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Deindividuation theories.

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Introduction Deindividuation theory has attempted to explain the processes that take place once members have joined together to form a crowd. To critically evaluate this theory, one has to find answers to an essentially critical question. What effects do the antecedent variables of deindividuation (especially anonymity) truly have on an individual? On the one hand, do they have the effect of changing behaviour to the extent of rendering members helpless to control their actions, such that they begin to display, 'primitive survival characteristics' (Le Bon 1895). On the other, do they affect how a person perceives themselves and others in a group, what they conform to and how they express their identity? In essence, is the effect of deindividuation to disinhibit behaviour or is it to change the identity salience and group norms as well as alter strategic factors and power relations? Deindividuation theories Le Bon proposed the psychological law of the mental unity of crowds, which states that when in a crowd, a collective mind forms spontaneously, affecting thoughts, emotions and actions. Crowds are irrational, primitive and dominated by unconscious elements. Members start behaving similarly which leads to the capacity for violence being increased because the responsibility has been reduced. Crowd members are easily swayed by rumours, images and so forth, which contribute towards their emotions being exaggerated. With the loss of responsibility and self-control, individuals discard their personal interests in favour of the group, i.e. they are controlled by the, 'racial unconscious'. Their sense of power arises from their anonymity in the crowd, because of which they start behaving like brutal savages, by regressing to a barbaric state. Deindividuation theory is a simple translation of Le Bon's concept of submergence. The term was first coined by Festinger, Pepitone and Newcomb (1952), to explain why the ideas put forward by Le Bon happen to people in crowds. According to them, deindividuation is, "A feeling in the individual members of a group that they have lost their personal identities, merged into the group ...read more.


In addition to this, participants were seated in a dimly lit room with loud rock music playing and high verbal interaction. In contrast, participants in an internal attention focus condition (public self-awareness) did the opposite. Results showed that outward attention lead to higher levels of aggression. Therefore, it seems that, 'accountability cues' affect private and public self-awareness. However, Froming, Walker and Lopyan showed, using a mirror and an evaluating audience, that what happens as a result of private and public self-awareness are moderated by the norms of the individual and what they think others norms are. Therefore, they didn't shock more or less depending on whether they were privately or publicly aware, but did so when they felt others wanted or didn't want them to as well as the presence or absence of the audience. Therefore, normative context seems to play a crucial role in the observed behaviour. To sum up, all models think that only the individual can guarantee rational behaviour and regulate it. A crucial difference between them is whether we are simply uncontrolled or whether we can't control underlying social tendencies. Either way, the lack of control is obvious. The theories assume that being anonymous to the external audience is the same as being totally anonymous, and hence by ignoring the accountability issue, anonymity becomes a trait rather than a relation. They also don't consider norms of groups, aggression levels, role of the experimenter and the acceptability and appropriateness of the situation. Finally, the theories do not consider any notion that social norms may come from the immediate environment or group contexts, which can be the basis for controlled, meaningful behaviour. This brings me to an alternative theory of deindividuation that opposes the ideas put forward by deindividuation theory. Social Identity Theory of Deindividuation (SIDE) Social identity theory uses the concept of social identification. It claims that the self is a complex construct consisting of at least two subsystems. ...read more.


In another study involving science students, half the group's identity was 'scientists' and half 'students'. In each condition they were asked to answer questions relating to punishable and unpunishable behaviour and their willingness to participate. Here the out-group was academic staff. Results showed that 'scientists' were consistent with staff members for punishable items but 'students' weren't. For punishable items, decreased identifiability to staff (out-group), decreased expression of academic commitment for 'students' but not for 'scientists'. Also, identifiability for unpunishable items had no effect on either group as no punishment was at the receiving end. They concluded that when an in-group is less identifiable to the out-group, they can carry out behaviours that adhere to norms of their identity even though they may be punished by the out-group. However, there still lie a few problems. Firstly, because you can't see power in action, you can't say that power relations are affected by anonymity. To do this, a way of measuring how participants resist the out-group is required. Even if there was a way of measuring how anonymity affects power relations, it would be hard to see what part anonymity plays. The range of possibilities are endless. Conclusion Studies have generally shown a lot of support for SIDE as well as for power relations and salience of identity. Although Deindividuation theory says that being in a group effects power relations, they take away these effects from a persons thinking. SIDE combines them to give a more realistic social-contextual model of human behaviour. To assume that it is the immersion of the individuals in the crowd that brings about irrational, impulsive behaviour is ridiculous. It's important to remember that we are social beings. We may lose ourselves in crowds but we're not left not knowing what to do. Considering the enormous amounts of groups we are in every day (office, school, city), a view that anonymous groups lead to anti-normative behaviour is too simplistic. SIDE has had greater empirical findings and seems to provide a better way of understanding anonymous group behaviour. ...read more.

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