Beyond contagion: Social identity processes in involuntary social influence

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Psychology

Abstract

How and why do behaviours spread from person to person? In particular, how does aggression and violent behaviour spread? When, as in 2011, riots began in London, why did they then occur in Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool? One of the most common ways of addressing such issues is through the notion of 'contagion'. The core idea is that, particularly in crowds, mere exposure to the behaviour of others leads observers to behave in the same way. 'Contagion' is now used to explain everything from 'basic' responses such as smiling and yawning (where the mere act of witnessing someone yawn or smile can invoke the same response in another) to complex phenomena like the behaviour of financial markets and, of course, rioting. What is more, laboratory experiments on the 'contagion' of simple responses (such as yawning) serve to underpin the plausibility of 'contagion' accounts as applied to complex phenomena (such as rioting).
Despite this widespread acceptance, the 'contagion' account has major problems in explaining the spread of behaviours. In particular, there are boundaries to such spread. If men smile at a sexist joke, will feminists also smile in response to the men's smiles? If people riot in one town, why is it that they also riot in some towns but not others? For example, in 2011, disturbances spread from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool but they did not spread to Sheffield, Leeds or Glasgow.
'Contagion' explanations cannot answer such questions because they assume that transmission is automatic. They do not take account of the social relations between the transmitter and receiver. We propose a new account of behavioural transmission based on the social identity approach in social psychology. This suggests that influence processes are limited by group boundaries and group content: we are more influenced by ingroup members than by outgroup members, and we are more influenced by that which is consonant with rather than contradictory to group norms. The social identity approach is therefore ideally suited to explaining the social limits to influence, both for 'basic' phenomena and rioting.
In order to advance both theoretical understanding and practical interventions, our research will develop a social identity analysis of transmission processes at multiple levels. Accordingly, the aims and objectives of this research project are as follows:
First, we will conduct a series of experimental studies on 'basic' behaviours (yawning, itching) to examine whether the effects of being exposed to a behaviour depend on observers and actors being fellow ingroup members. We will also examine 'complex' behaviours (aggression and rioting) to see if (1) observers are more influenced when the actors are ingroup members; (2) observers are more influenced by the responses of other observers when these are also ingroup members; (3) willingness to copy others depends upon whether their behaviour is consonant with observer group norms. Second, we will examine the spread of urban disorder during the 2011 English riots. We have been granted special access to the full data-set from the Guardian/LSE 'Reading the Riots' study (270 interviews with participants carried out immediately following the events). This, along with other secondary sources (such as detailed crime figures), will allow us to examine the extent to which the spread of these riots was linked to a sense of shared identity with those who had rioted previously (that is, those who rioted 'saw themselves' in those who rioted before them, and those who lacked such a sense were less likely to riot). Third, we will use our findings to generate a wider debate about the nature of psychological transmission and the practicalities of addressing them. Activities will include workshops which will bring together researchers, practitioners (e.g., the police) and policy-makers in local and national government to address how we can mitigate against the spread of riots and violence.

