Collective behavior

The expression collective behavior was first used by Franklin Henry Giddings (1908) and employed later by Robert E. Park and Burgess (1921), Herbert Blumer (1939), Ralph Turner and Lewis Killian (1957), and Neil Smelser (1962) to refer to social processes and events which do not reflect existing social structure (laws, conventions, and institutions), but which emerge in a "spontaneous" way. Use of the term has been expanded to include reference to cells, social animals like birds and fish, and insects including ants.[1] Collective behavior takes many forms but generally violates societal norms (Miller 2000; Locher 2002). Collective behavior can be tremendously destructive, as with riots or mob violence, silly, as with fads, or anywhere in between. Collective behavior is always driven by group dynamics, encouraging people to engage in acts they might consider unthinkable under typical social circumstances (Locher 2002).

Defining the field

Turner and Killian (1957) were the first sociologists to back their theoretical propositions with visual evidence in the form of photographs and motion pictures of collective behavior in action. Prior to that sociologists relied heavily upon eyewitness accounts, which turned out to be far less reliable than one would hope.

Turner and Killian's approach is based largely upon the arguments of Blumer, who argued that social "forces" are not really forces. The actor is active: He creates an interpretation of the acts of others, and acts on the basis of this interpretation.


Here are some instances of collective behavior: the Los Angeles riot of 1992, the hula-hoop fad of 1958, the stock market crashes of 1929, and the "phantom gasser" episodes in Virginia in 1933–34 and Mattoon, IL in 1944 (Locher 2002; Miller 2000). The claim that such diverse episodes all belong to a single field of inquiry is a theoretical assertion, and not all sociologists would agree with it. But Blumer and Neil Smelser did agree, as did others, indicating that the formulation has satisfied some leading sociological thinkers.

Four forms

Although there are several other schema that may be used to classify forms of collective behavior the following four categories from Blumer (1939) are generally considered useful by most sociologists.

The crowd

Scholars differ about what classes of social events fall under the rubric of collective behavior. In fact, the only class of events which all authors include is crowds. Clark McPhail is one of those who treats crowds and collective behavior as synonyms. Although some consider McPhail's work (McPhail 1991) overly simplistic (Locher 2002), his important contribution is to have gone beyond the speculations of others to carry out pioneering empirical studies of crowds. He finds them to form an elaborate set of types.

The classic treatment of crowds is Gustave LeBon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (LeBon 1896), in which the author interpreted the crowds of the French Revolution as irrational reversions to animal emotion, and inferred from this that such reversion is characteristic of crowds in general. LeBon believed that crowds somehow induced people to lose their ability to think rationally and to somehow recover this ability once they had left the crowd. He speculated, but could not explain how this might occur. Freud expressed a similar view in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1922). Such authors have thought that their ideas were confirmed by various kinds of crowds, one of these being the economic bubble. In Holland, during the tulip mania (1637), the prices of tulip bulbs rose to astronomical heights. An array of such crazes and other historical oddities is narrated in Charles MacKay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (MacKay 1841).

At the University of Chicago, Robert Park and Herbert Blumer agreed with the speculations of LeBon and other that crowds are indeed emotional. But to them a crowd is capable of any emotion, not only the negative ones of anger and fear.

A number of authors modify the common-sense notion of the crowd to include episodes during which the participants are not assembled in one place but are dispersed over a large area. Turner and Killian refer to such episodes as diffuse crowds, examples being Billy Graham's revivals, panics about sexual perils, witch hunts and Red scares. Their expanded definition of the crowd is justified if propositions which hold true among compact crowds do so for diffuse crowds as well.

Some psychologists have claimed that there are three fundamental human emotions: fear, joy, and anger. Neil Smelser, John Lofland, and others have proposed three corresponding forms of the crowd: the panic (an expression of fear), the craze (an expression of joy), and the hostile outburst (an expression of anger). Each of the three emotions can characterize either a compact or a diffuse crowd, the result being a scheme of six types of crowds. Lofland has offered the most explicit discussion of these types.

The public

Boom distinguishes the crowd, which expresses a common emotion, from a public, which discusses a single issue. Thus, a public is not equivalent to all of the members of a society. Obviously, this is not the usual use of the word, "public." To Park and Blumer, there are as many publics as there are issues. A public comes into being when discussion of an issue begins, and ceases to be when it reaches a decision on it.

The mass

To the crowd and the public Blumer adds a third form of collective behavior, the mass. It differs from both the crowd and the public in that it is defined not by a form of interaction but by the efforts of those who use the mass media to address an audience. The first mass medium was printing.

The social movement

We change intellectual gears when we confront Blumer's final form of collective behavior, the social movement. He identifies several types of these, among which are active social movements such as the French Revolution and expressive ones such as Alcoholics Anonymous. An active movement tries to change society; an expressive one tries to change its own members.

The social movement is the form of collective behavior which satisfies least well the first definition of it which was offered at the beginning of this article. These episodes are less fluid than the other forms, and do not change as often as other forms do. Furthermore, as can be seen in the history of the labor movement and many religious sects, a social movement may begin as collective behavior but over time become firmly established as a social institution.

For this reason, social movements are often considered a separate field of sociology. The books and articles about them are far more numerous than the sum of studies of all the other forms of collective behavior put together. Social movements are considered in many Wikipedia articles, and an article on the field of social movements as a whole would be much longer than this essay.

The study of collective behavior spun its wheels for many years, but began to make progress with the appearance of Turner and Killian's "Collective Behavior" (1957) and Smelser's Theory of Collective Behavior (1962). Both books pushed the topic of collective behavior back into the consciousness of American sociologists and both theories contributed immensely to our understanding of collective behavior (Locher 2002; Miller 2000). Social disturbances in the U. S. and elsewhere in the late '60s and early '70s inspired another surge of interest in crowds and social movements. These studies presented a number of challenges to the armchair sociology of earlier students of collective behavior.

Theories developed to explain

Social scientists have developed theories to explain crowd behavior.

  1. Contagion Theory – the Contagion Theory was formulated by Gustave Le Bon. According to Le Bon crowds exert a hypnotic influence over their members. Shielded by their anonymity, large numbers of people abandon personal responsibility and surrender to the contagious emotions of the crowd. A crowd thus assumes a life of its own, stirring up emotions and driving people toward irrational, even violent action (LeBon 1895). Le Bon's Theory, although one of the earliest explanations of crowd behavior, is still accepted by many people outside of sociology.[2][3][4] However, critics argue that the "collective mind" has not been documented by systematic studies. Furthermore, although collective behavior may involve strong emotions, such feelings are not necessarily irrational. Turner and Killian (1957) argue convincingly that the "contagion" never actually occurs and participants in collective behavior do not lose their ability to think rationally.
  2. Convergence Theory – whereas the Contagion Theory states that crowds cause people to act in a certain way, Convergence theory states that people who want to act in a certain way come together to form crowds. Developed by Floyd Allport (1924) and later expanded upon by Neil Miller and John Dollard (1941) as "Learning Theory," the central argument of all convergence theories is that collective behavior reveals the otherwise hidden tendencies of the individuals who take part in the episode. It asserts that people with similar attributes find other like-minded persons with whom they can release these underlying tendencies. People sometimes do things in a crowd that they would not have the courage to do alone because crowds can diffuse responsibility but the behavior itself is claimed to originate within the individuals. Crowds, in addition, can intensify a sentiment simply by creating a critical mass of like-minded people.
  3. Emergent-Norm Theory – according to Ralph Turner and Lewis Killian (1957), crowds begin as collectivities composed of people with mixed interests and motives. Especially in the case of less stable crowds—expressive, acting and protest crowds—norms may be vague and changing, as when one person decides to break the glass windows of a store and others join in and begin looting merchandise. When people find themselves in a situation that is vague, ambiguous, or confusing new norms "emerge" on the spot and people follow those emergent norms, which may be at odds with normal social behavior. Turner and Killian further argue that there are several different categories of participants, all of whom follow different patterns of behavior due to their differing motivations.
  4. Value-added Theory – Neil Smelser (1962) argues that collective behavior is actually a sort of release valve for built-up tension ("strain") within the social system, community, or group. If the proper determinants are present then collective behavior becomes inevitable. Conversely, if any of the key determinants are not present no collective behavior will occur unless and until the missing determinants fall into place. These are primarily social, although physical factors such as location and weather may also contribute to or hinder the development of collective behavior.
  5. Complex Adaptive Systems theory – Dutch scholar Jaap van Ginneken claims that contagion, convergence and emergent norms are just instances of the synergy, emergence and autopoiesis or self-creation of patterns and new entities typical for the newly discovered meta-category of complex adaptive systems. This also helps explain the key role of salient details and path-dependence in rapid shifts.

See also


  • Allport, Floyd. 1924. Social Psychology. Cambridge: Houghton Mifflin, The Riverside Press.
  • Basco, Michael, Socio Anthropology " Mendiola Manila.
  • Blumer, Herbert. 1939..
  • Blumer, Herbert. "Collective Behavior," in A. M. Lee, ed., Principles of Sociology, New York, Barnes & Noble, 1951, pp. 67–121.
  • Giddings, Franklin Henry. 1908. Sociology. New York: Columbia University Press. [1]
  • Lang, Kurt, and Gladys Lang, Collective Dynamics
  • LeBon, Gustave. 1895. The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. Atlanta: Cherokee Publishing Company.
  • Locher, David A., Collective Behavior, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.
  • Lofland, John. Protest....
  • MacKay, Charles. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, 1841.
  • McPhail, Clark. The Myth of the Madding Crowd, New York, Aldine de Gruyter, 1991.
  • Jaap van Ginneken, Collective behavior and public opinion – Rapid shifts in opinion and communication, Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2003.
  • Miller, David L., Introduction to Collective Behavior and Collective Action, Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 2000 2d ed., 1985.
  • Miller, Neil and John Dollard. 1941. Social Learning and Imitation. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Naldi, Giovanni, Lorenzo Pareschi, and Giuseppe Toscani, Mathematical modelling of collective behavior in socio-economic and life sciences, Birkhauser, (2010).
  • Park, Robert E and Ernest W. Burgess. 1921. Introduction to the Science of Sociology Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Rule, James B. Theories of Civil Violence, Berkeley, University of California, 1988.
  • Smelser, Neil J. Theory of Collective Behavior, Free Press, Glencoe, Ill., 1962.
  • Turner, Ralph H., and Lewis M. Killian, Collective Behavior, Englewood Cliffs, N. J., Prentice-Hall, 1957 1st ed., 2d ed., 1972; 3d. ed. 1987; 4th ed. 1993.

External links


  1. ^ Gordon, Deborah M. (11 March 2014). "The Ecology of Collective Behavior". PLoS Biol. 12 (3). doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001805. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  2. ^ Castellano, C.; Fortunato, S., & Loreto, V. (2009). Statistical physics of social dynamics. Rev Mod Phys 81(2): 591–646.
  3. ^ Braha, D. (2012). Global Civil Unrest: Contagion, Self-Organization, and Prediction. PLoS ONE 7(10): e48596.
  4. ^ Braha, D., & de Aguiar, M. A. (2017). Voting contagion: Modeling and analysis of a century of U.S. presidential elections. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0177970.
Anarchist law

Anarchist law is a hypothetical body of norms regarding behavior and decision-making that might be operative in an anarchist community. The term is used in a series of ongoing debates within the various branches of anarchist theory regarding if and how norms of individual and/or collective behavior, decision-making and actions should be created and enforced.


A boycott is an act of voluntary and intentional abstention from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for moral, social, political, or environmental reasons. The purpose of a boycott is to inflict some economic loss on the target, or to indicate a moral outrage, to try to compel the target to alter an objectionable behavior.

Sometimes, a boycott can be a form of consumer activism, sometimes called moral purchasing. When a similar practice is legislated by a national government, it is known as a sanction.

Collective Behavior and Social Movements Section of the ASA

Collective Behavior and Social Movements (CBSM) is a section of the American Sociological Association (ASA) composed of sociologists who focus on the study of emerging and extra-institutional group phenomena. These include the behaviors associated with crowds, disasters, fads, revolutionary movements, riots, and social movements. The purpose of the section is to foster the study of these topics, which is done so by communicating through its newsletter Critical Mass, organizing research-related participation, and sponsoring workshops.

Collective motion

Collective motion is defined as the spontaneous emergence of ordered movement in a system consisting of a large number of self-propelled agents. It can be observed in everyday life, for example in flocks of birds, schools of fish, herds of animals and also in crowds and car traffic. It also appears at the microscopic level: in colonies of bacteria, motility assays and artificial self-propelled particles. The scientific community is trying to understand the universality of this phenomenon. In particular it is intensively investigated in statistical physics and in the field of active matter. Experiments on animals, biological and synthesized self-propelled particles, simulations and theories are conducted in parallel to study these phenomena. One of the most famous models that describes such behavior is the Vicsek model introduced by Tamás Vicsek et al. in 1995.

Complex adaptive system

A complex adaptive system is a system in which a perfect understanding of the individual parts does not automatically convey a perfect understanding of the whole system's behavior. The study of complex adaptive systems, a subset of nonlinear dynamical systems, is highly interdisciplinary and blends insights from the natural and social sciences to develop system-level models and insights that allow for heterogeneous agents, phase transition, and emergent behavior.They are complex in that they are dynamic networks of interactions, and their relationships are not aggregations of the individual static entities, i.e., the behavior of the ensemble is not predicted by the behavior of the components. They are adaptive in that the individual and collective behavior mutate and self-organize corresponding to the change-initiating micro-event or collection of events. They are a "complex macroscopic collection" of relatively "similar and partially connected micro-structures" formed in order to adapt to the changing environment and increase their survivability as a macro-structure.

Constitutional militia movement

The modern constitutional militia movement, the constitutionalist wing of the "militia movement" in the United States, became active in the mid 1990s in a response of outrage about the violent confrontation at Ruby Ridge, the Waco Siege and gun control legislation. The movement is composed largely of veterans, libertarians, and Second Amendment advocates who share a common belief in individual liberties and civil responsibilities, according to their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, as well as disdain for what are perceived to be abusive, usurpatious, or tyrannical federal government decisions and actions, and a set of ideals associated with the values of the militia they see embodied in the Constitution.


A fad, trend or craze is any form of collective behavior that develops within a culture, a generation or social group in which a group of people enthusiastically follow an impulse for a finite period.

Fads are objects or behaviors that achieve short-lived popularity but fade away. Fads are often seen as sudden, quick spreading, and short-lived. Fads include diets, clothing, hairstyles, toys, and more. Some popular fads throughout history are toys such as yo-yos, hula hoops and dances such as the Macarena and the twist.Similar to habits or customs but less durable, fads often result from an activity or behavior being perceived as emotionally popular or exciting within a peer group or being deemed "cool" as often promoted by social networks A fad is said to "catch on" when the number of people adopting it begins to increase to the point of being noteworthy. Fads often fade quickly when the perception of novelty is gone.

Food fight

A food fight is a form of chaotic collective behavior, in which food is thrown at others in the manner of projectiles. These projectiles are not made nor meant to harm others, but to simply ignite a fight filled with spontaneous food throwing. Food fights may be impromptu examples of rebellion or violence; however, they can also be planned events. In organized food fights, the food "weapons" are usually all of one kind, or of a limited variety. An impromptu food fight will use whatever food is on hand.Though usually associated with juvenile settings such as schools, food fights have a long history throughout the world as a form of festive public entertainment or pastime. They have traditionally been popular since the early Middle Ages in Europe during seasonal festivals, especially in the summertime. For example, Spanish "La Tomatina" is still regularly held every August in Valencian town of Buñol, in which participants pelt each other with tomatoes, as is Battle of the Oranges held in the Italian town of Ivrea where, as the name would suggest, the oranges are used instead. Food fights occur at the meetings of the Legislative Yuan of Taiwan.Food fights have also become a common element in slapstick comedy, with the pie in the face gag being especially well-known. Food fights are frequently featured in children's television and books, usually as an example of childish, destructive or reckless behavior.

Herbert Blumer

Herbert George Blumer (March 7, 1900 – April 13, 1987) was an American sociologist whose main scholarly interests were symbolic interactionism and methods of social research. Believing that individuals create social reality through collective and individual action, he was an avid interpreter and proponent of George Herbert Mead’s social psychology, which he labelled 'symbolic interactionism'. Blumer elaborated and developed this line of thought in a series of articles, many of which were brought together in the book Symbolic Interactionism. An ongoing theme throughout his work, he argued that the creation of social reality is a continuous process. Blumer was also a vociferous critic of positivistic methodological ideas in sociology.

Hysterical contagion

In social psychology, hysterical contagion occurs when people in a group show signs of a physical problem or illness, when in reality there are psychological and social forces at work.

Hysterical contagion is a strong form of emotional contagion, which describes the copycat effect of imitative behaviour based on the power of suggestion and word of mouth influence, because the symptoms often include those associated with clinical hysteria.

In 1977 Frieda L. Gehlen offered a revised theory of hysterical contagion that argues that what is actually contagious is the belief that showing certain characteristics will "entitle one to the secondary benefits of the sick role." It may be an unconscious decision on the part of the individual. This approach posited by Gehlen is believed to be more consistent with the existing knowledge of the contagion process and the theoretical approaches to collective behavior.

Many-body theory

Many-body theory (or many-body physics) is an area of physics which provides the framework for understanding the collective behavior of large numbers of interacting particles, often on the order of Avogadro's number. In general terms, many-body theory deals with effects that manifest themselves only in systems containing large numbers of constituents. While the underlying physical laws that govern the motion of each individual particle may (or may not) be simple, the study of the collection of particles can be extremely complex. In some cases emergent phenomena may arise which bear little resemblance to the underlying elementary laws.

Many-body theory plays a central role in condensed matter physics.

Multi-agent system

A multi-agent system (MAS or "self-organized system") is a computerized system composed of multiple interacting intelligent agents. Multi-agent systems can solve problems that are difficult or impossible for an individual agent or a monolithic system to solve. Intelligence may include methodic, functional, procedural approaches, algorithmic search or reinforcement learning.

