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Aspects of Collective Behavior: Fads, Mass Hysteria, and Riots

Collective behavior in sociology refers to rapid, random actions by large groups that defy societal norms. This behavior, unlike group behavior, is short-lived and boundary-free. Three types of collective behavior are fads, mass hysteria, and riots. Fads gain and lose popularity quickly, mass hysteria involves shared delusions and anxiety, and riots are chaotic acts of defiance. Created by Jeffrey Walsh.

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Video transcript

Voiceover: In our last few videos, we discussed norms and deviants, and outlined some potential ways in which changes in norms and deviants can occur on an individual level. But what happens when large numbers of individuals rapidly and randomly behave in ways that do not reflect societal norms? In sociology, this phenomenon is called collective behavior. Now collective behavior is not the same thing as group behavior, and that's because of a few reasons. First, collective behavior typically is time-limited. It involves short social interactions, whereas groups tend to remain together longer and socialize for extended periods of time. Secondly, while collective behavior is time limited, it isn't socially limited. There are no social boundaries, and anyone is free to participate in a collective, whereas groups can be exclusive or have like, membership requirements. Lastly, norms within groups are generally strongly held and well-defined. Whereas collective behavior produces norms that are weak and murky. Collective behavior generally violates widely held societal norms, and at times it can be very destructive. Though it's not the same as group behavior, it's often driven by group dynamics. Things like deindividuation, which is a concept I discuss in the social psychology videos. You don't need to know the specifics, but just know that certain group dynamics, can often times encourage people to engage in acts that they may consider deviant or wrong under normal circumstances. And these group, these same group dynamics can happen in a collective as well. Now, sociologists have identified three basic types of collective behavior: Fads, Mass Hysteria, and Riots. You've probably heard all of these terms before and you probably have a general idea what they are but I wanna discuss them from the perspective of a sociologist. Get the official true understanding of what this means. So, let's examine each of these in a little more detail. A fad, or a fleeting behavior, is something that becomes incredibly popular very quickly, and then loses popularity almost just as quickly. Fads typically last for a very short period of time, but they reach and influence large numbers of people in that time. Fads are not necessarily in line with normal behavior, but because they're perceived as cool or interesting by large group of people, they gain popularity. A good example of a fad is a cinnamon challenge, and you may have seen this on YouTube. In order to conquer the cinnamon challenge, a person has to eat a large spoonful of ground cinnamon in under a minute. Now, part of this fad involved taping the attempt and posting the video online. Now, while this might sound like a breeze, I don't suggest trying this at home. Most people who do the cinnamon challenge end up gagging, coughing, or vomiting. It seems pretty silly, right? Well, despite the fact that a challenge is pretty silly and definitely not normal behavior, I mean, people don't usually eat a spoonful of cinnamon in less than a minute. If you look up the challenge on YouTube you'll see there are over like 600,000 attempts, but after the novelty of the challenge wore off and people realized how unpleasant it was, they stopped doing it and it became less popular and thus the fad ended. So that's what a fad is. The second example of collective behavior is mass hysteria. Mass hysteria involves large groups of people who experience unmanageable delusions and anxiety at the same time. The reactions spread rapidly and reach more people through rumors and fear. Mass hysteria often takes the form of panicked reactions to negative news or a potential threat. A good example of mild mass hysteria is the reaction that often takes place. When there's a chance of severe weather coming. Now, all major news outlets cover the forecast incessantly, and they induce fear and anxiety in large groups of people. The fear causes people to become crazed. They rush to the supermarket, they drive erratically, they become irrational. So that's like a mild form of mass hysteria that's caused from weather reports. However mass hysteria can also be the result of psychology. Like when large groups of individuals suddenly believe they have the same illness and experience similar physical symptoms despite a lack of disease. This is sometimes called mass psychogenic illness or epidemic hysteria. A recent example of this came after the anthrax attacks in the United States. Immediately after, there were reports of an anthrax attack. There were over 2,000 false anthrax alarms. Many individuals reported physical symptoms of anthrax infection, and they were afraid of exposure. Although, it was found that there, there was no risk of infection for those, those people because they weren't exposed to anthrax. They just thought they were. Regardless, it still induced symptoms in these patients that were real symptoms. So that's mass hysteria. Now the final example of collective behavior that we'll talk about today is a riot. Now riots are characterized by large groups of people that suddenly engage in deviant behavior like vandalism, violence or other crimes. Riots are typically very chaotic and cost cities thousands or millions of dollars in damages. Individuals who act out during riots, they typically cast aside societal norms and they behave in very destructive ways. They ruin property, they steal. And they violate laws indiscriminately. Riots are often seen as a collective act of defiance or disapproval and they can be the result of a perceived issue like anger about the outcome of a sporting event or frustration with working or living conditions or conflicts between races and religions. Though the cause of the riot may be legitimate, the group acts out in ways that are illegal and damaging to a society as a whole. So, that's a riot. So, these are some aspects of collective behaviors. You have fads, mass hysteria and riots. So, you've probably heard these terms before. And hopefully now, you have a better understanding of what they mean, particularly from a sociological standpoint.