Explanations of Crowd Behavior
What causes people to act collectively? How do they determine what types of action to take? One of the carties theorists to provide an answer to these questions was Gustav Bon. a French scholar who focused on crowd psychology in his contagion theory. Contagion Theory theory focuses on the social-psychological aspects of collective .ior: it attempts to explain how moods. attitudes. and behavior arc communicated rapidly and why they are accepted hy others (Turner and Killian. I 993j. Lc Bon (1841-1931) argued that people are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior in a crowd because they are' anonymous and feel invulnerable. I.c Bon (196011895) suggested that a crowd takes on a life of its own that is larger than the beliefs or actions of anyone person. Because of its anonymity. the crowd transforms individuals from rational hings into a single organism with a collective mind. In essence. Lc Bon asserted that emotions such as fear and hate are contagious in crowds because people experience a decline in personal responsibility, they will do things as a collective that they would never do when acting alone. Le Bon's theory is still used hy malls people to explain crowd behavior, However, critics argue that the "collective mind" has not been documented by systematic studies. Social Unrest and Circular Reaction Sociologist Robert E. Park was the first U.S. sociologist to investigate crowd behavior. Park believed that LcBon's analysis of collective behavior lacked several important elements. Intrigued that people could break away from the powerful hold of culture and their established routines to develop a new social order. Park added the concepts of social unrest and circular reaction to contagion theory. According to Park. social unrest is transmitted h)' a process of circular retraction-the interactive communication between persons such that .the discontent of one person is communicated to another. who. in turn, reflects the discontent back to the first person (Park and Burgess. 1921). Convergence Theory Geller theory focuses on the shared emotions. goals. and beliefs that many people may bring to crowd behavior. Because of their .
individual characteristics, many people have a predisposition to participate in certain types of activities (Turner and Killian, 1993). From this perspective, people with similar attributes find a collective of like minded persons with whom they can express their underlying personal tendencies. Although people may reveal their "true selves" in crowds. their behavior is not irrational; it is highly predictable tv those who share similar emotions or beliefs. Convergence theory has been applied to a wide " , array of conduct. from lynch mobs to environmental movements, In social psychologist Hadley Cantril's (1941) study of one lynching. he found that the shared certain common attributes: They were poor and working-class whites who felt that their tus was threatened by the presence of successful african Americans. Consequently. the characteristics of these individuals made them susceptible to joining a lynch mob even if they did not know the target of the lynching. Convergence theory adds to our understanding of certain types of collective behavior by pointing out how individuals may have certain attributes-such as racial hatred or fear of environmental problems that directly threaten them-that initially bring hem together. However. this theory docs not explain how the attitudes and characteristics of individuals who take some collective action differ from those who do not. Emergent Norm Theory Unlike contagion and convergence theories. emergent norm theory emphasizes the importance of social norms in shaping crowd behavior. Drawing on the symbolic interaction perspective. the sociologists Ralph Turner and Lewis Killian (i993: 2) asserted that crowds develop their own definition of a situation and establish norms for behavior that fit the occasion Some shared redefinition of right and wrong in a
situation supplies the justification and coordinates the action in collective behavior. People do what they would not otherwise have done whe-n they panic collectively. when they riot, when they engage in civil disobedience. or when they launch terrorist campaigns. because they find social support for the view that what they are doing is the right thing to o in the situation. According to Turner and Killian (1993: 13), emergent norms occur when people define a new situation as highly unusual or see a long-standing situation in a new light. Sociologists using the emergent norm approach check to determine how individuals in a given collective develop an understanding of what is going on. how they construe these activities, and what type of norms are involved. For example, in a study of audience participation. the sociologist Seven E. Clayman (1993) found that members of an audience listening
to a speech applaud promptly and independently but wait to coordinate their booing with other people; they do not wish to "boo" alone, Some emergent norms are permissive-that is. they give people a shared conviction that they may disregard ordinary rules such as waiting in line. taking turns. or treating a speaker courteously, Collective activity such as mass looting may he defined (hy participants) as taking what rightfully belongs to them and punishing those who have been exploitative. For example, following the Los AngJes riots of 1992. some analysts argued that Korean Americans were targets of rioters because they were viewed by Latinos/as and African Americans as "callous and geedy invaders" who became wealthy at the expense of members of other racial-ethnic groups (Cho, ) 993). Thus, rioters who used this rationalization could view looting and murmuring as a means of~paying back" Korean Americans or of gaining property (such as TV sets and microwave ovens) from those who had already taken from them. Once a crowd reaches some agreement on the norms. the collectivity is supposed to adhere to them. If crowd members develop a norm that condones looting or vandalizing property. they will proceed to cheer for those who conform and ridicule those who are unwilling to abide by the collective's new norms. Emergent norm theory points out that crowds art' not irrational. Rather. new norms are developed in a rational way to lit the immediate situation. However,
critics note that proponents of this perspective fail to specify exactly what constitutes a norm, how new ones emerge, and how they are so quickly disseminated and accepted by a wide variety of participants. One variation of this theory suggests that no single dominant norm is accepted by everyone in a crowd;
instead, norms are specific to he various categories of actors rather than to the collectivity as a whole (Snow, Zurcher, and Peters, 1981). For example, in a study of football victory celebrations, the sociologists David A. Snow, Louis A. Zurcher, and Robert Peters (1981) found that each week, behavioral patterns were changed in the post game revelry, with some being modified, some added, and some deleted.