Mobbing, as a sociological term, means bullying of an individual by a group, in any context, such as a family, peer group, school, workplace, neighborhood, community, or online.

When it occurs as physical and emotional abuse in the workplace, such as ‘ganging up’ by co-workers, subordinates or superiors, to force someone out of the workplace through rumor, innuendo, intimidation, humiliation, discrediting, and isolation, it is also referred to as malicious, nonsexual, nonracial / racial, general harassment.[1]

Development of the concept

Konrad Lorenz, in his book entitled On Aggression (1966), first described mobbing among birds and animals, attributing it to instincts rooted in the Darwinian struggle to thrive (see animal mobbing behavior). In his view, most humans are subject to similar innate impulses but capable of bringing them under rational control.[2] Lorenz's explanation for his choice of the English word Mobbing was omitted in the English translation by Marjorie Kerr Wilson. According to Kenneth Westhues, Lorenz chose the word mobbing because he remembered in the collective attack by birds, the old German term hassen auf, which means "to hate after" or "to put a hate on" was applied and this emphasised "the depth of antipathy with which the attack is made" rather than the English word mobbing which emphasised the collective aspect of the attack.[3]

In the 1970s, the Swedish physician Peter-Paul Heinemann applied Lorenz's conceptualization to the collective aggression of children against a targeted child.[2]

In the 1980s, professor and practising psychologist Heinz Leymann applied the term to ganging up in the workplace.[2]

In 2011, anthropologist Janice Harper published an essay in The Huffington Post suggesting that some of the anti-bully approaches effectively constitute a form of mobbing by using the label "bully" to dehumanize, encouraging people to shun and avoid people labeled bullies, and in some cases, sabotage their work or refuse to work with them, while almost always calling for their exclusion and termination from employment.[4]


Janice Harper followed her Huffington Post essay with a series of essays in both The Huffington Post[5] and in her column, Beyond Bullying: Peacebuilding at Work, School and Home in Psychology Today[6] that argued that mobbing is a form of group aggression innate to primates, and that those who engage in mobbing are not necessarily "evil" or "psychopathic," but responding in a predictable and patterned manner when someone in a position of leadership or influence communicates to the group that someone must go. For that reason, she indicated that anyone can and will engage in mobbing, and that once mobbing gets underway, just as in the animal kingdom it will almost always continue and intensify as long as the target remains with the group. She subsequently published a book on the topic[7] in which she explored animal behavior, organizational cultures and historical forms of group aggression, suggesting that mobbing is a form of group aggression on a continuum of structural violence with genocide as the most extreme form of mob aggression.

In the workplace

British anti-bullying researchers Andrea Adams and Tim Field have used the expression "workplace bullying" instead of what Leymann called "mobbing" in a workplace context. They identify mobbing as a particular type of bullying that is not as apparent as most, defining it as "an emotional assault. It begins when an individual becomes the target of disrespectful and harmful behavior. Through innuendo, rumors, and public discrediting, a hostile environment is created in which one individual gathers others to willingly, or unwillingly, participate in continuous malevolent actions to force a person out of the workplace."[8]

Adams and Field believe that mobbing is typically found in work environments that have poorly organised production or working methods and incapable or inattentive management and that mobbing victims are usually "exceptional individuals who demonstrated intelligence, competence, creativity, integrity, accomplishment and dedication".[8]