Planned Impact

In addition to academic beneficiaries, there are two types of stakeholder in this project: government and professional organizations concerned with the spread of violence; and the general public
1. Government and professional organizations concerned with the spread of violence
The issue of the spread of violence is of concern to National and Local Government, to a range of general Government agencies (such as the military and the police) and also to a number of specialist organizations such as Glasgow's Violence Reduction Unit. Our work will be of relevance to such organisations in two ways. First, we will be in a position to explain the processes governing the spread of violence within particular events and articulate in clear terms how such factors can best be managed to avoid conflict and 'disorder'. Specifically, where we find that 'contagion' cannot explain the spread of conflict and that conflict is better accounted for through a combination of identity-based influence and relations with those in authority - particularly the police - we will point to the ways in which the actions of those in authority may contribute to the spread of violence and hence how they can avoid being a contributory factor. Second, we will provide for a better understanding of the factors which make it more or less likely that violence will spread between events to particular areas and hence allow for improved preparedness should rioting begin elsewhere. Such understandings will be particularly important for local authorities and policing organisations in determining how to invest increasingly limited funds in order to maintain resilience. Overall, we will contribute to a more reflexive approach to collective violence, which does not pathologise those involved from the outset (an approach which, hitherto, has been dominant - see Reicher & Stott, 2011) but rather examines the meaningful types of interaction between authorities and specific communities and how such dynamics may play important roles in the production and avoidance of conflict. We have unprecedented contacts with groups in all of the above-mentioned categories and strong infrastructures underpinning knowledge exchange with policing organisations. Drury and Reicher are members of government committees dealing with the behaviour of crowds in emergencies; Stott has excellent links with UK and international police agencies, an ESRC national impact award for this work and lectures at police academies across the globe; Reicher lectures regularly to the UK Defence Academy and has worked with the Glasgow Violence Reduction Unit. As detailed in the Pathways to Impact document, we will draw on these links in order to feed our findings into the various agencies to achieve change.
2. General Public
The notion of collective contagion (and hence crowd irrationality and mindlessness) is one of the few areas where ideas from psychology that has impacted public (mis)understanding of important social phenomena. All these assumptions are widely used in media coverage of collective violence in general and were common in the 2011 UK riots in particular (Reicher & Stott, 2011). Our work will help challenge these assumptions. In criticizing contagion as a concept, we will provide a space for less pathologizing alternative discourses to emerge and develop. Our work will therefore contribute towards a more informed discussion of the roots of collective disorder and hence to most effective responses to such disorder: what is the most appropriate balance between responses that prioritise punitive actions towards those who participated and responses that address the underlying causes of participation? A balanced debate clearly depends upon a more balanced understanding of the phenomena themselves. Public discourse will therefore benefit through stimulating and enriched public discussion. In this way, our work is of importance both at the level of individual understanding and of societal well-being.
 
Description 1. We have carried out an analysis of the initial spread of the August 2011 riots in Haringey. A triangulated analysis of multiple sources of data identified a pattern of behaviour shifting from collective attacks on police targets to looting. A thematic analysis of 41 interview accounts with participants suggests that a shared anti-police identity allowed local postcode rivalries to be overcome, forming the basis of empowered action not only against the police but to address more long-standing grievances and desires. Collective psychological empowerment operated in a "positive feedback loop", whereby one form of collective self-objectification (and perceived inability of police to respond) formed the basis of further action. This analysis of the development of new targets in an empowered crowd both confirms and extends the elaborated social identity model as an explanation for conflictual intergroup dynamics. This analysis is being published in the European Journal of Social Psychology
2. We have carried out a detailed analysis of the spread of rioting in August 2011 from Tottenham to Enfield. We found that the spread into Enfield took the form of a 'raid' from outside the district made possible by an increase in agency and empowerment occurring in the Tottenham events. We discovered that the Enfield events were not, as they first appeared, a simple commodity riot, but in fact were a more complex conflict with the police, in which attacks on property were often strategic. We have begun to find evidence for the view that the spread into north London districts was largely through people travelling. There is evidence that participants defined themselves in relation to a general 'other' characterized as 'government'/'big business', a characterization reflecting much of the pattern of targets.
3. Using a new experimental paradigm for studying transmission behaviours via online surveys, we have evidence that shared identity with a target leads to greater transmission of (scratching) behaviours, and that this effect is mediated by self-relevance and 'itchiness'.
4. Using a new paradigm developed by colleagues at UCL (the Hive), we were able to study the effect of shared identification on following behaviour. When we grouped participants into reds or blues, they were more likely to follow a red or blue confederate dot on the screen in a variety of different tasks.
Exploitation Route 1. At our Advisory Group meeting, one of the group members - Chief Supt Owen West - suggested that we should invite to the meetings a representative of the Police College and someone from the Neighbourhood Policing portfolio. We will also be disseminating our findings through Professor Stott's seminars for police commanders on public order policing, as part of the Keele University Policing Academic Collaboration. Therefore, one of the ways our findings are to be put to use by others is by first engaging with relevant practitioners to discuss the lessons that can be taken from the findings in terms of policing methods.
2. We plan to engage theoretically with some of the mathematical modelling work on the spread of the 2011 riots, and hope to be in a position soon to assist researchers from other disciplines with a theoretical understanding of the spread of riots.
3. We have been working with the organizer of a violence reduction initiative in Mexico on developing first an empirical study for evidence of social identity processes in the transmission of violence among youth and second in the long term an intervention based on these principles. This has found support for the 'pluralistic ignorance' process and can be used in violence reduction planning.
4. The laboratory work will be taken forward as planned to other behaviours including violence and aggression.
5. We plan to demonstrate, though the laboratory evidence, the role of social identity processes in the transmission of public health related behaviours, and have begun this process by presenting on this at the ICSIH4, Lausanne.
6. We have set up a Twitter account for the project - @BeyondContagion - and a project website (see outputs).
7. As planned, Dr Neville the St Andrews PDRF went on the ESRC early career media training course.
8. We presented at two major international conferences in 2017 - EASP and ISPP. At the second of these, we successfully submitted a symposium proposal for the whole project team in order to present different aspects of the work as a whole.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other

