Thursday, February 10, 2011


Do you know what it means? I think it is one of the more informative terms ever to come from sociology and psychology. It explains so much of the atrocious behavior we see every day in real life and on the news from our fellow human beings.

So what is it? One definition is "doing together what you would not do alone." Wikipedia says
Deindividuation, as described by Leon Festinger and colleagues in 1952, is the situation where anti-normative behavior is released in groups in which individuals are not seen or paid attention to as individuals. Simply put, deindividuation is immersion in a group to the point at which the individual ceases to be seen as such.
One of the clearer explanations of the experimental results underlying the phenomena  and the societal appearance was given yesterday in the wonderful "You Are Not So Smart" blog. I encourage you to click on over and be amused and amazed and edified.

Deindividuation explains phenomena as diverse as crowd riots, flash crowds chanting "jump" to potential suicides, much teenage behavior, and facebook and blog attacks. It makes clear much of the ugly behavior that happens on line. But the most interesting part to me is how easily the problem can be controlled simply by requiring people to identify themselves as individuals. Any one who has run a public forum that allows anonymous comments versus one that requires a validated ID knows just how powerful it is for commenters to be seen as individuals rather than as part of the faceless horde.

The really sad part is that it is an unconscious feature of all of us. Anyone can undergo deindividuation with only a small nudge in the right circumstances. So what do you think? And which of these two pictured individuals is more likely to suffer deindividuation?
(picture credit unknown)
Does it change if they have on hoods?


  1. A very thought provoking post, both here and over at the blog you linked. My head is still trying to wrap around the whole concept of deindividuation. It's one of those things that makes sense because I've heard about it before (maybe not the word but the concept) and at the same time makes me feel sick that it exists.

    I know that it definitely exists in Japan. In fact, I think that's why bullying is such a big problem in this country. Everyone online and even in schools, like to leave anonymous threats and hurtful words for others. It's so easy to do because there are so many online services that allow people to become anonymous. It's a very scary phenomenon.

  2. The ability to be anonymous definitely makes people do things they wouldn't otherwise. Not a good thing sometimes.

  3. Very interesting. But, of course, since I'm signing this comment I have to be at least civil! LOL

  4. This is the problem- bullying when you have a group, ganging up on people, etc. I never knew there was a word for it.


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