Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKEssays.com.

Understanding crowd behaviour

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 1896 words Published: 8th May 2017

Reference this

There are many vague definitions of the term ‘a crowd’ one of which is defined as by the Oxford Dictionary() as “a large number of people gathered together, usually without orderly arrangement” and Le Bon (2006:15) defines a crowd as “a gathering of individuals of whatever nationality, profession or sex and whatever be chances that have brought them together”.

The Oxford Dictionary() also defines behaviour as “a manner of behaving or the response of an organism to a stimulus” in regards to this literature the stimulus could be the emotions of others, or a shared experience within the crowd, or factors contributing to emotions within individuals in a crowd.

Getz (2007:293) states that “understanding crowd emotions and behaviour is essential for most events” But “Crowd management, however, is not simply achieved by attempting to control the audience, but by trying to understand their behaviour and the various factors which can affect this.” (HSE, 2009:46) It is also noted in the HSE (2009) that the behaviour of crowds at events is determined by their own personal goals and motivations.

This literature review will look at the frameworks behind three theories of crowd behaviour, as it is imperative to understand the psychological behaviour of crowds (Kendall 2008:545).

The theories concerned are:-

-Classic theories

– Contagion Theory

– Convergence Theory

-Emergent- Norm Theory

It will seek to identify key factors that can change behaviour within crowds and the impacts these can have on outdoor events.

The literature underpinning research into crowd behaviour stems from disciplines such as psychology and sociology, with an apparent lack of recent research into crowd behaviours at large outdoor events.

Crowd Behaviour Theories

It is noted that the two classical theories that are reviewed, are the foundations of what has been formed today, they have evolved over time, but it is provided as an overview of crowd behaviour theories.

Contagion Theory

There are two key authors of the ‘Group Mind’ theory,

Le bon


It is important to recognise that the widely cited works of Gustave Le Bon, from his 1895 book, The Crowd was based on his observations of crowds during the French revolution, and are a long way from the crowds that are experienced today.

Le Bon (2006) stated that crowds were protected by the anonymity of crowds and that individual responsibility was discarded, consequently forgetting their normal values and ability to think and to reason. He also assessed that ideas and emotions within the crowd became contagious and spread rapidly.

However Reicher (2003:186) suggests that contagion theory is an affect of suggestibility, and that an individual sacrifices personal interest in favour of the collective interest of the crowd

It is then understood that Individuals within crowds are more likely to involve themselves in antisocial behaviour as the anonymity provided makes them feel invulnerable, it is this collective behaviour that is understood to be irrational and that individuals will undertake actions within a crowd environment that they would normally resist.

Freud believed “that the crowd ‘Unlocks’ the unconscious” and that in normal daily situations moral standards are maintained “because they are installed in the human psyche as the super ego”. However in a crowd situation the leader of the group surpasses the super ego and now controls the unconscious, leading to “uncivilised impulses” (Hewstone & Manstead, 1996:152)


My understanding of this theory is that it does not identify as to why some crowds become violent and other remain passive.

2. Convergence Theory

Convergence theorists such as, Reicher (1984), and McPhail (1991), argue that individuals within a crowd do not loose personal identity, as stated in the contagion theory, but they communicate personal beliefs and values so that the crowds behaviour is that of similar feeling.

It is understood that convergence theory is more rational as it focuses on the shared beliefs and emotions within a crowd. It is possible that individual can exploit the protection of being in a crowd to participate in behaviours that would normally be repressed.


However it does not give way to why individuals in this crowd, who share similar beliefs, behave differently.

Emergent-Norm Theory

Key Authors identified:-

Turner and Killian

Turner and Killian (1993) as cited in Kendall (2008:547) concede that crowds are understood to develop their own definition of a situation and therefore establish their own ‘norms’ -“social rules that specify appropriate and inappropriate behaviour in given situations” (Sharpe, 2007:508 )that reflect the occasion and provide standards that allow decisions to be made about how people will interact with each other. (Sharpe,2007)

Adang et al (2004) identifies that in every crowd you can spot individuals doing such things as initiating chats, shouting directions and in extreme cases initiating violence. FIND THEORY IN TURNER AND KILLIAN

Emergent-Norm Theory argues that the appearance of unanimity among the participants in incidents of collective behaviour accompanies the emergence of dominant norms and according to this theory, once a dominant norm emerges group members disagreeing with it keep quiet out of fear of group censure (Aguire et al, 1998) rephrase

Analysis of theories

Factors of Crowd Behaviour

Berlonghi (1995) argues that by simply saying a crowd is a large number of people gathered closely together is a mistake and that it essential to distinguish one individual from another. By being unable to make distinctions about the crowd it leaves crowd control and crowd management ineffective. He also recognises those events that are a success, that never become publicised are they the consequence of effective planning, or simply the result of good luck.

