January 10th, 2017

Torture in Chicago: the group effect and the risky shift

I haven’t yet read Heather Mac Donald’s City Journal article on the Chicago torture case and how it relates to the larger culture, but a lot of people have recommended it. I’ve only had time to very briefly skim it, but I agree that “racial victimology, inner-city gang culture, and black anti-white animus” were contributing factors in the genesis of this crime.

But I want to add something, and that is the effect a group can have on members who egg each other on to riskier and more violent behavior in order to prove themselves. Sometimes the crimes committed by such groups would not have been committed by its individual members if they hadn’t been acting in concert. Almost certainly, in addition to everything else motivating the perpetrators in this crime, was the desire to show themselves to be more bad-ass than thou.

That also at least partly explains the otherwise-inexplicable act of these perpetrators in placing the video of their crime on Facebook for all to see.

I’m not denying the racial aspect of this case; I’ve written about it before. But I’m pointing out the universal aspect of it, which is that there is sometimes a Lord of the Flies effect in groups.

When I heard of the Chicago case, for example, one the first things I thought of was the Bobby Kent murder, which featured a white victim and white perpetrators, with the group of young people committing a murder that each person probably wouldn’t have committed on his/her own. In many of these cases, by the way—including Chicago as well as Bobby Kent—girls or women (often girlfriends) are involved as perpetrators.

This is not any form of excuse. It’s merely another element of what may lead to crimes like this.

When I was in college long ago, I studied psychology and sociology, and I had to design and perform a research project. Mine was on a phenomenon known as the “risky shift,” and so the topic has stuck in my mind. The risky shift isn’t about crime specifically; it’s about how groups generally make decisions:

When people are in groups, they make decision about risk differently from when they are alone. In the group, they are likely to make riskier decisions, as the shared risk makes the individual risk less…

There are a number of reasons as to why this might happen. Theories have included:

—Wallach, Kogan, and Bem (1964) proposed that greater risks are chosen due to a diffusion of responsibility, where emotional bonds decrease anxieties and risk is perceived as shared.
—Collins and Guetzkow (1964) suggested that high risk-takers are more confident and hence may persuade others to take greater risks.
—Brown (1965) indicates that social status in groups is often associated with risk-taking, leading people to avoid a low risk position.
—Bateson (1966) suggests that as people pay attention to a possible action, they become more familiar and comfortable with it and hence perceive less risk.

Makes sense to me as a phenomenon working in the Chicago case. Again, it doesn’t matter in terms of responsibility or guilt/innocence or sentencing; each member of a group is fully responsible for his/her own actions. But I find the phenomenon interesting, and I suspect it was operating here.

12 Responses to “Torture in Chicago: the group effect and the risky shift”

  1. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Their mug shots tell us all we need to know. Moral savages, incapable of remorse. There’s only one cure for the rabid.

  2. DirtyJobsGuy Says:

    The gang mentality is built on risk taking. Many of the shootings in Chicago (and other cities) are younger gang members looking to prove their worth. Other shootings are of course settling small insults or more serious turf battles.

    This is no different from other honor cultures like Afghanistan . You know your group (gang, tribe, family) will not only back you up but demand that you take action on their behalf. The big difference in Chicago is that the gangs control the local politicians in a way not seen in other US cities. This used to be true in large parts of LA but has been somewhat put under control.

    The press is conditioned to focus on gunplay but what alarms me is the increasing number of stabbings. A knife attack is up close and very personal in a way that a drive by shooting can never be.

  3. Esther Says:

    This reminds me a little of the 2009 affair of the gang of barbarians that happened in France. The horrifying kidnap, torture and murder of the French Jewish man, Ilan Halimi. Actually, this isn’t as bad as that, I wish I didn’t make that connection, now I feel sick.

  4. Geoffrey Britain Says:


    They were headed down the path to murder. Just a matter of time.

  5. Esther Says:

    Seems like they were disrupted by a neighbor, otherwise it looks like they were heading down that path. I still feel sick.

  6. Ira Says:

    Also, the members of a group of people attacking a relatively defenseless individual have a VERY LOW RISK of suffering any immediate consequence.

