Systems Thinking Vocabulary

Collective Behavior

There are three primary forms of collective behavior: the crowd, the mass, and the public.

Originally called “mob behavior” or “mass hysteria,” the concept of Collective Behavior does not define a group of social phenomena which can be objectively verifiable, but can be intended as a reference to understand different sociological orientations, which sometimes converge, and sometimes contrast. (Emanuela C. Del Re )
Categories: Systems Thinking
Collective behaviour can affect how a person behaves on many levels, so it is important that we understand the definition of collective behaviour. Collective behaviour refers to people’s actions when they are a part of a larger group. (

Collective behavior refers to people’s actions and activities when they are part of a larger group, where they are organised enough to share mentalities and general goals. Typically, the crowd has common interests and a sense of identity. People who are part of a crowd may influence each other. (

Value-Added Theory

  • Neil Smelser’s (1962) meticulous categorization of crowd behavior, called value-added theory, is a perspective within the functionalist tradition based on the idea that several conditions must be in place for collective behavior to occur. Each condition adds to the likelihood that collective behavior will occur.
  • The first condition is structural conduciveness, which occurs when people are aware of the problem and have the opportunity to gather, ideally in an open area.
    Structural strain, the second condition, refers to people’s expectations about the situation at hand being unmet, causing tension and strain.
  • The next condition is the growth and spread of a generalized belief, wherein a problem is clearly identified and attributed to a person or group.
  • Precipitating factors is the fourth condition that spurs collective behavior; this is the emergence of a dramatic event.
  • The fifth condition is mobilization for action when leaders emerge to direct a crowd to action. The final condition social control, relates to action by the agents and is the only way to end the collective behavior episode (Smelser 1962).

Clark McPhail (1991), a symbolic interactionist, developed an assembling perspective, another system for understanding collective behavior that credited individuals in crowds as rational beings.


  • Turner, R., and Killian, L. (1987) Collective Behavior, 3rd edn. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
  • Types of Collective Behavior
  • Blumer, H. (1951). Collective behavior. In A. M. Lee (Ed.), New outline of the principles of sociology (pp. 167–222). New York: Barnes & Noble.


Concept Coordinates

Collective behavior is a term sociologists use to refer to a miscellaneous set of behaviors in which large numbers of people engage. More specifically, collective behavior refers to relatively spontaneous and relatively unstructured behavior by large numbers of individuals acting with or being influenced by other individuals. Relatively spontaneous means that the behavior is somewhat spontaneous but also somewhat planned, while relatively unstructured means that the behavior is somewhat organized and predictable but also somewhat unorganized and unpredictable. As we shall see, some forms of collective behavior are more spontaneous and unstructured than others, and some forms are more likely than others to involve individuals who act together as opposed to merely being influenced by each other. As a whole, though, collective behavior is regarded as less spontaneous and less structured than conventional behavior, such as what happens in a classroom, a workplace, or the other settings for everyday behavior with which we are very familiar. (

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