Crowd Catalysts

It would appear that there are a multitude of factors that can influence behaviours between individuals in a crowd. Berlonghi (1995) has identified factors that may contribute to, or trigger a crowd from being one that is managed to one that needs to be controlled.

Operational Circumstances

Lack of parking, sold out event, and no show of performers are all examples of factors that can modify a crowds behaviour, an example of how crowd behaviour changed can be identified by ‘The Rage Factor’ a Rage Against The Machine gig, which took place in Finsbury Park in 2010. Tickets were available by Ballot to celebrate the campaign that got the band to number one the previous Christmas. 180,000 people had applied for tickets with only 40,000 being available. It is reported that several hundred fans scaled the fence. (Gittins, 2010)

Reading Festival has been forced to apply for extension to the number of ‘early bird’ tickets allowing 20,000 people to arrive before the stated start of the event; this was due to an ever-increasing amount of festival goers arriving at the festival entrance prior to the event over the last few years. (Reading Borough Council, 2010)

Event Activities

Fireworks, video replays, and lasers may provoke actions within the crowd.

Performers Action

Sexual or violent gestures towards the crowds, Latitude festival 2010 witnessed an attack on the crowd, with Crystal Castles’ front women appearing to lash out after allegedly being groped by a male fan as she was crowd surfing. The singer repeatedly threw punches into the crowd and subsequently she stormed off stage before the allotted time, with widespread booing from the back of the fields (NME, 2010)

The HSE (1999) states that event organisers should be aware of the history of the performers and also the audience which they attract.

Spectator factors

Anti social behaviour can impact a crowd not just the individual, and is having an impact in how events are being delivered (Connell, 2009). Kemp et al (2007) as cited in Connell (2009) have identified that alcohol and drugs are a major factor in determining crowd behaviour.

The Guardian (2010) reported that at T in the Park festival in Kinross-shire, Scotland, there were 2 rapes and an attempted murder. Some festival goers believe a major part of the problem is a changing demographic among those attending, with drinking and drug taking surpassing the music.

Security or Police

Use of excessive policing, arguments with attendees and abuse of authority can spark aggression within the crowd.

“It has become increasingly accepted that the outcome of crowd events cannot be explained solely on what crowd members do, but must also address police actions” (Adang, 2004). It is usual to use police to control a crowd but this often then leads to confrontation with the police (Argyle, 1992).

Man Made Disasters

Structural failure can be problematic not just for those directly injured, but by crowd surges fleeing the event. Crowd surges are often reported at both small and large events, and can be catastrophic.


The primary focus of this review is to understand crowd behaviours and factors which can impact the outcome of a crowds’ behaviour. Once the variable factor has caused an impact, it is then the individuals within the crowd that will react to the stimulus, and form themselves into the parameters of crowd behaviour that have been outlined by theorists.

It is evident that there are factors within all three theories that can be imparted into observations within crowds at music festivals it is possible to envisage actions at outdoor music events that can be explained by these theories, however much of the recent literature simply reiterated these theorists with an apparent lack of observation towards currents trends and attitudes in society.

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

The effects of crowd behaviour within outdoor music events can be catastrophic should event managers not take into consideration the factors that can affect the behaviour of both small and large crowds. If event managers fail to understand individuals within a crowd, and the potential that they have to physically change the dynamics of the crowd around them, they face disastrous consequences.


In 2010 there were over 450 music festivals alone in the UK (Winterman, 2010) and there has been little research into Anti Social Behaviour at events including the motives of ‘gatecrashers’ at events – attendees attempting to enter events without a ticket and the consequences that such actions can have on crowd safety at events.

None of the theories above draw attention to why some crowds are organised and others spontaneous, by looking at the motivations of individuals at music festivals we may begin to further understand anti social behaviour at these events.


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: