Mob mentality: One dog may bark at you but a pack will attack you

In South Africa, we have seen the increasing emergence of protests, marches, mob violence and the destruction of property. The burning of institutions of learning, looting and the confrontational behaviour of protesters are an embarrassment to peace-loving South Africans.

Historically we note that not all political protests are violent. The famous marches led by leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were peaceful. These marches were non-violent because of the integrity and leadership qualities displayed by these leaders.

Dr W James (2013) explains that in mob mentality what we may not do as individuals, we may do as a group. People may lose control of their usual inhibitions and their mentality becomes that of the group.

Many protests that turned violent may have harboured individuals with antisocial and criminal tendencies. These individuals, protected by the mob, engage in looting and destruction.

The violent protester may have psychopathic characteristics or comes from a dysfunctional family. Under the guise of protest, these individuals can wreak damage that costs millions of rand to repair.

Certain psychological theories may explain mob mentality (Ref: Health Psychology Consultancy 2011):

  • Deindividuation- when people are part of a group, they experience a loss of self-awareness.
  • Identity- when people are part of a group, they can lose their sense of individual identity.
  • Emotions- being part of a group can lead to heightened emotional states such as excitement, anger, hostility, etc.
  • Acceptability- behaviours that are usually seen as unacceptable suddenly become acceptable when others within a group are seen to be carrying them out.
  • Anonymity- people feel anonymous within a large group, which reduces their sense of responsibility and accountability.
  • Diffusion of responsibility- being part of a group creates the perception that violent or unacceptable behaviour is not a personal responsibility but a group responsibility.

People should look at non-violent ways of addressing issues that need to be changed. Leaders need to take responsibility to ensure that protests are peaceful and not destructive.

“Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man,” said Mahatma Gandhi.

The community is urged to forward topics that they would like included in ‘Speak your mind’ to Nikita Chiniah on [email protected]





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