From mass panic to collective resilience understanding crowd behaviour in emergencies and disasters
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From mass panic to collective resilience: Understanding crowd behaviour in emergencies and disasters. John Drury University of Sussex. From mass panic to collective resilience. Acknowledgements Steve Reicher (St Andrews University) Chris Cocking (London Metropolitan University)

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From mass panic to collective resilience: Understanding crowd behaviour inemergencies and disasters

John Drury

University of Sussex

From mass panic to collective resilience


Steve Reicher (St Andrews University)

Chris Cocking (London Metropolitan University)

Damian Schofield, Paul Langston, Andy Burton (Nottingham University)

Andrew Hardwick (University of Sussex)

The research referred to in this presentation was made possible by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council Ref. no: RES-000-23-0446

‘Mass panic’

In the face of threat:

‘Instinct’ overwhelms socialization

Emotions outweigh reasoning

Rumours and sentiments spread uncritically through ‘contagion’

Reactions are disproportionate to the danger

Competitive and selfish behaviours predominate

Lack of co-ordination and disorder results

Grandmother trampled etc.


Panic is actually rare (Brown, 1965; Johnson, 1988; Keating, 1982; Quarantelli, 1960).

Lack of mass panic:

Atomic bombing of Japan during World War II (Janis, 1951)

Kings Cross Underground fire of 1987 (Donald & Canter, 1990)

9/11 World Trade Center disaster (Blake, Galea, Westeng, & Dixon, 2004)

  • The concept of ‘mass panic’ persists in cognate disciplines, applied settings and popular representations

  • Psychology has rejected ‘mass panic’

  • Instead: models of crowd sociality


  • Models of mass emergency behaviour

  • Explaining emergent sociality – social identity

  • Case study

  • Experimental study

  • Comparative event study

  • Implications – theory and practice

The normative approach

Behaviour in emergencies is guided by everyday social roles and norms

E.g. Beverly Hills Supper Club fire (Johnson, 1988)

  • evidence of mundane courtesy

  • respect for the elderly

  • gender roles maintained


  • In threat, we are motivated to seek the familiar rather than simply exit

  • The presence of familiar others (affiliates) has a calming effect, working against a ‘fight or flight’ reaction(Mawson, 2005)

    E.g. Fire at the Summerland leisure complex in 1973. People tried to exit in small (family) groups, not alone (Sime, 1983)

Advances on ‘mass panic’

Mass emergency behaviour as:

  • Cognitive/ meaningful

  • Social

    From ‘vulnerability’ to ‘resilience’


Normative approach:

  • Explanatory power of generic norms?

  • Risk to self as ‘normative’?


  • Do crowds of strangers panic?

  • Helping strangers not just ‘affiliates’

What kind of sociality?

Normative approach and affiliation:

pre-existing social bonds and/or interpersonal relationships as the basis of sociality in emergencies.

Social psychology: collective behaviour explained in terms of social identity

A social identity approach to mass emergencies


  • Shared social identification: categorization of self with others (rather than interpersonal bonds)


  • Shared fate is a possible criterion of shared self-categorization (Turner, 1987)

  • Shared experience in relation to threat/emergency creates sense of we-ness(Clarke, 2002)

Applying social identity principles to mass emergency behaviour:

  • reconnects the field with mainstream social psychology

  • offers a new way of understanding ‘resilience’

Case study

7th July 2005 London bombings

(Cocking, Drury, & Reicher, in press)

Four bombs, 56 deaths, 700+ injuries.

Emergency services

didn’t reach all

the survivors



  • Contemporaneous newspaper accounts: 141

  • Personal (archive) accounts: 127

  • Primary data: interviews and written e-mail responses: 17

  • Total: 146(+) witnesses, 90 of whom were survivors

  • Material coded and counted

Helping versus personal ‘selfishness’

(Helping: giving reassurance, sharing water, pulling people from the wreckage, supporting people up as they evacuated)

‘I remember walking towards the stairs and at the top of the stairs there was a guy coming from the other direction. I remember him kind of gesturing; kind of politely that I should go in front- ‘you first’ that. And I was struck I thought, God even in a situation like this someone has kind of got manners, really.’

(LB 11)

Accounting for help

Accounting for help

‘unity’, ‘together’, ‘similarity’, ‘affinity’, ‘part of a group’, ‘everybody, didn’t matter what colour or nationality’, ‘you thought these people knew each other’, ‘teamness’[sic] ‘warmness’, ‘vague solidity’, ‘empathy’

Int: “can you say how much unity there was on a scale of one to ten?”

LB 1: “I’d say it was very high I’d say it was seven or eight out of ten.”

Int: “Ok and comparing to before the blast happened what do you think the unity was like before?”

