How might we best explain crowd behaviour?
(2013 Exam Question)
People are likely to act in bizarre ways in a crowd compared to as an individual. A crowd can be defined as a set of individuals who share a common social identification of themselves in terms of that crowd. Crowd members should also share common goals and act in a coherent member (Reicher, 2008). There have been extensive amounts of research into crowd psychology, investigating the apparent causes and reasons for such behaviour to occur. Many different theories exist to attempt to explain why people fall into this interesting state of social influence when they are in crowds. This essay will attempt to investigate how we might best explain crowd behaviour.
Le Bon’s (1896) early attempt to explain this phenomenon suggested that crowd behaviours are pathological and abnormal, where people are reduced to a primitive or instinctive mode of behaviour. This theory proposes that feelings of anonymity cause people in a crowd to lose their sense of self and responsibility and act in ways that stem from a ‘group mind’. Through this group mind people are freed from social norms and natural animal instincts are released causing riots and irrational violence. However, since the initial suggestion of the ‘group mind’, this theory has been largely rejected. The main reasoning for this being that the theory does not acknowledge the importance of power in crowd behaviours, which appears to be a key factor in collective behaviour. One speculation that remains important from Le Bon’s group mind theory is that the feeling of crowd anonymity appears to be influential in creating various subsequent theories to explain crowd behaviour, such as the theory of deindividuation. However, the rejection of the group mind does not mean that we should then reject the study of group processes as groups have distinctive properties from individual behaviour. Instead, we should begin to look at group processes with a different perspective. Tajfel (1970) claims that all social behaviour falls on a continuum that spans from interpersonal to intergroup behaviour. Intergroup behaviour is defined with these three criteria: the presence of two distinct groups, low variability in attitudes and behaviour of group members, and low variability in one person’s attitudes to group members. This helps to explain this readiness in which a person can switch from one view of someone to another (e.g. saying all catholics are bad people, and then going on to say the neighbor (who is a catholic) is such a lovely person). This can arise because when you become part of a group you start to see people as a category not as individuals.
The theory of Deindividuation (Deiner, 1976; and Zimbardo, 2007) followed on to these early speculations. The model states that when surrounded by others in a crowd people lose self-awareness. Consequently, people become more susceptible to external cues and to the groups motives and emotions. Ultimately, these factors may lead group members to engage in unsocial and possibly antisocial behaviours. According to Zimbardo, being part of a large group can create a sense of anonymity and diffuses personal responsibility throughout the group for the consequences of one’s actions. This can lead to the loss of identity and a reduced concern for social evaluation. Behaviour resulting can then be impulsive and irrational as there are different set ‘normal’ social and personal norms. Zimbardo’s electric shock experiment gives support to the deindividuation theory, providing evidence that the mean duration of the shock administered by deindividuated participants (they were wearing a coat and a hood to increase anonymity) was nearly twice as long than that of the people who retained their individual identities. Further research also suggests that this sense of anonymity is increased as the size of the group increases and also increases in darker conditions. For example: the violent...
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