Collective Behaviour

Crowd psychology investigates how the presence of a larger group influences our mentality and behaviour, known as collective behaviour. People can adopt drastically different behaviour when they are part of a large crowd compared to how they act as an individual. Collective behaviour certainly has greater power than individual behaviour. Crowds can start a revolution, and protests are important in pushing for social change. 

Collective Behaviour Collective Behaviour

Create learning materials about Collective Behaviour with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents

    However, crowd behaviour can be unpredictable and peaceful protests can quickly turn to riots. So, can crowd mentality encourage deviant behaviour? Can we predict how a large crowd will behave? These are the questions crowd psychology attempts to answer.

    • We are going to explore collective behaviour in psychology.
    • First, we will define what we mean by collective behaviour, exploring the concept and providing a collective behaviour definition.
    • Then, we will discuss the characteristics of collective behaviour.
    • We will also provide collective behaviour examples to give context to our explanation.
    • Finally, we will examine the social factors that influence collective behaviour and the dispositional factors that influence collective behaviour.

    Collective Behaviour, large group of people,  StudySmarterFig. 1 - Being part of a collective can influence individual behaviour.

    Collective Behaviour Theory in Psychology

    Collective behaviour refers to people's actions and activities when they are a part of a larger group, where they are organised enough to share mentalities and general goals. Typically, the crowd has common interests and a sense of identity. People who are part of a crowd may influence each other.

    We call this phenomenon 'mob mentality'.

    Moreover, when part of a crowd, people can even lose their sense of responsibility as they follow the actions of others. The loss of personal responsibility, diffusion of responsibility, and the anonymity a crowded environment offers is why people who would never commit crimes on their own can do so when they are a part of a rioting crowd.

    Collective Behaviour: Definition

    Collective behaviour can affect how a person behaves on many levels, so it is important that we understand the definition of collective behaviour. Collective behaviour refers to people's actions when they are a part of a larger group.

    Characteristics of Collective Behaviour

    Spontaneity, lack of structure, and unpredictability characterise collective behaviour. Individuals involved tend to be heavily influenced by the crowd and lose their sense of individual responsibility for their actions.

    Le Bon, who pioneered the early crowd psychology, argued that anonymity, suggestibility, and contagion are the main characteristics of groups that result in collective behaviour.

    Later, Leon Festinger coined the term deindividuation, which describes the processes that occur in groups when individuals become anonymous, and personal responsibility is displaced onto the group.


    When members of a crowd are not identifiable, they are more likely to engage in antisocial behaviours. The anonymity of being in a crowd and identifying with it makes individuals more likely to do things they usually wouldn't under the influence of the collective.

    Collective Behaviour Examples

    We can distinguish two types of collective behaviour; prosocial and antisocial crowd behaviour.

    • Prosocial behaviour occurs when the group's collective actions intend to benefit others.

    Prosocial crowd behaviour can include peaceful protests organised to fight for a good cause, spontaneous organisation of groups to help each other during natural disasters or fundraising to support conflict areas.

    Collective Behaviour, picture of pedestrians crossing the street blurred as they move, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Collective behaviour can influence a crowd.

    • Antisocial behaviour refers to socially harmful and disruptive behaviours like violence or vandalism. Antisocial crowd behaviour involves looting, rioting, and often disobedience or violence towards the police.

    Disruptive and violent crowd behaviour is likely to occur in groups of football fans at football matches. Antisocial crowd behaviour can also be present during protests.

    Crowd behaviour can be unpredictable and quickly shift from prosocial to antisocial, exemplified by the August riots in London in 2011.

    In 2011, a peaceful protest in response to the police shooting of Mark Duggan quickly turned into wide-scale looting, arson and rioting that spread across London and lasted for five days. The riots resulted in damages to private vehicles and properties and the death of five people.

    Social Factors that Influence Collective Behaviour

    Social factors, like the group's influence or culture, are related to the social context. Focus is placed on how certain parts of the environment affect group behaviours.

    Collective Behaviour: Social Loafing

    Social loafing occurs when individuals put less effort in when working on group activities and projects than when working towards a goal independently, as this is less obvious when part of a group.

    The first evidence for social loafing came from Ringelmann's rope-pulling experiment. Ringelmann found that as the number of people pulling the rope increased, each group member exerted less effort to pull the rope. Social loafing likely occurs because the more people are responsible for achieving the goal, the more significant the decrease in individual responsibility and motivation.

    Social loafing can occur in group projects. When three people are assigned to a group project, they are likely to exert less effort than they typically would when working alone. Since everyone knows there are always others that could take action, the sense of individual responsibility is reduced.

    Collective Behaviour: Deindividuation

    The anonymity of being a part of the crowd reduces individuals' sense of responsibility for their actions and makes them more likely to break social norms. Deindividuation also involves a shift of identity; individuals can get immersed in the group's identity, and their sense of identity takes a backseat. Deindividuation doesn't only occur in collective behaviour; one's social role or obedience to authority combined with a sense of anonymity can elicit is as well.