Despite considerable overlap, a multi-agent system is not always the same as an agent-based model (ABM). The goal of an ABM is to search for explanatory insight into the collective behavior of agents (which don't necessarily need to be "intelligent") obeying simple rules, typically in natural systems, rather than in solving specific practical or engineering problems. The terminology of ABM tends to be used more often in the sciences, and MAS in engineering and technology. Applications where multi-agent systems research may deliver an appropriate approach include online trading, disaster response and social structure modelling.

Radhika Nagpal

Radhika Nagpal is an American computer scientist and researcher in the fields of self-organising computer systems, biologically-inspired robotics, and biological multi-agent systems. She is the Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University and the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. She is also a Core Faculty Member of the Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. In 2017, Nagpal co-founded a robotics company under the name of Root Robotics. This educational company works to create many different opportunities for those unable to code to learn how.

Social Movement Studies

Social Movement Studies is a bimonthly peer-reviewed academic journal covering social science research on protests, social movements, and collective behavior, including reviews of books on these topics. It was established in 2002 as a biannual journal by founding co-editors Tim Jordan, Adam Lent, and George McKay, soon to be joined by Anne Mische, and is published by Routledge. The current editors-in-chief are Cristina Flesher Fominaya (Loughborough University) and Kevin Gillan (University of Manchester). Previous editors-in-chief include Graeme Hayes (Aston University) and Brian Doherty (Keele University).

Social movement

A social movement is a type of group action. Social movements can be defined as "organizational structures and strategies that may empower oppressed populations to mount effective challenges and resist the more powerful and advantaged elites". They are large, sometimes informal, groupings of individuals or organizations which focus on specific political or social issues. In other words, they carry out, resist, or undo a social change. They provide a way of social change from the bottom within nations.Modern Western social movements became possible through education (the wider dissemination of literature) and increased mobility of labor due to the industrialization and urbanization of 19th-century societies. It is sometimes argued that the freedom of expression, education and relative economic independence prevalent in the modern Western culture are responsible for the unprecedented number and scope of various contemporary social movements. However, others point out that many of the social movements of the last hundred years grew up, like the Mau Mau in Kenya, to oppose Western colonialism. Either way, social movements have been and continued to be closely connected with democratic political systems. Occasionally, social movements have been involved in democratizing nations, but more often they have flourished after democratization. Over the past 200 years, they have become part of a popular and global expression of dissent.Modern movements often utilize technology and the internet to mobilize people globally. Adapting to communication trends is a common theme among successful movements. Research is beginning to explore how advocacy organizations linked to social movements in the U.S. and Canada use social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action. The systematic literature review of Buettner & Buettner analyzed the role of Twitter during a wide range of social movements (2007 WikiLeaks, 2009 Moldova, 2009 Austria student protest, 2009 Israel-Gaza, 2009 Iran green revolution, 2009 Toronto G20, 2010 Venezuela, 2010 Germany Stuttgart21, 2011 Egypt, 2011 England, 2011 US Occupy movement, 2011 Spain Indignados, 2011 Greece Aganaktismenoi movements, 2011 Italy, 2011 Wisconsin labor protests, 2012 Israel Hamas, 2013 Brazil Vinegar, 2013 Turkey).Political science and sociology have developed a variety of theories and empirical research on social movements. For example, some research in political science highlights the relation between popular movements and the formation of new political parties as well as discussing the function of social movements in relation to agenda setting and influence on politics.

String-net liquid

In condensed matter physics, a string-net is an extended object whose collective behavior has been proposed as a physical mechanism for topological order by Michael A. Levin and Xiao-Gang Wen. A particular string-net model may involve only closed loops; or networks of oriented, labeled strings obeying branching rules given by some gauge group; or still more general networks.

Swarm robotics

Swarm robotics is an approach to the coordination of multiple robots as a system which consist of large numbers of mostly simple physical robots. It is supposed that a desired collective behavior emerges from the interactions between the robots and interactions of robots with the environment. This approach emerged on the field of artificial swarm intelligence, as well as the biological studies of insects, ants and other fields in nature, where swarm behaviour occurs.

Threshold model

In mathematical or statistical modeling a threshold model is any model where a threshold value, or set of threshold values, is used to distinguish ranges of values where the behaviour predicted by the model varies in some important way. A particularly important instance arises in toxicology, where the model for the effect of a drug may be that there is zero effect for a dose below a critical or threshold value, while an effect of some significance exists above that value. Certain types of regression model may include threshold effects.


Trend, trending, or trends may refer to:

Fad, a collective behavior that lasts a short time

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