Retain individualism; avoid mob mentality
INTO THE FIRE
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 00:05
As far as mobs go, this one was pretty sweet. Whether it was the collective swaying of a united college campus or the soothing smells of the seven—sometimes nine—leaf clover, SpringFest 2012 was a prime example of a mob done right.
The crowd starts chanting, you chant too. Childish Gambino conducts the chorus of Adele’s hit song and you join in. When everybody rushes to the front of the stage, you push and shove your way through too. With so little instruction, this mass of people had started to move, talk and breathe in unison. While SpringFest embodied this feeling of togetherness—a student body in sync—cynically, I could only think of how easily this way of thinking could be corrupted and how mob mentality has no place at a college campus.
Mob mentality is the behavioral pattern that emerges as individuals start to react as a collective group, rather than on their own. Riots, demonstrations and even concert audiences all have the potential to demonstrate the characteristics of mob mentality, even when they don’t turn violent. When individuals react differently in a crowd than they would have if they were on their own, they are also buying into this mentality.
Although many people innately react differently when they are in a crowd of people with similar thoughts, beliefs or emotional states, this mentality is inherently at odds with the function and purpose of college.
College is one of the very few places where you’re constantly encouraged to redefine yourself and steer away from the crowd. The reason we need to be encouraged and given the go-ahead to be different is because it’s so incredibly difficult. It’s easier to follow along than it is to pave your own path. It’s more convenient to let someone else think for you than to have the courage to be different. It’s even more challenging to reevaluate your thinking in a crowd when you can’t discern that anything’s wrong.
That’s what Professor Daniel R. Kittle of Wartburg College investigated when he discreetly experimented with mob mentality in his “Leadership and Cultural Competencies” class and recorded his findings for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Dr. Kittle hired an actor to impersonate an expert on leadership. After the actor earned the students’ respect and established his credibility as an “expert,” he then subtly started weaving bigoted remarks into his lecture. While a few students exchanged glances and others mechanically took down notes, no one challenged the lecturer. The class didn’t realize something was wrong until the actor had to excuse himself because he couldn’t keep up the ruse.
Students believed that the actor was a legitimate expert and therefore they were less likely to question what he was saying. The speaker was able to manipulate the students because some weren’t actively thinking and others felt that they couldn’t challenge the professor who brought in this speaker. In the end, the exercise was meant to teach students how to handle discrimination in the real world. Do you go along with the crowd or do you stand up for what we’re all morally responsible for?
Mobs present a situation where people value solidarity and consensus over reason and logic. But at Brandeis, where professors teach you to think critically and constantly ask questions, mob mentality thematically clashes with our education and learning. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself while you’re at a concert or a sports game. Sure, you probably wouldn’t chant cheers if you were by yourself, but it’s harmless, right? Singing along to fun. and participating together as a community demonstrates the positive effects of engaging in mob mentality. Barring any violence, there is no significant downside to following the lead of the crowd if it makes the experience more poignant and enjoyable.
However, be aware that your mindset and your behavior instinctively changes when you interact with a group of people. There’s a fine line between being an individual in an audience and subtly altering your thoughts and feelings to align with those around you. If you’re jumping on the bandwagon, make sure it’s for something you really believe in. When you start to change your beliefs to coincide with the crowd, you may feel like you’ve blended in, but ultimately you’re doing a disservice to yourself. Without critically evaluating our surroundings and thinking before going along with the crowd, we essentially dispense with the value professors try to instill in their students—individuality.