In 1692, the Salem Witch Trials resulted in the deaths of twenty innocent people. The trials were brutal events caused by a group of people who succumbed to mob mentality. The accusers and bystanders blindly agreed to take part in violent acts because their brains caused them to act like those around them. People easily sacrifice their personal values and morals in order to conform to a group mentality. This phenomenon is most commonly referred to as mob or herd mentality. A few reasons why people’s views are so effortlessly swayed is due to society’s dynamic with a need to fit in, confused individuals who adopt traits that they observe from their peers, and emotions that overcome rationality.
In society, people often feel the need to be a part of something. The first step of losing personal values to mob mentality begins by becoming a part of a group. An article by Kristen Polito, who writes for The Bulletin, states that crowd frenzy, also referred to as contagion theory, is often present in group settings. The theory explains that crowds can easily go into a frenzy that takes group members into a hypnotic state where they often make unreasonable choices. An example of this in Lord of the Flies is demonstrated when Simon was murdered by boys who believed he was the beast. This is the same concept that occurred in the Witch Trials. Someone came up with an irrational idea and others followed. People who are in a group often experience a lack of awareness. This is when the mob mentality really starts to kick in. They no longer feel whole as themselves. The group is a whole and they are parts of it. For example, the extremely malleable littluns were influenced greatly by the older boys who taught them about being efficient members of the group. Human nature controls the need to be a part of a group, explaining why personal sacrifices are made so effortlessly in situations like these.
All people get confused about how to act in certain situations. Whether people realize it or not, they get their ideas about how to behave based off of what they observe from their peers. When the boys in Lord of the Flies were called by Piggy and Ralph, one of the first situations they witnessed was when Ralph started to tease Piggy. They all mimicked Ralph’s behavior and didn’t care that Piggy was being damaged by the bullying. They were scared of the new situation they were forced into and their brains didn’t know how to react. The boys took signals from their environment to help them blend in with the others and survive. Since the group started out with cruel and somewhat violent characteristics, the savagery only worsened until it reached the point of evil. The characteristics of a group often determine the actions completed by that group. For the boys in Lord of the Flies, they started out with bullying and progressed to murder. The boys’ instinctive violent nature combined with the rough circumstances they were living with, caused panic and even more unnecessary violence.
Humans are very emotional beings. When it comes to making choices, emotions can easily get in the way of making a good choice. Emotions affect all people and it can take form in good and bad ways. Fear is the emotion that affected the boys in Lord of the Flies. It affected their decision-making in such a way that made them easy followers of Ralph and then Jack at one point. When people are unsure of what to do in a scary situation, they follow. The boys listened to almost everything that their leaders asked them to with very little hesitation if any at all. Groups generate a sense of emotional excitement. This explains the boys’ hasty sacrifices to devote themselves to the group. When the naval officer arrived on the island to rescue the boys, some of them immediately broke down in tears. When the adrenaline and group mentality had settled down, they realized the terrible choices they made in the heat of the moment. This is proof that group mentality causes people to make regrettable choices they would not have made on their own.
People may believe that they have enough control over their brains to avoid situations such as mob mentality. However, this is not the case because all people read and take in social cues all the time. This is how people learn how to behave in different types of situations. Due to being emotional, observational, and living in a society with a group dynamic, people are easily willing to give up personal values in order to fit in with a group. Even though it may not always be realized, the environment is always affecting how people think and view the world.
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