Would you kill another human being for no reason other than the fact that others around you were attacking them? Would you stone an innocent woman in front of her children for no sin other than picking a piece of paper with a mark on it? Would you continue on an archaic raffle tradition that is designed for nothing but death? I bet you answered no to all of these questions. However, as you can see in the story “The Lottery,” people can be convinced to do extraordinarily callous and harmful things through simple principles established in social psychology.
One thing that was prevalent throughout the story, especially in the beginning as the plot was established, was gender roles within the village culture. In the story, it is clear that even from childhood, men are the aggressors, the ones that do the physical labor, and heads of the household. Women take care of the children, cook, clean and defer to the men in other matters. When the children gather, the boys are the ones that gather the stones that are later used for attacking while the girls stand aside talking and watching. As the adults gather, the women stand beside their husbands and gather the children. One item mentioned in David Myers’ text is that men more often speak of things and women of people due to social connectedness. This happens as the adults are gathering. The men are, “speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes.” The women, “exchanged bits of gossip.” Later, on page four of the story, it is stated that Janey Dunbar will have to draw for her husband. The first question asked of her is, “Don’t you have a grown boy to do it for you?” A similar situation in another family is when young Jack Watson is chosen to draw for his family. One crowd member states, “Glad to see your mother’s got a man to do it.” These head of household situations show that the men are the dominant ones in the town. Overall, the story makes it very clear that men are designed to be the physical leaders, and women their supporters.
One thing that seems to be done by Mr. Summers in the story is persuasion. Though he isn’t the one that came up with the lottery, he is the one that leads the drawing and pushes the crowd into stoning the one who draws the mark. It seems that Mr. Summers focuses more on the peripheral route of persuasion. He’s aiming for the quick thought, accentuating the tradition and focusing on getting through the lottery. He wants to trigger automatic acceptance in the town people. He states on page four, “Guess we better get started, get this over with, so’s we can all go back to work.” He follows the rules of asking Mrs. Dunbar about having a man draw for her, even though he knows the answer. He makes sure to greet each man as they come up. Later, on pages six and seven, he again encourages people to hurry up. He states, “We’ve got to be hurrying a little more to get done in time” and “Let’s finish quickly.” He doesn’t want people to focus too much on what they’re actually doing, doesn’t want things to go to a central route. He uses work as the distraction to maintain the peripheral persuasion. While Tessie is protesting that it isn’t fair after her husband, and later herself are chosen, Mr. Summers brushes it aside and moves on. He doesn’t want the people to move to a central route of persuasion based on facts, because if the people think too much about what they are doing, they will quit right then and there.
Another topic that relates to the persuasion is cult-like behavior. There are three main components of a cult: distinctive rituals related to devotion of something, isolation from surrounding “evil” culture and a charismatic leader. In this story, this village could easily be seen to fit these characteristics to be considered a cult. The village has the ritual of the lottery. The story does not state that it is due to devotion, but I would think it may have started that way, perhaps as a ritual sacrifice to a god. The village is somewhat isolated, as shown by the mention of other villages that have stopped the lottery, which an older citizen tosses aside as, “nothing but trouble.” Lastly, Mr. Summers is seen as a charismatic, trustworthy leader. The townspeople use the youth as their audience, involving them starting at a very young age. They teach the children to gather rocks and participate in the stoning, the teens to participate in the lottery themselves. Mr. Summers is sworn in as leader of the lottery, he stands in his clean white shirt and is, “very proper and important.” The townspeople obviously put quite a bit of faith in him to control this important ceremony. If he decided to suddenly have a whole family executed, my guess is the townspeople would not protest. Using foot-in-the-door technique, the townspeople have already agreed to kill one person; it’s just a small increase in request to have them kill more.
Another topic that involves persuasion is attitude inoculation. Attitude inoculation is exposing people to weak attacks on their beliefs in order to build stronger counterattacks. On page five, there is an exchange between Old Man Warner and other townspeople that shows this concept. One man idly mentions to Mr. Warner that in the north village, they want to give up the lottery. This idle thought is met with a strong rant by Old Man Warner. He says people want to resort to a caveman like lifestyle, no jobs, eating nothing but groundnuts. His argument is, “There’s always been a lottery.” When another citizen tells him that some places have already quit the lottery, he brushes it off, and calls those people a “pack of young fools.” He has given the others a strong argument to use against those who believe the lottery is useless. Later on, Tessie uses ineffective persuasion when she tells the others it’s not fair as they are about to stone her. At this point, the others are already wrapped up in the moment and ready to kill her. Her weak counterarguments do nothing but increase the confidence of the others. As we have learned, a weak argument increases the confidence of people’s views and builds inoculation to opposing beliefs.
