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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

[roeoz] How to control a herd of humans

Posted by AccGURU

How to control a herd of humans


HITLER and Mussolini both had the ability to bend millions of people
to their fascist will. Now evidence from psychology and neurology is
emerging to explain how tactics like organised marching and propaganda
can work to exert mass mind control.

Scott Wiltermuth of Stanford University in California and colleagues
have found that activities performed in unison, such as marching or
dancing, increase loyalty to the group. "It makes us feel as though
we're part of a larger entity, so we see the group's welfare as being
as important as our own," he says.

Wiltermuth's team separated 96 people into four groups who performed
these tasks together: listening to a song while silently mouthing the
words, singing along, singing and dancing, or listening to different
versions of the song so that they sang and danced out of sync. In a
later game, when asked to decide whether to stick with the group or
strive for personal gain, those in the non-synchronised group behaved
less loyally than the rest (Psychological Science, vol 20, p 1).

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia in
Charlottesville thinks this research helps explain why fascist
leaders, amongst others, use organised marching and chanting to whip
crowds into a frenzy of devotion to their cause, though these tactics
can be used just as well for peace, he stresses. Community dances and
group singing can ease local tension, for example - a theory he plans
to test experimentally (Journal of Legal Studies, DOI: 10.1086/529447).

Meanwhile, the powerful unifying effects of propaganda images are
being explored by Charles Seger at Indiana University at Bloomington.
His team primed students with pictures of their university - college
sweatshirts or the buildings themselves - then asked how highly they
scored on different emotions, such as pride or happiness. The primed
students gave a strikingly similar emotional profile, in contrast with
non-primed students (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, DOI:

Interest in the idea of a herd mentality has been renewed by work into
mirror neurons - cells that fire when we perform an action or watch
someone perform a similar action. It suggests that our brains are
geared to mimic our peers. "We are set up for 'auto-copy'," says Haidt.
Interest in the idea of a herd mentality has been renewed by research
into mirror neurons

Neurological evidence seems to back this idea. Vasily Klucharev, at
the Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging in Nijmegen, the
Netherlands, found that the brain releases more of the reward chemical
dopamine when we fall in line with the group consensus (Neuron, vol
61, p 140). His team asked 24 women to rate more than 200 women for
attractiveness. If a participant discovered their ratings did not
tally with that of the others, they tended to readjust their scores.
When a woman realised her differing opinion, fMRI scans revealed that
her brain generated what the team dubbed an "error signal". This has a
conditioning effect, says Klucharev: it's how we learn to follow the


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