In his book 59 Seconds I found Richard Wiseman’s section about group think versus individual think to be incredibly interesting. Wiseman discussed the ways in which groups shift an individuals behavior and thoughts by moving an individual away from the center or moderate behavior towards actions that are more polarized or extreme. I have also written about discussions in groups, and how strong-willed people will dominate and drive group discussion, encouraging those who do not agree with them to at least appear to align with their thoughts. Wiseman adds another element of interest to the group versus individual dynamic with the following quote, “compared to individuals groups tend to be more dogmatic, better able to justify irrational actions, more likely to see their actions as highly moral, and more apt to form stereotypical views of outsiders.” The quote paints a fairly negative image of groups that I think we can easily imagine playing out in politics, extreme religious organizations, and even smaller groups that we may belong to. When I review Wiseman’s observations regarding group and individual behaviors and actions I see the importance of self awareness and reflection and also the importance of having a strong moral leader or guide for groups.
Mob mentality is something that came up in many of my classes throughout college, although I never studied it directly. When we act in a mob we have a sense of autonomy and anonymity that empowers us to make extreme decisions. When we look at the actions of mobs in America over the last few years and consider Wiseman’s evaluation of group behavior and group think, we are able to see how easily individuals can give up their personal moral stance and adopt the characteristics of an angry and amoral mob. The feeling of unanimity generated from stereotypical views allows individuals to feel as though they are in complete control of themselves and the situation by being part of a greater group of individuals. The sense of unanimity also lends itself to the mob believing that they are on the moral side, and that their irrational actions can be justified by the injustices that set them into a frenzy. Exaggerated behavior is encouraged in the group, and adherence to a particular viewpoint helps build a mindset of “us versus them” throughout the mob. From the outside we can all see how negative this mob mentality is, but I think that Wiseman shows that these behaviors have the potential to occur not just on a large scale, but also on a very small scale (in a less violent manner) regardless of what group we are in. Comparing Wiseman’s observations of small group actions to mob mentality helps me see the importance of guiding groups in a positive and creative way.
I also think that individual identity and decision making are important to consider when we are examining the individual versus the group. One of my favorite bloggers, Paul Jun, recently posted on his blog about our decision making. He explained that one of the ways we make decisions is by considering our identity, and how a choice fits in with the particular identity we are trying to build. If we want to identify or see ourselves as part of a particular group, we will envision the decisions and actions of members of that group, and apply that to our own lives. Instead of making decisions based on what we want, we consider what someone with the identity we want to project would do, and make a decision that aligns with those actions. Depending on the group we are in, and the identity of the group we want to associate with, our actions and behaviors in the group will be drastically different.