In contrast, Janice Harper[7] suggests that workplace mobbing is typically found in organizations where there is limited opportunity for employees to exit, whether through tenure systems or contracts that make it difficult to terminate an employee (such as universities or unionized organizations), and/or where finding comparable work in the same community makes it difficult for the employee to voluntarily leave (such as academic positions, religious institutions, or military). In these employments, efforts to eliminate the worker will intensify to push the worker out against his or her will through shunning, sabotage, false accusations and a series of investigations and poor reviews. Another form of employment where workers are mobbed are those that require the use of uniforms or other markers of group inclusion (law enforcement, fire fighting, military), organizations where a single gender has predominated, but the other gender is beginning to enter (STEM fields, fire fighting, military, nursing, teaching, and construction). Finally, she suggests that organizations where there are limited opportunities for advancement can be prone to mobbing because those who do advance are more likely to view challenges to their leadership as threats to their precarious positions. Harper further challenges the idea that workers are targeted for their exceptional competence. In some cases, she suggests, exceptional workers are mobbed because they are viewed as threatening to someone, but some workers who are mobbed are not necessarily good workers. Rather, Harper contends, some mobbing targets are outcasts or unproductive workers who cannot easily be terminated, and are thus treated inhumanely to push them out. While Harper emphasizes the cruelty and damaging consequences of mobbing, her organizational analysis focuses on the structural, rather than moral, nature of the organization. Moreover, she views the behavior itself, which she terms workplace aggression, as grounded in group psychology, rather than individual psychosis—even when the mobbing is initiated due to a leader's personal psychosis, the dynamics of group aggression will transform the leader's bullying into group mobbing—two vastly distinct psychological and social phenomena.

Shallcross, Ramsay and Barker consider workplace "mobbing" to be a generally unfamiliar term in some English speaking countries. Some researchers claim that mobbing is simply another name for bullying. Workplace mobbing can be considered as a "virus" or a "cancer" that spreads throughout the workplace via gossip, rumour and unfounded accusations. It is a deliberate attempt to force a person out of their workplace by humiliation, general harassment, emotional abuse and/or terror. Mobbing can be described as being "ganged up on." Mobbing is executed by a leader (who can be a manager, a co-worker, or a subordinate). The leader then rallies others into a systematic and frequent "mob-like" behaviour toward the victim.[9]

Mobbing as "downward bullying" by superiors is also known as "bossing", and "upward bullying" by colleagues as "staffing", in some European countries, for instance, in German-speaking regions.[10]

Psychological and health effects

Victims of workplace mobbing frequently suffer from: adjustment disorders, somatic symptoms, psychological trauma (e.g., trauma tremors or sudden onset selective mutism), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and major depression.[11]

In mobbing targets with PTSD, Leymann notes that the "mental effects were fully comparable with PTSD from war or prison camp experiences." Some patients may develop alcoholism or other substance abuse disorders. Family relationships routinely suffer. Workplace targets and witnesses may even develop brief psychotic episodes occupational psychosis generally with paranoid symptoms. Leymann estimated that 15% of suicides in Sweden could be directly attributed to workplace mobbing.[11]

At school

Following on from the work of Heinemann, Elliot identifies mobbing as a common phenomenon in the form of group bullying at school. It involves 'ganging up' on someone using tactics of rumor, innuendo, discrediting, isolating, intimidating, and above all, making it look as if the targeted person is responsible (victim blaming).[12]

In academia

Kenneth Westhues' study of mobbing in academia found that vulnerability was increased by personal differences such as being a foreigner or of a different sex; by working in fields such as music or literature which have recently come under the sway of less objective and more post-modern scholarship; financial pressure; or having an aggressive superior.[13] Other factors included envy, heresy and campus politics.[13]


Sociologists and authors have created checklists and other tools to identify mobbing behaviour.[12][14][15] Common approaches to assessing mobbing behavior is through quantifying frequency of mobbing behavior based on a given definition of the behavior or through quantifying what respondents believe encompasses mobbing behavior. These are referred to as "self-labeling" and "behavior experience" methods respectively.[16]

Limitations of some mobbing examination tools are:

  • Participant exhaustion due to examination length
  • Limited sample exposure resulting in limited result generalizability
  • Confounding with constructs that result in the same affect as mobbing but are not purposely harmful

Common Tools used to measure mobbing behavior are:

  • Leyman Inventory of Psychological Terror[17] (LIPT)
  • Negative Acts Questionnaire-Revised[18] (NAQ-R)
  • Luxembourg Workplace Mobbing Scale[16] (LWMS)

Counteracting Mobbing

From an organizational perspective, it has been suggested that mobbing behavior can be curtailed by acknowledging behaviors as mobbing behaviors and that such behaviors result in harm and/or negative consequences.[19] Precise definitions of such traits are critical due to ambiguity of unacceptable and acceptable behaviors potentially leading to unintentional mobbing behavior. Attenuation of mobbing behavior can further be enhanced by developing policies that explicitly address specific behaviors that are culturally accepted to result in harm or negative affect.[20] This provides a framework from which mobbing victims can respond to mobbing. Lack of such a framework may result in a situation where each instance of mobbing is treated on an individual basis with no recourse of prevention. It may also indicate that such behaviors are warranted and within the realm of acceptable behavior within an organization.[21] Direct responses to grievances related to mobbing that are handled outside of a courtroom and training programs outlining antibully-countermeasures also demonstrate a reduction in mobbing behavior.

