The Riots – A Psychological Perspective


In the light of the recent UK riots, one of Oxford Open Learning’s tutors considers events from a psychological perspective.

The Riots – A Psychological Perspective

People who riot are different people aren’t they? Not everyone will riot?  There is a suggestion that individuals who you would not expect to riot can get dragged into riotous behaviour for a range of reasons. Psychological theories such as deindividuation, the idea of the collective mind and the contagion theory of crowds try to explain why people may become involved in rioting.

This blog doesn’t quite fit into the framework we have been following in recent psychology blogs but, given the events of this week, I thought it would be useful to look at the riots from a social psychological point of view.

In case you are not aware, there have been riots in major cities in the UK this week. We are not going to go into the whys and wherefores of how these riots started here, but, from a psychological point of view, it is interesting to look at how people respond in this sort of situation.

Deindividuation is the idea that people lose sense of their personal identify when they are in a crowd or wearing a mask. We have seen this during the riots. People have been roaming in large gangs and many of them have also been covering their faces with scarves or hoodies, which has helped them to hide their identity to a certain point.

This also links to the idea of the collective mind. This is the idea that the mental attributes of a group can take precedence over those of the individuals composing it.  This occurs when the people in the group share a common mental process that leads them to take joint action.  So the people in the riots individually may not have wanted to break down shop windows, but with deindividuation and the idea of the collective mind, they have begun to do things that perhaps, as individuals, they would not have done.

The Contagion Theory of Crowds suggests that a crowd is able to assimilate people within it. A crowd can absorb or pull an individual into it, both mentally and physically, so they become part of the crowd.  This can lead to a crowd having an overriding psychological unity, which can result in an individual’s psychological processes being changed. So the crowd almost develops its own mind, which can affect how an individual person within the crowd thinks.

Tracey Jones

Tutor

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