The Madness of Crowds is an Extraordinary Popular Delusion

Michael Bond has written a richly detailed article for New Scientist about the psychology and behavior of crowds. Here are some extracts, but you should read the whole thing:

The "unruly mob" concept is usually taken as read and used as the basis for crowd control measures and evacuation procedures across the world. Yet it is almost entirely a myth. Research into how people behave at demonstrations, sports events, music festivals and other mass gatherings shows not only that crowds nearly always act in a highly rational way, but also that when facing an emergency, people in a crowd are more likely to cooperate than panic. Paradoxically, it is often actions such as kettling [a police tactic of corraling an entire crowd into a small area] that lead to violence breaking out. Often, the best thing authorities can do is leave a crowd to its own devices....

What are the lessons from all this? One of the most important is that the current approach to managing crowds, which is all about control and containment, can be counterproductive. Police tend to assume that people in crowds are prone to random acts of violence and disorder, and treat them accordingly. But aggressive policing is likely to trigger an aggressive response as the crowd reacts collectively against the external threat. This is why many researchers consider kettling to be a bad idea. "You're treating the crowd indiscriminately, and that can change the psychology of the crowd, shifting it towards rather than away from violence," says [Clifford] Stott. He has found that low-profile policing can significantly reduce the aggressiveness of football crowds, and that if left alone they will usually police themselves.

Emergency services should also take note: in a situation such as a terrorist attack or fire, a crowd left to its own devices will often find the best solution. Attempts to intervene to prevent people panicking, such as restricting their movements, could make panic more likely. The key, says [Tricia] Wachtendorf, is to give crowds as much information as possible, as they are likely to use it wisely.

There's "no question," Bond concedes, "that being part of a group can sometimes lead people to do appalling things that they would usually abhor" and that "the cover crowds offer can attract individuals who are intent on causing trouble." Nonetheless, "crowd violence is actually extremely rare." And intrusive crowd management can make such disorder more rather than less likely.

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  • troll||

    "the cover crowds offer can attract individuals who are intent on causing trouble."

    :-)

  • Lord Jubjub||

    So the police are actually there to cause disorder.

  • Elemenope||

    So the police are actually there to cause disorder.

    Yup. It serves as a reminder of just how hard a substance the balls of the '60s civil rights leaders were composed of, to adopt and for the most part actually succeed in executing non-violent tactics.

  • Lester Hunt||

    The "madness of crowds" idea can explain why kettling is a counterproductive tactic. After all, whatever factors make crowds irrational are apt to be heightened when you pack the people in a crowd more closely together. For an account of a class theory of what these factors are, go here:

    http://lesterhhunt.blogspot.com/search?q=le+bon

  • BlueBook||

    In Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco had some tips for surviving the violent protests and police crackdowns of 1960's Europe. Like scouting out your escape routes before the event, particularly the narrow side streets and alleys where even armored riot cops would hesitate to pursue suspects.

  • 24AheadDotCom||

    Thanks to Reason, I'm beginning to like cops again. Thanks!

    Say, it looks like Reason has an extra special little friend. Do a find for "JD" here. Note that the link was linked to by a certain blogger in Knoxville, and an "STFU" message on another thread at another site originated in Knoxville, with yet another message like those originating at the University of Tennessee. For extra Reason linked-in-some-way fun, see #8 and #12 here.

  • Shannon Love||

    The same basic conventional wisdom, that people cooperating spontaneously without benefit of central authority leads to chaos and injustice, underlies most collectivist ideology. To many people seem to believe if they personally don't understand how a spontaneous order comes about that therefore either no order exist or that order is imposed by secret actors.

    Just like many people cannot conceive of a nature ordered by the forces of natural selection and instead evoke a sentient creator, a lot of people cannot conceive of an economic or social order without a centralized command and control. They then reason that all the things they don't like about the present system are the fault of the centralized control and they can change the system to any state they wish by replacing the controllers with more moral people.

    In short, it's economic creationism.

  • Shannon Love||

    Oh and everyone who votes I do something ugly to 24AheadDotCom's server, please raise their hands.

  • Anonymous||

    So the police are actually there to cause disorder.

    Mob Rules

    1. You don't talk about the mob.
    2. You don't talk about the mob.
    3. Shoot the cops before they instigate violence.


    Oh and everyone who votes I do something ugly to 24AheadDotCom's server, please raise their hands.

