Psychological Competencies Series:
Understanding Crowd Psychology

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Managing a crowd (whether an amiable one or a rioting mob) is often taxing for frontline officers. In social psychology, the effects of a crowd on individual behaviour are seen as powerful and even deleterious.

The average person usually behaves in a deliberate manner. Such deliberation can however be twisted when they become part of a crowd with a common purpose. The most studied phenomenon under such circumstances is called 'de-individualisation' - when people become part of a crowd, they will lose their sense of individual identity with their normal values; such a crowd will mask the identities of their individual members, making them anonymous and less accountable for their actions.

Under extreme circumstances, de-individualisation will lead to:

(a) Lowering of intellectual faculties - people become uncritical or even irrational;

(b) Intensification of emotional reactions - people see it as an opportunity to release their pent-up emotions indiscriminately; and,

(c) Group superiority and out-group hostility - they conform to group ideals and defend such ideals from any threat posed by outside forces.

Some effective crowd management techniques that have been suggested by social scientists include:

(a) Interruption of communication during the milling process by dividing the crowd into small units;

(b) Removal of the crowd leaders;

(c) Distracting the attention of the crowd from its focal point by creating diversions at other points; and,

(d) Preventing the spread and reinforcement of the crowd by isolating it.

The following psychological tips are also useful in dealing with crowd behaviour:

(a) Acknowledging the crowd's feelings - such acknowledgement can reduce the degree of the individual members' emotional arousal and their out-group hostility.

(b) Addressing individuals by their names or according them individual attention - de-individualisation can be reduced by re-emphasizing their own identities.

(c) Reaffirming the consequences of the behaviour of each individual - de-individualisation again can be reduced by challenging their belief that they are less accountable for their actions in a crowd.

Frontline officers are reminded that being part of a group of Police in dealing with a crowd, they are also subject to the influence of the above crowd behaviour. They should therefore be aware of the risk of being de-individualised themselves and exercise effective control of their own emotions under such circumstances.

Seek advice and help from the Psychological Services Group:

PHQ, Hong Kong Island and Marine: 2866-6206 (5/F, 111 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay); Kowloon and the New Territories: 2735-3739 (22/F, Ocean Building, 80 Shanghai Street, Kowloon). PEN:

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