National Geographic : 2014 Feb
134 national geographic • february 2014 psychological crowd. The others around them were no longer part of a larger whole but com- petitors for seats on a train bound for home. The psychologists don’t deny that bad things happen in crowds. If a crowd’s goal is destruc- tive, then that is the goal it will realize. Witness the urban riots in Britain in 2011, which were characterized by looting and arson. But collec- tive effervescence can be a powerful force for good, they argue, and that has been overlooked. In 2009, when I first met Levine, he had just completed an analysis of CCTV footage of alcohol-fueled conflict in public places in a British city. His conclusion was that bystanders played a determining role in whether a confron- tation turned violent or not. In other words, when there is the potential for violence, crowds can have a calming influ- ence—a finding that flew in the face of previous research on the so-called bystander effect, which suggested that some people surrender individual responsibility in a crowd, standing helpless as horrors unfold before their eyes. Between them, Reicher and his colleagues have studied religious crowds, football crowds, political parades, and music festivals. “Living out your beliefs takes a different form in a crowd of kalpwasis than in a crowd at a rock concert,” Reicher says. “But the un- derlying process is the same.” Reporting on the opening day of the Woodstock festival in 1969, Life magazine quoted an official who had just realized that more people would be coming than he had anticipated. “ There are a hell of a lot of us here,” he said. “If we are going to make it, you had better remember that the guy next to you is your brother.” They did, and the three-day festival is remembered as much for its peace and love as for its mud, food short- ages, and traffic jams.