    I'm sorry, this is the mob thread. The vigilante thread is over there.

  • SIV||

    Good to see you've come round to the whole anarchy thing Shannon:)
    Welcome aboard!
    Oh yeah,raising both hands and waving.........

  • hmm||

    24 wins the internets!

    What about the mob mentality of the cops? More often then not it seems like the police become more aggressive as soon as they get together to bash dirty hippies.


    Not that dirty hippie bashing isn't fun and all.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Chris, could you please give us more of these fascinating updates each time you learn someone has insulted you on the Internet? It makes for such riveting reading.

  • hmm||

    I was riveted.

  • 24AheadDotCom||

    Jesse Walker: whoever's doing that isn't just insulting me, they're making your site look bad.

    Shannon Love: what exactly are you talking about?

  • hmm||

    Jesse Walker: whoever's doing that isn't just insulting me, they're making your site look bad.



    I thought his depiction of you was quite generous and an excellent example of the compassion and humanity exhibited in Reason's comment section.

  • William||

    So just how does this strengthen the libertarian case (everything does, of course)? Does the evidence that crowds act rationally on their own and go awry only when the police try to control them mean that markets would act rationally if the state would just wither away, so to speak?

  • hmm||

    I think it means that the madness of crowds is an extraordinary popular delusion. I'd also go as far as saying the article hints at crowd violence being actually extremely rare. And intrusive crowd management making such disorder more rather than less likely.

    That's just a guess though. I don't want to put my dumb words in some smarter guys mouth. Then I'd have to not ask or not tell, or not something. But that's another story.

  • SIV||

    Spontaneous order with "no controlling authority".

  • Anonymous||

    So just how does this strengthen the libertarian case (everything does, of course)?

    Well, for people who have to justify lack of government interference with an alternative that gives immediate, empirical beneficial results to participants, "a mob achieves its constituents' individual goals better when left alone" does indeed support the libertarian philosphy.

    But it's fair-weather support. This sort of argument usually leads to statists concluding that individual liberty has to be supported by a society-wide cost-benefit analysis. Their own collectivist agenda files this data that way -- on its own, it can easily be perverted to justify riots (cf, France) and massacre (cf, China).

  • GILMORE||

    24AheadDotCom | July 20, 2009, 12:00am | #
    Jesse Walker: whoever's doing that isn't just insulting me, they're making your site look bad.


    1) Insulting you is both fun, rewarding, and is something we can all come together on. Its like a family tradition or something

    2) your second point tests the limits of irony.

  • ||

    Of course this implys that societies function better with out aggressive constraint from government.

  • ||

    24ahead.com also crashes in on the Libertarian site, Reason.com, and it's sort of a custom there to tell him to "shut the fuck up" since all he does is tell people they're doing it wrong. I guess since he's a laughing stock there, he's decided to troll here now.
    JD | 07.17.09 - 4:38 pm | #


    Wait i do the same thing....holy shit i might be LoneWako!!!



    Oh wait i am not a truther....

    never mind

  • Anonymous||

    joshua, are you saying LoneWacko thinks it was an inside job?

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    You're one of a kind*, Chris Kelly.


    *not necessarily a good thing.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Does the evidence that crowds act rationally on their own and go awry only when the police try to control them mean that markets would act rationally if the state would just wither away, so to speak?

    Hmmm.

    During a "crowd crisis", all of this is fine and good. I'm on board with the idea that police can actually wear nerves thin.

    Sure, we need a whole lotta lot less government than we have.

    But how is The Crowd going to behave when the Mongols come riding into town? In China and Europe it didn't go so well, as I recall.


    Scaling back government is one thing. Assuming that crowds will "spontaneously" mount their own collective defense, and that we therefore don't really need central government, is an entirely different proposition.

    There will always be new Mongol hordes forming somewhere out on the horizon. The only reason the Ottomans didn't romp all over medieval Western Europe is because the Byzantines (a very much statist bunch of people if ever I did read of any) were inconveniently in the way.


    There is wisdom to be found in anarchist ideas, as y'all have taught me. But history also tells me that anarchism by itself is an insufficient organizing principle.

    If you don't want to get conquered and enslaved, that is. And yeah okay so you also have to make sure your own state doesn't end up doing the same thing.

    But my point nonetheless stands.