  7. Billiam Says:

    There’s an old term for it; Herd Mentality. Vast numbers of people are susceptible to it. This is why I’ve always avoided large crowds when it’s possible, especially if there will be alcohol and or large numbers of minorities. This is not racism, it’s just fact. If you don’t believe it, just google Juneteenth violence, or the incident at the Wisconsin State Fair a few years back, or incidents at beaches. Too many people become like sheep or cattle, and follow the herd. White, black, purple, it doesn’t matter.

  8. Big Maq Says:

    It is like (part of?) a “bandwagon effect”, as it scales up.

    Can easily see the roots of a tribal blue vs red team in all that.

    Each of these individuals had a very extended “line too far”.

    We don’t know if murder would have been the end result, though it is quite imaginable in this case, given their willingness to let their actions to this point be publicized.

  9. Big Maq Says:

    Billiam – we avoid crowds of any sort, as they are now ripe for targeting by some sicko.

  10. Artfldgrs Says:

    i think the real problem is best described by the concept of feedback loops, and that the actions of the press under the pc coding games, has as its major function to disconnect normal feedback and avoid social cohesiveness from doing its thing.

    there are quite a number of books and things o the subject of using social theory to control populations in various ways, and they are written from all angles depending on who wants it to use it for what. There are docs in hospitals trying to come up with baddies bad enough to move the elephant of government backed by tanks to make changes to your life by law, and call it improved… there are more nefarious versions written by people whose job is to play games in other countries and cause things to happen, and that may even include people who do it to their own people, or give out bad advice as good and gather up the cheese from it.

    each change or point often seems innocuous, or even good, until the intended consequences the buyer didn’t work out come into play and happen. the buyer often defends the point until that remorse sets in when they see it was like dealing with a djinn or devil, or demon.

    to use a chemical analogy, some combinations are explosive, and often from what is pretty common and innocuous parts and conditions.

    if the press hides what goes on, the feedback loop that would generate a kind of weight on the people doing things and so prevent most of them, gets taken off. when the consequences of such acts are asymetrically treated, the costs for each group changes and the lesser group thinks its less costly to do so, despite it being costly for both sides. [the left says that unequal treatment by the law leads to more equality – another feminist ism thing…one of those innocuous pieces along with the oppressed have a right to class hatred against their oppressors being a license for some]

    we took social approbation off the table and been chasing it out of any corners we can find it in till everyone is on their own in terms of how to behave, in effect, turning us into feral people with no social guidance, in which we find out after the fact what is really really wrong to do.which is why it gets posted, they think everyone would agree with the behavior based on the signals they got from the social feedback!

    this feedback is what lord of the flies is about..

    without a larger culture than a gang, there is no feedback that leads to moral behavior nor is there things like religious doctrine, which makes material like rocks into special form of material called living (and even that can be swung too far to the opposite end too).

    not only is there group behavior, that existed when we were mostly small bands trying to keep from starving and fighting over not enough resources, but there is also group behavior when the groups get bigger, and the game here is by isolating and making diverse, you get small groups immune to the larger group behavior and so, they are free to be feral again (till they find out that the larger group they are also a part of finds out – and expresses its displeasure).

  11. Tom G Says:

    “social status in groups is often associated with risk-taking, leading people to avoid a low risk position.”

    This is also the “cool” guys, who become the “in group”.
    It’s a subset of the herd mentality, because most herd mentality, or “culture”, has been tested over time to be more risk-averse, and thus have more sustainability.

    The Dem party sexual liberation, combined with the TV-movie photogenic confusion – substitution of sexual lust for commitment love, has also increased the number of kids without their bio-fathers committed to their mothers.

    This lack of mother-father commitment, a lack of “full family”, has increasingly bred irresponsible behavior, with Dem SJWs constantly excusing bad individual & group behavior as being the fault of external society.

  12. Yackums Says:

    Wow, for once Art is concisely on point. 🙂

    Basically, individuals can’t goad themselves into action with taunts of “chicken.”

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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