School of Psychology

‘The Crowd’ project

John Drury's work on crowd events, crowd experiences, and crowd behaviour

The crowd is at the centre of social life: national and international events, social change and civic celebration, major incidents and everyday life – all involve experiences with crowds. In the past, social scientists claimed that the crowd was a source of social ills and social dysfunction. In a number of disciplines and topic areas, crowd researchers have moved away from this narrow, unidirectional view. ‘The Crowd’ project is a series of interlinked studies which seeks to provide a theoretical framing for our multiple experiences of crowd events.


Representing and managing crowd events

This Leverhulme-funded project examines the representations of crowd psychology held by crowd managers, including event organizers, emergency planners and the police. Negative views of the crowd, such as ‘mass panic’, rationalize and legitimize forms of crowd management that have been shown to undermine informal collective resilience. This survey, document analysis and case study examines the extent to which different crowd professionals endorse negative (or positive) views of the crowd, and how these operate in practice.

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Leverhulme project page


Collective action and empowerment

Collective action such as mass protest can change society. Such action may also impact upon the psychology of the protestors themselves. This research strand grew out of our studies of identity change in collective action. The findings also suggest a link between identity, positive emotion and wellbeing among people involved in collective events. Specifically, field and experimental studies have shown the way that identity-congruence in mass activism can promote an enhanced sense of agency. Collaborators on this work include colleagues and research students in Greece, Sweden, Chile and the Netherlands.

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Bulletin article: Collective action is good for you

Blog post: Egypt and identity politics


The crowd psychology of the Hajj

The annual Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca involves around two million people. Engineering, architecture and design expertise have all been applied to understanding the Hajj and ensuring the safety of those involved. Hani Alnabulsi’s PhD research complements these perspectives with a psychological account of crowd experience and crowd safety. In contrast to previous accounts in psychology, which suggested that crowds are inherently aversive, conflictual and prone to irrational panic, findings from our interviews with and survey of pilgrims in the densely packed Holy Mosque, Makkah, have uncovered evidence of joy from being part of the crowd, feelings of safety based on shared social identification, and cooperation among strangers.

Blog post: Why do 'stampedes' happen at crowd events?


Psychosocial tools for resilience in emergencies and disasters

Medical first responders have a range of specialisms and the expertise to deal with the spectrum of major accidents and mass emergencies. Alongside these formal skills, such first responders also have informal knowledge for dealing with stress in both the public and themselves. These ‘soft skills’ have been shown to contribute to recovery and therefore constitute a key contribution to psychosocial resilience. This project, funded by the Department of Health and Royal College of Psychiatrists, sought to produce an evidence-base of professional first responders’ knowledge and needs for psychosocial resilience in order to develop tools for training, education and support.

Psychosocial tools project site


Mass communication in a CBRN incident

John Drury Showcase

Mass emergencies are stressful events, and in the event of a chemical attack, the procedure to decontaminate people can be even more alarming than the incident itself. The emergency services will need to communicate to those affected in order to get them understand and undertake decontamination procedures as soon as possible. Holly Carter’s PhD research, funded by Public Health England, used interviews, analysis of field trials, and a large-scale experiment to examine how different forms of communication interact with perceptions of social relations (within the crowd and with the emergency services) can affect extent of compliance in mass decontamination. She was able to show that social identity processes mediate the effectiveness of responder communication in successful decontamination.

Holly Carter’s blog post on her mass decontamination research


Relevant publications

Drury, J., Novelli, D., & Stott, C. (2015). Managing to avert disaster: Explaining collective resilience at an outdoor music event. European Journal of Social Psychology. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.2108

Carter, H., Drury, J., Amlôt, R., Rubin, G. J., & Williams, R. (2015). Effective responder communication, perceived responder legitimacy and group identification predict public cooperation and compliance in a mass decontamination visualisation experiment. Journal of Applied Social Psychology45, 173–189. doi: 10.1111/jasp.12286

Alnabulsi, H., & Drury, J. (2014). Social identification moderates the effect of crowd density on safety at the Hajj. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(25), 9091-9096. doi:10.1073/pnas.1404953111 

Novelli, D., Drury, J., Reicher, S., & Stott, C. (2013)  Crowdedness mediates the effect of social identification on positive emotion in a crowd: A survey of two crowd events. PLoS ONE 8 (11): e78983.

Drury, J., Kemp, V., Newman, J., Novelli, D., Doyle, C., Walter, D., & Williams, R. (2013)  Psychosocial care for those persons affected by emergencies and major incidents: A Delphi study to determine the needs of professional first responders for training and support. Emergency Medicine Journal, 30, 831–836.

Ball, R., & Drury, J. (2012)  Representing the riots: The (mis)use of statistics to sustain ideological explanation. Radical Statistics, 106, 4-21.

Drury, J., & Stott, C. (2011)  Contextualizing the crowd in contemporary social science. Contemporary Social Science, 6 (3), 1-15.

Drury. J., & Reicher, S. (2010)  Crowd control: How we avoid mass panic. Scientific American Mind, November/December 2010, 58-65