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Outline and evaluate the theory of deindividuation - A-Level Psychology - Marked by

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Diener found that the children were much more likely to steal or display an act of antisocial behaviour when dressed up in Halloween costumes.

This supports the Deindividuation theory as the costumes hide the identity of the children therefore making them anonymous, proving that Deindividuation does cause aggression.
According to the deindividuation explanation of aggression, people normally refrain from antisocial and aggressive behaviour because of strong norms against such behaviour and if they are easily identifiable. Whereas in certain situations where there is a degree of anonymity (such as crowd) resulting in a lack of constraints, people may behave in an aggressive manner. For example, Milgram (1964, 1965) found that participants were more likely to give higher levels of shock when they could not see (or be seen by) their victims. In contrast, when the victim was in the same room, participants were more reluctant to deliver high levels due to the fact that they were identifiable, thus supporting the deindividuation explanation of aggression.

Deindividuation can be applied to real life situations, for example the football riots in Egypt where 75 people were killed, this behaviour was carried out in a crowd and therefore anonymity was high and the blame was not rested on a single person but dispersed throughout the crowd of rioters.
Briefly describe and then critically evaluate the concept of deindividuation. How well does the classic theory of deindividuation explain the behaviour of people in crowds? Deindividuation is a theory that has been the subject of much discussion over past decades, and is to a large extent based on the crowd theory of Gustave Le Bon (1895/1995). Deindividuation is the loss of individuality when a subject becomes part of a group, either by decreased personal awareness or when individuals are no longer recognised as individuals (Festinger et al., 1952). Many theories recognise deindividuation as a psychological state where self-evaluation and evaluation apprehension are decreased, causing antinormative behaviour (Diener, 1980; Festinger, Pepitone & Newcomb, 1952; Zimbardo, 1969). Deindividuation theory has been used to understand the transformation of the individual's behaviour when part of a crowd. Le Bon (1985/1995) in his acclaimed book The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind suggested that whilst in a crowd an individual's personal and social inhibitions are decreased when anonymity, suggestibility and contagion are combined. The loss of individuality relieves the individual of moral restraints, and they become submerged within the group and capable of immoral and uncivilised acts. more.

The face validity of the theory is high due to it being very believable, it is seen in many circumstances to be true that when in a group the responsibility of any more.


There is also the idea that the social learning theory opposes that of the Deindividuation theory.

In evaluating deindividuation, much of the early evidence linked deindividuation to antisocial behaviour such as the Stanford Prison Experiment; however, there is evidence showing that sometimes it may produce pro-social behaviour (e.g. expressions of collective good will at religious rallies). Research has also failed to distinguish between the effects of the anonymity of those being aggressed against (e.g. the victim) as opposed to the anonymity of those doing the aggressing.

The social learning theory states that everything is learnt and therefore it is not down to a loss of identity but from seeing what others are doing around you and copying them. Aggressive behaviour may also not be down to the circumstances were in or whether we were brought up around violence but it could also be down to biological factors such as high testosterone levels.
The deindividuation theory also takes a determinist view of aggression, pointing out the fact that aggressive behaviour is a result of losing one’s inhibitions in the presences of a group, and to some extent, denies the individual responsibility for their own behaviour. It also takes a reductionist approach as it fails to consider other factors which may influence aggression such as biological causes such as neurotransmitters.

In conclusion the theory of Deindividuation is a valid way of determining why some people are aggressive but it does not account for every situation, what if the individual was by them self in daylight where everyone could see, then what? It is this idea that makes this theory only acceptable to a certain extent.
Zimbardo (1969) refined this concept further by defining the input variables that contributed to deindividuation and it's effects. Zimbardo (1969) stated that anonymity and the loss of responsibility were key contributors to deindividuation, as the feeling of anonymity allowed for impulsive, irrational and emotional behaviour, without fear of negative consequences. This would not have been possible without the input of anonymity, so Zimbardo would argue that anonymity was a key input variable in causing deindividuation. For Diener, the reduction of self-awareness was a key input variable (Diener 1977, 1980). Although Diener criticised Zimbardo's work, he also helped the refine and extend deindividuation theory, however Prentice-Dunn and Rogers (1982, 1989) can be seen as redefining deindividuation theory. For this reason it is generally accepted that Festinger et al. (1952), Zimbardo (1969) and Diener (1977, 1980) have defined the classical deindividuation theory, whereas Prentice-Dunn and Rogers have redefined and altered the key concept, so this is referred to as contemporary deindividuation theory. I will be focusing on classical deindividuation theory as it was based around crowd theory (Le Bon, 1895/1995), and I feel is more relevant in this context of explaining people in crowds. Deindividuation is a psychological state caused when an individual becomes part of a group. more.

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Response to the question

This answer is very good. The candidate responds well and remains extremely focused on the question and the psychology of deindividuation throughout, straying only to describe studies into the behaviour.

The candidate shows a clear knowledge of the psychology involved ...

This answer is very good. The candidate responds well and remains extremely focused on the question and the psychology of deindividuation throughout, straying only to describe studies into the behaviour.

Classical Deindividuation Theory has defined antinormative behaviour as being antisocial, (e.g. violence), however this is very closed minded and neglects the possibility that this antisocial behaviour may be normal. Nonetheless, assessing what is normal is very difficult and labour intensive, so in terms of the deindividuation paradigm, stereotypes of socially accepted behaviour must be taken as the norm, as it will be correct for the majority of the time. The problem with this being that those participants whose behaviour is classed as antinormative may be classed incorrectly. This will limit the validity of the results. The classical theory of deindividuation is a useful tool in explaining the behaviour of people in crowds as it helps to understand the concept of a deindividuated member of a group. The classic deindividuation theory originated from crowd observation, and many of the core findings are still valid over 40 years later. Although doubts have been raised about the validity of research, it is difficult to create naturalistic experiments in the correct context. And classifying behaviour and results requires the interpretation of the experimenter, which may cause disagreement. Although deindividuation has been the subject of much debate and redefinition over the years, all of the viewpoints maintain the main element of deindividuation as the psychological state that brings antinormative behaviour. more.

