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News: How to control a herd of humans

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  • chris lofting
    How to control a herd of humans 04 February 2009 by David Robson Activities performed in unison,
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2009
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      How to control a herd of humans

      04 February 2009 by David Robson
      <http://www.newscientist.com/search?rbauthors=David+Robson>

      Activities performed in unison, like marching or dancing, increase loyalty
      to the group

      Read our related editorial: The Obama factor, revealed
      <http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126943.800-the-obama-factor-reveale
      d.html>

      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 <http://www.stanford.edu/~scwilter/> 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
      <http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02253.x> ).

      Psychologist Jonathan Haidt <http://people.virginia.edu/~jdh6n/> 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
      <http://dx.doi.org/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: 10.1016/j.jesp.2008.12.004
      <http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2008.12.004> ).

      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
      <http://www.ru.nl/neuroimaging/staff/cognitive_neurology/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 crowd.

      Read our related editorial: The Obama factor, revealed
      <http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126943.800-the-obama-factor-reveale
      d.html>
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