Deindividuation is the loss of identity or self-awareness, usually in a group setting.
What Is Deindividuation?
Most of the time, people have a general sense of individuality and self-awareness that makes it easier to monitor their interactions with others, judge their behavior according to their values, and recognize themselves as separate entities from others.
Deindividuation occurs when a person’s identity with a group overrides their own identity and self-awareness. It can lead to a mob mentality, because deindividuation tends to prevent critical thinking and dissent. People in groups often feel less individual responsibility for their behavior and may feel that they will be able to act with more anonymity. They may also identify so strongly with a group that their individual feelings matter less. Religious settings, sports games, political events, and large organizations such as militaries can all cause members to deindividuate. Peer pressure to go along with groupthink may also play a role in deindividuation.
Deindividuation can occur in a wide variety of situations that involve groups of people. Some healthy and unhealthy examples of deindividuation include:
- A regular member of an Eastern Othodox church finds spiritual fulfillment in participating in the weekly liturgy because she feels she is becoming “one” with her fellow worshipers.
- A group of people from the same town hunt down and punish “witches,” driven by the shared religious conviction that those accused as witches are a threat to their spiritual well-being.
- Like-minded volunteers join together to plant trees in an effort to combat climate change, and their camaraderie allows them to plant many more than they would have had the energy to plant on their own.
- A political rally escalates people’s emotions about an issue, causing a number of them to form a mob and vandalize local businesses.
When it causes people to form a group centered around the desire to become a force for good, deindividuation can be positive. But the term is often used to describe its harmful aspects, such as violence and bullying.
Deindividuation in Psychology
Social psychologists, who study individual behavior in group settings, developed the theory of deindividuation and used it to describe a common phenomenon in some groups. Leon Festinger, a social psychologist, is remembered for coining the term “deindividuation” in the 1950s.
Deindividuation is thought to be facilitated be a few different things, including:
- Anonymity: When people are part of a crowd, their personal identity is less likely to be singled out. This lack of accountability allows them to engage in behavior that might not be socially acceptable if they were acting alone.
- Contagion: In group settings, behavior is known to spread quickly from person to person.
- Suggestibility: It’s theorized that people in crowds may be more suggestible, causing them to be more open to imitating the beliefs or actions of their group members.
Deindividuation, Groupthink, and Conformity
Deindividuation is closely associated with the ideas of groupthink and conformity. Both of these concepts could be thought of as aspects of deindividuation. Some distinguish between deindividuation and groupthink by arguing that while deindividuation involves a loss of awareness, groupthink occurs when individuals actively shut down their individual thoughts in favor of the popular thoughts promoted by the group. Conformity can also be more of an active process than deindividuation, and it can even achieve opposing results. For example, individuals may conform to social norms that discourage behaviors such as vandalism and shouting in public.
Effects of Deindividuation
When a person deindividuates within a non-destructive group, the benefits can be positive and may include a sense of belonging and camaraderie. Deindividuation can be extremely emotional, and some people feel exhilarated when they return to a sense of self-awareness. However, deindividuation can also contribute to destructive group behavior. Political oppression, mass violence, riots, and bullying can all stem from deindividuation.
Anyone is susceptible to deindividuation, but a strong desire to belong and a strong group identity can increase a person’s likelihood of deindividuation. An individual with strong political convictions, for example, is much more likely to deindividuate in certain social settings than someone who does not identify strongly with any political identity.
Highly stimulating groups—such as sports games with lots of action or military missions—can increase the likelihood of deindividuation, and some research indicates that large groups are more likely to cause members to deindividuate.
- Douglas, K. M. (n.d.). Deindividuation. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/deindividuation/Group-norms
- Postmes, T., & Turner, F. M. (2015). Psychology of deindividuation. Science Direct. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/psychology/deindividuation
- Vilanova, F., Beria, F. M., Costa, A. B., & Koller, S. H. (2017, April 5). Deindividuation: From Le Bon to the social identity model of deindividuation effects. Journal of Cogent Psychology, 4(1). Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23311908.2017.1308104
Last Updated: 12-12-2019
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EricDecember 3rd, 2016 at 8:20 AM
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