Naukovi Novyny, Vol 2, Issue 3, March 26, 2020

Mass psychosis - a short excursion


Oleksandra Shapovalova (Master of Experimental Psychology, Psychologist, Teacher of Psychology ; specialization - psychological analysis of texts and methods of scientific research )

Despite the urgency, the problem of mass psychoses calls many conflicting reactions. It is, as the infamous issue of the "conspiracy theory", exists and does not exist at the same time, in the minds of the general public or specialists in the social and political sciences. For the best, we tend to admit that such a problem exists "in general", but always where there are "bad" ("poorly educated" / "not intelligent" / "not enough honest") people. But me - no, I will not fall under its influence, it will never happen to me, because my decisions are always balanced, and actions are conscious – almost each of us thinks this way.

So, let's look at the issues of mass psychoses in more detail and see if this can happen "next to us".

First, how different is the mass (of people), what is it?

Mass, in the broadest sense, is a gathering of people, a crowd, a certain number of people who are in a certain place at a certain time. But this is the simplest understanding that has been developed by researchers [3] since the establishment of the science of mass behavior. Since then, things have emerged that simply did not exist a millennium ago - remote communication and mass media. With the advent of phones, radios, TVs, computers and the Internet, humanity has taken the next step, after the start of book publishing and mass distribution of newspapers. If earlier, in case of disagreement with society, a person or a group of people could just go to another city, and with it completely change the whole cultural picture of their existence, now, even traveling the world, we rarely "fall out" of our society for a long time, because we are left with our gadgets to help us get news, connect with families, socialize. So, even almost in the desert, the person does not actually change the cultural environment, changing the country of residence, we remain mentally and emotionally connected to the environment that is familiar to us. And it is not enough to just stay home to get rid of the crowd. In order to maintain independence from the society, it is also necessary to exclude all means of communication - telephones, TVs, news on the Internet, not to communicate on social networks. And this, we understand, is too difficult task for a modern human - because if he or she does not live in a sparsely populated place, feeding on its own land, he or she must earn a living in society - either working daily in a factory, office, or by working remotely as freelance but sharing information with the public. So, nowadays, if you don't live in a remote village somewhere in Madagascar (for example) without the Internet, you are part of the mass, part of that information world, an "ant" doing your part in the intellectual and emotional work of society as whole.

But let`s go back to the masses in its classical sense. What is it characterized by [2]:

1) Unconsciousness and emotionality - the mass acts under the influence of impulses, irrationally, emotionally.

2) High level of imaginative thinking and sensuality - the mass does not operate by logical schemes, it allegedly "sees" the end result of the proposed image at once, without intermediate links, accepting or rejecting the idea entirely. The image has a very specific, sensual content. If the image of the "enemy" is suggested, which the instigators only conditionally refer to, then the crowd, the mass, substitutes this image by the specific faces of physically existing people, etc.

3) Categoricality, activity and extremism - as soon as the mass comes to a conclusion, it is ready to act according to the obtained attitudes. And in its actions it knows no boundaries and halftones. If you act, you must already act to the end. And whoever, a minute ago, was a friend, if he or she tries to keep the mass from acting, in an instant he or she will become the enemy, who must be eliminated with the greater fury, because he seems to be the mass "traitor".

4) (A)morality and religiosity - the crowd never, even on the way to a future victim, out loud discussing the means of its extermination, considers that it is doing something wrong. Nobody says to itself, "I got a bit crazy, now I will be murdering, I will abuse a possibly innocent victim, and then I will go home". No, it is almost always seen by the masses as a "high" impulse to protect something very important (family, children, moral, Motherland) from the bad, who threatens it or wants to hurt it. It may be that after an hour or a day individuals of this crowd will regret of what they did, but during the mass action, they are all sure of their correctness.

5) Diffuseness, anonymity and irresponsibility. There are many of us together, no one from the outside can distinguish me from my neighbors, everyone around me is convinced that we are right and that we need to do right now. So sure I'm. Together with like-minded people, I feel so… strong, so… confident as never before in my life. This feeling quickly encompasses the whole group, becoming the basis of the following actions.

In this way, the emotionally charged, non-reflective crowd receives or develops within their limits an idea that is both an instruction and a stimulus to action, its visual and almost physical way of imagination. In addition, convinced of the safety and lack of future responsibility for its own actions, convinced that it protects by these actions the world, the Motherland, family or moral values, the crowd moves to action. In addition the larger its size (the number of people who belong to it), the more determined and confident it is, the faster and stronger the mechanisms of influence on the mass consciousness are : contagion, infusion and urge [4].

Now back to the heterogneous mass we discussed at the beginning. A crowd that is in a certain place at a certain time, of course, is very fast and easily influenced. But then it diverges, and at the same time, the parts of the crowd that are now becoming individual and becoming separate persons lose much of their charge. Someone will return to those ideas, feelings and actions that were instilled in him in the crowd, and someone will feel them as something alien and reject them. And yet in somebody they will "smolder" in a hidden form, without manifesting themselves, until an external stimulus "activates" the inclination and causes the person to act.

Suppose that a group of people does not attend mass events, avoids gatherings. However it goes to work in an office where it communicates daily with colleagues. In the evenings, it watches its favorite shows, and occasionally meets with friends. Communicating in the ordinary circle of colleagues and friends, an individual falls under the common collective ideas, the sum of which is the content of the collective consciousness [2]. Of course, the content of this consciousness consists of commonly used information - knowledge acquired at school, at home in childhood, at the institute, while working and communicating, as well as information acquired through the media.