URL http://www.sussex.ac.uk/beyondcontagion/projects
 
Description 1. Initial findings of the 2011 riots analysis (Enfield) were presented at our advisory group meeting in December 2016. One advisory group members - Chief Supt Owen West - suggested that we invite to the meetings a representative of the Police College and someone from the Neighbourhood Policing portfolio. Therefore, we are first engaging with relevant practitioners to discuss the lessons that can be taken from the findings in terms of policing methods. 2. We have been able to disseminate the arguments coming out of the research project through a number of media opportunities (see 'Engagement' under 'Outputs). Our 'Conversation' article was shared widely in the police: https://twitter.com/WYP_OwenWest/status/934347341947076608 3. We made extensive use of social media to (1) construct and circulate a narrative account of the 2011 riots (2) publicly bring together existing evidence and critiques in relation to emotional transmission (see 'Publications' under 'Outputs'). Each of these were extensively read and re-tweeted. Our social media articles have displayed considerable reach. Our website: Page visits = 2974 (2164 unique) by February 2018. Our blogpost: > 34K views (Feb 2018). Our BBC article:> 431K views (Feb 2018).
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Keele Policing Academic Collaboration CPD
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Police shared our article
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
URL https://twitter.com/WYP_OwenWest/status/934347341947076608
 
Description Bristol Riots of 1831 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Bristol Riots of 1831, and the Newport link. Presentation at the Newport 11th Annual Chartism Convention
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://thechartists.org/13-chartist-convention-2017.html
 
Description British Science Festival (Brighton) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As part of the British Science Festival in Brighton we ran an interactive public engagement exercise, involving talks and experiences of experiments on scratching and smiling, which received excellent independent feedback.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.sussex.ac.uk/beyondcontagion/impact/engagement/britishsciencefestival
 
Description British Science Museum residency 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact With colleagues at UCL, we were awarded a prestigious residency at the Science Museum, London, in which we ran an experiment using a computer mediated tool for observing and measuring collective behaviour, the 'Hive'. Over 1300 participants took part.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=live-science.pdf&site=557
 
Description Canadian Television Network interview 
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 Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Live television interview for the Canadian Television Network on the experience of crowd participation (focus on collectively watching the eclipse).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.facebook.com/CTVNewsChannel/videos/1522373484490644/?fref=mentions&pnref=story
 
Description Edmonds, D. (2016). Don't demonise the rabble: why everything you think about crowds is wrong. New Statesman 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Edmonds, D. (2016). Don't demonise the rabble: why everything you think about crowds is wrong. New Statesman, November 3rd
Article about our work on crowds.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/11/don-t-demonise-rabble-why-everything-you-think-about...
 
Description Experiments in school (Dundee) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Social identity and social influence. Interactive experiments for high school psychology pupils. The High School of Dundee.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.highschoolofdundee.org.uk/latest/latest_news/2164_expert_individual_helps_pupils_examine...
 