The people of the village are obedient to the leader and conform to their beliefs. In our text, we learned that obedience occurs when a victim is emotionally distant, the authority is close and legitimate, the authority is part of a respected institution and that people will conform to others in a group. The close, legitimate leader is Mr. Summers. He is right there in front, encouraging the crowd. He is a respected citizen; as the owner of the coal company he is part of a respected town establishment. He creates emotional distance from Tessie when he encourages the citizens to hurry up and get things over with to get back to work. Killing Tessie becomes a nonsense task that has to just be taken care of. Because of the large size of the group, no one dissents, all conform to the task at hand and commit murder – even with murder being one of the cardinal sins against humanity. The situational forces involved with the town lottery overwhelm the internal convictions of citizens as they all kill together.
In the story, situations influence the individuals. The women call to Mrs. Hutchinson to “be a good sport” and that, “all of us took the same chance.” The women are relieved that their husbands didn’t draw the dark circle. Because of their relief in the situation, they believe that the whole thing is fair and reasonable. Tessie is protesting, behaving in a way to try to protect herself and her family. Because she or one of her loved ones will be the one to die, the situation leads her to believe that it is unfair, and pits her against the other people of the village. If the tables were turned, and one of the other women took Tessie Hutchinson’s place, you can bet she would be on the side encouraging that other woman to be a good sport. Depending on which side of the situation you are placed, you will behave in different ways due to the situation’s influence.
The whole town participates in the lottery, yet only a couple of people make the whole thing happen. This displays social loafing. Social loafing is shown when people exert less effort when they pool efforts toward a common goal. Social loafing generally occurs in situations when it is hard to evaluate individual behaviors. As the whole town gathers together, most of them probably don’t know who made all the slips of paper. Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves made all the slips the night before, rather than having each town member contribute. No one cares enough to remake the lottery box even if it falls apart. The story states, “Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box.” Supposedly none of them make it because of the tradition involved with the current box, yet later on the page it is discovered that they have let many other parts of the tradition lapse. It sounds more like loafing, no one wanting to exert the effort since their efforts won’t really be noticed in the crowd of villagers. Only two men come up to help balance the box, Mr. Martin and his son, as the rest of the town takes a “free ride” along. There sure do seem to be a lot of loafers in the village!
Earlier I mentioned that the lottery could possibly have been begun as a sacrifice to a god. Another reason the lottery could have originated may have been as the villager’s own form of natural selection. Natural selection, at its most basic definition, is the changing of population characteristics over time due to survival of the strongest, most dominant genes. The people may have seen the unlucky chooser of the marked slip as somehow weaker than other villagers. By killing that person, they prevent the spread of their inferior genes. Since the process is done at random, that person could be the weaker person from an evolutionary standpoint, creating a natural selection of genes.
Group polarization is a phenomenon that occurs when discussion in a group strengthens the average inclination. In this story, the average inclination is to be supportive of the lottery. Throughout the plot, support of the lottery increases with more talking by the leader and other townspeople. Group polarization usually involves both informational and normative influence. Informational influence is based on fact, or accepting evidence about reality. Informational influence is present when the other women tell Tessie that they all took the same chance. This is an established fact as the lottery was done at random. Also, when Tessie is protesting that everyone didn’t go, Mr. Summers reminds her that, “daughters draw with their husbands’ families.” This is another established fact. Normative influence occurs when people have a desire to be accepted, to fit in with the group. This involves many factors. In the story, there is social comparison, where all the townspeople believe that they must participate, because everyone else does so it must be what you do to be a good citizen. There is also pluralistic ignorance, which is not understanding how much others in the group support views. In this case, it is overestimated. Once the Hutchinson family is chosen, Bill as head of the household is still supportive of the lottery. He tries to hush his wife’s protests and move on. This would lead the villagers to believe that if even the chosen family supports the lottery, everyone else must too.
Toward the end of the story, there are instances of attitude following behavior. The people aren’t really sure how they feel. For example, two of the women, Mrs. Dunbar and Mrs. Delacroix are unsure of their attitudes earlier in the story. Mrs. Dunbar is nervous about drawing, she tells her son that she wishes they would hurry. Mrs. Delacroix holds her breath as her husband draws. However, on the last page both women grab stones and join the crowd. Through self-perception theory, they observe their own behavior and draw conclusions about how they feel. As they prepare to throw stones at Mrs. Hutchinson, they must be thinking that they are of course a supporting of stoning their soon to be former friend. She must deserve it because she drew the ominous slip. The other townspeople are basically in the same boat. They must have felt unsure at first, but then when they see themselves with stones in their hands, they must believe that stoning Mrs. Hutchinson is the right thing to do.
