Seven Myths of Crowds

From the ever excellent PsyBlog

1. Crowds are spontaneous
The most common myth about crowds is that they are spontaneous, or worse, that they are hotbeds of violence, with complete chaos only a few ill-judged jostles away.

Research into crowd violence does not support this. One study of riots shows that violence is normally related to the presence of two opposing factions. Mixed crowds – which are the norm – are in fact usually peaceful and only engage in stereotypical crowd-behaviour, e.g. whistling and clapping, face-painting, singing and shouting depending on the occasion.

In reality most people will go to almost any length to avoid actual violence, whether they are in a crowd or not.

2. Crowds are suggestible
The idea that people in crowds have heightened suggestibility is also a relatively common myth. People are said to copy each other, looking for a leader, being open to others’ suggestion about how they should behave, perhaps resulting from a lack of social structure.

Schweingruber and Wohlstein simply find no research to back up this claim. If there is some truth to the idea that people in crowds are suggestible, no one has managed to demonstrate it empirically. One Scholar has asked why, if crowds are so suggestible, they don’t disperse when asked to do so by an authority figure.

Do read the rest…

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