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How well does the classic theory of deindividuation explain the behaviour of people in crowds?

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Introduction

Briefly describe and then critically evaluate the concept of deindividuation. How well does the classic theory of deindividuation explain the behaviour of people in crowds? Deindividuation is a theory that has been the subject of much discussion over past decades, and is to a large extent based on the crowd theory of Gustave Le Bon (1895/1995). Deindividuation is the loss of individuality when a subject becomes part of a group, either by decreased personal awareness or when individuals are no longer recognised as individuals (Festinger et al., 1952). Many theories recognise deindividuation as a psychological state where self-evaluation and evaluation apprehension are decreased, causing antinormative behaviour (Diener, 1980; Festinger, Pepitone & Newcomb, 1952; Zimbardo, 1969). Deindividuation theory has been used to understand the transformation of the individual's behaviour when part of a crowd. Le Bon (1985/1995) in his acclaimed book The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind suggested that whilst in a crowd an individual's personal and social inhibitions are decreased when anonymity, suggestibility and contagion are combined. The loss of individuality relieves the individual of moral restraints, and they become submerged within the group and capable of immoral and uncivilised acts. ...read more.

Middle

Zimbardo (1969) refined this concept further by defining the input variables that contributed to deindividuation and it's effects. Zimbardo (1969) stated that anonymity and the loss of responsibility were key contributors to deindividuation, as the feeling of anonymity allowed for impulsive, irrational and emotional behaviour, without fear of negative consequences. This would not have been possible without the input of anonymity, so Zimbardo would argue that anonymity was a key input variable in causing deindividuation. For Diener, the reduction of self-awareness was a key input variable (Diener 1977, 1980). Although Diener criticised Zimbardo's work, he also helped the refine and extend deindividuation theory, however Prentice-Dunn and Rogers (1982, 1989) can be seen as redefining deindividuation theory. For this reason it is generally accepted that Festinger et al. (1952), Zimbardo (1969) and Diener (1977, 1980) have defined the classical deindividuation theory, whereas Prentice-Dunn and Rogers have redefined and altered the key concept, so this is referred to as contemporary deindividuation theory. I will be focusing on classical deindividuation theory as it was based around crowd theory (Le Bon, 1895/1995), and I feel is more relevant in this context of explaining people in crowds. Deindividuation is a psychological state caused when an individual becomes part of a group. ...read more.

Conclusion

Classical Deindividuation Theory has defined antinormative behaviour as being antisocial, (e.g. violence), however this is very closed minded and neglects the possibility that this antisocial behaviour may be normal. Nonetheless, assessing what is normal is very difficult and labour intensive, so in terms of the deindividuation paradigm, stereotypes of socially accepted behaviour must be taken as the norm, as it will be correct for the majority of the time. The problem with this being that those participants whose behaviour is classed as antinormative may be classed incorrectly. This will limit the validity of the results. The classical theory of deindividuation is a useful tool in explaining the behaviour of people in crowds as it helps to understand the concept of a deindividuated member of a group. The classic deindividuation theory originated from crowd observation, and many of the core findings are still valid over 40 years later. Although doubts have been raised about the validity of research, it is difficult to create naturalistic experiments in the correct context. And classifying behaviour and results requires the interpretation of the experimenter, which may cause disagreement. Although deindividuation has been the subject of much debate and redefinition over the years, all of the viewpoints maintain the main element of deindividuation as the psychological state that brings antinormative behaviour. ...read more.

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