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What is Crowd Psychology?

The Emergent-Norm approach of crowd psychology considers how some in a group become leaders and others remain more passive.
The way individuals might abandon singular ideas to assimilate into a group is examined in the convergence theory of crowd psychology.
A researcher who studies crowd psychology may investigate why the majority of people often start to follow a trend setter without any conscious thought.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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Crowd psychology is a phenomenon that is understood to be part of the broader study of social psychology. The basic concept is that the thought processes and behavior patterns of the individual often vary from those of a larger group, although these same individuals often adapt to the expectations of the surrounding culture and modify individual traits in order to identify with the crowd. Different theories focus on both the conscious and subconscious ways that individuals align with the crowd mentality.

The convergence theory as applied to crowd psychology is that the behavior of the crowd takes on focus and form based on the input of the individuals who make up the group. Within this framework, people who wish to become part of the existing group will make a choice to identify with the prevailing mindset. In some cases, this may mean minimizing or abandoning behaviors or beliefs that are not in harmony with the majority.

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Change may take place in the group over time, however, due to the inclusion of new people who identify with part of the beliefs and behaviors of the group, but who also bring new concepts with them. As groups of people assimilate these new ideas, the overall culture of the group changes. This is a process that can take long periods of time, and for many years may be so subtle that even the most traditional members of the group may be unaware of the incremental rate of change.

The Emergent-Norm approach to crowd psychology affirms that crowds are collections of individuals who usually come together around a foundation of connected understandings but still retain many of their individual traits. It is the expression of these individual traits that can be picked up on by other members of the community, and eventually become part of the overall mindset of the group. In this process, different members take on roles within the society, with some emerging as leaders, while others become managers and still others as active followers. Within each group psychology, there are those that remain passive and tend to go along with the majority. The roles are not carved in stone, so it is possible for an individual to function as a leader at one point, and later modify his or her expression to that of a follower or manager.

As with any psychology theory, there are a number of other approaches to crowd psychology that tend to assign responsibility for group dynamics and individual reactions to a wide variety of situations and motivations. There is still a great deal of controversy about whether groups of people influence the individual or whether acting collectively is the result of choices made by individuals. With some merit and plenty of examples to illustrate each approach, this phenomenon will likely continue to be an exciting area of study for many years to come.

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OeKc05
Post 9

@Kristee – I know what you mean. I am influenced by a group of my coworkers every day, and I often go along with decisions that seem to be what the group wants, even if I don't agree with them.

On super busy days, we have to get together and decide where to order our lunch takeout from. I hate Mexican food, but there have been several times when someone suggested it and other people seconded this, so I just agreed.

I've noticed that if I speak up first and suggest a different place, most people go with this. The psychology of the group is most affected by the first choice put out there and how people react to it.

Kristee
Post 8

The psychology of crowds at rock concerts affects the behavior of individuals. For example, I would never dance and jump at a concert if no one else was, but when everyone around me starts doing it, I feel compelled to join in.

In fact, I would stand out if I didn't join in. This is the only time in my life I actually feel inconspicuous for jumping and dancing in public.

orangey03
Post 7

I've seen the crowd psychology theory at work in my own family. There are things that my parents would have never participated in or allowed in the home when I was little that they gave in to over the years as my sisters and brothers and I grew up.

Two of my aunts and their husbands lived with us for several years, and my parents started to lighten up a bit about allowing alcohol and certain TV shows in the house. The overall mentality became more relaxed, and suddenly, all of us were happier and under fewer restrictions.

If my extended family had never come to live with us, then my parents might still be uptight and strict. I'm really glad that they were able to influence the group.

healthy4life
Post 6

The psychology of crowds can be a powerful thing. If many people in the crowd share even a little bit of a sentiment, it can quickly escalate into a chant or even a riot.

This is why I avoid crowds. People tend to lose their inhibitions when in a large group.

anon293028
Post 5

@Qohe1et: Do you really want that? I don't usually judge, but think of the implications.

SilentBlue
Post 4

@Qohe1et

True, but all other forms of insecurity were very high. Disease, war, and famine, made you unsure if you would make it past 20. Not only that, people were dependent on the church and religion because of fear, and there was little or no social mobility. If you were born poor, you were pretty much screwed.

Qohe1et
Post 3

@ShadowGenius

Sometimes this flexibility makes me wish that group psychology would revert to what it used to be 500 years ago in Western cultures. You would have a job assignment at birth which you would carry out to your death. Your role was defined and your marriage was arranged. Very little social insecurity.

ShadowGenius
Post 2

Crowd psychology can take on very different forms depending on the context and culture in which it is found. In certain Eastern cultures, the In-group and Out-group are emphasized very strongly, and becoming a member is difficult. These are known as high-context cultures, and require a detailed knowledge of the culture in order to function well in it. American culture is different, we are what is known as low-context culture. Groups form and break, and you meet new people every day whom you probably will never really get to know. Crowd psychology in the Western setting is very flexible, and therefore more effective in the short-term, but non-existent in the long term.

Tufenkian925
Post 1

I think that crowd psychology is ideal when it adapts to different situations to address different problems by choosing to change leaders based on competence in such a given situation. For instance, if there is someone in the group who is an expert on erosion and the group is required to do a study on erosion, the person with that expertise should assume the role of a leader, regardless of his or her tendency to lead. A rigid procrustean identification of people as "leaders" or "followers" is seldom if ever helpful.

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