According to psychologists, Three psychological concepts operate in rioting. First one is the broad concept of Fundamental attribution error. Second one is Deindividuation and it comes under fundamental attribution error. Third one derived from psychoanalytic theory and here natural aggressive drives are let loose by the context of riot.
What is Deindividuation ?
Deindividuation is a social psychological phenomena seen in certain situations. It is especially seen in mobs. Here an anonymous member of a mob will act differently than as an individual.
"In Deindividuation people’s salience of the personal identities are reduced and they acquire the identity of the group or mob. In addition, in deindividuation, there is a reduction in the sense of public accountability. These factors cause the individual to act aggressive or show unusual behavior. Two key characteristics are the group size and anonymity of the individual."
In simple terms during a riot people tend to remove previous personal value system and merge into the value system of the mob. In addition, there is a diffusion of responsibility among the individuals. These effects are directly proportionate to the number of people in the riot and the individuals anonymity in the situation. Anonymity can be enhanced by wearing masks.
In addition, some psychologists believe riots give a perfect place to explore humans hidden motives such as aggression.
In English riots Clive Coleman of the BBC News legal team said,
"A significant number of those charged were said in court to be of previously good character and had simply been drawn in to the offending."
|Normal people turned into robbers|
Courtesy - BBC
Above statement explains the power of situations in shaping our behaviors. But the England's prime minister said,
"You will feel the full force of the law. And if you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment." - English Prime minister
What is fundamental attribution error?This concept of de individuation is under the another broader social psychological principle called Fundamental Attribution error.
Fundamental attribution error is "The human tendency to overestimate constitutional factors and underestimate the power of situations in shaping our behavior." For an example we may believe a person whom we know little about is not good person when he does not smile at us.
But we ignore the fact that he may had a quarrel with his wife when we saw him or he may had an bitter argument with his boss just before we met him. We simply attaches that behavior to his character, not to the situation.Rioting is another good example of fundamental attribution error. Examples of power of situations in shaping human behavior are numerous. Most striking example would be the horrors we saw in Nazi Germany, where normal law abiding citizens became cold blooded killers. In fact, most of the psychological research were conducted immediately after the World War 2 to explain these evil tendencies inside us (e.g. Stanford prison experiment, Milgrams experiments on obedience).
Atkinson and Hilgard - Introduction to psychology 14e
BBC report on UK Rioting
BBC article on UK riots: What turns people into looters
First published in
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