See also


  1. ^ Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace by Noa Davenport, Ruth D. Schwartz and Gail Pursell Elliott.
  2. ^ a b c "Workplace Mobbing in Academe".
  3. ^ Westhues, Kenneth.(2007) Mobbing a Natural Fact, Adapted and revised from "Mobbing am akademischen Arbeitsplatz," a lecture given in the Society for Sociology at the University of Graz, Austria, on 23 January 2007, Retrieved on 17 August 2018
  4. ^ Harper, Janice (1 November 2011). "The Bully Label Has to Go".
  5. ^ "Janice Harper - HuffPost".
  6. ^ "Beyond Bullying". Psychology Today.
  7. ^ a b Ph.D, Janice Harper (24 August 2013). "Mobbed!: What to Do When They Really Are Out to Get You". Backdoor Press – via Amazon.
  8. ^ a b Davenport NZ, Schwartz RD & Elliott GP Mobbing, Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, 3rd Edition 2005, Civil Society Publishing. Ames, IA,
  9. ^ Shallcross, L, Ramsay, S, & Barker M, (2008) Workplace Mobbing: Expulsion, Exclusion, and Transformation Archived 13 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 17 May 2010
  10. ^ Oberhofer, P Bossing und Staffing, retrieved 25 November 2015
  11. ^ a b Hillard JR Workplace mobbing: Are they really out to get your patient? Archived 9 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine Current Psychiatry Volume 8 Number 4 April 2009 Pages 45–51
  12. ^ a b Elliott GP School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse: See it – Stop it – Prevent it with Dignity and Respect
  13. ^ a b Workplace Bullying in the Academic World?, Higher Education Development Association, 13 May 2007, archived from the original on 24 July 2011
  14. ^ Westhues K. Checklist of Mobbing Indicators 2006
  15. ^ Kohut MR The Complete Guide to Understanding, Controlling, and Stopping Bullies & Bullying at Work: A Complete Guide for Managers, Supervisors, and Co-Workers
  16. ^ a b Steffgen, Georges; Sischka, Philipp; Schmidt, Alexander; Kohl, Diane; Happ, Christian (2016). "The Luxembourg Workplace Mobbing Scale". European Journal of Psychological Assessment. doi:10.1027/1015-5759/a000381.
  17. ^ Leymann, Heinz (1996). "Leymann Inventory of Psychological Terror". Tübingen: Deutsche Gellschaft für Verhaltenstherapie Verlag.
  18. ^ Einarsen, Staale; Hoel, Helge; Notelaers, Guy (2009). "Measuring exposure to bullying and harassment at work: Validity, factor structure and psychometric properties of the Negative Acts Questionnaire-Revised". Work & Stress. 23: 24–44. doi:10.1080/02678370902815673.
  19. ^ Sperry, Len (2009). "Workplace mobbing and bullying: a consulting psychology perspective and overview". Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. 61 (3): 165–168. doi:10.1037/a0016936.
  20. ^ Duffy, Maureen (2009). "Preventing workplace mobbing and bullying with effective organizational consultation, policies, and legislation". Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. 61 (3): 242–262. doi:10.1037/a0016783.
  21. ^ Ferris, Patricia (2009). "The role of the consulting psychologist in the prevention, detection, and correction of bullying and mobbing in the workplace". Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. 61 (3): 169–189. doi:10.1037/a0016783.

