Why people feel happiest in a crowd
Although there are exceptions, many people report feeling happiest when they’re in a large crowd, and now researchers have figured out why.
According to a new study, published in the journal PLOS One, people are happiest in a crowd because they socially identify with others in it instead of perceiving them as an invasion of their personal space.
For the study, researchers from the UK interviewed participants who had attended two different crowded events.
The first event involved 48 participants out of a crowd of 250,000 who attended an outdoor music concert in 2002 in Brighton, England. The concert was so crowded that those in attendance, including the participants, had very little space to move around in.
The second event involved 112 participants out of a crowd of 7,000 who attended an outdoor march and protest against the UK's National Health Service. Again, the event was so crowded that those attending had very little space to move around in.
Each of the participants in both these events were required to complete questionnaires that asked how they felt at these events, including whether they felt too crowded or if they socially identified with other people in the crowd.
From their responses, the research team found that the majority of the participants reported feeling more like they were “a part of the crowd” as opposed to feeling overcrowded or having their space invaded.
Additionally, the researchers found that those who reported feeling too crowded at the event were also more likely to have reported negative emotions associated with the experience.
The researchers say their findings help to identify the reason that some people may view a crowd from the outside as appearing “hellish”, but then find it to be “heavenly” once they are inside the event.
Indeed, as the researchers pointed out, many people actually looked at the crowd as if it were the “main event” in and of itself.
So what does all this mean from a practical standpoint? For one thing, the findings could prove useful in helping psychologists understand a patient’s need for personal space.
According to the study’s co-author Dr. John Drury of the University of Sussex, psychologists typically view people as having a "fixed need" for their own personal space, while perceiving others as a personal threat to their privacy. However, Dr. Drury says this view is incorrect because it wrongly believes that people have just a single "personal identity".
As Drury explains, the findings of this study reveal that people actually have several identities based on the groups of people they are surrounded with at any given time.
In this regard, Drury says that crowds offer an environment that allows us to view members of the crowd as “us” instead of as “others”.
Reference: Crowdedness Mediates the Effect of Social Identification on Positive Emotion in a Crowd: A Survey of Two Crowd Events, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0078983, David Novelli, John Drury, Stephen Reicher, Clifford Stott, published in PLOS One, 13 November 2013.