LB 1: “I’d say very low- three out of ten, I mean you don’t really think about unity in a normal train journey, it just doesn’t happen you just want to get from A to B, get a seat maybe”

(LB 1)

  • Almost all who referred to shared fate referred to unity

  • Almost all who referred to unity referred to help

Case study - conclusions

  • Little evidence for ‘mass panic’

  • Little support for affiliation

  • Some support for social identity approach – shared threat enhances unity enhances co-operation

  • Unplanned, uncontrolled study

  • Need more data on identification

Experimental analogues


  • To manipulate (not simply measure) identification

  • To take behavoural (not just self-report) measures

    Detour: The need for a new experimental design

  • Threat (distress) versus ethics

  • Aids to imagination

Hi-identification (N = 20)

‘You have just been to an England football match at Wembley Stadium and are now on your way back to Brighton as you have university in the morning. You and the other England supporters are making your way through the local rail station to the Underground, from where you can get the train back home.

Lo-identification (N = 20)

‘You have spent a long day shopping in central London and are now on the way back to Brighton as you have university in the morning. You are making your way through the local rail station to the Underground, from where you can get the train back home.’

‘You are just about to board the underground train when you hear someone shout “There’s a fire, get out, get out!” You look behind you and see large flames at one end of the platform with people running away from the fire. Everybody around you looks scared, and you feel yourself starting to sweat and sense your heart pumping faster. The fire seems to be getting bigger rapidly and you start to choke on the smoke. You realise that you may only have a few minutes to get back up to ground level and away from the fire in order to survive.’

  • Hi-identification: ‘But there are other people trying to get out too…The station is still packed with other supporters…’

  • Lo-identification: ‘But there are other people trying to get out too…The station is still packed…’

Behavioural measures

  • More help offered when danger was low(M = 1.30)than high(M = 1.05), F(1, 38) = 3.23, p = 0.08, ή = 0.08)

  • More help offered in hi-(M = 0.70)than lo-identification (M = 0.48)condition(F(1, 40) = 6.42, p = 0.02, ή = 0.15)

  • (No interaction)

  • Greater pushing in lo- (M = 18.39)than hi-identification(M = 9.26)condition (F(1, 37) = 8.27, p = 0.0007, ή = 0.20)

    Self-report measures

  • Manipulation check – equal levels of engagement

  • Greater liking of others in hi-identification condition

Experimental analogues - conclusions

  • Some progress in developing a new experimental paradigm

  • Some support for social identity

    Ideally, we should combine:

  • Control

  • Ecological validity

Comparative event study Interviews with (21) survivors of (11) emergencies(Drury, Cocking, & Reicher, in press)

Sinking ships (Jupiter, 1988; Oceanos, 1991)

Harrods bomb (1983)

Hotel fire (1971)

Grantham train accident (2003)

Tower block evacuations

(2001, 2002)

Bradford City fire (1985)

Fatboy Slim Brighton beach

party (2002)

Ghana football stadium crush (2001)

Hillsborough crush (1989)

  • Step 1: Constructing comparisons

    Low (n = 9) versus high (n = 12) identifiers

  • Step 2: Origins of enhanced identification

  • Step 3: Comparing high and low identifiers on co-operation and selfishness

  • Step 4: Comparing low and high identifiers on orderliness and disorderliness

‘I don’t think people did lose control of their emotions and I think the restraint shown by .. particularly several of the.. individuals that I’ve mentioned I’ve talked about .. it was the degree of the capacity of people to help others who were clearly struggling, you know.. it’s it should be source of great pride to those people I think. [ ] I mean a lot of people were very.. as I was you know.. you’re being pushed, you’re being crushed when you’re hot and bothered you’re beginning to fear for your own personal safety and yet they were I think controlling or tempering their emotions to help… try and remedy the situation and help others who were clearly struggling’

(Hillsborough 2)

Comparative event study - conclusions

  • High-identification group more likely to report shared threat

  • Those high in unity at the beginning reported increased unity over time

  • Evidence of solidarity across the data-set – no ‘mass panic’

  • However, solidarity was greater for the high-identification group

  • Most solidarity involved strangers not affiliates

  • Broadly in line with case study and experiments

Implications - theoretical

This analysis in line with other approaches emphasizing that mass emergency behaviour is:

  • Cognitive

  • Social

    Hence an emphasis on resilience rather than vulnerability


  • Individual psychology: a personal trait

  • Sociological accounts: emergency organizations improvised co-ordination (9-11)

  • Collective resilience: shared identification allows survivors to express and expect mutual solidarity and cohesion, and thereby to coordinate and draw upon collective sources of support and other practical resources, to deal with adversity

    CR as the social-psychological basis of both individual resilience/recovery and organizational/structural resilience?

Implications - practical

  • Understanding the crowd as a resource not a problem

  • Example – London bombs: survivors acted as fourth emergency service

  • Catering for the public desire to help, allowing the public to be involved in its own protection

  • Communication: Providing (not withholding) practical information

If the image of mass panic is wrong

If crowd behaviour in emergencies is resilient (social, cognitive, resourceful)

Then the crowd is part of the solution in emergencies

And the discourse of ‘mass panic’ is part of the problem!

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