  • robc||

    Eb,

    Exactly why Im a minarchist. Anarchy is only meta-stable. It works fine until the first power hungry invidivual shows up, which is immediately.

    As you point out, minarcy has the whole internal enslavement problem. But, at least that is slower in occurring.

    The constitution needs a reboot clause.

  • Anonymous||

    The constitution needs a reboot clause.

    To be fair, it's sort of built in. See the beginning of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution's amendments No.s 1, 2, 9 and 10 in particular. State secession and healthy personal armament have already been deemed illegal (at best, severly curtailed, in the case of the latter).

    What the framers didn't account for -- I wouldn't know how to begin, myself -- is a suicidal society. Society acting as a collective can't redeem individuals; this is one reason why minimal government is better. But this isn't an overt top-down conquering. This is capitulation: "please save me from my sins, both judgemental and environmental, oh Overlord!"

    You have to have a live human being in front of the computer's case to hit the reset button. If all that's left is a cracked skull and an old shell casing, that's not going to happen.

  • ||

    Exactly why Im a minarchist. Anarchy is only meta-stable. It works fine until the first power hungry invidivual shows up, which is immediately.

    rob, you are so down on anarchy. Minarchism is great, until the "min" becomes "max". Which it's becoming.

  • Tuong-Lu Kim||

    Stop right there, Mongorians! God-damnit, stop! Stop breaking down my shitty wrall, you stupid Mongorians!

  • BakedPenguin||

    I wouldn't be against anarchy per se, but for it to have any stability at all - for the "natural order" to exist - we would need a smooth transition. And that will not happen unless the transition comes from a minarchist state.

    thisis why I think an-caps should also work with minarchists to try to whittle down the state. Let's get to the night watchman, and we can debate from there.

  • Cabeza de Vaca||

    There use to be riots every year at a Iowa State University festival called Veishea. I had friends who were there when one of the riots broke out. He said two drunk guys got in a fight on a crowded street. So the police responded by blocking all the exits on the street with riot police. Then police started throwing tear gas at people who where just standing around, not doing anything wrong. One friend said he thought the police were intentionly trying to cause a riot. He said the police easily could've arrested the two guys fighting. No one would have stopped them.

  • ||

    Bond draws on the work on Steve Reicher and others at the University of Sussex. Also worth looking at is Reicher's work on the BBC Prison Study. I've not followed the academic work closely, but it seems to have drawn criticism from Zimbardo, which probably means it is good research.

  • Fluffy||

    Actually, I think reading this article as a defense of anarchism in general is a bit much.

    I think it's enough to say that this information, if true, would argue for less stringent attempts to control crowds at demonstrations or celebrations than is currently the norm. That's all.

  • T||

    Hmm. Does this mean the cops aren't going to get that budget request for new tear gas dispensers and water cannons approved? Or is that wishful thinking on my part?

  • phalkor||

    say what you want, Chris Kelly is out there doing his THING. See such favorable reviews as:


    '" Malkin also favorably cited blogger Chris Kelly at Lonewacko, who wrote that the "illegal immigrants" change might "indicate that the Washington Times is starting down the slippery slope towards being like the Washington Post."


    Such insight is a GIFT! a GIFT I tells yah!

  • ||

    In their unending quest for grater control over the citizenry, law enforcement enacts counter-productive policies.

    Color me unsurprised.

  • ||

    You're one of a kind*, Chris Kelly.


    *not necessarily a good thing.



    Better than two or more I'd say.

  • phalkor||

    Does this mean the cops aren't going to get that budget request for new tear gas dispensers and water cannons approved?

    I am afraid of what happens if we start taking toys away from the LEOs. I've seen brawls start over supersoakers. I shudder to think what will happen if someone deprives our little LEOs of their shiny new "totalitarian state" playsets.

  • T||

    I shudder to think what will happen if someone deprives our little LEOs of their shiny new "totalitarian state" playsets.

    I'll be willing to work a deal. They can have all the non-lethal toys they want, but the guns have to go. Think they'd go for that?

  • robc||

    Epi,

    rob, you are so down on anarchy. Minarchism is great, until the "min" becomes "max". Which it's becoming.

    I agree, but becoming is much longer than "Instantaneously Becomes".

    Its my one area of pragmatism. A minarchist constitution with a 50 year reboot clause might work a bit better.