Further reading

Black drongo

The black drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus) is a small Asian passerine bird of the drongo family Dicruridae. It is a common resident breeder in much of tropical southern Asia from southwest Iran through India and Sri Lanka east to southern China, Ryukyu Islands in southern Japan and Indonesia. It is a wholly black bird with a distinctive forked tail and measures 28 cm (11 in) in length. It feeds on insects, and is common in open agricultural areas and light forest throughout its range, perching conspicuously on a bare perch or along power or telephone lines. The species is known for its aggressive behaviour towards much larger birds, such as crows, never hesitating to dive-bomb any bird of prey that invades its territory. This behaviour earns it the informal name of king crow. Smaller birds often nest in the well-guarded vicinity of a nesting black drongo. Previously grouped along with the African fork-tailed drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis), the Asian forms are now treated as a separate species with several distinct populations.

The black drongo has been introduced to some Pacific islands, where it has thrived and become abundant to the point of threatening and causing the extinction of native and endemic bird species there.


Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate or aggressively dominate others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual. One essential prerequisite is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power, which distinguishes bullying from conflict. Behaviors used to assert such domination can include verbal harassment or threat, physical assault or coercion, and such acts may be directed repeatedly towards particular targets. Rationalizations of such behavior sometimes include differences of social class, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, appearance, behavior, body language, personality, reputation, lineage, strength, size, or ability. If bullying is done by a group, it is called mobbing.Bullying can be defined in many different ways. In the United Kingdom, there is no legal definition of bullying, while some states in the United States have laws against it. Bullying is divided into four basic types of abuse – emotional (sometimes called relational), verbal, physical, and cyber. It typically involves subtle methods of coercion, such as intimidation.

Bullying ranges from one-on-one, individual bullying through to group bullying called mobbing, in which the bully may have one or more "lieutenants" who may seem to be willing to assist the primary bully in his or her bullying activities. Bullying in school and the workplace is also referred to as "peer abuse". Robert W. Fuller has analyzed bullying in the context of rankism.

A bullying culture can develop in any context in which humans interact with each other. This may include school, family, the workplace, home, and neighborhoods. The main platform for bullying is on social media websites. In a 2012 study of male adolescent American football players, "the strongest predictor [of bullying] was the perception of whether the most influential male in a player's life would approve of the bullying behavior".

Distraction display

Distraction displays, also known as diversionary displays, or paratrepsis are anti-predator behaviors used to attract the attention of an enemy away from something, typically the nest or young, that is being protected by a parent. Distraction displays are sometimes classified more generically under "nest protection behaviors" along with aggressive displays such as mobbing. These displays have been studied most extensively in bird species, but also have been documented in populations of stickleback fish and in some mammal species.Distraction displays frequently take the form of injury-feigning. However, animals may also imitate the behavior of a small rodent or alternative prey item for the predator; imitate young or nesting behaviors such as brooding (to cause confusion as to the true location of the nest), mimic foraging behaviors away from the nest, or simply draw attention to oneself.

False accusation

A false accusation is a claim or allegation of wrongdoing that is untrue and/or otherwise unsupported by facts. False accusations are also known as groundless accusations or unfounded accusations or false allegations or false claims. They can occur in any of the following contexts:

Informally in everyday life.



Flash mob

A flash mob (or flashmob) is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression. Flash mobs are organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails.The term, coined in 2003, is generally not applied to events and performances organized for the purposes of politics (such as protests), commercial advertisement, publicity stunts that involve public relation firms, or paid professionals. In these cases of a planned purpose for the social activity in question, the term smart mobs is often applied instead.

The term "flash rob" or "flash mob robberies", a reference to the way flash mobs assemble, has been used to describe a number of robberies and assaults perpetrated suddenly by groups of teenage youth. Bill Wasik, originator of the first flash mobs, and a number of other commentators have questioned or objected to the usage of "flash mob" to describe criminal acts.

Group buying

Group buying, also known as collective buying, offers products and services at significantly reduced prices on the condition that a minimum number of buyers would make the purchase. Origins of group buying can be traced to China where it is known as Tuán Gòu (Chinese: 团购) or team buying.In recent times, group buying websites have emerged as a major player in online shopping business. Typically, these websites feature a "deal of the day", with the deal kicking in when a set number of people agree to buy the product or service. Buyers then print off a voucher to claim their discount at the retailer. Many of the group-buying sites work by negotiating deals with local merchants and promising to deliver a higher foot count in exchange for better prices.

