Individuals act differently in a group to when they are on their own. Group displays may be an adaptive response for individuals within the group. An example of group displays is lynch mobs. A lynch mob is a group of people who kill people for a presumed offence, without legal authority. In the 19th century over 3,000 lynchings of black people occurred in the USA, due to a number of different reasons.
One proposed explanation of lynch mobs is ‘The Power Threat Hypothesis’, which was developed by Blalock et al. This hypothesis suggested that lynch mobs evolve due to the rising group membership of the minority, which causes the majority group to intensify their efforts to maintain dominance. This led to the suggestion that as the minority group percentage increases so does the majority group’s discriminatory behaviour. Blalock suggested that lynch mobs could also form due to fear of political power in the hands of the minority and also because of any perceived racial threat.
There is very little supporting research for this explanation of lynch mobs. Clarke et al conducted a 20-year longitudinal study in which they studied lynch mobs in Brazil. It was found that although the main victims of lynch mobs were Afro-Brazilian people, they did not pose any kind of threat to the majority group and had very little political power.
This shows that lynch mobs may not form due to fear of the minority group and could render the hypothesis as being inconclusive. One strength of this research is that a longitudinal study was used. Therefore, the results would be reliable since they were collected over a long period and are not from a snap shot in time.
Another methodological strength is that Clarke et al used a very large sample size; therefore results are very likely to be reliable and representative of the population in Brazil. As a result, they can be described as having population validity. However, a weakness of this research is that the findings may be culturally biased. This is because Brazil is more or less a collectivist culture, and the findings may not be generalised to other cultures due to individual differences and also the fact that there are high levels of poverty and drug trafficking in Brazil.
Another weakness of this explanation of lynch mobs is that it is typical of the evolutionary approach since it claims that lynch mobs are adaptive in that they allow the majority group to maintain dominance. This only provides a partial explanation for group displays and only aims to explain behaviour in terms of being an adaptive response. Other explanations may include behaviourism, such as Social Learning Theory, developed by Bandura.
A second explanation of lynch mobs is ‘The Emergent Norm Theory’, developed by Turner and Killian. This theory suggested that when a group is formed there are no norms to follow as both the situation and the group of individuals are unique. As a result, individuals may follow and base their actions on the behaviour of others, which is known as informational influence. They do this in order to be socially accepted and gain approval, which is normative influence.
There is a lot of research support for this theory. Boyd and Richardson found that when co-operation levels were high in a group, the group was more likely to flourish and be successful. This supports the theory since it shows that individuals are influenced by others in a group. More support comes from Marsh et al, who suggested that the uncivilised behaviour seen during football matches and sports events is actually highly ritualised behaviour. He supports the theory and says that individuals act and conform to the roles expected of them.
However, the theory has been criticised by many since psychologists often argue that it is impossible for groups to form in a normless environment. Many norms are often present before the group collects and there is a common sense of purpose.
Another limitation of this theory is that it can be described as being deterministic. This is because it claims that aggressive group displays are determined by being in a group, and gives no role to free will and the fact that we can choose how to behave. In addition, the theory can be criticised as lacking face validity since individuals are not always aggressive in groups, for example peace protects and the Vatican City.
A weakness of the theory and the research that supports it is that they are gender biased. The research largely focuses on males and as a result, the findings cannot be generalised to women and how or if they would behave in an aggressive manner when in a group. However, the fact that males have been found to act aggressively supports evolutionary theory.