Crowd Psychology – Part 2

In the backdrop of basic understanding of what a crowd is and the historical antecedents attached to it, let’s now look on some other dimensions and perspectives. It is seen that crowd members, taking part in violent action against the social order might be expected to be individuals who lose all sense of SELF and all sense of responsibility. Yet, at the same time, they gain a sentiment of invincible power due to their numbers.

In traditional crowd research, crowd behaviour was regarded as completely different from any non-crowd situation1. At the base of these myths lie two types of theories: transformation theories and predisposition theories (McPhail, 1991).

TRADITIONAL APPROACH TO CROWD BEHAVIOR

1. TRANSFORMATIONAL PERSPECTIVE

Pioneered by Le Bon, it is built on the idea of “group mind” which states that every individual in a large gathering is transformed into a crowd member. The crowd puts them in the possession of a collective mind, which makes them feel, think, and act quite differently from a situation in which each individual would feel, think, and act, were he in a state of isolation. The loss of self, formed the basis that led to transformation of individuals into a crowd.

 

2. PRE-DISPOSITION PERSPECTIVE

According to Allport and Miller & Dollard , the steering force in a crowd lies at the individual level. The predispositions i.e. similar innate drives that individuals supposedly share,  give rise to similar crowd behaviour. Therefore, the power of control was transferred from a collective property (group mind) to a “similar property” for all individuals.

The growing body of evidence has shown results that goes against the popular traditional notion regarding crowd.

It is generally believed that certain myths grip our understanding regarding crowd, and these can be summarized as:

(adopted from Schweingruber (2005) which is in its turn based on the identification made by McPhail (1991) and Couch (1968):

NewBriefly introducing them:

Myth of Irrationality : the idea that individuals in a crowd lose rational thought

Myth of Emotionality : the idea that individuals in a crowd become more emotional

Myth of Suggestibility : the idea that individuals in a crowd are more likely to obey or imitate

Myth of Destructiveness : the idea that individuals in a crowd are more likely to act violently

Myth of Spontaneity : the idea that in a crowd violence occurs more suddenly

Myth of Anonymity : the idea that individuals in a crowd feel more anonymous

Myth of Uniformity : the idea that all individuals in a crowd act in the same way

Eventually modern research on Crowd has thrown some insightful results and has helped in bursting some popular notions in the field. This led to three important insights on crowd behaviour:

• Crowd behaviour is generated by individuals

The behavioural patterns that arise at a group level cannot be explained solely in terms of group level descriptions. Each individual is unique and thus responds differently, resulting in a heterogeneous crowd.

• Crowd behaviour is context dependent

Every situation is unique and affects individual choices in any given context. Behaviour is perceptions of external stimuli in interaction with internal factors. Behaviour in a crowd is not a simple social reflex, it is an active product of the interaction of an individual with its social environment (Couch, 1968).

• Crowd behaviour is dynamic

Behaviour in a crowd continuously changes as a consequence of the role of situational influences over time.


Thus, the overview of literature and current crowd research has done away with many myths that simply by being part of the crowd, individuals lose rational thought(Couch, 1968; Adang, 1998).

The fact is that people in crowds do not behave irrationally, i.e. do not encounter a cognitive shut-down. Actually, the available evidence supports the opposite: individuals behave rationally given the information they have and they pursue goals effectively

Thus modern foundation disregards the view of traditional perspective of ‘absence of cognitive activity’. When public self-awareness is blocked, people ignore what others think and hence exhibit anti-normative behaviours. When private self-awareness is blocked, people lose access to their own internal standards and fall under external control.

Thus we can say that, to understand why and how behaviour patterns arise, a description of the internal world of an individual and his thought processes along with situational demands provides a key to decode crowd psychology!



Having given a bird’s eye view on the Crowd, there remain few more aspects to be told. To avoid the danger of making it too long and also to let you think over it – we will come with an additional note on the topic so that CROWD can rest in peace.

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