Crowd effect happens all the time. Sometimes they are so mundane that we hardly take notice. Yes, we hardly take notice that there is a lot to learn from a humble fish. The fish under the spotlight is the Golden Shiner. For starters, making an effort to be selfless is one.
Crowd effect is a special state of fascination, where the ‘hypnotized individual falls into the hands of the hypnotizer’.
I borrowed the above line from the book titled “The crowd: the study of the popular mind” written by the French author Gustave le Bon, published in 1895. Gustave le Bon was a French polymath and a gifted doctor. He worked in diverse fields such as Sociology, Psychology, and Physics.
Computer technology never existed then nor was there any social media during his time. But then, his study on the Psychology and Sociology of crowds led to the book. He is considered one of the pioneers in that area. You can find the book here on Project Gutenberg.
His works on understanding crowds and their behavior ring so true in today’s social media usage. Understanding human nature is important. It has a considerable influence on individual and the crowds, social institutions, religion, education, work execution, office rumors, industry unions, trade associations, fanaticism, celebrations, social mobilizations and much more.
The fact is Technology is secondary and it is an enabler. Understanding human nature is primary within the context of social media and the crowd effect.
Perfectly sane individuals behave so differently in the midst of a crowd. They are swayed by the opinions and feelings of the crowd. Isn’t it.
We have seen it happening to ourselves. How many times have we stopped and looked at a construction site or a random event that happens on a busy road? We have stopped because we have seen other onlookers standing by on the roadside. They are puzzled, just as you are and they are eager to know what is the hustle all about. Being curious, huh?
If you are looking at the above construction site picture and forming an opinion, then there are chances that hundreds of other people are also watching the same page, this very moment and forming opinions just as you.
It is pretty much in the same way as how we behave and interact on the internet. It is one massive crowd (3.7 billion active users, at any given time, to be precise). All of them swayed and influenced by each other’s opinions, thoughts, and feelings.
Crowd effect and the group mind theory
There are many theories surrounding this crowd behavior and the crowd effect. One such popular theory is the group mind theory. The theory states that individuals are motivated by each other. Even though they (individuals) exist apart, they act as one group.
Individual thoughts and feelings are stimulated by each other’s thoughts and feelings. The understanding is that when there is a common cause in a group, individual minds in that group co-operate towards that cause.
The group mind is not the sum of all the individual minds. In fact, the ‘crowd has a mind of its own’ distinct from the individual minds that constitute it.
Crowd effect: Answers from the animal world
There are numerous examples of such behavior in the animal world. Fish, bees, and ants are all good examples.
Iain couzin from Princeton University has spent a considerable part of his life studying animal behavior in swarms and flocks. His particular interest fell on a very tiny bland fish called the Golden Shiner. The Golden Shiners swim in shoals and they prefer to swim in the shadier parts of the ocean which are darker than usual.
Both, the lab experiments as well as studying their (Golden Shiners) behavior in their natural environment and habitats, have shown remarkable patterns of intelligent crowd behavior and crowd effect.