Mob Mentality

We are in a particularly scary moment in history fueled by social media. Facebook and Twitter expand the principles of the mob mentality. Throw in power differentials and we have a powder keg. Recently, my wife showed me a horrific news story about an Iranian lawmaker offering three million to assassinate Trump. I stayed away from Twitter after seeing the story because I knew my horror would only grow exponentially from those posting messages in response to the story.


Social media allows us to hide behind a computer screen and spew whatever we want, including a continuing message of hate and violence. I see it everywhere, not just from those who have political or social views opposite of my own.

cat at computer

After the second world war, social psychologists tried to understand how the Nazi regime became so powerful and was not only allowed but encouraged to exterminate millions of people. These psychologists conducted a couple of famous social science experiments.


The first was Soloman Asch who conducted a simple conformity experiment. Calling the experiment a vision test, he presented three lines of different sizes and asked participants to identify which line was closest to the target line. There was only one participant not in the “know” and after the confederates (those participants in the “know”) gave the obviously wrong answer the naive participant gave that same answer 68% of the time. When not influenced by others, participants gave the wrong answer only 1% of the time, This is mob mentality in action, going along with social pressure to conform to something that is clearly wrong.


Where it gets interesting is the experiment conducted by the Vital Smarts group. Introducing just one confederate who expressed “polite doubt” and gave the right answer, resulted in only 5% giving the wrong answer.  Here’s a link to a fascinating video to watch regarding this experiment:

free rat

Now, let’s talk about power. In another famous experiment by Stanley Milgram, the results were even more nefarious. The confederates (those in the “know”) were given the role of Student, the participants not in the “know” were given the role of Teacher. The “Teachers” were instructed to shock the Students every time they gave a wrong answer in increasing voltage, all the way up to 450 volts, including a direction to shock the participant when they refused to answer. Even at 315 volts where the “Students” responded with intense discomfort, including a plea to let them out, hysterical screaming and complaints of damage to their heart, 65% of the participants kept going all the way to 450 volts.


Power and social conformity make an angry pairing. Sometimes this is fueled by powerlessness. How often in history do we see the downtrodden start a revolution against their oppressors, only to turn into oppressors themselves? A great book to read is Renee Mackenzie’s novel, Kai’s Heart (Karst Book 1) illustrating this phenomenon.


So what’s the point of this? I’ve been a fan of “polite doubt” for quite some time, versus violence and other reactions to abuses against the downtrodden. I will once again provide a link to a woman giving a Ted Talk about her transformation after growing up in the Westboro Baptist Church. For those of you who don’t know about this church, this is the church that led an anti-gay protest at Mathew Sheppard’s funeral. The rhetoric of the church is abhorrent at best. This is a real-life example of the power of “polite doubt”. Great Ted Talk


Social media can offer “polite doubt” that perhaps will drown out the vitriol. A gal can dream…I continue to believe our rhetoric should not follow the same path as our oppressors, lest we turn into the new oppressive regime. I don’t know if books can offer “polite doubt”, but if they can, I will continue to try to sneak in my protests and doubt. If you want to see how I’ve done that, you know the drill, click on the links below!

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4 thoughts on “Mob Mentality

  1. Thanks Annette for opening the conversations that need intentional work. “Polite doubt” that is given with love and listening takes us off the wall of hate and judgement. As is true of most all art books can challenge our presumptions, educate our minds and enlighten our hearts. Your writing does that AND gives the reader such a grand journey. #polite doubt


  2. Thank you Annette for giving us “Polite Doubt”. As we are able to be increasingly anonymous in our communications the challenge to see each other is greater. When we listen to understand – not judge or be right we can have polite doubt. Art of many kinds, often gives us the challenge to see everything clearer. Books can challenge our presumptions, give language to our emotions, and look past what we only see- there is always so much more in any story. Your books do that brilliant job of getting us to think outside the box and enjoy a magnificent story that challenges us to speak “Polite Doubts” thanks again.


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