Description Festival interactive event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact British Science Festival event (Drury, Neville, Reicher, Ball, Choudhury)
(Summer 2017). We ran an interactive public engagement exercise, involving talks and experiences of experiments on scratching and smiling, which received excellent independent feedback
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.sussex.ac.uk/beyondcontagion/impact/engagement/britishsciencefestival
 
Description Foundation year psychology lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact 'Contagion'? 'Passive' influence of simple and complex aggression. Foundation year psychology lecture, University of Sussex.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Guest presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Drury, J. (2017). Beyond contagion: Towards a new account of behavioural spread. Guest presentation at Nottingham Trent University, Psychology Department (November 2017)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Guest presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Drury, J. (2017). (Dis)empowering prejudice through collective action: An elaborated social identity model. Guest presentation at University of Massachusetts - Amherst, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences (April, 2017) Invited speaker.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.umass.edu/newsoffice/article/social-psychologist-john-drury-discuss-how
 
Description Guest presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Drury, J. (2017). (Dis)empowering prejudice through collective action: An elaborated social identity model. Guest presentation at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Escuela de Psicología (May, 2017)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description High School lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Riots, 'contagion' and social influence: The theory and practice of crowd psychology. Invited lecture, The High School of Dundee.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Myth of the Mob (2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Radio programme
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07zyl4d
 
Description National radio interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Live radio interview for BBC Radio Scotland on football crowds (emotionality, intimacy and masculinity).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.dropbox.com/s/2qsqhs0wplxa6ou/Good%20Morning%20Scotland%20-%20Crowds%2C%20intimacy%20and...
 
Description Neville, F.G. (2016). Beyond contagion 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Neville, F.G. (2016). Beyond contagion: Social identity processes in involuntary social influence. School of Psychology & Neuroscience Seminar, St Andrews, 23rd September.

This was a short presentation in a School seminar about new grants/projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description New York Times article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Three members of the Beyond Contagion research team were interviewed in The New York Times on the experience of watching the eclipse in a crowd.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/14/science/why-some-say-the-eclipse-is-best-experienced-in-a-massive...
 
Description Radio programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Professor Jim Al-Khalili brings BBC Radio 4's science interview programme back to Sage Gateshead. He'll be joined by Stephen Reicher, Wardlaw Professor in the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at St Andrews University, to discuss the way we behave in crowds and the relevance of his research to current social issues such as immigration and nationalism. He is the co-author of Mad Mobs and Englishmen? Myths and Realities of the 2011 Riots and The New Psychology of Leadership: identity, influence, and power.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.sagegateshead.com/event/ftf-the-life-scientific
 
Description Radio programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The World Service science programme which answers questions from listeners around the globe comes to the Free Thinking Festival for the first time. Join presenter Marnie Chesterton and help her answer questions about human behaviour in a group. She's joined at Sage by Professor Bahador Bahrami, University College London; Dr Tali Sharot, University College London and Professor Stephen Reicher, University of St Andrews.

Are you the master of your own decisions? Independent-minded? A free spirit? Like it or not, the answer to these questions is almost certainly no. Because although we like to think we're in control of our lives, in reality we are profoundly influenced by the choices, ideas and preferences of the people around us. But why do humans follow the crowd? And what is it that makes being part of the consensus so irresistible? The BBC CrowdScience team and our expert panel of neuroscientists, psychologists and social media gurus bring to Sage a session filled with fun experiments and insights into the origins of your inner sheep.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.sagegateshead.com/event/ftf-crowd-science
 
Description Senior Honours Teaching (Elaborated Social Identity Model) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Senior Honours lecture with undergraduate students on the Elaborated Social Identity Model (ESIM). This included a discussion of our "Beyond Contagion" hypotheses, methods and initial findings, and how these extend ESIM. The students were also encouraged to follow the project on Twitter to receive future updates.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description The myth of the mob: How crowds really work (Magazine article about our work) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The BBC magazine article about our work on crowds and contagion accompanied a BBC Radio 4 programme on the same. The purpose was to make the arguments and evidence available to the public. The link to the article was widely shared on Twitter.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37646972