Sunday, February 14, 2010

Funny Japanese Social Psychology Prank

This video (link in title) provides highly amusing insight into social psychology, or the way an individual's thought and behavior can be affected by others. In the prank, a mob of 100 Japanese people ambush people walking down a road alone and do different things to invoke or see a reaction. Only one person (the first) is fairly unaffected by the mob. When the group of 100 rush past him, he slows down and appears curious but disregards them and continues on down the road. The reaction of the second man however, is the complete antithesis of the first: The moment the group comes running towards him, he frantically turns and runs away ahead of them. The third follows suit, except this time, someone from the crowd yells "Aitsu da! (That's him)!" The fourth man has his back to the group but is soon surrounded and even surfs the crowd (involuntarily) before he is put down and checks that his wallet hasn't been stolen. The last, (and my personal favorite) is a lady who is suddenly surrounded by the hundred (except this time they walk around her slowly). Suddenly, a man yells "Abunai! (Look out)!," and the entire crowd ducks down, and the woman ducks with them.

Having seen the video last week and learning about why people obey was a good segway to understand why the aforementioned individuals acted as they did. While the first man is fairly apathetic, the second immediately feels the need to run when he sees so many others running towards him. Whether this is because of intimidation or trusting that the crowd had a reason to run, the man does not question the situation, but merely follows suit. The third man perceives the crowd to be chasing him as someone points and yells "That's him!" before the crowd runs toward him. The moment he is implicated by such a large group, the man does not waste time in running away. Regardless of his not having done anything wrong, he runs at the first accusation or the first sign that the crowd is pitted against him. In doing so not only does he not question the authority of the crowd, but he also allocates responsibility to (in knowing that he's the one they should run after or that since they're chasing him, he must run) and trusts that he should be chased. The fourth man is startled and dazed by the occurrence but seems most concerned with checking if he has been robbed. The last individual, in turn, does not question the information shouted by someone in the crowd and follows the lead of everyone else in the crowd in ducking. Just as the man in the video who continues to administer the shocks despite it not being on his own volition, the woman ducks down even though she hasn't seen anything to warrant it. Just as the man, the woman does not question the authority of the crowd but follows it.

It was very interesting to see the people obey not only direct authority figures, but also groups. If authority can be seen as a guide to what's right and wrong, what happens when we see mob mentality as authority? Can this trust in "authority" be the cause of errors in judgement or ethical issues? From what does this conditioning to follow the crowd stem? If at least one person can resist this, what does it say about the others? I think the main problem is that this "strength in numbers" creates a comfort zone that allows people to follow others blindly, without thinking. The problem, however, is knowing what other people are thinking:

"A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. "

-Charles Dickens

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