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This article is about mobbing in humans. for the article about mobbing in animals see: Mobbing behavior Mobbing is a modern term for systematic bullying, harassment, or psychological terror, especially in schools and workplaces, whereby one person is "ganged up" on and stigmatized by peers and/or superiors for reasons that are not genuinely or justifiably known to most of those who are mobbing the victim. This lack of understanding on the part of the harassed people, those who are faced with the inflicted aggressions is often even greater. Mobbing can be compared to bullying at the workplace. Mobbing denotes, however, more specifically a "ganging up" by co-workers, subordinates or superiors, to force someone out of the workplace through rumor, innuendo, intimidation, discrediting, isolation, and particularly, humiliation. Mobbing is a serious form of nonsexual, nonracial harassment. Legally it has been described as a status-blind harassment.

Mobbing affects the mental and physical health of victims to a great extent. It extracts staggering emotional and economic costs from victims, their families, their organizations, and society.

Traits which often lead to mobbing include those of atypical people, over-qualified or burdensome people, those who resist formatting (too honest, too scrupulous, too dynamic people), those who made misalliances or do not rally to the good network - isolated employees stand for perfect targets; generally disunity is organized for those who are well liked or have allies, protected employees, less “effective” people, temporarily weakened people, etc. There are other predictive factors, certain people will be less protected: those with a negative regard of oneself, people very invested in their job, sensitive people, precarious workers i.e. low status employees who may be dependent on the good will of others for their jobs.

Study after study in psychology proves that people draw a perverse strength from the group and will do in a group what they would never do alone. Normal moral behavior--even decent behavior--is discarded (similar to a gang rape). The manager whose employees decide to drive him out, the competent but beautiful new receptionist who's pulled down by jealous co-workers, the manager who becomes threatened by the talents of an employee. When done by peers, subordinates and superiors, the goal is to force someone out using gossip, ostracism, intimidation, discreditation, humiliation, and just plain meanness. The blame is projected on the victim, who, 'gas lighted,' becomes confused, has trouble perceiving correctly (that people could really do this), and accepts that he or she is incompetent, to blame, etc.

A longer-established technical use of mobbing is in the study of animal behaviour, especially in ornithology, where it refers to the behaviour of birds harassing something that represents a threat to them.

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 survive (see animal mobbing behavior). In his view, humans are subject to similar innate impulses but capable of bringing them under rational control.[1]


In the 1970s, the Swedish physician Peter-Paul Heinemann applied Lorenz's conceptualization to the collective aggression of children against a targeted child.[1]


In the 1980s, professor and practising psychologist, Heinz Leymann applied the term to ganging up in the workplace.[1] Leymann noted that one of the possible side-effects of mobbing is post-traumatic stress disorder and is frequently misdiagnosed. After making this discovery he successfully treated thousands of victims at his clinic in Sweden.

Later researchers

Among researchers who have since further developed the concept of mobbing are:

  • Davenport, Schwartz & Elliott[2]
  • Hecker[3]
  • Shallcross, Ramsay & Barker[4]
  • Westhues[5]
  • Zapf & Einarsen[6]
  • Francesco Blasi & Claudio Petrella (eds): 2005 "Il lavoro perverso. Il mobbing come paradigma di una psicopatologia del lavoro" Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici, Napoli, download

Mobbing in human society

In the workplace

Main article: Workplace bullying

UK anti-bully pioneers Andrea Adams and Tim Field used the expression workplace bullying instead of what Leymann called "mobbing" in a workplace context.

In the book MOBBING: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, the authors identify mobbing as a particular type of bullying that is not as apparent as most, defining it as " 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."[2]

The authors say that mobbing is typically found in work environments that have poorly organised production and/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".[2]

According to the authors of Workplace Mobbing: Expulsion, Exclusion, and Transformation, workplace "mobbing" is not generally a familiar term—it is not well-understood 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.[7]

Psychological and health effects

Victims of workplace mobbing frequently suffer from: adjustment disorders, somatic symptoms (e.g., headaches or irritable bowel syndrome), psychological trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression.[8]

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. Some targets may even develop brief psychotic episodes, generally with paranoid symptoms. Leymann estimated that 15% of suicides in Sweden could be directly attributed to workplace mobbing.[8]

At school

See also: School bullying

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).[9]

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 a post-modern field such as music or literature; financial pressure; or having an aggressive superior.[10] Other factors included envy, heresy and campus politics.[10]


Sociologists and authors have created checklists and other tools to identify mobbing behaviour.[9][11][12]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Kenneth Westhues Mobbing
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Davenport NZ, Schwartz RD & Elliott GP Mobbing, Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, 3rd Edition 2005, Civil Society Publishing. Ames, IA,
  3. Hecker TE "Workplace Mobbing: a Discussion for Librarians." Journal of Academic Librarianship. 33:4, pp. 439–445 2007
  4. Shallcross L, Ramsay S & Barker M "Workplace Mobbing: Expulsion, Exclusion, and Transformation (2008) (blind peer reviewed) Australia and New Zealand Academy of Management Conference (ANZAM)
  5. Westhues K Eliminating Professors: A Guide to the Dismissal Process . Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press.
    Westhues K The Envy of Excellence: Administrative Mobbing of High-Achieving Professors Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press.]
    Westhues K "At the Mercy of the Mob" OHS Canada, Canada's Occupational Health & Safety Magazine (18:8), pp. 30–36.
  6. Zapf D & Einarsen S 2005 "Mobbing at Work: Escalated Conflicts in Organizations." Counterproductive Work Behavior: Investigations of Actors and Targets. Fox, Suzy & Spector, Paul E. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association vii. p.
  7. Shallcross, L, Ramsay, S, & Barker M, (2008) Workplace Mobbing: Expulsion, Exclusion, and Transformation, retrieved 17 May 2010
  8. 8.0 8.1 Hillard JR Workplace mobbing: Are they really out to get your patient? Current Psychiatry Volume 8 Number 4 April 2009 Pages 45–51
  9. 9.0 9.1 Elliott GP School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse: See it - Stop it - Prevent it with Dignity and Respect
  10. 10.0 10.1 Workplace Bullying in the Academic World?, Higher Education Development Association, 13 May 2007, 
  11. Westhues K. Checklist of Mobbing Indicators 2006
  12. Kohut MR The Complete Guide to Understanding, Controlling, and Stopping Bullies & Bullying at Work: A Complete Guide for Managers, Supervisors, and Co-Workers

[1] Noa Davenport et al. (1999). Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace. .

External links

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