Joining a crowd transforms us psychologically, with serious health implications

Image: AlGraChe/Flickr By guest blogger Laura Spinney Glastonbury 1997, the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the pilgrimage to Lourdes in 2008: what do they have in common? All three were the backdrop to outbreaks of communicable disease, and so of interest to doctors working in mass gathering medicine. The goal of this relatively young field is to address the specific health problems associated with mass events, but two British psychologists now claim that this can only be done effectively by understanding the psychological transformation that people undergo when they join a crowd. Joining a crowd changes a person’s behaviour, say Nick Hopkins of Dundee University and Stephen Reicher of the University of St Andrews, and that change can have both a positive and a negative impact on her health and on the health of those around her. To enhance the former and reduce the latter, they argue, you need to understand both the nature of those changes and the reasons why they happen. Their argument doesn’t apply to all crowds. It’s not true of the morning scrum on the underground, for example: a physical crowd that happens more by chance or necessity than by design. But it does apply to what they call a “psychological crowd”: that is, people who come together for a specific purpose, such as to listen to rock or to perform a religious ritual, and who in doing so give up their individual identity to adopt the identity of the group, along with its nor...
Source: BPS RESEARCH DIGEST - Category: Psychiatry & Psychology Authors: Tags: guest blogger Health Social Source Type: blogs

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