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!
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?