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Collective Behavior: Crowd Types, Mobs & Riots

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  • 0:07 Collective Behavior
  • 1:16 Crowds
  • 2:12 Crowd Types
  • 3:30 The Mob
  • 4:13 The Riot
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Hurst
Collective behavior refers to events that suddenly emerge. These events do not conform to rules or laws but instead are shaped based on the issue at hand. This lesson discusses the forms of collective behavior: crowds, mobs and riots.

Introduction to Collective Behavior

Female character 1: 'I wonder why all those people are crowded up over there.'

Female character 2: 'I don't know. I wonder if there is going to be a riot.'

Female character 1: 'Why do you think that?'

Female character 2: 'I was just learning about crowds in my sociology class yesterday.'

Collective Behavior Defined

My professor told us about collective behavior. Collective behavior refers to the spontaneous and unstructured behavior of a group of people in response to the same event, situation, or problem, like this crowd of people, for example. These events do not conform to typical structures that other events are formed around, such as rules or laws, but are not necessarily deviant in nature either.

Collective behavior can be characterized as being:

  • Short-lived in nature
  • Having no clear leaders or organization within the group
  • Having weak to little guidelines or procedures to follow

Examples of collective behavior may include a crowd doing the wave at a football game, a group of people forming around a street preacher, or even widespread interest in a new fad or product, like silly bands. I will explain collective behavior in sociology through three main forms: the crowd, the mob, and the riot.

Crowds Defined

We are witnessing a crowd.

Example of a crowd of people
crowd of people

The crowd is defined as a relatively large number of people in close proximity to each other (this is sometimes referred to as localized collectivities). The crowd reacts at once to a common focus or concern.

This is different than the mass, which refers to people who are concerned about a common concern and influence each other's thinking but are not within close proximity of one another (often referred to as dispersed collectivities).

Crowds share characteristics:

  • They do not define how to behave or share clear expectations on what will happen.
  • They often feel something must be done right away to address their common concern.
  • Attitudes and ideas about the common concern spread very quickly among crowd members.
  • They often do and say things that they would normally not do, and they go along with the actions of others in the crowd.

Crowd Types

There are four different types of crowds.

1. Casual Crowd

This crowd probably formed as a casual crowd:

A casual crowd
casual crowd example

That person holding the sign and standing on the platform over there probably prompted people to stop and listen. Casual crowds are loosely organized and emerge spontaneously. The people forming the crowd have very little interaction at first and usually are not familiar with each other.

2. Conventional Crowd

Conventional crowds result from more deliberate planning with norms that are defined and acted upon according to the situation. See, this crowd below is starting to form a circle around the man on the platform. They have decided that this is the appropriate action to take.

A conventional crowd
example of a conventional crowd

3. Expressive Crowds

Expressive crowds form around an event that has an emotional appeal. It seems the man on the platform is talking about the recent tax hike that the city council approved. That may be why this crowd below has become engaged and is growing.

An expressive crowd
expressive crowd example

4. Acting Crowd

An acting crowd refers to a crowd where the members are actively and enthusiastically involved in doing something that is directly related to their goal. This crowd below is now chanting loudly, 'Lower our taxes now!'

An acting crowd
acting crowd

As we have seen, crowds can change types.

The Mob

When an acting crowd starts to engage in destructive and sometimes violent behavior, they become a mob. A mob is a crowd that is easily persuaded to take aggressive or violent action in order to gain attention or solve their problem. Mobs are dangerous because they often lead to behavior that an individual would not normally engage in and cause a lot of damage to physical property and others. We better get out of here. It looks like this crowd below has turned into an angry mob!

A mob
angry mob example

Another example of a famous mob is when Boston beat Vancouver in the 2011 Stanley Cup championship. The disappointed fans turned on the city and lit cars on fire, busted storefront windows, and caused a lot of destruction.

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