March 10, 2007

One aspect of conformity I found to be fascinating is its role in the phenomenon known as flash mobs. This is where people meet up at a given time in a public space to perform what is usually considered to be a bizarre act. Observing the reactions of the bystanders provides valuable insight into both the personality and situational factors of conformity. One reaction of bystanders which can be observed at almost every flash mob is one of hostility. As observed in this video :

I would argue this to be strongly correlated with personality type. An individual who is disturbed by events out of the ordinary may experience cognitive dissonance and feel distressed. When asked, such individuals try to rationalize their reaction yet they are often inconsistent because most often nothing wrong is done at flash mobs. The very goal of many flash mobs is to do something unordinary yet not evasive or illegal. When I organized a protest against nothing some bystanders felt appalled because we were ‘abusing’ our rights to protest, while others supported us for using them freely.

I would also hypothesize that those individuals who experience less distress by the sight of the flash mob are more likely to engage and thus conform to the behavior of the group.