Explain the place of anonymity in theories of crowd behaviour. Is it always associated with a ‘loss of self’ (Dixon and Mahendran, 2012, p. 13)?
Understanding crowd behaviour is important as it has social, political and practical implications. Mann (1980) when researching ‘baiting’ crowds found a few contextual factors that explain when and why such behaviour occurs. In each of these cases, individual crowd members were found to feel a greater sense of anonymity. It appears then that ‘‘anonymity shapes crowd behaviour ’’ (Dixon and Mahendran, 2012, p.3)
Le Bon’s (1895) research provided the basis for later psychological research on crowd behaviour. He did not put forward a theory on ...view middle of the document...
‘De-individuation’ is a psychological process where crowd members are so immersed in the group that they no longer see themselves as separate and distinct individuals. This psychological shift is seen as a result of crowd members’ sense of anonymity. They feel they are not being personally noticed and evaluated and are responsive to the immediate demands of the situation and act totally on impulse. This typically results in aggressive unconstrained anti-normative behaviour. Festinger et al identified clearly defined antecedents and in so doing put forward a systematic theory on the effects of social context on the individual. Festinger’s work was developed further by many psychologists. (Dixon and Mahendran, 2012,)
It’s important to note however, anonymity does not always result in deindividuation. (Deiner, (1980) and Prentice-Dunn and Rogers, (1982)) There are other contextual factors of being immersed in a social group that may lead to deindividuation. For example, emotional tension, dramatic external events and just the sense of being part of a group may all lead to situations where the individual’s self-awareness will be reduced and so people may act more impulsively and aggressively.
Deiner et al (1976) observed 1300 children on Halloween night who were given the opportunity to steal money and sweets. The children were put in different conditions and although most children didn’t steal, the highest levels of stealing that did occur was in the condition where children were anonymous and part of a group; these factors seem to promote anti-social behaviour.
Deindividuation is accompanied by a diffusion of responsibility and it is assumed that this causes more aggression. When immersed in a group individuals feel less responsible for harmful results, it’s as if responsibility is psychologically spread among the group. It also causes responsiveness to immediate surroundings and distorted perception.
Zimbardo (1969) was particularly interested in the relationship between anonymity and aggression and in several studies found that anonymity did indeed increase aggression. For example in one study, one group of participants wore name tags and regular clothes, maintaining their individual identities whereas the second group wore hoods and gowns without name tags, their identities were hidden. Participants in this second condition, administered significantly longer electric shocks to learners than the plain clothes condition.
Mullen (1986) analysed newspaper accounts and found a positive relationship between the size of the crowd and the level of brutality. In a real world example, Silke (2003) showed that perpetrators who were disguised were significantly more likely to produce extreme violence than perpetrators who were not disguised. So, increased anonymity increases the level of aggression shown.
Other evidence shows that Zimbardo’s arguments about ‘diffusion of responsibility’ mediating the relationship between anonymity...