You’re probably familiar with mob mentality—people in groups do bad things. A couple of reasons for this are well-explored: people in groups feel more anonymous, and people in groups feel a diminished sense of responsibility for what the group does. Now it’s time for a third reason: people in groups “lose touch” with their own morals and are willing to do things they normally believe are wrong.
In a study recently published in Neruoimage, researchers found that brain activity changes when people are participating in group activities. Prior to the study, participants completed a series of questionnaires about their morals, the end result being a series of statements about them (e.g., “I never cheat on partners”, or “I sometimes shoplift”). When subjects stepped into the lab, they played a game a few times: once for themselves, and once as a part of a team. The point of the game was to press a button if they saw a sentence related to social media amongst a series of sentences—some of which were the subject’s moral statements. When playing for themselves, subjects’ prefrontal cortexes lit up when they saw their own moral statements. However, during team play, this was not the case. After the team game, people with reduced prefrontal cortex activity also had a harder time remembering seeing moral statements during the game.
Of course, this area of study probably needs more research—but that said, it’s yet another reason to avoid hanging out with mobs.