Monday, July 17, 2006

Group Think

World of Psychology Will Meek explains how good people (do great numbers of these animals exist?) do bad things--especially in groups. Morals go out the window in a group. When the leader goes bad, the group goes bad. He cites this article in the LA Times (must register) which says:

"The research is pretty clear: You put people in a group situation and they tend to do what the group decides," says Donelson Ross Forsyth, an expert in group dynamics and ethical leadership at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

History and psychological studies both bear this out. Germany wasn't chock-full of evil people during the Holocaust. Instead, mostly ordinary, law-abiding Germans followed their leaders in the torture and killing of millions of Jews.

In Rwanda in 1994, once-peaceful neighbors who had never acted with violence turned on each other in horrific acts of brutality.
Here's the thing, not everyone commits these acts of brutality. Some don't. Not that I don't care about group think, because I do find it very interesting, but what I find more interesting are the exceptions. I would like to know better and replicate the psychology of the Oskar Schindlers and Paul Rusesabaginas of the world--those people who have a vested (in his case life and livelihood) interest in doing bad, but don't.

Goodness in the face of evil. Now that's a study worthy of replicating.


staffpsy said...

Hi Melissa,

Thanks for the reference! You're absolutely right that not everyone goes along, and that is definitely something worth studying. I'd even venture to say that MOST poeple DONT lose their moral compass, but when they do, I'd argue that most of those factors are present. Cool blog by the way, I'll be back.

vj said...

On a much lesser scale but perhaps more practical in every day life, I have seen this "group mentality" in every place I've ever worked. People, who, when getting them by themselves are very nice, go to church regulary, have kids and grandkids, etc...but get them in a group and they will start pouncing on someone and demonize someone beyond recognition. This happend to a friend of mine recently. The things that were said about her made you spin your head. She was so attacked by a "group" that the end results were illness to her body and it also cut deep into her heart...(she, of course, would never let them know that). She is intelligent, strong, a leader, a hard worker and she gets things done. I admire that in a person! But, I guess those qualities brought out a group gang up.

It never ceases to amaze me how this comes about. As a child I've observed that same thing time and again dealing with new kids coming in, new social workers coming in and lots of envies. Always some bully took the lead. As a middle aged person I've come to realize that so many just simply never grown out of this tendency to jump on the band wagon and become a part of the "collective".