Deindividuation occurs when a person gives up their own personal norms and responsibilities and takes on the normative behaviour of a group. Hogg and Vaughan (2008) defined deindividuation as: ‘a process whereby people lose their sense of socialised individual identity and engage in unsocialised, often antisocial behaviour’.
According to the deindividuation explanation of aggression, people normally refrain from antisocial and aggressive behaviour because of strong norms against such behaviour and if they are easily identifiable. Whereas in certain situations where there is a degree of anonymity (such as crowd) resulting in a lack of constraints, people may behave in an aggressive manner. For example, Milgram (1964, 1965) found that participants were more likely to give higher levels of shock when they could not see (or be seen by) their victims. In contrast, when the victim was in the same room, participants were more reluctant to deliver high levels due to the fact that they were identifiable, thus supporting the deindividuation explanation of aggression.
One evaluative point of this study is that it is has ethical issues as participants were deceived into believing they were giving real electric shocks. Therefore informed consent could not be achieved.
Many research studies have investigated deindividuation and its effect on behaviour such as the Stanford Prison experiment (Zimbardo et al. 1973). Zimbardo was interested in finding out whether the brutality reported among guards in American prisons was due to the sadistic personalities of the guards or had more to do with the prison environment. Using a lab experiment to study this, the ‘prison’ was recreated in Stanford University, with 21 students acting as guards and prisoners. Prisoners were dressed in smocks and nylon caps and were only addressed by their number, they found that the dehumanization of the prisoners, the prison environment and the relative anonymity of each group, were key factors in creating the brutal behaviour of the guards.
One weakness of this study is the many ethical criticisms it has received, including lack of fully informed consent by participants and the level of humiliation and distress experienced by those who acted as prisoners, who were also unprotected from psychological and physical harm. It can also be criticised in terms of generalizability, the sample size only consisted of 21 white male students which is not representative of the wider population and therefore results cannot be generalise to the public. On the other hand, one strength of the study is that it had relatively high ecological validity as Zimbardo went to great lengths to ensure that his mock prison was as realistic as possible.
In evaluating deindividuation, much of the early evidence linked deindividuation to antisocial behaviour such as the Stanford Prison Experiment; however, there is evidence showing that sometimes it may produce pro-social behaviour (e.g. expressions of collective good will at religious rallies). Research has also failed to distinguish between the effects of the anonymity of those being aggressed against (e.g. the victim) as opposed to the anonymity of those doing the aggressing.
Another weakness regarding the research studies into deindividuation is the androcentric viewpoint researchers often take, due to the fact studies like the Stanford Prison Experiment consist only of males. Therefore there is a gender bias. Another weakness of Zimbardo’s study into the effects of deindividuated behaviour is that it fails to tell us much about how real guards behave, but rather how people behave when acting as guards.
The deindividuation theory also takes a determinist view of aggression, pointing out the fact that aggressive behaviour is a result of losing one’s inhibitions in the presences of a group, and to some extent, denies the individual responsibility for their own behaviour. It also takes a reductionist approach as it fails to consider other factors which may influence aggression such as biological causes such as neurotransmitters.
To conclude, deindividuation is where an individual within a group feels a weakened sense of personal identity and self-awareness, research into this theory has demonstrated its effect on aggressive behaviour.
This essay was awarded 12/12.
Two Social Psychological Theories of Aggression
- Length: 562 words (1.6 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Two Social Psychological Theories of Aggression
Two social psychological theories of aggression are deindividuation
and the social learning theory. Both of these help to explain why
people are aggressive. Deindividuation is when people are thought to
be more aggressive because of the fact that they have been
deindividuated; they have had their individual identity taken away
from them so they blend into society and those around them.
Individuals can be deindividuated when, for example it is night time
or when they are in a big crowd because they won’ be easily
recognisable by themselves. Studies have provided evidence that
deindividuation can be an explanation for aggression. Check for
example found that on an anonymous survey of male students, a third of
them said that they would commit rape if they though there was no
chance of them being caught. This shows that if their individual
identity was taken away from them; they were deindividuated; they were
more likely to be aggressive. However this was only a study of their
intentions and not their actual behaviour so might not really be that
reliable in providing support for deindividuation as a theory of
aggression. Other studies have found that if people are deindividuated
t night time, when it is dark and no one would recognise them; they
are also more likely to be aggressive. Mann for example found that on
a study of baiting crowds, some people were more likely to urge a
person to jump from a building if he incident took place at night
time. This study however was only on a few people on events which
happened before so also might not really be that valid.
Deindividuation as a theory of aggression is quite valid as it does
have research evidence, both of real life and lab studies to provide
evidence which supports it, however it does not explain why, for
example males tend to be more aggressive than females in certain
situations and only gives a general explanation for why people are
aggressive in certain factors e.g. if it is night time or they’re in a
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big crowd for example.
Another social psychological theory which can be used to explain
aggression is the social learning theory. This theory states that
aggression is not innate; instead it is learnt through imitation and
copying role models in society. People can also learn to be aggressive
through vicarious reinforcement where they see someone rewarded for
aggressive behaviour and copy them o be aggressive then rewarded. Many
studies have provided support for this theory in explaining
aggression, for example a study by Bandura on nursery children who
watched a video of aggressive behaviour on a bobo doll found that
those who saw the adult rewarded for their aggressive behaviour were
more aggressive than those who saw the adult being punished for their
aggressive behaviour on the doll. This shows that people can learn,
through imitation of role models, how to be aggressive. This study
however can be criticised because it was only on nursery school
children and might not be able to be generalised to other people. It
can also be seen as unrealistic because it was of the children
watching a film of aggressive behaviour and the outcome might have
been different if the children saw a real aggressive adult in front of
them. Demand characteristics might also play a part in why the
children were aggressive, as they were not told what to do, they saw
how the adult behaved and just might have thought that that is what
they were supposed to do. Some of the children in the study were only
aggressive though after they had been offered a reward to do so, this
could show that although some were not aggressive straight away, they
still learnt how to be aggressive, this could show that in an
situation people do imitate and copy what they see and can learn
aggressive behaviour just by seeing it; through social learning. The
social learning theory is good to explain aggressive behaviour,
however it could be criticised because it says that all behaviours are
copied, however not everyone imitates role models. This theory though,
unlike deindividuation could explain why males are more aggressive
than females, by copying their male role model’s aggressive behaviour