Deindividuation is an aspect of group-think. The people involved are focused on conformity with a line of thought; they end up making rash, problematic decisions that promote unity within the group but harm the participating individual and their victims. Self-doubt, plus critical thinking skills such as analysis and a sense of ethics/morality are sacrificed for conformity with the cause that they support. Think of mob psychology, a mindset adopted by a group of people who then stop thinking for themselves and stop seeing themselves as responsible for their actions. All blame for decision-making and action is attributed to the group or to its leaders; the specific people being held accountable for making remarks or taking action reject their personal responsibility. The problem happens during riots and gang-related activity, the #Hash tag phenomenon, military and police maneuvers, and so on. Allegedly “social” media has an anti-social downside to it because of the ease with which people can behave irresponsibly while mimicking other momentarily popular people or thoughts so that people will “Like” or “Retweet” them.
Deindividuation is a problem of shirking personal responsibility for the sake of cohesiveness, a sense of unity involving some sort of cause. If someone is held morally and/or legally responsible for their anti-social behavior in such groups, they might reply as did Nazis during the Nuremberg trials: “I was only following orders.” Social Justice Warriors don’t hesitate to verbally or physically attack the people they oppose, though the warriors themselves retreat to crying rooms when someone says or does something that they deem “unacceptable” or a “trigger” for unhappy thoughts. The hypocritical thinking and actions don’t seem to be issues for social justice aficionados.
The deindividuated individual chooses to stop seeing themselves as an individual, stops weighing moral issues and abandons any sense of right versus wrong. Their mindset is focused on letting someone else think for them so that the person becomes part of a larger, and to them significant, cause. Things tend to get out of control and sometimes make headlines. A deindividuated person who used to live up to their creative ideas and sense of independence now cowers in fear of upsetting the spirit, let alone the people, whose cause has taken over their sense of values. Personal identity simply doesn’t matter anymore. The deindividuation can be a temporary situation until a person is jolted out of their lock-step obedience to the cause, or rescued with mental health interventions.
One deindividuation problem that we have heard of in the news: Children and adults being terrified by the appearance of creepy clowns in public or less traveled locations. But negativity is not the only possible result of deindividuated minds. Think of survivors trying to rescue people from sinking boats, wars, and other forms of life-threatening injury. Deindividuation can result in admirable heroic behavior, too.
This article is merely an overview of the deindividuation theory, not a definitive statement about the topic. We at e-counseling advise readers to study relevant materials and/or to speak with licensed therapists in order to understand deindividuation better.