Collective participation and social identification: A study of the individual, interpersonal and collective dimensions of attendance at the Magh Mela.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Dundee
Department Name: Psychology


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Hopkins N (2016) The psychology of health and well-being in mass gatherings: A review and a research agenda. in Journal of epidemiology and global health

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Hopkins N (2016) Adding a psychological dimension to mass gatherings medicine. in International journal of infectious diseases : IJID : official publication of the International Society for Infectious Diseases

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Hopkins N (2017) Social identity and health at mass gatherings Social identity at mass gatherings in European Journal of Social Psychology

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Hopkins, N., Stevenson, C., Shankar, S., Pandey, K., Khan, S. & Tewari, S. (2015) Sacred Mobilities

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Khan S (2014) Shared identity predicts enhanced health at a mass gathering in Group Processes & Intergroup Relations

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Pandey K (2014) Cold comfort at the Magh Mela: social identity processes and physical hardship. in The British journal of social psychology

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Shankar S (2013) A calming cacophony: Social identity can shape the experience of loud noise in Journal of Environmental Psychology

Description The data for this project have been collected and are now being analysed. Our data are derived from 1. Interviews with pilgrims attending the festival; 2. Observations of pilgrims attending the festival; 3. A longitudinal survey of Pilgrims attending the festival and a comparable sample of non-attendees. Thus far we have submitted three papers for publication as follows: a. Psychology has a long-standing interest in how our social identification as group members impacts our willingness to participate in collective behaviour. Yet, there is little research concerning the equally important question of how collective participation feeds back into our social identifications and behaviour. We investigate this question in a longitudinal questionnaire study conducted at one of the world's largest collective events - a month-long Hindu religious festival in North India. Data gathered from pilgrims and a sample of comparable others who did not attend the event support the prediction that participation in the event increased pilgrims' social identification as Hindu and increased their levels of religious activity (e.g., visiting temples). These data highlight the need for psychological analyses of collective ritual and how such joint activity revivifies participants' social bonds and beliefs. b. Environmental Psychology has typically focused upon noise as pollution. However recent research in psychology and anthropology indicates that the experience of noise as aversive depends upon the social context in which it is experienced and the meanings attributed to its occurrence. We extend this principle to the study of how social identity, the aspect of one's self derived from group membership, can shape the ways in which we experience loud, persistent noise as aversive or not. Pilgrims attending the Magh Mela are exposed to a continuous, cacophonous noise. Reporting an experiment and semi-structured interviews, we show that this pervasive noise is experienced as pleasant or unpleasant depending on whether it is perceived as congruent with the religious identity and collective practices of the pilgrim. In particular, the perception of being 'immersed' in religious sound is associated with an enhancement of pilgrims' identity and an intensification of religious experience. c. Previous research suggests that that our social identities provide a filter through which identity-related threats and aversive stimuli are initially interpreted. Indeed, there is evidence that the same events and even physical stimuli are perceived differently by individuals according to their identities and interactions with other group members. Absent from this literature is the study of how these processes are manifest in the interactions of real world groups who endure physical suffering and hardship as part of their collective experience. Using a mixed-methodology of participant observation and semi-structured interviews we examine how pilgrims' understandings and behaviours interrelate to allow them to endure extremes of cold and exposure during their month-long stay by the banks of the Ganges. Our results indicate a diversity of experiences of the cold among pilgrims and points to a variety of social identity processes through which the cold is managed, ignored and even overcome.
Exploitation Route As indicated above, we are pursuing the relevance of this research for non-academic audiences in the field of health. A key theme in our research concerns the relationship between collective participation and various health outcomes. Our work links with a large literature on social capital and health. We are in the process of organising a dissemination event to be held in June that will bring together academics and health professionals to discuss the relationship between social connectedness and health, and how the concept of social identity allows this relationship to be conceptualised in novel ways.
Sectors Education,Healthcare

Description Our findings have been used by social psychologists interested in identity processes and health. Our work has important implications for understanding well-being and health-related practices at mass gatherings (eg mass pilgrimages, music events etc.). Thus, following publication of several papers on pilgrims' behaviour and well-being at the Magh Mela, I (and a co-author - Steve Reicher, St Andrews) received an invitation from the World Health Organisation's Collaborating Centre on Mass Gathering Medicine in Riyad, Saudi Arabia, to participate in the first meeting of the Scientific Advisory Board (April 29th-May 1st 2013). At this event we met senior figures in WHO and Public Health England and were asked to be expert assessors for the new WHO Handbook on Mass Gathering Medicine (2015) 'Public health for mass gatherings: key considerations' (specifically we advised on chapter 16 'Psychosocial considerations'. We were also invited to contribute paper for journal special issues that translated our research into policy and practice recommendations. Two such translational papers have been published (Hopkins, N. & Reicher, S. (2016). The psychology of health and well-being in mass gatherings: A review and a research agenda. Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health; Hopkins, N. & Reicher, S. (2016). Adding a Psychological Dimension to Mass Gatherings Medicine. International Journal of Infectious Diseases). In the light of this translational work we were invited to contribute a session on the psychology of collective participation and its relevance for health to the first WHO Mass Gathering Training Programme on 'Public Health and Disaster Preparedness and Prevention' hosted by the Health Ministry of KSA in Riyadh 17th -25th Feb. 2016. This contribution was via skype (23rd Feb. 2016). We are actively pursuing collaboration with PHE and the WHO MGM centre in Riyad. As a result iof this in October 2017 we participated in the 3rd International Conference on Mass Gatherings Medicine (Oct 23-25, 2017), in Riyadh, KSA. In our contribution (comprising a full 2 hour session of the programme we reported on our work at the Magh Mela and demonstrated the need for Mass Gatherings Medicine to address the social psychology of crowd behaviour. In particular we emhpasised the relevance pof social psychological research on collective behaviour for understanding why Mass Gathering attendees may engage in risky behaviour (eg sharing resources that may facilitate infection transmission). So too we emphasiesed the importance of understanding group processes if one is to develop effective effective communication with crowds concerning health risks at such events and engineer behaviour change. This contribution resulted in a widening of the Mass Gatherings research agenda. This was confirmed in an editorial concerning the conference appearing in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases: Yelzi et al. (2018) "From mass gatherings medicine to mass gatherings health: Conclusions from the 3rd International Conference on Mass Gatherings Medicine, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" IJID, 66, 28-130 ( Our discussions with regards to building collaborative research projects with the Global Centre for Mass Gatherings Medicine, Saudi Arabia, continue.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Healthcare
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Journal Editorial on a Research Agenda. We presented our work at the 3rd International Conference on Mass Gatherings Medicine (Riyadh, October 23-26th) hosted by the Global Centre for Mass Gatherings Medicine, Saudi Ministry of Health. In the past Mass Gatherings Medicine has not had an interest in the spocial psychology of crowd behaviour. As a result of our contribution to the conference this has changed (as evidenced in the Editorial)..
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Description The new psychology of citizenship : rethinking the relationship between individuals, groups and society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A public lecture to an audience of acadmeics and non-academics on the issue of 'citizenship'. The lecture draws upon diverse research examples, including research concerning the experience of collective identity at the Magh Mela (India)

Discussions with stakeholders interested in citizenship
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description Understanding the pilgrim experience 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact An event for the media held in Allahabad to coincide with the 2013 Kumbh Mela. This event involved a series of short presentations describing our research and findings in a format suitable for the general pubic and media. It attracted interest from journalists from a number of agencies.

Much media interest ensued. Most obviously our research was featured prominently in National Geographic (the author attended our Press Conference and accompanied us on a visit to the Magh Mela site).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013