The Social Psychology of the Salem Witch Trials

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Amanda Whitsett Robison History 1301 November 17, 2010 The Social Psychology of the Salem Witch Trials The events that took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 have had historians scrutinizing over the causes for years. There have been several theories about how the situation became so out of control. The haunting story is well known in America, taught to our youth and has been the focus of numerous forms of media. We are familiar with the story but unfamiliar with the origin of its beginnings. The role of religion and the presence of mob psychology were the primary catalyst behind the Salem witch trials. There are several other terms that could replace mob psychology such as group think, group control, social psychology.…show more content…
The community’s response became more agitated as the trials continued. Those who confessed were neither tried nor sentenced. (LaPlante 138) The number of confessions only supported the girls’ accusations allowing them more credibility. Those who claimed to be innocent were hung following their trial or for one man tortured. At this point, the presence of a strong governing body could have brought a more peaceful solution and calmed the growing fear of the people. Instead, the judges allowed the theatrics in the courtroom and the situation spun quickly out of control. This is an example of how mob psychology affected the outcome of these trials. The peoples’ fears were compounded by the girls’ emotional out bursts, the religious view points being expressed at this time and growing distrust of people seen as different from themselves. There was no governing body, civil or religious, that was willing or able to control public response. On the contrary, the establishment of Court of Oyer and Terminer, in May of 1692, brought a new level of seriousness. (Norton 194) Grand and petty juries were formed, witnesses were called in and the charades escaladed. On December 23, the court appointed new juries of men who felt the proceedings were too violent and they would use “another method” while conducting future trials.
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