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MCAT Content / Normative And Non Normative Behavior / Aspects Of Collective Behavior

Aspects of Collective Behavior

Topic: Normative And Non Normative Behavior

Collective behavior can be distinguished from group behavior, and it is also distinct from deviant and conforming actions.

Collective behavior refers to social processes and events that do not reflect existing social structures (laws, conventions, and institutions), as they emerge in a “spontaneous” way. Collective behavior might also be defined as an action that is neither conforming (in which actors follow prevailing norms) nor deviant (in which actors violate those norms). Rather, collective behavior, the third form of action, takes place when norms are absent or unclear, or when they contradict each other.

Examples of collective behavior include religious revival meetings, a sudden widespread interest in a website (e.g., MySpace) or clothing item (e.g., WristStrong bracelets), a collective social movement to improve the environment (e.g., Greenpeace), or the rapid spread of rumours (e.g., that Barack Obama is Muslim or not a US citizen). These diverse actions fall within the area sociologists call collective behavior.

Collective behavior differs from group behavior in three ways. Firstly, it involves limited and short-lived social interactions, while groups tend to remain together longer. Secondly, it has no clear social boundaries; anyone can be a member of the collective, while group membership is usually more discriminating. And finally, it generates weak and unconventional norms, while groups tend to have stronger and more conventional norms.

Traditionally in sociology, collective behavior is displayed by four types of groupings of people: the crowd, the public, the mass, and the social movement. While there is debate over what should be included under the label of “collective behavior” among sociologists today, often included are additional behaviors like rumours, riots, and fads.

A riot is an example of collective behaviour. It is a form of civil disorder characterized by disorganized groups lashing out in a sudden and intense rash of violence, vandalism, or other crime, exhibiting herd-like behavior. Riots, while destructive, have often played a role in social change. Fad is a term used to describe a collective behavior that develops within a culture, a generation or social group in which a group of people enthusiastically follow an impulse for a finite period. Fads have short-lived popularity but fade away.


Key Points

• Collective behavior can be distinguished from group behavior, and it is also distinct from deviant and conforming actions.

• Collective behavior can be observed in four types of groupings of people: the crowd, the mass, the public, and social movements. However, other phenomena, such as fads and rumors, are also considered to be forms of collective behavior.

• Studying collective behavior improves our understanding of how to organize social movements to initiate social change.

• There are two main reasons for studying collective behavior. First, to reduce the damage caused by events such as natural disasters and riots by understanding how people behave in these situations; second, studying collective behavior improves our understanding of how to organize social movements in order to initiate social change.

• Riots and fads are two examples of collective behaviors.


Key Terms

riot: Wanton or unrestrained behavior; uproar; tumult.

collective behavior: social processes and events which do not reflect existing social structure (laws, conventions, and institutions), but which emerge in a “spontaneous” way

fads: A fashion that gains salience quickly in a culture or subculture, and remains popular for a brief period of time before losing its appeal dramatically

conforming: to behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards

deviant: departing from usual or accepted standards

unconventional: not based on or conforming to what is generally done or believed

herd-like: resembling a herd or some aspect of one, especially a propensity to follow blindly after a leader.



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