The Deindividuation of Steubenville Bystanders

How could those teenagers from Steubenville watch one of their friends getting so radically drunk until she couldn’t even stay conscious and refrain from stopping her? How could they stand aside quietly while she had been defiled? How could they turn this catastrophic event into a social media celebration?

…These are all the wrong questions. Long ago, we already found the answers that explain how an irrational human behavior becomes the acceptable rational demeanor among socially-structured group of individuals. Deindividuation.

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.

Within the herd our personal accountability sense wears out… we could easily be induced to coincide with harmful deeds, indifferently observe them occur without taking action to stop them and even commend them. But hey, why listen to a stupid blog if it could be further validated by an experiment of an award-winning professor emeritus?

In 1971, what was supposed to be a super-fun social experiment at Stanford University turned out to be not so fun at all. In fact, the experiment’s proceedings and outcomes had evolved to be so fucking horrific that the whole study had to be halted unanticipatedly after solely six days out of the designated two weeks.

The psychologist Philip Zimbardo had taken a total of 24 presumably healthy male students, where 12 were selected to act as prison guards and 12 as prisoners in similar conditions of an actual prison. While during the first day it seemed that everyone had comported relatively calmly, shit got a tad crazier consequently.

Prisoners began to rebel and refused to abide the orders of the guards which led the guards in a swift gradual process to physically abuse the prisoners, although they were clearly instructed never to take such measures. Even Zimbardo himself had been swallowed by his role as the prison’s honcho… and was forced to abort everything after only third of the trial was concluded.

Steubenville Sexual AssaultThe point is that people rapidly adapted their social status and certain manners which they perceived as wrong just shortly before. And these were people who had known they are participating in an experiment… just imagine what could happen if teenagers would imprudently conform fallacious social conducts during an alcohol-laden party (or plainly watch the video above).

We can’t blame the iPhones or the Twitters or the Facebooks or any other aspect of modern technology for the horrible things that had happened in Steubenville.

It’s that astounding lack of awareness for the most basic right or wrong moral sense (thanks CNN!) which had led the individual to get engulfed by the conformity of group, and remain in silence while a person was raped practically in front of their eyes and smartphones’ cameras.

The only solution to prevent from similar events to reoccur is a stoutly uncompromising education about what’s the right thing to do. Only such fundamental deep-rooted upbringing could perhaps enable even a single voice to ascend above the group’s.