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Top 10 Instances of Mob Mentality

by Jonathan Hastad
fact checked by Rachel Jones

Mob mentality can cause even the smartest or kindest people to do things that would make a priest blush. That’s because each person has a sense of individuality, but the magic of mob mentality turns us from loan wolves into sheep. Mob mentality is a form of survival thinking where the individual wants to fit in with those around them so that they aren’t the one singled out.

Once that sense of individuality is lost, it’s easy for the group’s emotions to escalate, making it difficult for them to make intelligent decisions. Other terms that people use for mob mentality are groupthink, herd mentality, and crowd psychology. Whatever the terminology you want to use, the general rule is that the larger the crowd, the dumber the individual becomes. Let’s get to 10 examples that prove just that.

Related: 10 Utterly Bizarre Riots Throughout History

10 The Salem Witch Trials

What really happened during the Salem Witch Trials – Brian A. Pavlac

The Salem Witch Trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. The trials resulted in the executions of twenty people, most of them women. One man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to enter a plea. Twelve other women had previously been executed in Massachusetts and Connecticut during the 17th century.

How mob mentality led to this:

The trials began in February 1692, after a group of young girls claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused several local women of witchcraft. A frenzy of witch-hunting ensued. Many of the accusations were based on the flimsiest of evidence, if any evidence at all.

In order to avoid being outed as a witch, villagers felt like they had to be actively accusing others or openly showing support for the trials. Very similar to what happened centuries later in Hitler’s Germany.

9 New York Blackout of 1977

NYC Blackout: What It Was Like When the City Lost Power in 1977 | NBC New York

The now infamous New York City blackout occurred on July 13–14, 1977, resulting from an electrical grid failure caused by severe weather. A lightning strike at a Con Edison substation in Queens set off a series of electrical failures that cascaded throughout the system, ultimately leading to a shutdown of the entire electrical grid serving New York City and Westchester County.

How mob mentality led to this:

The sense of lawlessness that came with the darkness led to people taking advantage of the situation. The blackout led to widespread looting and vandalism, particularly in Brooklyn. More than 3,700 stores were looted, with $300 million in damage done. In addition, there were about 1,600 fires. The police were stretched thin, trying to maintain order and prevent looting. In some cases, they resorted to using excessive force, which only made the situation worse.

8 Burning Man Festival

Burning Man 2018 Drone Footage

The Burning Man Festival is an annual event in the western United States at Black Rock City—a temporary city erected in the Black Rock Desert of northwest Nevada, about 100 miles north-northeast of Reno. It is also a thriving year-round culture generated by a global community of participants. The late summer event is described as an experiment in community and art, influenced by ten main principles: “radical” inclusion, self-reliance, and self-expression, as well as community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy, and leaving no trace. Yes, you read that right. Apparently, Burning Man isn’t just the world’s largest orgy. 

How mob mentality led to this:

At the Burning Man festival, mob mentality really comes into play with the choice of activities that occur. When there are 100 thousand plus people expressing themselves by letting all or most of it hang out in the name of ultimate freedom, it’s hard not to join in.

7 The Crusades

The Crusades – Pilgrimage or Holy War?: Crash Course World History #15

The Crusades were a series of religious wars sanctioned by the Latin Church in the medieval period. The most commonly known Crusades are the campaigns in the Eastern Mediterranean aimed at “recovering the Holy Land” from Muslim rule. But the term “Crusades” is also applied to other church-sanctioned campaigns. 

These were fought for a variety of reasons, including the suppression of paganism and heresy, the resolution of conflict among rival Roman Catholic groups, or for political and territorial advantage. At times, papal sanctions for these campaigns established crusading as an official church activity. Nothing more God-like than laying the smackdown on people who disagree with you. Bring out the Holy Hand Grenade!

How mob mentality led to this:

The Crusades were born from a mob mentality. The people who went on these crusades felt like they were doing God’s work by going out and forcibly converting people to Christianity. However, in reality, they were often just pillaging and looting villages while screaming the name of God.