  • ||

    Police tend to assume that people in crowds are prone to random acts of violence and disorder, and treat them accordingly.

    Policemen are retards. More importantly, their idea of "social order" closely parallels a baboon troop. It's all about dominance and submission.

  • phalkor||

    So every 50 years there is a purge? How do you do it? Fly the old leaders over the ocean in a heliocopter then drop them? Sounds evil.

    It's like Logan's Run style government. When elected you get a crystal implanted, and when it turns a certain color, FEED YOU TO THE VOLCANO!!!

    And freedom lovers everywhere rejoice!

  • robc||

    phalkor,

    I like it. I was thinking something more benign like those in office are kicked out and cant run again for another 2 years or something, all amendments and laws sunset (with a 1 year count down - there are good laws that the new guys might want to keep around). Something like that. But the volcano idea sounds promising.

  • ||

    Whatever. Volcanoes are phakkor's solution to everything.

  • ||

    We could always try to compel our political overlords to at least obey the laws they impose on us.

  • T||

    Whatever. Volcanoes are phakkor's solution to everything.

    You're just mad because you didn't think of it first.

  • ||

    Don't make eye contact with crazy people. Even on the intertubes.

  • hmm||

    I'm still curious about the other side of the interaction. Are officers more prone to misconduct when operating as a group in a riot situation?

  • hmm||

    Don't make eye contact with crazy people. Even on the intertubes.

    I love crazy people. My wife gets mad that I talk to them when we are out.

  • phalkor||

    Nutra, ARE YOU TRYING TO PISS OFF THE VOLCANO!?!

    Treason is not taken lightly in magma-based democracies.

  • ||

    T,

    No, it's just that I want to keep those jobs local and he was to outsource them to volcano nations. And don't even bring up Hawaii. They shouldn't even be a state anymore after their IllgalCoverUp of BHO's BirthCertificateScandal about which Weigel knows more than he's telling.

  • ||

    Are officers more prone to misconduct when operating as a group in a riot situation?

    Put me in the "yes" column.

  • ||

    "Tra-la-la-la.. I'm phalkor and I LOOOOVE volcanoes."

  • phalkor||

    Volcanic States of America
    "VSA"
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_Caldera

    It's coming!

  • ||

    Caldera? WEAK. You want justice by volcanoes, but instead advocate steaming? Like green beans. BOO! BOO, I SAY!

    At least magma advocacy has some teeth to it.

  • T||

    Dammit, SugarFree, you're not seeing the big picture. We need those jobs here in the States, right? And with one or two piddly exceptions, we don't have volcanoes, right? So we make them! It's the ultimate make work program for the new millenium. How much money could we spend doing this? How many jobs can we create? How much political patronage could be granted? I'm telling you, this is a gold mine!

    Making Volcanoes For A Better Future!

  • Shannon Love||

    There will always be new Mongol hordes forming somewhere out on the horizon.

    The hordes of myth never existed. The Mongols always fought against numerically superior forces. Interestingly enough, the Mongols under Gengis Kahn had a merit based, flat hierarchy organization that used local control and individual initiative to coordinate face paced operation over a fifth of the earth's surface at a time when horses where the faster form of communication.

    The societies they conquered were all highly hierarchal with rigid top-down command and control.

    The Mongols are a good example of a flexible bottom up organization beating a rigid, top-down one. Had their opponents been less "organized" the Mongols most likely would have failed.

  • JB||

    Stop right there, Mongorians! God-damnit, stop! Stop breaking down my shitty wrall, you stupid Mongorians!

    roflcopter

  • Zeb||

    "The Mongols are a good example of a flexible bottom up organization beating a rigid, top-down one. Had their opponents been less "organized" the Mongols most likely would have failed."

    This is a nice observation. Unfortunately, history is also full of top-down hierarchical organizations beating the shit out of less-organized groups (e.g. Spanish Civil War, the genocide of the American Indians, most other empires besides the Mongolians).

  • Paul Wertheimer||

    Great study that tells us what we already know. No wonder we like it.

    Here's the problem, not the crowd, but the environment in which the crowd is placed and how it is managed. Generally speaking the roots of managing crowds safely can be found in the 1980 Who concert tragedy report (www.crowdsafe.com/cafe/who20.html). This latest study, like other studies of its type, are make-overs of what we--crowd safety consultants--already know.

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