The Post-Election Violence through the Lens of Mob Psychology: Advocating for Peace - Part 2

Protesters demonstrate during Kenya's PEV 2007  Although people’s dispositions may vary, making them more or less receptive to violence and such behavior, the immense influence of social situation cannot be ignored. As such, this particular piece shall focus on the power of the situation with particular focus on the 2007/2008 post-election violence.

Proven severally by researchers, ordinary rational people under certain conditions would follow an order stated by a figure of authority even if this order goes against their moral values. Obedience of authority plays a key role in violence, genocides and mass killings as it allows perpetrators of the crime to absorb themselves of the responsibility of their actions, attributing it to the authority figure (Sears, Huddy & Jervis, 2003).

Group think may have also contributed to the 2007/2008 post-election violence. Austin (2008) showed how people move along with group decisions/actions and avoid breaking rank even when it’s apparent the group has lost its ability to make accurate decisions. When group think ensues, members of a group seek unanimity when it comes to decision making at the expense of critical thinking and strategic planning.


It mainly occurs in highly cohesive groups, with members acting as self-appointed mind guards who protect the group from any information or actions that threaten the group’s views and cohesiveness in general. Members of the group have illusions of invulnerability and belief in inherent morality regardless of the ethical implications of their decisions/actions. They also engage in self-censorship, and a lot of pressure is placed on dissenters deviating from the main cause.

How about Social Learning?

Albert Bandura’s social learning theory demonstrates that people do not have to be rewarded or frustrated to exhibit aggressive behavior. People can learn aggressive behavior through mere observation, where they mimic the actions of the model. Observational learning can even occur through extensive exposure to violent media that can either lead to: desensitization towards violence as shown by viewers’ reduced level of physiological reaction to violent events or an exaggerated sense of danger.

The Solution…

It lies in principled negotiation which tends to bring creative and flexible options on the table, thus improving relationships in the process through mutual learning and integrated problem solving. As psychologists, we should learn to:-

  • Incorporate empathy in our effort of trying to understand the emotions and motives of the individuals involved.
  • Separate the individuals from the problem. Instead we should approach the problem objectively, without preconceived ideas/stereotypes.
  • Post-pone judgment and avoid clustering people with labels.
  • Invest options that lead to mutual gains, and use impartial criteria to evaluate if the proposed agreement meets every person’s interest.


Austin, W.(2008). Social psychology of violence. Encyclopedia of violence, peace and conflict. Retrieved from

Sears, D. O.; Huddy, L; Jervis, R. (2003). Handbook of political psychology. Oxford University Press New York.

Kenya Psychological Association

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