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Crowd psychology: principles of coping with panic
Crowd psychology: principles of coping with panic

About a hundred shark attacks on humans occur annually; about 10% of these cases are fatal. How to avoid the attack of the sea predator? It’s easier than ever - do not swim in prohibited places. The human crowd is the same shark. Over the past hundred years, more than thirty episodes of mass stampedes have been recorded, in which from thirty to one and a half thousand people died at a time. Do you want to survive in the crowd? Just stay away.

It is easy to advise, but it is almost impossible to follow the advice. We do not live in a steppe or a forest, but in a city and, willy-nilly, we find ourselves in the crowd. Metro platform, bus stop, street, any concert or sports match - we are constantly surrounded by many people.

The crowd itself - static, waiting for something or dynamic, moving in a certain direction - is not very dangerous in principle. But any threat (real or just loudly voiced - "Fire!", "Bomb!", "They're coming!", "Not enough for everyone!") Can instantly change the situation. A calm crowd instantly becomes aggressive, static - panicking, and obviously expressive - practically revolutionary.


Notable pandemoniums:

Between 1809 and 2015, there were about forty stampedes around the world with more than 100 deaths and four with close to 1,000 casualties. 1. May 18, 1896: stampede on the Khodynskoye field (Moscow). Killed: 1,389 to 2,000. More than 500,000 people gathered during the festivities on the occasion of the coronation of Nicholas II. When a rumor spread in the crowd that there would not be enough royal gifts for everyone (gingerbread, mugs, sweets), a crush began; Distributors, fearing for their stalls, began to throw gifts into the crowd, which only exacerbated the situation.

Crowd architecture

Before moving on to the dangers that threaten the crowd, let's take a look at its architecture and psychology. If you look at the crowd from a bird's eye view - for example, from a camera on a quadcopter - there are three main elements:

1) the core of the crowd is the place where the number of people per square meter reaches its maximum. Most often, there is only one core - a concert stage, a political tribune, the edge of a platform; sometimes there are several cores in the crowd - multiple narrow aisles, stadium ticket offices, checkpoints;

2) the middle lane is already a crowd, but not yet so dense as to be dangerous; the movement of people in the middle lane mainly occurs towards the nucleus;

3) the periphery, the outskirts of the crowd, where people are just going to join it - or are trying to get out of the crowd.

This division is, of course, conditional - in a confined space, for example, during a fire in a nightclub, the core can occupy the entire available area.

Stalin's funeral
Stalin's funeral

2. March 6, 1953: stampede at Stalin's funeral (Moscow). Killed: 100 to 2000 people. The crush happened during a funeral in the Trubnaya Square area. All information about her is still strictly classified, so it is impossible to establish the exact number of deaths.

It would seem that the safest place is the periphery, but this is partly a delusion. If the crowd is limited by buildings, cars, fences, landscape features, then people in a relatively sparse periphery can instantly be crushed about all of the above. The core of the crowd is capable of moving at a fairly high speed; you yourself were quietly standing at the wall, but you are already pressed against this wall by a couple of thousand people at once. Therefore, if you have already managed to find yourself in the crowd, stay in the middle lane - there is more room to maneuver.

Survival principles

When moving in a crowd, do not go against the flow of people, this is a pointless undertaking. Adhering to the general direction of travel, take a little to the side, towards the exit, if there is one. Do not push people aside, they have nowhere to move. Better to switch places with them. While the crowd is relatively calm, use verbal means: "I'm sorry, please let me through." If this does not help, go to manuals, grab the person by the clothes and pull on yourself, while taking his place, remembering to apologize intensively.

Tragedy at Luzhniki
Tragedy at Luzhniki

3. October 20, 1982: the tragedy at Luzhniki (Moscow). Killed: 66 The largest sports crush in the USSR took place at the 1/16 UEFA Cup match between Spartak and the Dutch Haarlem. The tragedy happened at the end of the match due to the poor organization of the exit from the overcrowded stadium.

If you find yourself in a crowd not alone - but, for example, with a child, woman, friend - an unpleasant prospect arises of being torn off from each other. No amount of "give me your hand" will help. A small child - in your arms. If he is old enough - in the "reserve parachute" position: we put on the chest, let his arms clasp you around the neck, and legs around the waist. We press an adult to the back, with one hand he holds you by the belt buckle or clothing in the abdomen, you control and strengthen this grip with one hand. Equality when leaving the crowd is canceled, one leads, the second follows him, snuggling close. This is how the bodyguards evacuate the protected person. If there is no way to send a friend behind your back, at least grab your elbows.

Before trying to get out of the crowd, or even better before you get into it, button up your outerwear and all pockets, tuck the scarf under your jacket, remove the hood, lace up your boots. Hide anything that you can catch on to something or that you can be grabbed.

4. July 2, 1990: tragedy in a pedestrian tunnel in Mecca. Killed: 1,425 people. Largest crush during traditional Hajj. No Hajj is complete without casualties, but 1990 broke all records. In the 45-degree heat, several thousand pilgrims rushed into the cooled tunnel linking Mecca with the pilgrim camp at Mina. The capacity of the tunnel was five times exceeded, and many suffocated due to the stoppage of the fans.

The main thing is that in no case raise a panic, it will be done without your participation. While possible, try to be as polite as possible, do not escalate the situation. In the crowd, mood swings towards deterioration - hit-run-save! - happens very quickly. It is not architecture that is at work here, but psychology.

Psychological effect

All researchers, starting with Gustave Le Bon, the author of the fundamental works "Psychology of Peoples and the Masses" and "Psychology of Crowds", reduce the psychology of the crowd to three phenomena: homogeneity, emotionality and irrationality.


