Group members have a bizarre influence on each other. They have false memories, flow like rivers and together lose IQ points in a room (but not outside). Misunderstandings can affect a lot too, but not in a good way. Indeed, they sometimes convince a gathering to be fatal or to stay near danger.
There are also fun facts, like the real reason people have trouble making friends in a crowd – and the not-so-fun reality for unwanted family members at the world’s largest religious gathering.
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10 Large groups are useless in a crisis
There is security in numbers. But clumping during a crisis can also be fatal. A recent study discovered this unfortunate fact when they gave 108 teams of volunteers a task. The groups, from small to large, had to decide whether to evacuate during a fake disaster.
Only one person in each group knew the true extent of the crisis – how dangerous it really was and whether or not evacuation was necessary. The rest had to talk to each other to find out what was going on. This threw them into an authentic experience of speculation and uncertainty.
The uncertainty led to a terrifying group reaction. Rumors circulated, and the larger the group, the more they grasped reassuring opinions while coldly shouldering the negative. In this way, many teams convinced themselves to stay in the danger zone when the situation really required an evacuation.
9 Pedestrians flow like river currents
Riots give the masses a bad name. The chaos and violence are not exactly the figureheads of intelligence. This tendency, which makes people stupid when they congregate in large numbers, also convinced the researchers that pedestrians move randomly and without group intelligence. The truth is far more incredible.
Moving crowds show an unconscious harmony that allows strangers to flow as currents and friends arrange themselves in formations. When friends are number three or more, they tend to form a reverse V, especially if they have to run in a crowd. Nobody agrees, but it makes sense. This formation allows everyone to keep an overview with a turn of their head.
In order not to get into oncoming traffic, people turn on the same side every time to get past someone. Whether they lean to the left or to the right depends in part on the culture and which side of the road a country is driving on. For example, Japanese pedestrians tend to turn left, while those in Europe tend to turn right. Interestingly, most people start out neutrally. But when others keep approaching them and they pass on the same side, they adapt themselves to the currents.
8th A crowded room gets you down
While the crowd is smarter than most, there is one situation that kills IQ points. The culprit? Being in an enclosed space with other people and breathing in the carbon dioxide they breathe out. Most people never associate their growing lethargy with an accumulation of this gas. For example, in the office or in a classroom, workers and students attribute boredom to boredom.
In fact, for years no one thought that classrooms or offices were producing enough carbon dioxide to slow people down. However, a recent experiment found the surprising truth. It only takes 24 adults in a large room and four people in a smaller office to focus on a serious nosedive.
7th Crowds become dangerous when treated as such
Some crowds are dangerous no matter how carefully the authorities treat them. However, straightforward policing can play a big role when groups become unmanageable. This does not mean that all cops are idiots. But sometimes they make an unfortunate assumption that causes violence. They assume that a crowd has dangerous potential and decide to put in place strict controls “just in case”. This attitude is often poorly received.
When people gather in large numbers, they have one thing in common, but they disagree. They start out as smaller groups within the crowd. In order to create an inclusive identity, a catalyst is needed – like being treated harshly by the police. Once united, the mood of the crowd can swing in either direction. They could stand together in peace or turn on the authorities as a unit and cause anarchy.
6 Not all Stampede deaths are what they seem
In 2015, over 700 people were crushed to death during the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Since this was done in a crowded crowd, the words “panic” and “rush” were quickly used to describe the tragedy. Once again, the tendency that crowds are nothing but emotional herds led to the assumption that something was causing a rush, and as everyone ran to the exit, they trampled 700 people in their own way.
The 2015 incident showed how wrong this assumption can be. According to the eyewitnesses, there was no panic or running. It all started when a man lost his footing and several people fell on him. Others stumbled upon her.
With the pace of the crowd moving fast, no one could stop in time. The accumulation took some time. In such cases, most victims die because they can no longer breathe – not because they are crushed by their feet.
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5 Crowds appear fuzzy in the brain
The human mind deals with a sea of information every day. To help the brain cope, mental filters separate the fluff from important details before they reach our conscious thoughts. However, such a mechanism is behind an annoying experience (and sometimes a little panic inducing). At some point, everyone in a crowd is looking for a friend or family member and no longer recognizes their face.
The effect is known as overcrowding. But when researchers first became aware of it, they named it after crowded environments, rather than large groups of people. They mistakenly believed that this did not apply to faces. After all, people benefit from realizing their own between strangers. But as it turns out, the effect also treats crowds as clutter.
In this case, the brain perceives faces as blurred edges and lines. Although we don’t see the smeared vision, it can significantly slow down the search for loved ones in a crowd. How do people recognize the person they are looking for? Most of the time, they recognize their body language.
4th The turning point is a myth
In the animal kingdom, the turning point is real. It describes the moment when a flock of birds or a school of fish suddenly looks in the same direction. This helps them to take a new direction together without causing major breakdowns. For decades, researchers have been sharing data from a famous 1960s experiment to back up their belief that crowds also have a turning point. In other words, people follow the gaze of others until a threshold is reached where everyone is suddenly looking in the same direction.
In 2012, another experiment with high-tech surveillance equipment and actors shattered the myth. The actors copied the 1969 trick and stood on a busy street pretending to be looking up at something. Sometimes they were few in number, at other times as many as 15. Eventually passers-by followed her gaze, but the effect was weak. Less than 30 percent copied the actors’ behavior and most never stopped walking.
3 The greatest religious crowd is an opportunity to empty the family
The world’s largest religious meeting takes place in Allahabad every 12 years. The city in northern India hosts a festival called Maha Kumbh Mela. About 80 million Hindu pilgrims visit Allahabad to bathe their sins in the Ganges. Others attend the festival with less honorable intentions. They take unsuspecting and unwanted elderly relatives with them to abandon.
It’s easy to leave someone behind in the swirling crowds without getting caught. Charities collect older people and bring them to find tents. Some are really separated from their families, who then claim them back. But every time dozens are left at the festival. Almost no one finds their way home – because they don’t know where they are at home. Having lived in rural isolation all their lives, few can name the district where their village is located. Your fate is grim. While some end up in shelters, most spend their days on the streets.
2 Group apathy prevents viewers from helping victims
When someone is injured but receives no help despite the presence of a crowd, the bystanders are often branded as callous. Understandably, most people cannot tolerate the careless behavior once they learn of the incident. But things are not as simple as they seem.
When something disturbs the peace, most people are not sure what to do. To both assess the situation and find clues about the behavior, they examine how others react. Most likely, others are doing the same. This may appear to the individual as if no one is reacting – so they do nothing.
Groups also tend to think, “Somebody else is going to do something.” Someone else is going to make that 911 call, see what the screaming is about, or stop the guy who hits his kid in the head. Such apathy is not calluses in and of itself, but it can drop to dangerous levels. When that happens, a lot can watch and do nothing as extreme as murder, like the infamous 1964 Kitty Genovese murder of Queens from Queens.
1 Groups have false memories
That seems too far away. So often, however, is it that psychologists have coined the term “memory conformity” to describe how group memories can contaminate the ability of individuals to recall things with clarity and truth.
Basically, when a person hears another person’s version of something they saw for themselves, they are picking up details from the new story. The details then flow into the listener’s own memory. The more other people reinforce these details, the more real they appear.
The phenomenon is everywhere; from small groups discussing personal experiences after a message, to nations. Social events, in particular, are among the most distorted memories that people can hope for. With sufficient reinforcement, large groups can remember things they’ve never seen and even details that never happened.
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