We normally carry our sense of identity around with us and are thus well aware of how we are relating to other people. There are ways, however of losing ourselves, including:
- Becoming a part of a large group, such as a mob or army.
- Becoming engrossed in an interesting task, such as a hobby.
- Meditation and other contemplative activities.
Deindividuation into a group results in a loss of individual identity and a gaining of the social identity of the group. When two groups argue (and crowd problems are often between groups), it is like two people arguing. The three most important factors for deindividuation in a group of people are:
- Anonymity, so I can not be found out.
- Diffused responsibility, so I am not responsible for my actions.
- Group size, as a larger group increases the above two factors.
When you are in a group, you may feel a shared responsibility and so less individual responsibility for your actions. In this way a morally questionable act may seem less personally wrong. You may also feel a strong need to conform to social norms.
A paradox of deindividuation is that when you let go of your self, returning to you self can be an exhilarating experience. This is one of the rewards of engrossing hobbies and meditation.
Significant external stimulation helps deindividuation as it distracts you from internal chatter and rumination. This is one reason that pop and rock music (and orchestral music, for that matter) is often played loudly along with dramatic visual lighting effects.
Diener et al gave trick-or-treaters the opportunity steal candy. When they were in groups and when they were sure of their anonymity, the stealing went up threefold.
The effects of mobs are particularly alarming as lynchings, riots and wartime atrocities have all been done during periods of deindividuation. Crowds give you the opportunity to hide and also allow you to share the blame, reducing the sense of individual responsibility. Uniforms and war-paint also help hide your true identity. Even sunglasses can support aggressive attitudes as they hide the eyes, a very important part of the individual.
To get someone to do something they would not normally do, provide lots of external distractions, including noise and visual action. Also camouflage or disguise them so they do not worry about being discovered by others.
Beware of crowd effects and especially other people who encourage you to join in and do things that you would not normally do. If things get nasty, fade into the background. Others who are caught up by the mass hysteria will not notice.
To reduce deindividuation in others, make them more self-aware. Use their name. Tell them what they are doing.