Not all collective behavior takes place in face-to-face collectivities. Mass behavior is collective behavior that takes place when people (who often are geographically separated from one another) respond to the same event in much the same way. For people to respond in the same way, they typically have commonsources of information that provoke their collective behavior. The most frequent types of mass behavior are rumors, gossip, mass hysteria, public opinion.
fashions, and fads. Under some circumstances, socialmovements constitute a form of mass behavior, However, we wilt examine social movements separately because
they differ in some important ways from other types of dispersed collectivities. Rumors and Gossip Rumors are unsubstantiated reports on an issue or subject (Rosnow and Fine, 1976). Whereas a rumor may spread through an assembled collectivity, rumors may also he transmitted among people who are dispersed geographically, including people posting messages on the Internet or talking b)' cell phone. Although rumors may initially contain a kernel of truth, they may be modi lied as they spread to serve the interests of those repeating them.
Rumors thrive when tensions are high and when little authentic information is available on an issue of great concern. For example, when the blackout of August 2003 occurred, leaving 50 million people in 8 states and parts of Canada without electricity, the earliest rumors about the power failures reflected the turbulent times in which we five. One of the first rumors that began to spread was that the blackout was an act of terrorism. As one person stated in an c-mail (uncorrected by your author), I think its all act of terrorism. They are planning to
strike. TIley need to know how the power system works and what cities and states will be affected so .
the}' can plan there strategy. In the meantime, USA is assuming that its natural. Typical of americans. Don't put your guards down .... (Cromwell, 2003) Television broadcasters and public officials .quickly tried to deflect this rumor for fear that people might panic and be injured as they sought to leave their work placesin cities such as New York and make their way home. Other rumors that initially circulated ranged from the humorous to the accusatory: Some attributed the power failure to "UFOs," "the energy companies that want to gouge everyone," "President Bush's buddies at Enron." "homeland security crooks," and a wide variety of other explanations. Nearly a month after themassive blackout, investigators still attempting to analyze the data to determine specific causes; however. the rumor mill had provided people with instant speculation about why this event had occurred. Fortunately, most people acted responsibly, and the riots and looting that took place during prior blackouts in New York City did not recur (BBe News, 2003; CNN. com, 2oo3b; Gibbs, 2003). As the example of the blackout of 2003 shows, people are willing to give rumors credence when no opposing information is available. Environmental issues are similar. For example, in the past, when residents of Love Canal for information from health department officials about their exposure to the toxic chemicals and from the government about possible relocation at state expense to another area, new waves of rumors also spread through the community daily. By the time a meeting was called by health department officials to provide homeowners with the results of airsample tests for hazardous chemicals (such as chloroform and benzene) performed on their homes, already fearful residents were ready to believe the worst, are Lois Gibbs (1982: 25) describes: Next to the names [of residents] were some numbers. But the numbers had no meaning. People stood there looking at the numbers, knowing nothing of what they meant but suspecting the worst. One woman, divorced and with three sick children looked at the piece of oaper with numbers and started crying hysterically: "No wonder my children are sick. Am I going to die? What's going to my children?" No one could answer.
The night was very warm and humid. and the air was stagnant On a night like that. the smell of Love Canal is hard to describe. It's all around you.It's as though it were about to envelop you and smother you. By now. we were outside. standing in the parking lot The woman's panic caught on. starting a chain reaction. Soon. many people there were hysterical. Once a rumor begins to circulate. it seldom stops unless compelling information comes to the forefront that either proves the rumor false or makes it obsolete. In industrialized societies with sophisticated technology.
rumors come from a wide variety of sources and may be difficult to trace. Print media (newspapers and magazines) and electronic media (radio and television). fax machines. cellular networks, satellite systems. and the Internet aid the rapid movement of rumors around the globe. In addition. modern communications technology makes anonymity much easier. In a split second. messages (both factual and fictitious) can be disseminated to thousands of people through e-mail, computerized bulletin boards. and Internet newsgroups, rumors deal with an issue"or a subject. gossip refers to rumors about the personal lives of individuals. Charles Horton Cooley (1963/1909)viewed gossip as something that spread among a mall group of individuals who personally knew the person who was the object of the rumor. Today. this is frequently not the case, many people enjoy gossiping ahout people whom they have never met Tabloid newspapers and magazines such as the National Enquirer and People. and television "news" programs that purport to provide "inside' information on the lives of celebrities. are sources of contemporary gossip. much of which has not been checked for authenticity. The night was very warm and humid. and the air was stagnant On a night like that. the smell of Love Canal is hard to describe. It's all around you.
It's as though it were about to envelop you and smother you. By now. we were outside. standing in the parking lot The woman's panic caught on. starting a chain reaction. Soon. many people there were hysterical. Once a rumor begins to circulate. it seldom stops unless compelling information comes to the forefront that either proves the rumor false or makes it obsolete. In industrialized societies with sophisticated technology. rumors come from a wide variety of sources and may be difficult to trace. Print media (newspapers and magazines) and electronic media (radio and television). fax machines. cellular networks, satellite systems. and the Internet aid the rapid movement of rumors around the globe. In addition. modern communications technology makes anonymity much easier. In a split second. messages (both factual and fictitious) can be disseminated to thousands of people
When unexpected events such as the massive 2003 power outage in the United States and Canada occur, people frequently rel yon rumors to help them know what Is going on. Getting accurate information out quickly helped prevent people from panicking as tens of thousands of workers In Manhattan sought to get home any way they could hydroelectricity . unavailable in the city. Mass Hysteria and Panic Mass hysterio is a form of dispersed collective behavior that occurs when a large number of people react with strong emotions and self destructive behavior to a real or perceived threat. Does mass hysteria actually occur? Although the term has been widely used. many sociologists believe that this behavior is best described as a panic with a dispersed audience. An example of mass hysteria Ora panic with a widely dispersed audience was actor Orson Welles's 1938 Halloween eve radio dramatization of H. G. Wells's science fiction classic The Worlds. A CB S radio dance music program was interrupted suddenly by a news bulletin informing the audience that Martians had landed in New Jersey and were in the process of conquering Earth. Some listeners became extremely frightened even though an announcer had indicated during. and after the performance that the broadcast was a fictitious dramatization. According to some reports. as many as 1 million of the estimated 10 million listeners believed that this astonishing event had occurred, Thousands were reported to have hidden in their storm cellars or to have gotten in their cars so that they could from Martians (see Brown. 1954). In actuality. the program probably did not generate mass hy teria. but rather a panic among gullible listeners. Others switched stations to determine if the same "news" was being broad cast elsewhere. When they discovered that it was 1I0t, they merely laughed at the joke being played on listeners by CBS. In 1988. on the fiftieth anniversary of the broadcast. a Portuguese radio station rebroadcast the program once again. a panic ensued.
