A while back on Meta Stack Exchange, Shog9 described an "execution squad" mentality:

First, if we're gonna do this then let's make it worthwhile: 1 vote == closed, regardless of how many other votes or flags are in play. My biggest beef with close voting is the execution-squad attitude it seems to inspire among folks: "oh, I don't want to take responsibility for closing a question, I just want to be one of the mob throwing stones". If we're gonna give more weight to votes from folks who according to their past participation we should be able to trust with them, I want them to be taking that extra responsibility seriously.

The execution squad attitude can actually be used beneficially — it can help people feel more okay with taking a very significant action which they know could be a bad idea, especially when you provide anonymity during the process. They're not the sole person doing it so they don't have to be absolutely 100% positive (surely one of those other people will be, right?), and if it was a stuff-up other people are equally to blame. It increases participation in scenarios like the close votes on Stack Exchange, or, you know, execution squads!

I'd like to be able to discuss this attitude at times. I'd like to be able to google it and learn more about it, and I'd like to mention it to people who can google it and learn what it means. Currently googling "execution squad attitude" and "firing squad attitude" just get me irrelevant results about current affairs and firing squads (but not the psychology behind them), and probably get me a little closer to being put on some kind of law enforcement watch list.

Is there a technical term for this mentality? Preferably, one that isn't gruesomely connected to executioners?

3 Answers 3


One term for this, used in psychology, is 'moral disengagement'. See, for example, "The Role of Moral Disengagement in the Execution Process". Here's a chunk of the abstract:

The present study tested the proposition that disengagement of moral self-sanctions enables prison personnel to carry out the death penalty. Three subgroups of personnel in penitentiaries located in three Southern states were assessed in terms of eight mechanisms of moral disengagement. The personnel included the execution teams that carry out the executions; the support teams that provide solace and emotional support to the families of the victims and the condemned inmate; and prison guards who have no involvement in the execution process. The executioners exhibited the highest level of moral, social, and economic justifications, disavowal of personal responsibility, and dehumanization.

Searches for "moral disengagement" using Google, DuckDuckGo, etc., are productive.

One term specific to the "firing squad" mentality, and a facet of 'moral disengagement', is 'diffusion of responsibility'. The 'diffusion of responsibility' is one mechanism whereby 'moral disengagement' is effected (psychologically speaking):

Obscuring responsibility via diffusion. Diffusion of responsibility is a similar phenomenon. If multiple people share the responsibility for an act, no one individual feels responsible for it. One way for this to occur is for an unethical task to be broken up into steps that are relatively harmless and each of those steps assigned to a different person. A good example of this is a firing squad. Many people feel bad about executing someone (even when it is legal to do so), so having a group of people all fire simultaneously diffuses the responsibility. No single person knows the lethality of his own shot (or whether their weapon contained a live round), and therefore no one feels he is responsible for the death by firing squad.

(From "Moral Disengagements: When Will Good Soldiers do Bad Things?", CM Barnes, K Leavitt, Military Review, September 1, 2010.)

Another source describes the same psychological mechanism at work:

Execution teams are organized so as to divide the grisly tasks, enhancing what researchers call a diffusion of responsibility. A medical technician provides the lethal drugs; a team of guards straps the inmate down, with each guard securing only one part of the body; another guard administers the drugs. "No one person can say he is entirely responsible for the death," Mr. Osofsky said.

Firing squads draw on this same idea. Everyone in the squad fires but no one can be sure whose shot was deadly.

(From "Moral disengagement", B Carey, February 7, 2006.)

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    Diffusion of responsibility seems to be exactly what the term is. Thank you. (This isn't about moral disengagement, as the diffusion of responsibility can also be used for e.g. community voting.) Nov 26, 2015 at 1:09

I'm not sure if there's a term for this specifically, but people with this mentality I would say are displaying Mob Mentality or Herd Mentality.

I don't have a dictionary definition, but browsing the internet came up with:

Mob mentality refers to the behavioral tendency of people (or other social animals) to act in unison with the group of which they are a part.


This I think describes well the effect of acting along with a crowd, not necessarily being the first to initiate but going along with others when they go a certain way.

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    Mob mentality is certainly relevant. However, execution squad mentality differs in that it makes it much easier to be person #1 or #2. Mob mentality only kicks in afterwards. Nov 25, 2015 at 16:45

The term that came to mind for me was Group think.

"In many cases, people will set aside their own personal beliefs or adopt the opinion of the rest of the group.

People who are opposed to the decisions or overriding opinion of the group as a whole frequently remain quiet, preferring to keep the peace rather than disrupt the uniformity of the crowd." source: psychology.about

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