Now imagine that somewhere in this chain of ideas there is a mistake. Someone accidentally or intentionally inputs incorrect information. Let's say, for example, that Martians came to Earth with a research mission (by the way, the case of mass psychosis due to rumors of an attack by Martians is very well-known in the history of social psychology) [1], and every conscientious member of society must get vaccinated from a Martian bacilli they brought. This information is presented in the form of gossip and rumors, spoken of as authentic information by colleagues and friends, it becomes covered in Internet and the media to refute rumors that only further fuel interest in the image of Martians and "Martian disease". And one day it becomes dangerous not to believe in "Martian disease", because all conscientious and intelligent people in your environment are convinced of its existence. That is why refusal to believe in it will lead to the emergence of conflicts at work and at home with closest people. In the face of such pressure, most of us choose the side of our loved ones and our work environment. Because how do Martians matter and how my colleagues matter to me? The Martians came and will leave, and I still have to work in this department.

When the number of ordinary citizens who share certain views reaches critical mass almost the whole of society starts to share these views, no matter how strange they may be. This is even easier when it comes to ordinary everyday views. Of course, if any of us copying Sherlock Holmes, will say, that we do not know the Earth orbits the Sun (by the way, nowadays a theory about rebellion scientists who conceal the information about the fact that the Earth is flat is gaining popularity) [5], or that our neighbors are spying on us through walls - is a case of false belief of the individual (if everything else is a demonstration of healthy behavior) or psychosis of the individual (if it is one of the symptoms of schizophrenia). But we may not notice the false/sick view where the idea is about issues that are less clear, not usual, or complicated. For example, in politics or interpreting the meaning of certain phenomena and events. Since there is no one single view, and different people may have different views, most of them will faithfully believe in their own views, we know that such views can be partially different. We leave a certain "gap in ideology" for this discrepancy when communicating with colleagues and friends. "Yes, this X is a big crank. He considers politicians A and B decent when everyone knows they are thieves and crooks, but we work so well together and drink beer on Fridays... so let him think. For the most part, he's a not dangerous weirdo". But it may happen that for some reason the ideas of X become widespread, the critical mass of society thinks that A and B are decent people, although this is not the case (according to the observer), and at home, in the office and with friends it becomes dangerous to talk about this because the conflicts that can arise can result in loss of friends, work and even family. What is it - fashion, mass consciousness, belief or mass psychosis? What seems strange to an observer is still normal for the masses. Let's imagine further that the committees for the meeting of Martians, the institutes of human-Martian interaction and Martian well-being are created, funds are allocated, officials are appointed, people buy weapons to meet the enemy, mass unrest and casualties begin... What is it? This is a mass psychosis. And in this regard, the opinion of both the observer and many other people agrees (but the phenomenon does not become less widespread). But the distance between the first and the second is very small, we had the germ of this psychosis at the stage of rumors.

Hence, phenomenon of mass psychosis is a phenomenon closely related to us and our lives. At the same time, it is very complex in the sense that it can be detected only from the distance when observer does not participate in the process. And it is very difficult to be distanced from it due to mass nature of the phenomenon and difficulty to get rid of its influence. Therefore, it is possible to observe, understand, describe and somehow respond to it, either after a while, or by moving to another part of the world, changing the circle of communication - and, consequently, falling into the sphere of influence of other social processes, when the past for the observer will lose its relevance.

So what to do? How to protect yourself from mass psychosis?

1. If the question arises about the influence of the crowd, then it is simple - do not go to places of mass gathering, and if you get into them - leave them immediately.

2. It is more difficult if the issue is about the impact of the media and the environment in heterogeneous mass. It is much more difficult to avoid this influence. The first thing to determine in this case is to calculate the "price of the issue", or the price/motivation ratio.

Do you really want to avoid this influence? How critical do you think it is? Perhaps in order to stay free from this influence, you will need to be fired, leave friends (or they will leave you), move out - are you ready to pay that price? There are cases where a person who has joined the sect and after some time wished to leave it has lost his family, loved ones and most of his social contacts, so these are not empty words.

3. The content of the collective consciousness, which is at the core of influence, is always certain information, emotion, it is "something" that exists. It is impossible to replace "something" with "nothing", that is, it is impossible to say to yourself, "I will not succumb to this influence" and not give in to it. At best, you will be influenced by something else, something opposite or similar, but it will also be influence. So, you need to find for yourself another content, another "something" that you choose consciously and what will put a "stop" the content of the influence. However it will be your conscious choice (if it is at all possible in society).

4. Compare information from different sources and, if possible, identify sources of reliable information that are proven by personal experience. No matter how simple this advice may be, you would be surprised how many educated and intelligent people have neglected this rule. Analyzing the information on which you rely, choosing the nature of the action, you should not avoid sources that you do not like just because you do not like, for example, their author. If you rely solely on the opinions of those you like, no wonder that their views are the same as yours ("he thinks the way I do - so he is a good man. Once he is a good man - so his information can be trusted"), so you drive yourself into the circle without access to fresh information.

5. Critically evaluate information from any source.

Used sources:

1. Balandina A. Panic in the United States: How Americans Believed in the Martian Invasion. 80 years of the most famous hoax in radio history.

2. Olshansky DV Psychology of the masses. - St. Petersburg : Peter, 2002.

3. Ortega-i-Gasset H. The revolt of the masses. // Questions of philosophy. 1989. №3, 4.

4. Social Psychology. Under. Ed. Korneva MN, Kovalenko AB - K., 1995.

5. We Can Blame YouTube And Ourselves For The Rise in Flat-Earthers, Says Study are-helping

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