FRIENDS WITHOUT BENEFITS — Group Psychopathology

In this Sunday’s NYTimes Laurence Feinberg writes about the foolishness of youth when in the presence of friends.  It seems as if the company of others of similar vintage leads to self-destructive/irrational behavior.  Similar studies with rats actually revealed similar findings.  Solo behavior may encourage adolescents to consider the ramifications of their actions while having contemporaries around them leads to reckless choices.

I can recall my own teenage adventures driving with a college friend, blowing through tollbooths at breakneck speed.  How many of us, in hindsight, escaped injury or death by good fortune alone? 

Although Feinberg implies this applies immature individuals with immature brains (probably true ) I also fear that there is another element to this issue which transcends age or cerebral maturation–namely, group psychology.  

In essence this is tribal behavior. We human beings are capable of horrific activities, atrocities when in the presence of likeminded fellow tribesmen. Unimagined brutality seems tolerable if not admirable in a group setting.  Wartime murders of innocent civilians can occur in a moment of tribal rage. So it is not shocking to combine youthful foolishness with group insanity.

 History is replete with such shameful examples of this synergy.

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