Another subject displayed related to attitude following behavior in “The Lottery” is cognitive dissonance. One place this is shown begins on page four and goes through to the end of the story. On page four, it shows that the men are nervous and even a little frightened as they come to get their slips. The first man that comes up greets Mr. Summers, the leader of the lottery, and they look at each other, “humorlessly and nervously.” When he gets back to his spot, he avoids looking down at his hand that holds the slip of paper. Later on, another man goes up to pick and he “greeted Mr. Summers gravely.” When the men go to unfold their slips, there is a long, breathless pause. Clearly, the townspeople are not enjoying this drawing. However, even though these attitudes are clear, when Tessie Hutchinson is chosen to be the victim of the town, the people attack with gusto. It seems that by the end of the story, they believe that Tessie deserves to be killed, just because a black mark showed her to be the chosen one. At this point, their attitudes changed because they adopted an attitude more consistent with their behavior. This displays cognitive dissonance, because the townspeople adopted a new attitude to justify their actions and improve their own self-image.
The townspeople display a great amount of groupthink. Groupthink is when members suppress dissent in the interest of group harmony. There are eight symptoms of groupthink – many of which are displayed here. One example is a pressure to conform. All the villagers participate in the lottery. No exceptions are made. Another is illusion of unanimity, as all the villagers quell their negativity in the interest of keeping the peace and not sticking out. There is an unquestioned belief in the group’s morality. When some villagers seem to be leaning toward questioning, Old Man Warner quickly shoves down any negative thoughts to make sure the moral validity of the lottery is not disputed. The villagers use self-imposed mindguards to set aside the fact that they are about to commit senseless murder, and just focus on the lottery itself. As you can see, there are many symptoms of groupthink causing the villagers to make unreasonable decisions based on pressure to maintain an agreeable town.
People tend to experience a strengthening of dominant response when there are other people present, something known as social facilitation. There are three different factors that can be involved in social facilitation, which are evaluation apprehension, distraction, and the mere presence of others. The presence of others is apparent in the story, since the whole village is gathered. There is distraction, because the adults are focused on their children, and the other villagers involved in the lottery. They are worried who got the dreaded mark, and who shall then die. The last, evaluation apprehension, is worrying about how others are evaluating us. Toward the end of the story, I believe that the villagers would be feeling like the other people are watching them throw stones, even though I doubt anyone was really watching anyone else. These factors lead to some villagers working harder, running faster and throwing tougher than they may have normally. The author states, “Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him.” I doubt that these two people were more violent than others, but I think maybe they were experiencing social facilitation more strongly as the presence of others increased their gusto in stoning Tessie Hutchinson. Their original dominant response is to throw stones when told to, so social facilitation makes them work harder in throwing stones.
There is something called deindividuation that is a major factor in the conclusion of the story. Deindividuation occurs in large groups when there is a loss of self-awareness and evaluation apprehension that leads to following group norms, whether they are good or bad. In this case, the norm is something that leads to horrendous consequences. The villagers all go along with the crowd and stone a woman to death. There are a few things that usually lead to deindividuation: large group size, physical anonymity and arousing or distracting activities. In the case of the village lottery, these situational characteristics are all present. It is a large group that is forming the norms, as the entire village participates in the lottery together. When it comes to the stoning, there is physical anonymity as the rocks are let loose. Using any random rock from the town, there are no labels or identifiers. Any person’s rock could be the one that delivers the fatal blow. Lastly, there is much to arouse and distract. The townspeople are distracted by the lottery process and the thought of getting back to work. Their feelings are aroused by relief over not being chosen and also by the excitement and camaraderie of working with their fellow villagers toward a common goal. Because of all of these factors, the villagers go along with the established norms and become one group instead of many individuals.
In spite of all of the negative behaviors shown in The Lottery, there is one prominent example of positive self-awareness. On page seven, as the Hutchinson family members are each unfolding their papers, the youngest member of the family goes first. As young Dave’s paper is unfolded for him, “there was a general sigh through the crowd as he held it up and everyone could see that it was blank.” This shows that even though the villagers are prepared to cause bodily harm, even though they are ready to kill, there is a line to be drawn. If a small, innocent child were to be chosen as the victim, it appears that it would be much more difficult to complete the task. The crowd is relieved that the young man is not the lottery pick, because they would have trouble releasing their self-awareness and going along with the crowd to kill.
This story probably struck you as a horrific tale of a corrupt village with no regard for its citizens. These people kill an innocent woman for no valid reason. However, when we delve more deeply into the psychological root of their actions, there is evidence that these could very well be good people in a bad situation. Who knows, maybe you would do the same thing if you were a member of the village in “The Lottery.”