With exception to the recent World Trade Center crisis, I had never seen anything more bizarre and disturbing then the Los Angeles riots. I can remember watching television and wondering in amazement at how people could act in such chaos and pandemonium. People whom had been law-abiding citizens the day before were now engaged to the point of looting and physical brutality. Upon reading Le Bon and Asch's work, I have only yet to skim the surface of individual's behavior in large groups or crowds.
The study of individuals in groups and group behavior has been a core of social psychology since its inception in the early 1900s. One of the first experiments in social psychology was considering the effects of the presence of others on performance. The authors examine this phenomenon as well as group communication, task performance in groups such as problem-solving and decision-making, and leadership characteristics and styles. This experiment yielded results that intrigued psychologist and it would lead to the further development of group behavior in the future.
The definition of group that is used in most research is "people who are interdependent and have potential for mutual interaction, influencing one another in some way". Four specific dimensions define groups: size, goals, duration and scope of activities performed. While groups can be a function of a wide range of these factors, experimental groups that are analyzed in laboratory settings are usually small, short-lived and narrow in focus, limiting the generalization of such findings. Groups in real-world settings must be analyzed as well, in order to obtain a complete picture of the functioning of groups.
A number of factors defining a group's structure have also been identified. One important aspect of groups is the social norms that emerge. These are the rules and expectations for behavior that identifies what is acceptable behav...