I was stunned to hear the crowd cheer and shout, “Yeah!…Yeah!,” last night, during the CNN Tea Party Republican debate, when Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul about a hypothetical healthy, working, uninsured man, who is comatose and requiring critical care following some sort of traumatic event. The 30-year-old hypothetical man could be a son to any member of the cheering group, and yet, in a spectacular display of collective moral decline, the crowd burst into cheers.

Just as I was thinking that Ron Paul might want to be careful about his answer because he took this oath to never do harm to anyone, I heard the crowd, apparently led by a couple of men shouting first, “Yeah!”.

Extrapolate a bit, just a hop, skip and a jump, really, nothing you notice right away, and you have this:

The question is: Would any single, identified member of such a mob act the same way alone, isolated from the group? Is mob mentality only possible under the assurance of anonymity?

Looking at the event as if in slow motion, you can see the cascading ethical decline as the mob gains assurance from the first, “Yeah!” and joins in.

Take this mob to another setting and you have Abu Ghraib. Or My Lai. Or large numbers of people joining together in group massacres such as the Holocaust.

Is last night’s event an example of deindividuation?

What makes people act this way?