Crowd plus emergency equals mass panic, or so urban myths and Hollywood films would have us believe. The reality, recognised by social psychology for some time, is that people in crowds often behave in remarkably cooperative and selfless ways. A new study by John Drury and colleagues suggests that this kind of collaborative behaviour emerges when people in a crowd acquire a shared identity. And contrary to the "mass panic" perspective, an emergency can be the very catalyst that brings people together.
If you've ever been on an underground train that gets stranded mid-tunnel, or on an aeroplane that's overstayed its welcome on a runway, you might have glimpsed a mild version of this feeling of a shared fate. With the temperature rising and information lacking, you and your fellow passengers stop feeling like strangers and start to feel united in your predicament.Emergencies inspire crowd cooperation, not panic