English 321 -- The American Western

Grant T. Smith, PH. D.

The Ox-Bow Incident -- Mob Mentality


From Social Psychology: The Heart and the Mind

By Elliot Aronson, et. al.

New York: HarperCollins, 1994


Directions:  Use your understanding of The Ox-Bow Incident to discuss the following questions.


Why are we influenced by others?  Why do we conform?



Why do we conform?


·        Ignorance

·        Don't want to be ridiculed or punished

·        Spiritual conversion

·        Crisis

·        We want to be accepted

·        Social norms have been ingrained so that all people accept them


When do people conform?  (Under what conditions?)


·        When the situation is ambiguous

·        When the situation is a crisis

·        When other people are experts and offer their opinions

·        When the leaders appear to be important

·        When many oppose your point of view

·        What are the motives

·        What are the threats



How can we tell when we should conform or resist conformity?


·        Rely upon what you know to be moral.  Use your common sense.  Use your internal moral compass.

·        Ask yourself:  (1) Do these people know any more about the situation than I do?  (2)  Is there an expert present?  (3) Do the actions seem sensible?

·        Become more informed

·        Find an ally


Consequences of Resisting Normative Social Influence


·        People try to convince you to conform

·        People reject (ostracize) you


Cultural Influences


·        Western frontier

·        Americans value risk more than caution

·        Our heroes are risk takers


Do you behave differently when in the presence of others?


·        De-individualization

·        Arousal of emotions

·        Sense of not being personally responsible

·        Is there an attempt at compromise?  Why does it fail or succeed?


Do groups always make better decisions than individuals acting alone?


Journal Questions:


·        What would you do if you were totally invisible for 24 hours?

·        Under what conditions and for what reasons do people fall under the influence of others?  This question is especially problematic because the American (male) culture stresses the importance of non-conformity--rugged individualists.  We tend to think of ourselves as people who make up our own minds; we are not spineless, weak conformists.  We are players, not puppets!  Or are we?

·        Has there been a time in your life when you have used other people's behavior to decide what to do?  Have you ever gone along with the crowd so you wouldn't stand out? Cause trouble/ be the target of ridicule or rejection?