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Herd behaviour is the term used to describe situations in which the individuals of any particular group react coherently. Examples of behaviours described in this way include
- flocking in birds, animals evading a predator,
- also some human phenomena such as stock market bubbles, and behaviour in political demonstrations.
Herd behavior in animals
In the case of animals evading a predator, it can be shown that each individual can minimise the danger to itself by choosing the location and behaviour that is as close to the centre of the group as possible; this was the subject of a famous paper by evolutionary biologist W. D. Hamilton called Geometry for the selfish herd. In this case, clearly the "herd behaviour" is as far from a pack mentality as possible, since it emerges from the unco-ordinated behaviour of self-seeking individuals.
Herd behavior in human societies (crazes)
A craze is an excessive fad or collective mania due to herd behavior. Some crazes have mild consequences (fashions). But others lead to the excesses of mass hysteria where the individual personality disappears and regresses to the lowest emotional instinctive denominator of crowd sentiment.
The latter form causes often destructive results, for example stock market bubble, stock market crash, street violence , demonizing and persecution of minorities, political or religious zealotry, etc.
However, some consider highly unlikely that these behaviours have much in common other than the superficial fact that they all involve a number of individuals doing more or less the same thing. In their view, attributing such collective behaviour to a "pack mentality" or "group mind" explains little, and might divert attention from the true explanation of the group's actions. Here are cases that shows that not all group behaviors are the same.
In the case of stock market bubbles, the optimal behaviour for an individual may again be to do what everyone else is doing, because even though everyone knows that they are in a bubble, until it bursts, most profit is to be made by staying in the market; again the irrational "collective" behaviour emerges from unco-ordinated individual choices, even if it shows here some abandonment of risk aversion that is not totally rational, as the crash usually occurs without much warning. These phenomena are now much better understood as a result of investigations in experimental economics and behavioral finance, particularly by Nobel laureates Vernon Smith and Daniel Kahneman.
In the case of behaviour in demonstrations, the idea of a "group mind", groupthink or "mob behaviour" was put forward by the French social psychologists Gabriel Tarde and Gustav Le Bon , and was widely adopted by right-wing politicians, particularly in the inter-war years, to justify the repression of demonstrations.
In the case of guruism, a common ferment of such phenomena can come from collective mind control by charismatic leaders (in the broad meaning of charismatic as showing a capacity to influence and seduce others)) playing on emotional arguments to federate the opinions in the direction of their own goals. This was one of important elements of Nazism, since everyone who personally witnessed the skillful manipulation of crowds of Germans by Hitler and to even larger degree by Goebels, had no doubts that the listeners were behaving as if under a collective hypnosis, which did not stop after the speech. Millions of people passionately believed in every word of "The Leader", and they completely lost willingness and ability for independent or criticat thinking. No logic, no facts meant anything, extreme emotional trust and love was overwhelming.
When we are watching newsreels that show Nazism, we have the misleading feeling of our itellectual and moral superiority, thinking: "How could those people be this stupid? This would obviously never happen to me!" Such thinking fails to take into account the (probably unknown to them) powerful and all-deafening element of herd mentality, Soccer fans, participants in mass protests, young fans of music stars etc., start behaving very differently than they normally do, when they are surrounded by screaming peers. Once a person becomes one of a screaming crowd, he/she behaves like a different kind of a person. That personality change may be claimed to be a temporary insanity, and it sometimes disappears after the crowd disbands, in other cases it lasts very long, or for life. Any attempts to discuss with people displaying herd behavior are dangerous, and quite often they turn deadly. When people in a crowd are under influence of alcohol or drugs, the wildest acts of beating, torturing to death or lynching are not uncommon.
Due to the criminogenic nature of emotional mass-gatherings, laws of some countries punish mere participation in the crowd in which someone was severely hurt or killed - without the need of proving of active action in the very act of violence. The rationale for such laws is similar to that of punishing drunk drivers while disallowing them to claim insanity: "Granted, when you were drunk, you were not able to drive safely due to your temporary insanity. Your fault and crime is that you knowingly and willingly chose to become insane, while you were still sane."
Generally, in mob behaviour one can see that many average, normal people have (normally hidden) capacities of thinking and acting in an evil way. This statement is obviously controversial for two reasons: most of people refuse to accept the possibility that human nature can be anything but good; secondly, many scientist ban moral terminology from psychology, considering such ban as an objective, scientific necessity. We may not like it, but practical observation of cruelty revealed from many normal people when under the "mob behaviour" seems to be an undeniable fact of life.
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