The candidate shows a clear knowledge of the psychology involved in deindividuation and the circumstances in which it is most likely inhibited. I would recommend they draw a clear difference between deindividuation and conformity, as both are fairly similar and can often be confused.
This experiment is a clear example of how Deindividuation works, due to the guards wearing the uniform and sunglasses they were not acting themselves and therefore did not deem themselves responsible for the actions as they were acting out the role they were given.

The structure of the answer is good as well, with a clear introduction structured analysis and then a fine conclusion. The balance of the analysis is easily appreciated given the candidate's good structure as well.
Yildrim and Akalin-Baskaya (2007) found that men are more tolerant of moderate an high density crowded conditions. However Storms and Thomas (1977) found that the behaviour depends on the expression, thy found that if the person sitting closer was friendly, they did not mind as much and therefore did not feel uncomfortable.

Level of analysis

The Level of Analysis is balanced and shows a good level of knowledge of psychology and how to effectively evaluate a theory based on empirical evidence from studies. A number of studies are cited, chiefly (and appropriately) Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment.

Another weakness regarding the research studies into deindividuation is the androcentric viewpoint researchers often take, due to the fact studies like the Stanford Prison Experiment consist only of males. Therefore there is a gender bias. Another weakness of Zimbardo’s study into the effects of deindividuated behaviour is that it fails to tell us much about how real guards behave, but rather how people behave when acting as guards.

This shows the examiner the candidate has learnt from the studies and can draw from an inventory of these studies which are the most appropriate to back up theory analysis.

The analysis is balanced, with two strengths and two weakness clearly explained, with some pieces of evaluation involving real life events like the London 2012 riots. All this is excellent and shows an intuitive command of analysis for an A Level candidate.

Quality of writing

The Quality of Written Communication is excellent. The candidate controls their use of psychology-related terminology and their Standard English brilliantly.

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They become reactive to stimuli in an impulsive, emotional and irrational manor. (Diener, 1980; Zimbardo, 1969). The feeling of not being under scrutiny whilst within a group diffuses accountability and responsibility, therefore an individual is unlikely to be held accountable for their actions, and so may not face negative consequences.

  • Categorisation: we divide other people into those who belong to our group (the "in-group" and those who belong to other groups (the "out-group"). Social Identity: each of us has several social identities, corresponding to the different groups with which we identify.

    Deindividuation occurs when a person gives up their own personal norms and responsibilities and takes on the normative behaviour of a group. Hogg and Vaughan (2008) defined deindividuation as: ‘a process whereby people lose their sense of socialised individual identity and engage in unsocialised, often antisocial behaviour’.

    studied the effects of crowding in nightclubs. He studied 6 Australian nightclubs and found that more aggressive incidents were observed in the more crowded venues. This was even the case when other factors were taken into account, such as drunkenness.

    One weakness of this study is the many ethical criticisms it has received, including lack of fully informed consent by participants and the level of humiliation and distress experienced by those who acted as prisoners, who were also unprotected from psychological and physical harm. It can also be criticised in terms of generalizability, the sample size only consisted of 21 white male students which is not representative of the wider population and therefore results cannot be generalise to the public. On the other hand, one strength of the study is that it had relatively high ecological validity as Zimbardo went to great lengths to ensure that his mock prison was as realistic as possible.

    This suggests that higher densities of people can be unpleasant and lead to aggressive behaviour.

  • depth structured interviews asking questions about their family background, social class and area which they had grown up in to asses whether family and social class had an impact on them engaging in anti social behaviour. This would have provided in depth qualitative data.

    1. Pavlov named this stimulus association learning. Operant conditioning is also part of this model, introduced by B.F Skinner 1953, it interposed the concepts of positive and negative reinforcment as a result of stimulus.

      Many research studies have investigated deindividuation and its effect on behaviour such as the Stanford Prison experiment (Zimbardo et al. 1973). Zimbardo was interested in finding out whether the brutality reported among guards in American prisons was due to the sadistic personalities of the guards or had more to do with the prison environment. Using a lab experiment to study this, the ‘prison’ was recreated in Stanford University, with 21 students acting as guards and prisoners. Prisoners were dressed in smocks and nylon caps and were only addressed by their number, they found that the dehumanization of the prisoners, the prison environment and the relative anonymity of each group, were key factors in creating the brutal behaviour of the guards.

      He believed that ' almost any set of stimuli can aquire reinforcing or punishing associations through the consequences they bring' Cigno and Bourne1998.

    2. Another extraneous variable is that of skin colour/ethnicity. Skin colour could highly affect the ratings given by participants as they may be prejudice towards someone who is a different skin colour to themselves. Also participants may find that different skin colours are more attractive due to each individuals perception of

    1. Reasons include; fear of rejection, wanting approval, simply to be identified as part of a group and to show loyalty. Informational influence: This type of influence is concerned with the fear of looking unintelligent and believing others know better, especially if the task is difficult or unfamiliar.

      One evaluative point of this study is that it is has ethical issues as participants were deceived into believing they were giving real electric shocks. Therefore informed consent could not be achieved.

    2. Distinctiveness describes the extent to which a stimulus is different from one memory trace to another in the system. Elaboration measures how rich the processing is in term of meaning. Maintenance rehearsal is simple repetition, which is shallow, and elaborative rehearsal is when rehearsal explores meaning and involves deep processing.

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