Call it a Halloween cocktail: costumes, candy and trick-or-treating. Experts say that it’s the combination of those three things that make children more “evil” this time of year, and according to studies, they’ve got the science to back up the claim.
Both the existence of group settings – as often experienced when trick-or-treating with friends or in crowds on Halloween – and the wearing of masks or costumes, can both incite what is known in social psychology as deindividuation. The concept is generally thought of as the losing of self-awareness in groups.
As a result of deindividuation, people – in the case of Halloween, children – become less likely to evaluate their own behavior and lose a sense of what is right and wrong. All of this stems from the mind’s innate knowledge that one is less likely to be recognized while wearing a mask and/or costume, or while being only one individual in a large group.
The American Psychological Association did a study in which a number of children were the test subjects, half of whom wore Halloween masks and half who did not. A bowl of candy was in the in the room, and the scientist dispensing the test rises to leave. Before doing so, the scientist told the child that they could only have two pieces of candy while they were alone. The effects were definitive. The masked children overwhelmingly took more candy from the dish while they were alone then the unmasked children did. The study was also performed with children left in groups, as well as children left alone individually. Again, the children that were left in groups “stole” more candy than those that were left alone.
Another study quoted by the American Psycholocical Association, dealt with Halloween directly.
“Concealed raters unobtrusively observed approximately 1,300 trick-or-treating children who were assigned to various conditions and given an opportunity to steal candy and money. Significantly more stealing was observed under conditions of anonymity and in the presence of a group. There was also an Anonymity-Group interaction. Altered responsibility affected the transgression rate only when both the leader and members were anonymous. The highest rates of stealing occurred among anonymous children in groups with altered responsibility.”
There’s no doubt about it, Halloween makes children evil. So, tonight, when you’re sending out your little ghouls and goblins and witches and skeletons, don’t be surprised if they feel free to “bend the rules” a bit when it comes to good behavior.
[Image via Team Jimmy Joe]