6 Blackbirds Flying

Flock of yellow-headed blackbirds mysteriously drop from sky in Mexico

In the early hours of March 19, 1860, a massive flock of blackbirds descended on the town of Brighton, England. The birds flew into houses and smashed through windows. They attacked people in the streets and pecked at their clothes. It was as if the birds had gone crazy.

Even more recently, in February of 2022, hundreds of yellow-headed blackbirds suddenly dove into the ground.

How mob mentality led to this:

The blackbirds were acting on instinct, following the lead of other birds in the flock. When one bird started flying into a house, the rest of the flock followed suit. This is probably one of the best examples of instinctual mob mentality and how it can cause animals or people to behave irrationally. Suddenly, your mom asking, “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” makes a lot more sense.

5 The Red Scare

Sound Smart: The Red Scare | History

The Red Scare was a period of time in the mid-20th century when there was a widespread fear of socialism and communism. This led to a commie hunt for anyone who was suspected of being a communist or sympathizing with communism. This persecution often took the form of public hearings, where people were interrogated about their political beliefs.

How mob mentality led to this:

The Red Scare was started by a group of people who were afraid of socialism and communism spreading through their democratic society. They used mob mentality to persecute anyone who they thought might be sympathetic to these ideologies. This caused a lot of innocent people to be harassed and even lose their jobs. Much like the Salem Witch Trials, if you were accused, one way to provide evidence that you weren’t was to give names of others you thought could be red sympathizers.

4 Singing at Concerts

Crowd of over 15,000 Singing “Don’t Stop Believin” at Sonic Boom 2015 – Janesville, Wisconsin

Have you ever been at a concert and witnessed almost the entire crowd singing along (really badly) with the band? Most people who can’t sing are totally aware of it. But it somehow becomes more socially acceptable when everyone around you is singing horribly too. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s just how mob mentality works.

How mob mentality led to this:

Singing at concerts is a perfect example of how mob mentality can cause people to do things they wouldn’t normally do. When everyone around you is singing, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and start singing along yourself, even if you can’t carry a tune. Eventually, you won’t even be able to hear the person you actually paid to see.

3 Joining a Cult

Holy Hell – Cults and Groupthink

Cults are groups with a system of beliefs that are different from the mainstream. They often have a charismatic leader who controls the members. Cults are dangerous because they leverage groupthink to isolate members from their families and friends and make them do things they wouldn’t normally do. Here are a few of the most dangerous cults in history:

  • Love Has One
  • Heaven’s Gate
  • The Manson Family

How mob mentality led to this:

When everyone around you believes in something, it’s easy to get caught up in the groupthink and start believing it yourself. This can lead to people doing things that they wouldn’t normally do—for example, participating in harmful activities like mass murder, kidnapping, fraud, and drinking Kool-Aid.

2 Planned Riots

Why Do People Riot?

A small group of people who start inciting violence can quickly turn an otherwise peaceful gathering into a raging mob. This has happened at sporting events, political protests, and many other large gatherings of people. Once the violence starts, it quickly spirals out of control and turns into a full-blown riot.

How mob mentality led to this:

Some people plan ahead for a riot. They know that if they can get a few people to start fighting, then the rest of the crowd will follow suit. Think of the classic bar fights from a movie: two people start fighting after bumping into other until everyone in the bar is fighting and no one knows why.

1 Astroworld Concert

How the Travis Scott Astroworld festival tragedy unfolded

Travis Scott’s Astroworld concert in Houston ended in tragedy when eight people were killed in a stampede. The crowd was so large and chaotic that people were getting trampled. This tragic incident highlights the dangers of mob mentality.

How mob mentality led to this:

The Astroworld concert tragedy was caused by mob mentality. When you’re in a large group of people, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and lose track of your own safety and those around you. You might not even realize what’s happening until it’s too late. I’m sure no one meant to trample someone else. But when the crowd surges forward, you surge with it.

fact checked by Rachel Jones