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The Psychology of Crowds: Part 2

The Psychology of Crowds: Part 2

In our first article looking at crowd behaviour, we showed that there are still social rules to how crowds act, however unspoken they may be, and we discovered how members of a crowd can very easily change completely from their usual personalities due to the anonymity that is achieved from becoming part of a group. Now let’s look at some specific changes that occur and theories to explain them.

Firstly, the theory of deindividuation explains most of what we’ve already discussed. This theory believes we lose our identity and take on a group identity. This is because we are not easily identifiable by others in the crowd and so do not care about how we look from the outside, but are easily identifiable by other members of the crowd, meaning that we want to fit it and express our agreement with the group identity.

Secondly the theory of Diffusion of Responsibility poses that when we are in a group, we subconsciously believe that our responsibility for the actions of the group are reduced, since only a portion of the overall responsibility goes to us. This means that we are more likely to act in an antisocial fashion when as part of a group. This can be seen in groups such as the KKK who would commit terrible actions across America in the 1960s, but were in reality just made up of normal family people. Since they were in a large group though, they believed that their contribution to the events that occurred was not considerable enough though to feel guilty about. The original theory of deindividuation can also be seen here, since they wore hoods covering their faces to remove their identity and connection with the event later. It can be seen from real-life events that larger mobs often act more violently than smaller ones because the responsibility is diffused more.

Another theory is that as crowds get bigger, we become more and more excited by the density and amount of stimuli around us. This reduces our ability to think rationally and therefore leads to us losing ability to monitor our own behaviour so we become more impulsive and more sensitive to the behaviour of others, and therefore react inappropriately.

As for norms of a group emerging, some suggest that this occurs based on the first reactions to an event. Others copy what the leaders do, since they are the only source available to guide our own behaviour in an ambiguous situation. Some psychologists, on the other hand, follow what is known as Social Identity Theory, whereby the norms of a group arise from the group desire to feel like they have a higher status than other groups. Without this feeling, low self-esteem will result. Therefore, groups will work together either to gain status or promote a belief of status. Often groups will try to distinguish themselves from other groups on certain features, promoting the idea of being better than them.

Conformity also explains how group norms emerge. Unlike above where the first people to react define the norm, conformity is the idea that the majority determine the norms of a group. The term refers to individuals changing either their actual beliefs or at least those that they admit to due to an either real or perceived pressure from others.

Finally, norms can arise from the context or situation in which the crowd is formed. Football fans, for example will know how to act since there is a schema (packet of information stored in the brain about a certain situation or event) specifically designed to tell them how to behave in this situation based on past experience.

This is a very interesting topic because it goes against the somewhat accepted idea that we are individuals, and have the power to make our own decisions. In fact, a lot of psychology tends to disagree with this belief. In reality, our behaviour is determined by lots of variables, and interestingly, if we understood them all, we would be able to predict the behaviour of anyone at any moment. We can use this knowledge to work on changing situations to remove negative effects and developing preventative strategies to deal with crowd behaviours. Our third article on crowd behaviour will look at some of these preventative techniques that can be used to promote positive behaviour from crowds.


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