Heinz Leymann

Heinz Leymann (17 July 1932 in Wolfenbüttel, Germany - 1999 in Stockholm) was a German-born Swedish academic, famous for his studies on mobbing among humans. He held a degree in pedagogical psychology, and another one in psychiatry and worked as a psychologist. He was a professor at Umeå University.

I Like to Work (Mobbing)

I Like to Work (Mobbing) (Italian: Mi piace lavorare (Mobbing)) is a 2004 Italian drama film directed by Francesca Comencini. It won the Panorama section Ecumenical Jury Prize at the 54th Berlin International Film Festival. It also won the Nastro d'Argento for best script.


Intimidation (also called cowing) is intentional behavior that "would cause a person of ordinary sensibilities" to fear injury or harm. It is not necessary to prove that the behavior was so violent as to cause mean terror or that the victim was actually frightened.Threat, criminal threatening (or threatening behavior) is the crime of intentionally or knowingly putting another person in fear of bodily injury. "Threat of harm generally involves a perception of injury...physical or mental damage...act or instance of injury, or a material and detriment or loss to a person." "A terroristic threat is a crime generally involving a threat to commit violence communicated with the intent to terrorize other.""Intimidation" is the name of a criminal offense in several U.S. states.

Kenneth Westhues

Kenneth Westhues is a Canadian sociologist. He is a professor emeritus of Sociology at the University of Waterloo, where he was the chair of the department from 1975 to 1978. He is the author or editor of several books about workplace bullying in academia.

Mobbing (Scots law)

Under the law of Scotland, mobbing, also known as mobbing and rioting, is the formation of a mob engaged in disorderly and criminal behaviour. The crime occurs when a group combines to the alarm of the public "for an illegal purpose, or in order to carry out a legal purpose by illegal means, e.g. violence or intimidation". This common purpose distinguishes it from a breach of the peace.


In HM Advocate v Robertson (1842) 1 Broun 152, at 192 to 193, Hope L.J.-C. said in his direction to the jury:

An illegal mob is any assemblage of people, acting together for a common and illegal purpose, effecting, or attempting to effect their muncer purpose, either by violence, or by demonstration of force or numbers, or by a species of intimidation, impediment, or obstruction, calculated to effect their object.

He went on to say:

It is not necessary that the purpose or object of the mob should have been previously concerted, or that they should be brought together and congregated with the view previously formed of effecting the object subsequently attempted. It is enough, that after they have been so assembled and brought together, finding their numbers, and ascertaining a common feeling, they then act in concert, and take up and resolve to effect common purpose. There must, however, be a common purpose and object, for which they are combined and acting in concert, after they are congregated and operating as such throughout the acts alleged to be acts of mobbing. That object or purpose must be unlawful.

These passages were approved by the High Court, as an accurate statement of the law, in Hancock and others v HM Advocate 1981 SCCR 32.

Compensation for riot damage

See section 10 of the Riotous Assemblies (Scotland) Act 1822 and section 235 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

Mobbing (animal behavior)

Mobbing in animals is an antipredator adaptation in which individuals of prey species mob a predator by cooperatively attacking or harassing it, usually to protect their offspring. A simple definition of mobbing is an assemblage of individuals around a potentially dangerous predator. This is most frequently seen in birds, though it is also known to occur in many other animals such as the meerkat, and some bovines. While mobbing has evolved independently in many species, it only tends to be present in those whose young are frequently preyed upon. This behavior may complement cryptic adaptations in the offspring themselves, such as camouflage and hiding. Mobbing calls may be used to summon nearby individuals to cooperate in the attack.

Konrad Lorenz, in his book On Aggression (1966), attributed mobbing among birds and animals to instincts rooted in the Darwinian struggle to survive. In his view, humans are subject to similar innate impulses but capable of bringing them under rational control (see mobbing).


A pish is an imitated bird call (usually a scold or alarm call) used by birders and ornithologists to attract birds (generally passerines). The action of making the sound is known as pishing or spishing. This technique is used by scientists to increase the effectiveness of bird diversity surveys, and by birders to attract species that they might not otherwise see.