sites may bring the latest fad to the attention of audiences around the world. Recently. people in a number of countries have participated in a relatively new fad
known as the "flash mob" Unlike fads. fashions tend to be longer lasting. In Chapter 3. fashion is as a currently valued style of behavior. thinking. or appearance. Fashion also applies to art, music, drama, literature, architecture. interior design, and automobiles. among other things. However. most sociological research on fashion has focused 011 clothing, especially women's apparel (Davis, 1992~. In preindustrial societies. clothing styles remained relatively relativelyrelatively unchanged. With the advent of Industrialization, items of apparel became readily available at low prices because of mass production. Fashion became more important as people embraced the "modern" way of life and as advertising encouraged "conspicuous consumption." Georg Simmel, Thorstein Veblen, and Pierre Bombardier have all viewed fashion as a means of status differentiation among members of different social classes. Simmcl (1957/1904) suggested a classic "trickle-down" theory (although he did not use those exact words) to describe the process by which members of the lower classes emulate the fashions of the upper class. As the fashions descend through the status hierarchy, they are watered down and "vulgarized" so that recognizable to members of the upper class, who then regard them as unfashionable and in bad taste (Davis. 1992). Veblen (1967/1899) asserted that fashion mainly to institutionalize conspicuous consumption 'among the wealthy. Eighty years later, Bombardier 0984) similarly (but more subtly) suggested that "matters of taste." including fashion sensibility, constitute a large share of the "cultural capital" possessed by members of the dominant class. Herbert Blumer (1969) disagreed with the trickle down approach, arguing that "collective selection" best explains fashion. Blumer suggested that people in the middle 'and lower classes follow fashion because it is fashion. not because they desire to emulate members of the elite class. Blumer thus shifts the focus on fashion to collective mood, tastes, and choices: "Tastes arc themselves a product of experience are formed in the context of social interaction, responding to the definitions and affirmation given by others. People thrown into areas of common interaction and having similar runs of experience develop common tastes" . in Davis. 1992: 116). Perhaps one of the best refutations of the trickle-down approach is the way in which fashion today often originates among people in the lower social classes and is mimicked by the elites. In the mid-1990s, the so-called grunge look was a prime example of this.
Public Opinion Public opinion consists of the attitudes and beliefs communicated by ordinary citizens to decision makers (Green berg and Page. 2002). It is measured through polls and surveys, which use research methods such as interviews and questionnaires, as described in Chapter 2. Many people are not interested in all aspects of public policy but arc concerned about issues they believe are relevant to themselves. Even on a single topic, public opinion will var}' widely based on race/ethnicity, religion. region, social class, education level. gender. age. and so on.
Scholars who examine public opinion are the extent to which the public's attitudes are communicated to decision makers and the effect (if any) that public opinion has on policy making (Turner and Killian, 1993). Some political scientists argue that public opinion has a substantial effect on decisions at all levels of government (see Green berg and Page, 2002); others strongly disagree. For example, Thomas Dye and Harmon Ziegler (2006: 439) argue that Public policy docs not reflect demands the people," but rather the preferences. interests. and values of the very few who participate ill the policy-making process. Changes or innovations in public policy come about when elites redefine their own interests or modify their own values. Policies decided by elites need not be oppressive or exploitative of the masses. Elites may be very public-regarding, and the welfare of the masses be an important consideration in elite decision making. Yet it is the elites that make policy, not the . From this perspective, polls may artificially create the appearance of a public opinion; pollsters may ask questions that those being interviewed had not even considered before the survey. As the masses attempt to influence elites and vice versa, a two-way process occurs with the dissemination of propaganda-information provided by individuals or groups that have a vested interest in furthering their own cause or damaging an one. Although many of us think of propaganda in negative terms, the information provided can be correct and can have a positive effect on decision making.
In recent decades. grassroots environmental activists (including the Love Canal residents and the Riverkeepers) have attempted to influence public opinion. In a study of public opinion on. environmental issues. the sociologist Riley E. Dunlap (199l) found that public awareness of the seriousness of environmental problems and support for environmental protection increased dramatically between the late 1960s and the 19905. However. it is less clear that public opinion translates into action by either decision makers in government and industry or 6y individuals (such as a willingness to adopt a more ecologically sound lifestyle) . Initially. most grassroots environmental activists attempt to influence public opinion so that local decision makers will feci the necessity of correcting a specific problem through changes in public policy. Although activists usually do not start out seeking broader social change. they often move in that direction when they become aware of how widespread the problem is in the larger society or on a global basis. One of two types
of social movements often develops at this point-one focuses on NIMBY (~not in my backyard"). whereas the other focuses on NIABY ("not in anyone's backyard") (Freudenberg and Steinsaplr, 1992).