Aftermath of the tragedy at Loveparade in Duisburg, Germany, July 24, 2010, Image Globovision. Licensed under common license http://www.flickr.com/photos/globovision/4824530153/ original caption: Trabajadores sanitarios trasladan a una persona herida tras una estampida provocada por un pánico colectivo en el túnel de acceso a la antigua estación de mercancías de Duisburgo, donde se celebraba la fiesta de música electrónica "Loveparade"
Time flies. The last post I wrote was before the final of the world cup. The goal of the last post was to point out how some of the key concepts of emotion theories often focus on the individual and neglect the complex interplay of individuals with networks of family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers, both in real interactions and in implied, implicit ways.
I was very happy to receive both emails, and comments via the blog, pointing out that social processes play a role. Indeed - this is the thrust of my argument. concepts such as "relevance" can only explain so much ... In a public situation, after the win of the team, one can think in addition to what I outlined hte last time of comparison processes (if everybody is excited, it probably is exciting, even if I am not sure), to very low-level processes of contagion that follow from the perception of others around us. Feedback processes at multiple levels.
And now for a harsh switch of valence - from euphoria to hysteria.
Yesterday evening, I watched, on television and the Internet, as did many in Germany, events as the tragedy of Duisburg started to unfold. All the while the techno beat was still pounding and lights were flashing with hundreds of thousands of fans apparently unaware of the carnage just a few stone throws away. It is clear that the causes of the event are manifold and now, with hindsight, it appears that bad decisions with regard to the planning might have contributed to the sequence of events. However, one thing is sure - lots of people in a tight space, pushing and shoving, in the heat, played a big role. Did we really witness a stampede? Whenever we talk or think about crowd behavior the question is whether "the crowd" really exists. Does the crowd have a mind? Surely it does not have a (single) brain. The concept of the crowd is a very difficult one when trying to describe behavior in human - whether it relates to offline or online behavior (see CYBEREMOTIONS:EU).
In my mind bridging the analysis of the behavior of individuals and the behavior of large groups of individuals in real time is one of the major challenges for social psychology today.
Scientists from many disciplines are trying to observe, describe, predict, and modify panic behavior as one of the most destructive "mass" behaviors. Here is a link from an Australian TV program, CATALYST. The hope is that research bridging biology, psychology, mathematics, and even physics can help to prevent catastrophes, such as the one in Duisburg yesterday.
Arvid Kappas is Professor of Psychology at Jacobs University Bremen. He has been conducting research on emotions for over three decades in the US, Canada, and in several European countries.