results because I think it speaks for itself and I wouldn't want to sound like I am exaggerating.
"The published results showed that it only takes 5% of what the scientists called "informed individuals" to influence the direction of a crowd of around 200 people. The remaining 95% follow without even realizing it."
I think that is an amazing result, albeit one study. As I scrolled down the comments, someone had mentioned the Hawthorne Effect as a possible reason for this behavior. The Hawthorne Effect occurs when people being studied behave differently just because they know they are being studied, not because of particular experimental manipulation. I could easily see as being a legitimate cause for concern in this experiment, but I also think that if for some reason people were aimlessly walking "lost" and a few people seemed to know where they were going. The results would be the same without an experiment in place.
While the situation at Penn State is a touchy subject and everyone has their own opinion, there are things that can be fair to say. During the student "riot" at Penn State, it appeared that a few individuals influenced many individuals to do things most individuals wouldn't normally do. For better or for worse herd mentality occurs in humans and in animals, and this was a prime example. This "mob mentality" of Penn State students was pointed out across the country and criticized coast-to-coast by the media.
I now would like to point out another party that has demonstrated "mob mentality" and does demonstrate it fairly often to influence large masses of people. That party is the media, a small group when compared to the population who view them. The same people who made sure everyone was aware of Penn State students and their "mob mentality" were actually doing the same exact thing in "mob mentality" fashion. Every media outlet you can think of ran with the negative events going on at Penn State, which is expected. But you could turn on any of those news outlets, whether it had been ESPN, CNN, MSNBC, or anywhere else, and you would have heard almost a uniform response from the media. No personal journalistic investigation to form a unique opinion on the situation. It mostly consisted of the media just reiterating a consensus opinion about Penn State that led to a massive snowball effect. Once a few news outlets showed up in State College, it was 15 news outlets before you knew it. Those few influenced the majority. Thus, a nationwide opinion was formed about Penn State and its students. We had a "mob mentality".
I am not saying it just happened at Penn State, because it happens in media all the time. As I was reading, someone had pointed out that the media, who seem to be well informed to the population, push the general public into focusing on only the two major political parties and no other parties or candidates. An example of how people somewhat blindly follow. Also, mob mentality reaches far back into history, such as the Salem witch hunts, and it even happens every day in present time, see the Occupy Wall Street movements.
Here is another quote that sums it up pretty nicely, "Bees do it. Birds do it. So do fish and wildebeests...The only requirement seems to be a balance between a need to stay in the group and a desire on the part of some to go off in their own preferred direction. These goal-oriented individuals look just like their naïve colleagues."
It is a natural occurrence. Sadly, when herd mentality happens for the worst, it can really get ugly. I think herd mentality is an intriguing thing to experiment with. I would find it interesting to do more experiments to develop a theory about mob mentality and the minimum necessities for it to form. I would also think it would be interesting to test mob mentality in different situations. Kind of like the saying, "Oh well if a few people jump of a bridge would you do it?" People naturally say no, but if it actually happened, would that change. This is a hard subject to approach and completely convey how to study it because there are so many outside factors that play a role in it. I am not trying to voice or push an opinion about Penn State, because that is a whole other conversation that I'm willing to have. At the very least, I hope you found this interesting and it made you think a little bit.