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Wiley Interdiscip Rev Cogn Sci. 2015 May-Jun;6(3):209-19. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1344. Epub 2015 Feb 20.

Human collective reactions to threat.

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Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience (LNC), INSERM U960 & IEC - Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), Paris, France.
Institut Jean Nicod (IJN) - UMR 8129 CNRS & IEC, Ecole Normale Supérieure & Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (ENS-EHESS), Paris, France.


A common assumption regarding mass emergency situations is that individuals in such contexts behave in a way that maximizes their likelihood to escape, at the expense, or with little concern for, the welfare and survival of their neighbors. Doing so, they might even compromise the effectiveness of group evacuation. This conception follows the views of early works on crowd psychology, a tradition born with Gustave Le Bon's The Crowd: a study of the Popular Mind, first published in 1895, and which has had a tremendous impact on scientific representations of people's behavior in mass emergency contexts. Indeed, this work has greatly contributed to the idea that, in such situations, people revert to a primitive, impulsive, irrational, and antisocial nature, causing the breakdown of social order. However, more empirically oriented studies have consistently reported little collective panic, as well as a great deal of solidarity and pro-social behavior during mass emergency situations. Because of institutional barriers, such views have remained largely unknown to cognitive psychologists. Yet these are important results in that they show that human individual and collective reactions to threat are primarily affiliative. Indeed, far from leading to the breakdown of the social fabrics, the presence of a common threat can strengthen social bonds.

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