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Collective Behavior: Contagion Theory -- Research Starters Sociology

By: Savage, Richard;

2009 / EBSCO


The theory of contagion was developed in the late nineteenth century by social theorists specializing in group psychology. These group psychologists argued that the behaviors, emotions, and thinking displayed by certain types of groups were very different from the behaviors that individuals normally display in their everyday life. Simply stated, the theory of contagion posits that the emotions and actions displayed by individuals when in a group can, in a sense, become contagious and spread to other members of a group, culminating in distinct forms of social action. The first studies of social contagion focused on particular types of group formations such as crowds and mobs and used contagion theory to explain why these types of groups were prone to emotional and violent outbursts. Later reformulations of contagion theory emerging in the 1930s and continuing through the 1960s extended the theory to explain a broad spectrum of social phenomena like fashion fads, political protests, and social movements.