The psychology of crowd behaviour

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The Socio-Technical Centre, based at Leeds University Business School (LUBS), is helping crowd management professionals plan for and co-ordinate large-scale public events by researching how people react and behave in different crowd situations.
Established in 2008 as a Transformation Fund project, the Socio-Technical Centre (STC) is a collaboration between LUBS and the Faculty of Engineering and draws on expertise from other disciplines such as psychology, engineering and computer science to marry an understanding of human behaviour with technical knowledge.
A major research focus for STC is crowds and their management, from commuters at a railway station to supporters at a football match or fans at a music festival. In 2008, the centre was commissioned by the Emergency Planning College, on behalf of the Cabinet Office, to produce two reports on understanding crowd behaviours, drawing on the centre’s interdisciplinary expertise. The reports have informed the government’s guidance for event planners where crowd management and public safety are major factors in the event’s success – for example the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The research on crowds is ongoing as Dr Mark Robinson, Lecturer and Deputy Director of STC, explains: “It’s a massive research area, with different crowds exhibiting different behaviours depending on context and location. Smaller groups also exist within the same crowd – for example a group of friends, colleagues, or a family – and their individual circumstances inform their behaviour. By researching crowds and their sub-groups in different situations, we can produce behavioural models to generate comprehensive and realistic guidance to help plan events and physical environments.”
Professor Clifford Stott, an internationally-renowned expert in the social psychology of crowds, joined the centre recently to continue his work on crowd conflict and its relationship with public order policing. Based in the School of Law, his ongoing research examines the social identity of individuals and groups within crowds to understand inter-group interactions and associated behaviours. This research helps understand how the ‘troublemaker’ element in a crowd, for example, can best be addressed in order to maintain public order and safety.
“We’re also working on a systems approach to crowd behaviour,” continues Dr Robinson. “This will combine psychology with technical expertise from engineering and computer science to develop a tool which can assess the different risk factors associated with certain crowd situations, in order to avoid key problems and potential disaster. As with all STC’s projects, combining our various psychology specialisms with those of colleagues from other disciplines means that we can offer a comprehensive solution to crowd behaviour and management issues.”]]>