Humans, by nature, are a social species. What started as a tool to survive the harsh wilderness turned into one of the most essential parts of civilization. Everything is influenced by society and it has a surprising amount of influence on even the most individual of activities. The teams people root for, the genre of music people like, what clothes people buy, all of it is influenced by the culture surrounding them. Many choices people make are shaped by those around them and nowhere is this more apparent than in the phenomenon known as mob mentality.
Most people know mob mentality as a negative thing, because that is how it’s typically documented and remembered. When someone thinks of mob mentality, they’ll usually think of the Salem Witch Trials, the Red Scare of the 1950s or the guillotining frenzy of the French Revolution. These events stand out because they are examples of mob mentality causing a loss of humanity, but the patterns behind this kind of occurrence stretches beyond the senseless violence.
One of the most prevalent, but less documented forms of mob mentality takes shape in a simple trend. When separated, it may seem absurd to compare the purchase of Gucci flip-flops to the desire to commit murder; however, they’re more alike than one may think.
Before something hits mainstream, there’s always the people who did it first. Not the people who made it popular, but the ones that came before even then. This type of person is not at all the wild, trendsetting hipster many would think of. In reality, they’re usually the person who isn’t interested in trends at all, who doesn’t try to start their own, but still does something unique.
They’re the Steve Jobs type, who do what they want until other people eventually catch up. They’re the people who have ideas so crazy that at first, no one takes them seriously. Eventually, however, some people start to catch, and then more and more until it doesn’t seem as crazy anymore. In order for the trend to really get going, it needs support; this is where the stereotypical hipster comes in. Here, the trend begins to form, building until it becomes popular within its own little niche.
Then, all of a sudden, it’s a full blown trend. Word of mouth gets around, social media spreads ideas like wildfire, celebrities start to associate themselves and the public goes wild. As people start to accept the trend, more people see it and accept it themselves in order to feel like part of the group.
Julia Coultas, a researcher at the University of Essex, further explains this need to feel like part of the group as part of a study on conformity.
“For an individual joining a group, copying the behavior of the majority would then be a sensible, adaptive behavior,” Coultas said. “A conformist tendency would facilitate acceptance into the group and would probably lead to survival if it involved the decision, for instance, to choose between a nutritious or poisonous food, based on copying the behavior of the majority.”
For the human mind, there’s no difference between joining a group and increasing chances of survival. Essentially, humans jump on new trends because most people think it will keep them alive and in a way, they’re right.
In today’s world, where people are less worried about sabertooth tigers and more worried about the next paycheck, being a part of the majority can keep someone financially stable.
However, being a part of the group is not without its disadvantages. When an individual joins a larger group, they experience a phenomenon known as deindividuation. It can sound pretty complicated, but in simpler terms, this is when the individual loses their self-awareness and restraint and blindly follows the group. Luke Holm, in an Owlcation article on social psychology, explains deindividuation in the context of a round of applause.
“The individuals, one by one, quickly lose their capacity for being self-aware,” Holm said. “Without knowing what they are doing, they can easily join in on the applause, stand up, or even cheer. Even if an individual does restrain themself from joining in on the standing and/or clapping, they will likely feel very awkward and have a strong desire to conform to the rest of the group.”
Once someone starts to blindly follow a group, they’ll find themselves participating in more trends they have been introduced to without even thinking about it. While listing some of the most popular trends in circulation, sophomore Sophia Semersky gives an example of a fashion trend she follows that she doesn’t even like.
“[One of the most popular trends this year is] scrunchies,” Semersky said. “[Also], these Nike socks that go above the leggings for some reason. I don’t know why I’m doing it, it’s kind of ugly, usually with leggings and white converse.”
Even though she doesn’t think it looks good, she still follows the trend because it’s popular. On a much wider scale, this is what happens with almost every trend as the individual loses their own tastes in order to fit in better with the group. People mindlessly buying clothes is less serious than other examples of deindividuation, as shown by junior Jack Bay. Bay makes a comparison between following brands and attacking people on social media.
“You see these things on Twitter where one person with a large amount of followers or a celebrity will say something about someone else, and instantly, you go into that thread and you see everyone like, ‘Oh, I totally agree. This person is terrible,’” Bay said. “They just made one little mistake. Yeah, it’s definitely just like that. You see a famous person, for example, bringing up the Golf [brand], you see Tyler, the Creator wearing Golf in his music videos. Everyone goes out and buys Golf because hey, Tyler the Creator’s cool, I want to be cool.”
A niche group suddenly gains the support of the public, snowballing into a full-blown movement where individuals are lost to the group. The trend followers become a faceless mob. Not a lynch mob, but a mob wearing Supreme, drinking Starbucks, and listening to Lil Baby out of their AirPods. Some would argue that this kind of mob is even more terrifying.
Luckily, one of the defining features of trends are that they’re temporary. When a trend goes mainstream, there are typically two ways for the trend to go: either it fades into obscurity, or it becomes the new norm. Either way, the individual regains their sense of individuality or finds a new trend to follow, and the cycle begins again.
Trends are not in any way a bad or dangerous thing. In fact, they can be great. Trends take the mob mentality hardwired into people’s brains and turns something that could make act violently into something that just makes people drool over the newest Jordan collaboration. Although, seeing how Jordan releases have sometimes turned into literal riots, maybe the two are more connected than anyone.