Risky Shift Phenomenon in Psychology: Definition & Examples

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

In psychology, the risky shift phenomenon and mob mentality go hand in hand. Learn how through the definition of risky shift, its relation to individual and group mentality, and looking into risky shift theory and common examples. Updated: 11/23/2021

What Is a Mob Mentality?

Everyone has personal opinions that may stand apart from the norm in some cases; however, in group settings, the opinions of group members may change to be far more extreme than any individual member. Upon leaving the group, these opinions may remain. Risky shift phenomenon explains why this sometimes happens, but let's jump back.

Have you ever heard the term mob mentality? It comes up often in discussions of riots or gang violence, where a group of average people commit crimes that would be unthinkable for average people. Scientists, like sociologists and social psychologists, study how group dynamics influence people's behavior and ideas. Some explanations for mob mentality involve an element of behavior that social psychologists and sociologists call the risky shift phenomenon. Let's look at specific example here.

This is not exactly a real, angry mob but these figures typify what most people think of when a riot or mob is discussed. The risky shift phenomenon explains how ordinary people can become this angry in some situations.

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  • 0:00 What Is a Mob Mentality?
  • 1:07 Individual vs. Group Mentality
  • 2:28 Risky Shift Theory & Examples
  • 5:57 Lesson Summary
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Individual vs. Group Mentality

The term risky shift generally refers to a change in group attitude that raises the chance for negative consequences. The principle has been found to apply to more than just risky changes. Some psychologists prefer the term choice shift, which is a change in group decisions compared to the individuals that make up the group. There is such a thing as a cautious shift, which represents safer attitudes taken on by the group. All kinds of shifts are changes in attitudes. Attitudes inform our decisions, and any kind of shift can lead to group acts that an individual would never have thought of on his/her own. Furthermore, some of these changes in choices at the individual level can be relatively permanent.

This is fairly counter-intuitive and needs a bit of explanation. People come together in groups for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons are political, social, or to manage a crisis situation. Among all of these reasons, there are a variety of ways people can feel about an issue. Whether a moderate person or an extremist, each person gets an idea of where their views fall through interaction with the rest of the group. Through risky shift, people that are generally moderate in their beliefs can become more extreme. It is important to note that these shifts tend to occur in groups that more or less agree. If there are extreme differences of opinion, choice shifts do not occur.

Risky Shift Theory & Examples

Theories are models that explain a phenomenon in science using the available evidence. There are two major theories regarding risky shifts. These theories have been discussed at length and neither of them seems to be more or less correct than the other. At the same time, both theories have been demonstrated to cause choice shifts on their own, or in combination with one another. It is important to note that there are other theories than these two, but these are the ones most prevalent and the theories against which others are measured.

Each of the theories will be followed by an example. Let's set up the example here: A fast food restaurant is developing a new burger. Before releasing it for taste trials to customers, they decide to let a select group of their employees sample the burger and provide feedback. A random group of 50 employees are invited to branch headquarters for a luncheon event. Sample burgers are given out, and the employees are left to mingle and discuss their thoughts at the lunch. Todd, an average 19-year-old employee, is invited to the lunch.

First, we have social comparison theory. As the name suggests, this theory has to do with group dynamics and how individuals seek to belong to a group. In the exchange of ideas among group members, as we discussed earlier, each group member gets an idea of where his or her ideas stand compared to the rest of the group. Individual members alter their ideas to favor the rest of the group in order to be considered productive members. Opinions of group members are valued as more important than the opinions of everyone else. With enough discussion, individual members will even alter their stance in order be more extreme than the rest of the group, again, seeking to be model group members or trend setters.

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