Call for Comments: Unintentional Group Synchrony and the Madness of Crowds

From Wayne: I’ve had several conversations with people about their experience in crowds at various events. For me this was primarily a function of my experience at concerts. I can verily easily just get caught up in the music and the moment, losing a certain amount of a sense of self and ‟becoming one with the music and the crowd.” It doesn’t always happen, but it’s a big part of what I enjoy about live music. At a recent show, right after my Mom passed, it was a really cathartic experience, where I was at once aware of my own personal feelings of the moment but also caught up in the shared experience. A friend who was with me, on the other and, was just kind of weirded out by the crowd. What felt like communion to me felt like incipient violence to him. So, other than the personalities and personal experiences we bring with us, what’s the difference?

Some of the differences can be as simple as the extrovert/introvert split. Some people simply aren’t comfortable in crowds of any size. It can also depend on mood. I’m not always up for a show, and sometimes, depending on the venue, my expectation of crowd size can dissuade me from going. I have had moments when I have felt completely swept up in the moment and felt at one with those around me, and other times when I’ve been weirded out by all these freaking people!

View from the stage at a local show. Wayne is somewhere in this crowd.

There is research on something called Unintentional Group Synchrony. At social events the heartbeats of the crowd tend to sync. This makes sense to me at concerts where there is music with a beat that you can feel. But it also happens at sports events, and religious gatherings, and political conventions.

Being part of an audience, or any large group of people, can involve a powerful shared experience for the individual. A loss of ego and the personal boundaries of the self can occur, sweeping a person into a shared experience. This loss of self into a greater whole can be life-affirming and transcendent, or the loss of self can result in a loss of personal responsibility and morality.

We want to explore the nature of large crowd dynamics. How does being able to lose oneself to a certain extent enable closer social bonds and when does it slip into mob mentality? What’s the difference between strengthening group identity in positive ways, i.e. team building and the ability to work effectively together, and sacrificing independent thought to terrible ideas. What’s the difference between Freddie Mercury exhorting thousands of people to rock, and would be tyrants asking us to kill? How do people get caught up in either? Where does the threshold lie?

4 Comments and 0 Webmentions for “Call for Comments: Unintentional Group Synchrony and the Madness of Crowds”

  1. Wayne, I think you may have read a post of mine where I referenced my most communal music moment. Yes, I know Phish is an acquired taste and not for everyone, and yes, we’ve all witnessed those mind blowing jams from our favorite bands. But I knew this one was special as it was happening. EVERY member of the audience and the band were one for 15 minutes in a way that I had never felt before, and still haven’t since then.

    I certainly wasn’t expecting it, even from this set closing “Prince Caspian” on July 19, 2017. In fact, another version in the same venue a copule years later didn’t come close to matching this one. IEven if you watch from about 9:00 minutes in, the band, the audience beting out “oh to be Prince Caspian” at the top of their collective lungs, and even if you watch just the last minute of this video, you’ll see a group of thousands experiencing some pure rock and roll jamming that might (or might not) change your thoughts about Phish.

  2. Before October 2002, I wanted attend concerts to see artists I liked play my favorite songs. Honestly, people being people sometimes were a hinderance to that experience. Then I was able to get on stage with Andrew WK and 200 other wild fans at the Agora Theatre. I didn’t realize at the time, but in the midst of all that energy I had an out of body experience. After that, I wanted more of that feeling, I ended up searching out big crowds in the chase for that feeling. I learned how to experience the esoteric without such an expensive crutch. Though being an extrovert anyway, I generally enjoyed being in the massive energy of UGS. from time to time, I’ve wondered how many folks that end up in mega churches or other massive collections that direct energy are looking for UGS. I think some folks really do just crave certain energies.

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