As soon as many people gather in one place, the effect of infection occurs - the mood or aspirations of several people are very quickly transmitted to everyone else, like an infectious disease. The mechanical spread of mood is also found in everyday life - start yawning and others will pick it up. In a crowd, it happens much faster and more strongly. Best of all, the effect of infection is formulated by the phrase "everyone ran - and I ran." Man is a gregarious animal, and the “follow everyone” algorithm is evolutionarily embedded in our survival instincts.

Sometimes this can play into your hands. This is how Hakob Nazaretyan describes the rational use of the contagion effect in his book “The Psychology of Spontaneous Mass Behavior”: “Here is a textbook case from the pre-war life of Europe. In 1938, a small fire broke out in the stands of the Parisian national velodrome at the end of the competition. The staff managed to quickly localize the fire, but ten thousand spectators were already moving with excessive vigor towards the only exit. The situation threatened to become deadly.

By a lucky coincidence, two psychologists appeared in the crowd, who were able to orient themselves in time and began to loudly chant: "Ne-pousse-pas!" (“Don't-let-pa!” - Don't-kick-kai!) The rhythm was picked up by those around you, it passed in a wave through the crowd. A few minutes later, thousands of people chanted this phrase together; the crowd turned into an expressive one, fear and fuss were replaced by general enthusiasm, and everyone safely left the stands."

5. May 30, 1999: tragedy on Nemiga (Minsk). Killed: 53 people. During the Minsk beer festival, it rained heavily with hail, and the crowd rushed into a narrow underground passage. There was a crush on the descent; the majority of those killed were young people between 14 and 20 years old.

Alas, the fastest way people get infected with fear and anger. As soon as someone yelled "Let's run!" - everyone will run, not quite realizing where and why. Therefore, it is very dangerous to try to climb somewhere higher in a crowd - on a lamp post or the roof of a car. Almost certainly others will immediately follow you, there will not be enough space for everyone, and you will fall. But getting under the truck is a good idea, you won't be pushed out of there.

Unfortunately, the crowd as a single organism has no reason, and herd behavior can easily lead people to death. When a crowd panics or is aggressive, masses of people move in a movement that most closely resembles a stream of water - fast and along the path of least resistance. When the crowd meets an obstacle, the crowd either separates, bending around it, or tries to overwhelm it, as a result of which the crush begins.

The crush in Phnom Penh
The crush in Phnom Penh

6. November 22, 2010: Stampede in Phnom Penh. Killed: 456 people. During the closing ceremony of the traditional Cambodian holiday, Water Day, several thousand people gathered on a narrow bridge over the Tonle Sap River. Most of those killed drowned after being thrown off the bridge in a massive crush.

Don't fall

There are two main dangers in the crowd - being crushed or trampled. Both of these threats imply injuries of varying severity - from concussion and multiple bruises to a spinal fracture, pneumothorax, and internal hemorrhage leading to exitus letalis.

The first danger - they will crush! - in the language of medicine, it is called compression asphyxiation, or, simply put, suffocation from squeezing. Unlike classical strangulation associated with damage to the respiratory tract, with strong squeezing from all sides, a person's blood circulation is disturbed, venous blood does not enter the lungs, the walls of the vessels become thinner, and pulmonary edema begins; fractures of ribs, ruptures of internal organs are also possible. According to statistics, more people die in a crowd from compression strangulation than from all other injuries.

Stadium crush Houfue-Boigny (Abidjan)
Stadium crush Houfue-Boigny (Abidjan)

7. January 1, 2013: stampede at the Houfouet-Boigny stadium (Abidjan). Killed: 61 A crush arose at the exit from the stadium, where the New Year's festivities and fireworks were launched. Most of the victims are children.

How can one be saved from this? If you are squeezed from all sides so tightly that it became difficult to breathe, do not try to push others around and win back your living space - it will still not work. It is better to grasp your right lapel with your left hand (or vice versa, this is not important) and put your elbow forward. Now there is ten centimeters of free space in front of your chest, you can breathe calmly and look for ways to get out of here as soon as possible.

The second danger - they will trample! - connected, of course, with a fall in the crowd. Falling in a running crowd is the worst thing that can happen. Panicking or aggressive people will run right at you, trampling you into the ground. Even if someone decides to stop, he will not succeed, the crowd is stronger.


After falling, take the pose of an embryo. We turned over on our back, hid the spine and kidneys. The chin is tightly pressed against the chest so as not to hit the back of the head on the asphalt. The arms are folded in front of the face, the knees are pulled up to the elbows, the legs are tightly squeezed to cover the groin. You won't be able to lie like that for a long time, so you have to get up.

In order to stand in a crowd, you need to grab the nearest leg of any person walking along you or next to you and begin to very quickly and aggressively climb up this leg, taking into account the attempts to shake you back. Climb up like a monkey up a tree. It is possible that this person will fall in the process. Let's hope he read this article too and can get up.


Swim with sharks

If you know that you are about to get into the crowd, and suspect that this will not end well, prepare in advance. Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return; specify the time after which you should start looking. Take your passport or a photocopy of it with you. On a separate cardboard enclosed in your passport, indicate the phone numbers of your next of kin, your blood type, and all drug allergies. After the massive crush, emergency hospitals will be overwhelmed, and you will make the work of doctors at least a little easier. Before entering the crowd, study the area thoroughly. Where will everyone run? Where does the danger come from? Where can you hide and sit out? Where do you have to wade?

And - most importantly - once you are in a crowd, do not become part of it. Don't fall for the general mood. Avoid the contamination effect. Do not chant or sing. Observe the hygiene of the mind. It is as easy to pick up mass hysteria as an obsessive song. Keep repeating to yourself - you have to get out of here, it's too dangerous here!

Remember: the crowd is a place of increased danger. What does a real ninja do when he feels danger? A real ninja doesn't leave the house. Take care of yourself!

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