The weird thing for me about crowds is that while much of psychology focuses on how complicated individual humans are, they are even more confusing and complicated when they are put together into groups- there is an entire branch of psychology (known as, not surprisingly, crowd psychology) dedicated to understanding the difference between people as individuals and in a crowd.
The media, psychology, and sociology, have many stereotypes of crowds- most of these lead to the conclusion that crowds are irrational, suggestible and even dangerous, a sort of hive mind run by its collective not-quite-conscious. Most of these views, and the theories behind them, are taken from examples of destructive crowds, such as riots and demonstrations. (Annoyingly, the example of a riot and crowd behaviour used in my A-level textbook was actually about Bristol- not the best side of the city…).
However, looking at studies and observations of crowd behaviour, it is only a minority of crowds that become so destructive; non-violent crowds are researched much more rarely, which doesn’t seem fair.
One of the biggest stereotypes is that crowds are fuelled by their anonymity, as people lose their identities and rationales in the process of deindividuation– this is a popular notion, described in detail by social psychologists like Zimbardo. However, while this does sound like a good explanation, and is useful in some circumstances, it fails to take into account that most people in crowds aren’t anonymous- they normally go to events with friends or family, meaning their actions will be seen so they would be accountable for anything they did while part of the crowd.
A new theory of how people behave in crowds, and to me a more useful one, is Convergence Theory. This theory says that crowd behaviour is not caused by the crowd: instead individuals take their behaviours into the crowd, meaning crowd actions reflect beliefs that are already there. Using this theory, crowd behaviours stop being irrational violence, becoming a more sensible reaction to popular views.
So if convergence theory is true, then the media shouldn’t be so quick to declare crowds as violent and irrational and should instead look towards the reasons behind the crowd, for that will probably provide a much better picture of what behaviour to expect and why.
When I tell people I’m studying psychology, one of the reactions I can sometimes get (mainly, I’ve observed, from older people) is confusion: many seem like they can’t see the point of psychology as a subject. In this case, they will often say psychology doesn’t need to be studied as it is just “common sense” (something I apparently have nowhere near enough of).
Although I haven’t yet tried this method, an easy way around could be just asking them what common sense actually is, because it’s surprisingly difficult to get an agreed-upon definition.
Today’s topic of choice is another group of people with amazing memories- Mnemonists. Unlike the people with developmental disorders that I talked about a few weeks ago, mnemonists don’t often have physical brain differences to explain their memory abilities (apart from a small difference in the area linked to memorising long lists of numbers, which seems more of an effect than a cause).
Instead, their memories are so strong due to practice, and the use of Mnemonic techniques. Almost everyone has used some kind of mnemonic before; for example, SOHCAHTOA (for remembering when to use sin, cos, and tan in a triangle), or Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain (for remembering the colours of the rainbow).However, the method used by mnemonists are much more detailed and involved than this.
Part 2 is about how memory is affected by developmental disorders such as autism, Down’s syndrome, and especially savant syndrome, and how the abilities of people with these disorders could be linked to savantism.
People with autism, or its related condition Asperger’s syndrome, can often have memory and expertise that is described as “very deep but very narrow”. In other words, they concentrate obsessively on one small area and learn everything they can about it, even if that area is not needed or used. (For example, I once read about an autistic boy who memorised camera statistics and model numbers, but had no interest in ever using one.)
Photographic memory is one of those concepts that is understood and shown by pop-psychology and the media a lot more than it is shown by academic psychology- just think of how many films, books and TVshows you’ve seen featuring a character with a perfect or almost perfect memory for everything.
However, in real life, photographic memory cannot be easily found, and scientists and psychology are still debating whether it actually exists. People have often come forward saying they have an exceptional or photographic memory, but often they are found to be mistaken, and there are only a few cases of people that could genuinely have a photographic memory.
The title of this might sound a little unexpected, but to clarify,when I say genii, I’m not talking about very smart people. Rather, I’m on about polymaths – people who are experts, and even innovators, in many different areas. The obvious example for most people is Da Vinci, and it’s very difficult to name anyone recent who is like this- my question is, why is that?
Using my random theory from a few weeks ago, one idea for why less people are innovators and polymaths today is that we are forced by our culture and education to specialise what we want to do way too early in life. The idea of the connections is that as soon as we start narrowing down what areas we focus on, we increase the strength and regularity of the connections dealing with it, which makes connections for other areas weaker as they are used less. The fact they are weaker then means it is more difficult to use them, so they are used even less.
I’ve now finished the series of histories on some of the most famous psychologists, although it only scratched the surface of just how many influential psychologists there have been over the years. The only problem now is, I don’t know what to write about next. So, it’s over to you guys- what would you like to see next?
Option A- could be that you ask (either by comments, formspring, email etc) questions about psychology in general or specific parts, and I attempt to answer them?
Option B- I could write about some of the “unsung heroes” of psychology, the people that have done loads of studies and found interesting things about people, but for some reason have never been that well known.
Option C- something else entirely, so if you have any ideas, feel free to tell me them! =)