    Zimbardo (1969) conducted an obedience experiment similar to the Milgram experiment. Participants had to give electric shocks to confederates. One group of participants wore hooded clothes that concealed their identity, while the other group wore name tags that made them easily identifiable.

    Zimbardo found that participants given more anonymity were more likely to administer stronger and longer electric shocks to confederates.

    Collective Behaviour: Culture

    Cultural context can influence people's values and perceived responsibility. Individualistic cultures focus mainly on achieving their individual goals and meeting their individual needs. In collectivist cultures, the focus is on supporting the group you are a part of, so the group's goals are achieved.

    The greater sense of responsibility for achieving group goals in collectivist cultures can affect the susceptibility to collective behaviour within them.

    Dispositional Factors that Influence Collective Behaviour

    Dispositional factors refer to the characteristics of an individual. Individual differences make some people more susceptible to group influence than others. Some individuals still work hard when working in large groups or refuse to engage in crowd behaviours that do not align with their values.

    Collective Behaviour: Personality

    An aspect of personality that can influence our susceptibility to collective influence is the locus of control.

    Locus of control indicates how we feel personally responsible for what happens to us.

    Individuals with an internal locus of control feel responsible for their behaviour and the outcomes of their actions. While individuals with an external locus of control tend to attribute what happens to them to external factors like chance or the influence of others. Having an internal locus of control can generally make individuals less susceptible to group influence, as they have a greater sense of personal responsibility.

    Collective Behaviour Demonstration of the LOC Spectrum StudySmarterFig. 3 - Demonstration of the LOC spectrum.

    Collective Behaviour: Morality

    Morality refers to a sense of what behaviour is right and what behaviour is wrong. What behaviours we deem moral or immoral can vary depending on the individual. Different people also have different degrees of 'moral strength' or conviction to their moral values. Having a strong sense of morality can make individuals less likely to engage in crowd behaviour that does not align with their moral values.

    However, crowd behaviour can still influence some people with an internal locus of control and a strong sense of morality due to situational factors like deindividuation.

    Convergence theory suggests collective behaviour is not an unpredictable result of deindividuation and group influence or that crowds can change the behaviour of individuals. Crowd behaviour is argued to be a result of the actions of like-minded individuals expressing their existing values and beliefs. According to this theory, if a crowd displays prosocial or antisocial behaviour depends on the individuals' intent before gathering in a group.

    Implications of Collective Behaviour

    Why is it important to understand the dynamics of collective behaviour?

    • Understanding processes like deindividuation has practical implications for preventing and predicting outbreaks of riots by increasing surveillance and accountability.

    • Understanding crowd behaviour cross-culturally also has implications for organising evacuations or managing large crowds for public safety.

    • Social loafing is an important concept for any situation that involves group work. Employers and educators can be mindful of it when supervising group projects and minimise its effects by, for example, increasing individual accountability for contributions.

    Collective Behaviour - Key takeaways

    • Collective behaviour refers to people's actions when they are a part of a larger group.
    • Le Bon argued that anonymity, suggestibility and contagion cause collective behaviour. Festinger proposed that crowd behaviour occurs due to deindividuation. As individuals become unidentifiable members of the crowd, they lose a sense of personal responsibility for their actions.
    • The two types of crowd behaviour are antisocial and prosocial crowd behaviour.
    • Social factors that influence collective behaviour include social loafing, deindividuation and culture. Social loafing occurs when individuals put less effort when working with a group. Deindividuation occurs due to anonymity, increasing antisocial behaviours. Individualistic cultures focus on achieving individual goals, while collectivist cultures focus on the group's goals.
    • Dispositional factors that influence collectable behaviour include personality and morality. Individuals with an internal locus of control are less susceptible to collective influence. Individuals with greater 'moral strength' are less susceptible to collective influence.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Collective Behaviour

    What is collective behaviour?

    Collective behaviour refers to people's actions and activities when they are a part of a larger group, where they are organised enough to share mentalities and general goals. Typically, the crowd has common interests and a sense of identity.  

    What are the types of collective behaviour?

    Two types of collective behaviour exist, prosocial collective behaviour and antisocial collective behaviour. Collective behaviour types include crowds, riots, social movements, and disaster behaviours, to name a few.

    What causes collective behaviour?

    Le Bon argued anonymity, suggestibility, and contagion cause collective behaviour. Festinger proposed crowd behaviour occurs due to deindividuation. As individuals become unidentifiable members of the crowd, they lose a sense of personal responsibility for their actions.

    What is an example of collective behaviour?

    An example of prosocial crowd behaviour is protesting, and an example of antisocial crowd behaviour is rioting.

    Why is collective behaviour important?

    Understanding collective behaviour is essential for predicting and preventing riots, managing evacuations and increasing group productivity.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What ethical issues are relevant to Milgram's experiment?

    Beta bias occurs when female gender differences in research are exaggerated.

    Social influence research tends to take the _______ approach to understand behaviour.


    Discover learning materials with the free StudySmarter app

    Sign up for free
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Psychology Teachers

    • 9 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    Get unlimited access with a free StudySmarter account.

    • Instant access to millions of learning materials.
    • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams, AI tools and more.
    • Everything you need to ace your exams.
    Second Popup Banner