I have always been infatuated with rap group Three Six Mafia from Memphis, Tennessee. The group from North Memphis is probably most recognizable for winning an Oscar for their 2006 smash hit It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp. Many people may not be aware that this group is also popular for helping establish the “crunk” style of hip-hop. This group is known for making songs that actually incite people to riot – Tear Da Club Up ( is literally banned in several clubs due to violence), Let’s Start A Riot, pretty much any of their albums pre-2005.
As a fan of hip-hop and a student of psychology, I sought to find answers to what causes people to riot? What can move an otherwise calm, level headed individual to actually participate in group violence and tearing clubs up?
The Huffington Post recently released an article, The Psychology of A Rioter and gives their perspective on the mentality of why individuals loot. Columbia University’s Tory Higgins is a professor of psychology with expertise in the arena of motivation. She believes that people are motivated to riot when people feel ineffective. Higgins states “crowd psychology shows that when you see other people acting in a certain way, you’re more likely to do it”. It intensifies whatever is normative in the group”.
According to a BBC report, criminologist John Pitts says that looting makes “powerless people suddenly feel powerful” and that is “very intoxicating.” Still other experts theorize that rioting is simply viewed as fun and invigorating to some individuals. Writer Bill Buford describes the mindset of a young male rioter:
“violence is their anti-social kick, their mind-altering experience, an adrenalin-induced euphoria that might be all the more powerful because it is generated by the body itself.”
Moreover, when people come together and unify as a collective whole this can be a powerful entity used for good or used for negative reasons. Thus, it is crucial that the individuals that make up the whole protest in a manner that is effective to get their message across in the most efficient and effective way as possible. This is where different schools of thought come into play, which the best example I can think of is the non-violent approach made popular by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi, versus the “by any means necessary” philosophy made popular by Malcolm
In summation, perhaps this quote paints a vivid picture into the mindset of the potential harm of individuals that riot without just cause (sidenote – how do we operationalize just cause?) – “A “collective” mind does not exist. It is merely the sum of endless numbers of individual minds. If we have an endless number of individual minds who are weak, meek, submissive and impotent – who renounce their creative supremacy for the sake of the “whole” and accept humbly that the “whole’s” verdict – we don’t get a collective super-brain. We get only the weak, meek, submissive and impotent collective mind.”
— Ayn Rand