The Lord of the Flies Rules the Schools

“Maybe there is a beast….maybe it’s only us.” – William Golding, Lord of the Flies

If you’ve seen the viral video of the bus monitor bullied to the point of tears, you have seen the horror of pack mentality in young students. Not one person stands up to say “stop” as these children brutally tear into this poor older woman. Why, especially in children, do we see such savage abuse of those perceived as weak?

Studies have shown that when people are in groups, they are more likely to shed their personal or societal values and engage in the will of the herd. One study by psychologist Philip Zimbardo created a mock prison with 12 inmates and 12 guards. Though the scientific value or the study has been questioned (it has never been repeated, all the participants were male, etc.), the study found individuals acting with a group mentality almost immediately. Rapidly the situation devolved into harsh punishments and terrible conditions doled out to prisoners by guards. On the second day the inmates organized a mass revolt to protest living conditions. Access to toilet facilities became a privilege to be granted by guards. While some guards showed compassion and tried to help the inmates, around a third of the guards showed sever sadistic tendencies.

Another study by Stanley Milgram involved participants delivering electric shocks to actors who pretended to be in pain. There were different levels of shocks; slight shock, moderate shock, danger: severe shock and one button simply labeled XXX. When participants asked the experimenter whether they should continue, after seeing the recipients of the shock in severe distress, they were given one of four responses:

1.”Please continue.”

2.”The experiment requires that you continue.”

3.”It is absolutely essential that you continue.”

4.”You have no other choice, you must go on.”

The study found that 65% of the participants delivered the maximum shock dosage at least once. Some of the participants doing the shocking became very agitated toward the instructor, but all of them continued with the experiment until the end.

In Seattle, a woman standing on the edge of a bridge threatening to jump was actually egged on. She ended up jumping to chants of “jump b!#@ jump” being shouted by angry motorists delayed by the incident. When a person is in a large group, with the sense of anonymity, they are much more likely to engage in socially deviant behavior.

Deindividiation is not always a bad thing, however. The same group mentality that led to the holocaust also pushed African Americans to stand tall when the fire hoses were turned on them in Birmingham. The specific scenario and the values of the group greatly influence the outcome. Some protests are peaceful, some turn into riots. Both good and evil reside in every person, and which comes to the surface determines the outcome of events.

Additional Resources

Bus Monitor Karen Huff Klein Driven to Despair by School Bullies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAgti_2uziA

Stanford Prison Experiment: http://www.experiment-resources.com/stanford-prison-experiment.html

The Milgram Obedience Experiment: http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/a/milgram.htm?p=1

ABC News Why Bridge Jumper Was Taunted: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=117255&page=1

The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo: http://books.google.com/books?id=vjeHCA6i4IAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=lucifer+effect&hl=en&ei=3iRUTfGgB9C3tgfW0d30CQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCcQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

Love For Karen Klein Donations: http://www.indiegogo.com/loveforkarenhklein

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