An individual in a crowd is a grain of sand amid other grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will.
Gustave Le Bon – The Crowd 1896
A person’s attributes of “Normal” are self balancing. Unless abnormal, our “Normal” attributes may push to limits but will not go beyond a socially acceptable threshold. If we are a part of a group, these thresholds can be broken.
Since a group of individuals are capable of pushing beyond normal limits, this makes groups abnormal. If we are not a part of a group, their actions will command the same emotions as abnormal people do. We will pity, fear or admire them. Depending on how we relate to the group’s actions will determine our emotional response.
During World War II many German’s committed horrific acts while under the influence of the Nazi group. The Nazi’s believed they were special. They believed their race was superior and therefore gave them the right to abolish those who they felt were inferior. After the war, many of the actions of the Nazi’s were punished, but many were not. The soldiers who committed these actions would not have done them on their own. It took a group to push them beyond a normal threshold.
In 1896 Gustave Le Bon published his book “The Crowd – A Study of the Popular Mind”. This publication is one of the most ground breaking studies in Group Psychology. Mussolini was said to have a copy of the bible and this book on his night stand during World War II.
“the crowd is always intellectually inferior to the isolated individual”.
Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd
The findings of Gustave Le Bon are still true today as they were thousands of years before he wrote of them. When a person is under the influence of a crowd, they will revert to their primitive instincts and break socially acceptable normal barriers. The actions of a group can be either heroic or destructive.
During war soldiers go beyond normal thresholds in defending the beliefs of their group. A soldier will remembers a war, when it is over he will go back to his life before the war. Depending on what side of the war we are on will determine how we view his actions as either heroic or destructive. The actions of the German soldiers as described above were destructive, although they believed they were being heroic.
A group mentality does not necessarily just include acts of violence. To be a member of a group means that we are being influenced by that group. If we are an American, then we are a member of the United States of America. If we invest in stocks, then we are shareholders.