Mob Mentality

Image by Glenn McCoy

Image by Glenn McCoy

Etta Titus, Reporter

The story “The Lottery“ is read by middle schoolers all across the country. The story explains how once a year, a village holds a lottery. The winner of that lottery will help the village be prosperous for the next year by being stoned to death. When the person is chosen, it is visibly clear in the text that no one wants to do this; no one wants to be stoned and no one wants to do the stoning. However, they feel as if they have to. No one speaks up, and nothing changes. The elderly say that it has always been like this and that it won’t ever change. The kids are taught growing up that it’s normal to stone people and that it’s even fun to stone someone each year. The townsfolk are too scared to stand up against the crowd in fear of being stoned themselves.

It goes by many names; mob mentality, herd mentality, pack mentality, and lesser-known as gang mentality. There are many examples throughout history and the animal kingdom. One example in the animal kingdom is a sheep blindly following the rest of its herd no matter where they go, just because it’s what the herd is doing. According to Kate Brush, mob mentality is, “the inclination that some humans have to be part of a large group, often neglecting their individual feelings in the process, and adopting behaviors and actions of people around them.” She also states “The term is used to describe how humans blindly follow the crowd and take on different manners, follow trends…” Herd mentality could also be referred to as jumping on the bandwagon.

The mob mentality/ riot effect was proven to exist in locusts. A normal locust is part of the grasshopper family, and together they affect 20% of the earth’s surface. However, a study discovered the reason that locusts can turn from a 1-5 cm solitary insect, to a huge cloud of tens of billions of gregarious beasts. The cause was found to be a chemical made from rubbing their legs together. The chemical released is serotonin. The same chemical stimulant can also be found in humans. Dr. Swidbert Ott, from Cambridge University, said, “Serotonin profoundly influences how we humans behave and interact, so to find that the same chemical in the brain is what causes a normally shy, antisocial insect to gang up in huge groups is amazing”. These pests have caused such a global problem that Africa spent $400 million in 2004 to wipe them out. The swarms of locusts are still affecting China, Australia, and Africa. Last year, a swarm 3.7 miles long feasted on crops in Australia. Daniel Cressey states the study could “help scientists devise new eradication strategies by, for instance, blocking the insects’ serotonin receptors”. However, the treatment would “need to be applied while the locusts are still solitary, which might be more difficult than the current method of blasting huge swarms with pesticides”.

It goes without saying that there are many different examples of this mentality in the media. One example is the storming of the U.S. Capitol building. Former President Donald Trump tweeted on January 6, 2021, encouraging his followers to take matters into their own hands, and that “this is a time for extreme courage”, referring to the recount of votes of the 2020 election. He even directly encouraged them to protest at the Capitol in one of his speeches, stating, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard”. He also states, “After this, we’re going to walk down [to the Capitol], and I’ll be there with you”. This last statement is a perfect example of herd mentality because Trump is essentially blindly leading them to the Capitol. And they’re not questioning anything because they never have and because no one else is questioning their beliefs. Thousands later storm the Capitol building the same day. The protests quickly turned into riots. Climbing over the Capitol’s walls and threatening government officials in a failed attempt to overturn Trump’s loss in the 2020 election. They blindly followed Trump and the rioters in front of them leading them into the Capitol. As the protests began to get violent, more and more people joined in. Similar chemicals in the brain that locusts have that create their mob mentality create a feeling of (in equivalent terms of pharmacologically) Ecstasy (similar to antidepressants).

As there are negative examples and effects of mob mentality, there are also positives. An example is the Stonewall riots, whose goal was to fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States. The riots lasted from June 28 to July 3, 1969. These riots would later give LGBTQ+ citizens the right to be married in 2015. Another example is in 1913: the 1913 Suffrage Parade. It started out as a peaceful parade, but only within a few blocks did things start to get out of hand. Over 500,000 onlookers came to see the parade. Many of the male spectators, who had been drinking at the parade, jeered and taunted the women. It soon became violent as onlookers broke down barriers, and began pushing and shoving the marchers. Many other acts of violence such as knocking marchers over, and even burning them with lit cigars. This was one of many protests that led to the 19th Amendment being enacted. Giving women the right to vote as a citizen of the United States. The Parade of 1913 can be reflected in society today.

The Black Lives Matter protests took place in June 2020. Many people from around the country went to these events to protest the systematic racism that is found in law enforcement. Their goal with these protests was and still is to protect Black Americans from the systematic racism that kills many every year. Already this year, there have been over 100 deaths, and the number will only continue to grow. This systematic racism has gone on for over 60 years and endangers many good people’s lives. Although BLM protesters were peacefully protesting, and even silently protesting in some cases, that didn’t stop the military from shooting directly at protestors with rubber bullets, using tear gas, and arresting them for only exercising their First Amendment right to assembly.

Mob mentality has grown over the years and has especially increased with cancel culture. Cancel culture is essentially the attempt at removing a celebrity or influencer’s platform after they do something found unacceptable by their fans or following. However, they will always have a fanbase/following. Usually what people call “canceling” is really just holding people responsible for past actions, such as tweets with racist, transphobic, pedophilic, homophobic, anti-semitic remarks, blackface, assault, rape, etc. However online, other users become dehumanized. If someone is called out for doing or saying something that could be seen as offensive, in herds and flocks, users will attack that person by sending hate, and in many cases, death threats.

Dr. Wendy James states, “People may lose control of their usual inhibitions, as their mentality becomes that of the group…riots are definition violent in nature. All a riot is violent group behavior. The larger the group the greater the amplification of that group behavior. If the group behavior is peaceful, exemplified by Martin Luther King and Gandhi, the group behavior is peaceful and orderly. If the group is violent, the larger the group the more magnified the violence. A mob mentality phenomenon has occurred throughout human history, whether witch-burning, religious zealotry, political protest or reaction to perceived racial microaggressions. 

 Fans of a celebrity want to be like that celebrity. Some go as far as doing everything they can to be exactly like that celebrity. Such as doing drugs that their idol had gotten addicted to, starving themselves, or overeating to have the same body as their idol. Even fashion trends and other fads, they blindly follow, possibly losing hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. At the end of the day, mob mentality can be either good or bad, depending on the motives of that group and how they choose to represent themselves.