Collective Behavior Theories

Topics: Crowd psychology, Sociology, Gang Pages: 5 (1759 words) Published: May 8, 2011
Robert Park first coined the term collective behavior in the early 1900s. In class, it was taught that his definition included social unrest, crowds, sects, publics, mass movements, crowd mind, propaganda, and fashion as forms of collective behavior. Collective behavior has shaped our everyday lives in more ways than most of us care to think about. Collective behavior is defined as any event in which a group of people engages in unusual behavior. Unusual may have a negative connotation for some, but from a sociological standpoint, as discussed in class, it simply means against the norm. Even more explanatory than that; behavior that falls outside of the normative expectations for a situation and/or participants. In a normal setting, people wouldn’t behave this way. Norms are established in every society on earth. Every society has its own set of rules and values. They are all quite different in nature. What may be a norm in one place may be unusual or taboo in another place. That’s just the way the world works. We are all human beings, but that is usually where the comparisons stop. In studying collective behavior, we have learned of many different sociological theories related to the subject. Many can relate to most or all of them. We witness collective behavior every day and may not know that we have. That protest against war that was on the five o’clock news—collective behavior. That crazy Black Friday incident in which all of those shoppers rushed the store and as a result an old woman got trampled—collective behavior. In 1998 when if you didn’t have a Furby, then you weren’t ‘cool’—collective behavior. Why do we as humans engage in such behavior? Many sociologists have attempted to explain, and as a result, we have many theories on the subject of collective behavior.

One major theory of collective behavior is Emergent Norm Perspective. Key thinkers in this theory are Ralph Turner and Lewis Killian. Emergent Norm explains that when people are in an uncomfortable or confusing situation, they all look to each other for support and guidance. People look for a leader to show them which way to go. People need structure and guidelines. The Emergent Norm Perspective explains collective behavior as something that likely emerges in confusing situations. In these situations, people will turn to each other for guidance. There are five types of participants in Emergent Norm situations: the ego involved the concerned, the insecure, spectators, and the ego-detached. The ego involved is deeply concerned and involved with the event, has strong leadership qualities, and pre-existing attitudes that power their actions. The concerned participant is usually concerned, but also feels like it’s not their responsibility to do anything. These participants are usually followers and go with the flow. The insecure participant feels insecure in normal situations, but feels an increased power in collective behavior. This characteristic leads to satisfaction in collective behavior situations. Spectators just watch but are important because they draw in others and make people more aware of what is going on. The ego detached participant has a personal interest at stake. Some may be interested in doing negative things with the crowd like rioting and looting. Some have a profit minded association. They want to get something out of the collective behavior for their personal benefit. In this theory, behavior that is not punished by the group is considered acceptable and becomes more likely behavior for others. Typically we know that people will conform to their surroundings, this paves the way for them to follow the emergent norms; the new norms that are created out of a confusing situation. When you don’t know which way to go, follow the crowd. In these confusing situations, people engage in unusual behavior, not to be rebellious, but because for the situation they are in, the behavior now seems normal and acceptable. Turner and Killian developed...
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