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Collective effervescence is an amplified, excited reaction made possible when a group of people experience something emotional together. There are two completely different sides to this phenomenon. This communal effervescence can produce a positive uplifting episode, such as a religious experience that makes participants feel closer to their god or fan excitement at a sporting event. On the other hand, a communal emotion reaction can also cause the morals and inhibitions of the people participating in an event to slip away and align with the group’s morals. An example of this is the property destruction or personal violence observed during riots.
A few key elements must come together for collective effervescence to work. First, the group of people needs to be focused collectively on a single idea or outcome. Second, a motivating force, such as a charismatic speaker, a social injustice, or even a sporting event needs to be the catalyst to bind the participants.
When both of these elements are in place, the people in the group begin to change. A person’s individuality will slip away. Each person’s individual identity will be taken over by the group and a group personality will evolve. Often, as personal identity erodes, emotions heighten and the mind becomes more receptive to accepting the group ideas or the ideas of the speaker.
The personality of the group is what determines the outcome of the collective effervescence. A group personality might sway a person to change his life for the better by giving up drugs or motivate the person to work toward social change by donating money to a charity or physically working for a charity. A charismatic leader harnessing herd behavior might even motivate people to lose weight and eat healthier.
Religious experiences powered by this collective group dynamic often produce the strongest emotions. A collectively uplifting religious experience may strengthen the participant’s faith, make one feel closer to his god or could even make an agnostic believe in a faith. These life-changing experiences either would not happen to a person alone or would be much harder to cultivate alone. Cults often use the strength of collective effervescence to build the bound among members and even to cultivate new members.
Sporting events are a great example of this communal effervescence. A person sitting home alone is less likely to become emotionally and even physically involved in cheering on his team. Groups of fans gathered either in someone's house, around the television, or a crowd gathered in a stadium, however, will often become emotionally and physically involved in the outcome of one of the teams.
Collective effervescence can also motivate people to do things they would never do or even think of doing as an individual. Riots are a good example of this. Sometimes, people united against a social injustice will amass a group anger that overrides personal morals. Law-abiding citizens may find themselves under the spell of the perceived energy and end up smashing store windows or trying to physically harm the police.
I attended a counter-rally against the Ku Klux Klan one time and at first we were all trying to figure out how to behave once the Klansmen arrived for their event. Some of us wanted to shout back at the speakers, while others wanted to remain silent and hold signs. Once we were all in a group, however, we just realized that a collective silence would be more effective. We were no longer there as individuals with different ideas. We became a group that wanted to see one thing happen. We watched the Klansmen pack up and leave.