Mass Formation Psychosis or GroupThink? Examining the Behavior of Groups in the Context of Covid-19

A new term is gaining popularity. One that is being used to explain the mentality of fear that has taken hold of the public and is driving a false belief that we must surrender our liberties to save ourselves. Interestingly, the term itself was haphazardly thrown out there by the so-called inventor of the mRNA vaccines, Robert Malone, who incidentally was banned from Twitter for criticizing the “misuse” of the product he allegedly invented. He stated in an interview with Joe Rogan that a “mass formation psychosis” has taken hold of the people because we are living in a time that doesn’t make sense and, in our confusion, and uncertainty it is easy to become fixated on a leader who offers us hope. Almost immediately, popular media went on the offensive to discredit the term mass formation psychosis. Why? There is no such term. In fact, a quick google search produces nothing before 2021 and a search on Google Scholar for any academic studies on the term also produces nothing. This isn’t to say there is no merit to Malone’s claim. It is easy to see that there is a psychological element to the Covid-19 narrative. Day in and day out, we are bombarded with fear messages meant to persuade us into compliance with Covid-19 interventions. We have been inundated with controversial information and outright lies, which were likely intended to contribute to the confusion, making it easier to gain such compliance. Unfortunately for Malone, his invention of a word to describe this phenomenon has done nothing but invite ridicule. Attempting to study brainwashing effects by looking up the term mass formation psychosis will do nothing but bring up cocky editorials by those seeking to discredit Malone and dissuade people from studying the very real effects of something called the Groupthink mentality.

What is Groupthink? While seemingly self-explanatory, Groupthink is one of the most influential theories in the behavioral sciences that seeks to answer why tightly knit groups make the decisions they do and behave in the manner they behave. According to the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Groupthink leads to extreme consensus-seeking and decision-making processes that are considered undesirable. “Illusions of invulnerability, collective rationalization, stereotypes of outgroups, self-censorship, mindguards and the belief in the inherent morality of the group,” (Turner & Pratkanis, 1998) are some of the characteristics that affect group attitudes. Another, albeit more biased, article entitled Group-Level Resistance to Health Mandates During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Groupthink Approach, lists social isolation, stress, cohesion and identity, and illusions of morality as key characteristics to groupthink behavior. While this article is extremely biased in its left-wing rationalization and support for the Covid-19 agenda, it does explain Groupthink in its simplest terms. In fact, this article focuses exclusively on those groups who oppose restrictive Covid-19 measures and applies the Groupthink mentality to them. Anyone who takes to the time to read this article will immediately see the inherent bias, and how the concepts of Groupthink apply more to those supporting Covid-19 interventions than anything else.

Groupthink can best be described by saying there is a desire to conform to a group consensus during times of stress and isolation, and this desire to conform dramatically affects individual decision-making processes. Our need to belong to a social group is perhaps one of the most taken advantage of and understood aspects of human susceptibility that dates back decades. B.F. Skinner states in Beyond Freedom and Dignity that the fear of disapproval is one of the most powerful motivators for producing desirable behavioral change. Looking at the characteristics of Groupthink like self-censorship and collective rationalization, it is easy to see that the desire to find belonging is a driving factor. Members fear going against the popular consensus of the group because they do not want to be shunned, ridiculed, or isolated (Forsyth, 2020). Group opinions can be reinforced by the approval of those they may see as authority figures. In Science and Human Behavior, Skinner states that the attention people receive for their actions can reinforce their behavior. Reinforcement with smiles and praise is strengthened by such attention and used to establish and shape the behavior of others.

If Groupthink is influenced by characteristics such as social isolation, stress, the fear of social disapproval, and higher morality, could desirable attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors be created to push an agenda? Saul Alinsky said in Rules for Radicals all that is needed to gain acceptance of change is the fear of the unknown, and that people will accept a new path if the old system has proven to be hopeless. Fear was the primary tool used to push the Covid-19 narrative. According to an article entitled Covid-19: Rethinking the Lockdown Groupthink, what Malone referred to as mass formation psychosis occurred because there was a media appeal to mass hysteria. Covid-19 was presented as a common threat, and accepting, or adopting, the recommended interventions were reinforcing because it was approved by authorities on all levels, and united people in the belief they were acting for the better of everyone. There was a driving belief in what the media was pushing, and the morality behind adopting the interventions was unquestionable. Those who refused to go along, much like we are seeing today, are labeled as traitors or uncaring about society. This, of course, also acts as a reinforcer for those sitting on the sidelines and are afraid of being socially shunned.

It doesn’t require a great deal of research to know that fear is the primary weapon of the tyrant. In the book Rape of the Mind, Joost Meerloo, after experiencing firsthand the techniques used by the Nazi’s to interrogate and breakdown political prisoners, states that a person’s will to resist can be easily broken through psychological torture, belittlement, and confusion. Covid-19 interventions have been driven by little more than belittlement and confusion. The constant bombardment of propaganda meant to frighten us into unquestioning compliance is certainly a form of mental torture. This coincides with something found in a book called Brainwashing: A Synthesis of the Russian Textbook of Psychopolitics. Allegedly written by Stalin’s henchman, Lavrenti Beria, the book states that one of the first and most important steps in destabilizing a nation is producing as much chaos and scientific turmoil as possible. Covid-19 has certainly achieved that. Under the Groupthink model, conformity is achieved through the abandonment of reason, the deterioration of judgment and rationality, and seeking the approval of those who promise to alleviate their anxieties. Meerloo states in Rape of the Mind that a constant state of fear is necessary to induce people into a state of mind where they willingly abandon their own sense of reason and their ability to think for themselves. Much of this has to do with the fact that most people have an inherent trust in media and government. According to Meerloo, people trust the government because they have a hard time imagining that their leaders would act against their best interests. Or perhaps they simply find comfort in abiding by the rules because they feel if they comply, they will largely be left alone.

The idea that society can come under the influence of mass hypnosis is certainly not without merit. Most of this writer’s efforts focus on the psychology of persuasion and compliance. To study it under the term mass formation psychosis, however, will get you nowhere. It was a term made up on the spot to describe something that is very real, but a lot simpler to explain. People have a need to belong. We do not like feeling isolated or alone. This fact by itself drives most people into a state of conformity. When people are confused and afraid, they are easily influenced. This is particularly true when they fall under the label persuasion scholars call low elaboration likelihood. Finally, the belief that their actions are driven by a higher morality can also override individual thought processes and produce group conformity. Meerloo stated that people experience a great deal of emotional relief when their actions are taken for what is perceived to be the greater good. These factors are easily explainable by studying Groupthink. While it is possible a term like mass formation psychosis may catch on, a Google Scholar search for Groupthink produced several articles in relation to Covid-19, while mass formation psychosis produces nothing. As the propaganda picks up once again, for the third year, it is imperative that people understand what the powers that be know about our behavior. Individually and in groups.


Group-Level Resistance to Health Mandates During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Groupthink Approach

Covid-19: Rethinking the Lockdown Groupthink

Twenty-Five Years of Groupthink Theory and Research: Lessons from the Evaluation of a Theory  

To learn more about this topic and others, check out my book Without a Shot Indeed: Inducing Compliance to Tyranny Through Conditioning and Persuasion.

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