The Post-Election Violence through the Lens of Mob Psychology: Advocating for Peace - Part 1

Anti-riot police put out fire set up by rioters

The 2007/2008 Kenya post-election violence is a good example of group mentality. According to Le Bon (2009), collective mentality is distinct from personal mentality. When people are within a group, they tend to lose their sense of self, a concept referred to as deindividuation.

In this state, they are less inhibited and more likely to engage in behavior they typically wouldn’t do on a normal basis. Deindividuation is said to hinder critical thinking and dissent which is the main reason people tend to conform to ideas and actions when in a group setting. The more a person feels or identifies with a certain group, the more the pressure to conform. 

Deindividuation does not necessarily occur when people convene as a group. DeLamater & Ward (2013) suggested some factors that increase the prospects of violence and such unruly behavior to occur which include: group size and anonymity. With regard to anonymity, people belief that their behaviors cannot be traced directly to them and thus cannot be held responsible. They perceive their actions as the group’s; the “everyone was doing it” mentality.

"When people feel the need to agitate purely out of anger and grievance, they are voicing to a great extent, a personal neediness that begs for attention.”

Because of this diffusion of responsibility, people in a group are less likely to feel guilty over their actions. Also, the larger a group is, the greater the sense of anonymity.

Examining the post-election violence more closely, the country suffered a great deal of lose from the killings, looting, rioting and arsons. Many people who participated in the violence were confronted by situations that challenged their moral standing/conscience. Several victims attest to have been attacked by people they knew quite well, some even lived next to them.

As professionals within the field of psychology, we are tasked with asking the critical questions like: how easy is it for persons to act violently when in a group? What leads to such behavior? It’s important to understand that when people feel the need to agitate purely out of anger and grievance, they are voicing to a great extent, a personal neediness that begs for attention.

So what is the Solution?

The solution lies in preventing deindividuation. This can be achieved through self-awareness campaigns and exercises. Instead of pushing the aggressors and trying to repress them, citizens must be helped become more self-aware. By learning how the dynamics of group think work, they shall be able to exercise free thinking, examine ideas critically, and postpone judgment. Therefore fellow psychologists, let us teach “flexibility of thought” – the ability to openly receive ideas contrary to our own, for it is by gaining this understanding that Kenyans will truly free their minds and sustain peace.

Citation

DeLamater, J. D., & Ward, A. (2013). Handbook of social psychology. New York : Springer

Le Bon, G. (2009). Psychology of crowds. Southampton: Sparkling.

Kenya Psychological Association

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