Why some of us love being in crowds

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The rush-hour commute or shopping for Christmas are many people's idea of hell, but for some the experience of a crowd is highly enjoyable, according to research.

Psychologists from the universities of Sussex, St Andrews and Leeds examined why some people sought out and gained pleasure from crowded areas.


As part of their research, published in the open access journal PLOS ONE, academics surveyed people at a Fatboy Slim gig in Brighton and a protest march against NHS changes.

They found that social identity was a key factor in predicting positive emotions, and that people's social identification with the crowd led them to seek out and enjoy more dense locations.

University of Sussex psychologist John Drury, who supervised the research, said: "Brightonians will remember the Big Beach Boutique of 2002 when 250,000 people packed on to the beach to see Hove-based DJ Fatboy Slim.

"That was a very crowded event indeed. Yet among our survey participants, the more they defined themselves as part of the crowd, the less they were to report feeling too crowded."

Researchers said their findings explained why, from the outside, a crowd might look unappealing but is actually a pleasurable experience for many people.

At music events, the crowd is a key part of the attraction, they added.

Dr Drury argued that the findings have important implications for psychology.

He said: "There is an idea in psychology that we have a relatively fixed need for 'personal space'. This would mean that other people are inevitably a threat to our comfort.

"But this wrongly assumes that we each have just one identity - a personal identity. Our findings are part of a body of work that shows that we have multiple identities based on our group memberships.

"The salience of different identities varies according to social context. At those times when people share a social identity with us, their presence is not an invasion of our space at all.

"They are not 'other', they are 'us'."