Pishing is used most effectively in the Holarctic, where it is thought to work due to its similarity to the scold calls of tits and chickadees (birds in the family Paridae). These scold calls, a form of mobbing behaviour, attract other birds which come in to establish the nature of the potential threat. Acoustical analysis of pishing calls and the mobbing calls of tits shows that they share a frequency metric not used by other birds. Not surprisingly, pishing has little effect on birds in those parts of the world without tits or chickadees.Another study noted that only passerine are attracted by pishing. Apart from the mobbing call hypothesis, it has also been suggested that pishing may be treated as an invitation to join a "mixed-species foraging flock" and birds do not themselves vocalize or show aggressive behaviour. The same study noted that pishing did not work in the old-world tropics and suggested that it may be due to the lower densities of migrants.Pishing has also been found to work effectively in Southern Africa (imitating a call of the rattling cisticola). It also works effectively in Australia where, despite the absence of any members of the Paridae, a number of passerine species can be attracted. Some birders in Australia use a variant of pishing called "squeaking" (making a kissing sound through pursed lips or against the back of one's hand) to which white-eared honeyeaters, several species of whistlers and grey fantails show an initial response and in turn attract other species.

Because pishing or squeaking disrupts the natural behaviour of a bird, birding organisations consider it unethical to make excessive use of this method of attracting birds. Such organisations recommend that, once the bird has been viewed, the birder cease pishing and allow the bird to return to its natural behaviour.


Potoos (family Nyctibiidae) are a group of near passerine birds related to the nightjars and frogmouths. They are sometimes called poor-me-ones, after their haunting calls. There are seven species in one genus, Nyctibius, in tropical Central and South America.

These are nocturnal insectivores which lack the bristles around the mouth found in the true nightjars. They hunt from a perch like a shrike or flycatcher. During the day they perch upright on tree stumps, camouflaged to look like part of the stump. The single spotted egg is laid directly on the top of a stump.

Sham peer review

Sham peer review or malicious peer review is a name given to the abuse of a medical peer review process to attack a doctor for personal or other non-medical reasons. The American Medical Association conducted an investigation of medical peer review in 2007 and concluded that while it is easy to allege misconduct and 15% of surveyed physicians indicated that they were aware of peer review misuse or abuse, cases of malicious peer review able to be proven through the legal system are rare.


Teasing has multiple meanings and uses. In human interactions, teasing exists in three major forms: playful, hurtful, and educative. Teasing can have a variety of effects, depending on how it is utilized and its intended effect. When teasing is unwelcome, it may be regarded as harassment or mobbing, especially in the work place and school, or as a form of bullying or emotional abuse. If done in public, it may be regarded as humiliation. Teasing can also be regarded as educative when it is used as a way of Informal learning. Adults in some of the Indigenous American Communities often tease children to playfully illustrate and teach them how their behaviour negatively affects the community. Children in many Indigenous American Communities also learn by observing what others do in addition to collaborating with them. Along with teasing, this form of informal learning is different from the ways that Western American children learn. Informal ways of child learning include mutual responsibility, as well as active collaboration with adults and peers. This differentiates from the more formal way of learning because it is not adult-oriented.

People may be teased on matters such as their appearance, weight, behavior, abilities, clothing, and intelligence. From the victim's point of view, this kind of teasing is often hurtful, irrespective of the intention of the teaser.

One may also tease an animal. Some animals, such as dogs and cats, may recognize this both as play or harassment.

Workplace bullying in academia

Bullying in academia is a form of workplace bullying which takes places in the institutions of higher education, such as colleges and universities. It is believed to be common, although has not received as much attention from researchers as bullying in some other contexts. Academia is highly competitive and has a well defined hierarchy, with junior staff being particularly vulnerable. Although most universities have policies on workplace bullying, individual campuses develop and implement their own protocols. This often leaves victims with no recourse.

Academic mobbing is a sophisticated form of bullying where academicians gang up to diminish the intended victim through intimidation, unjustified accusations, humiliation, and general harassment. These behaviors are often invisible to others and difficult to prove. Victims of academic mobbing may suffer from stress, depression and suicidal thoughts, as well as posttraumatic stress disorder.

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