Coverage of riots increases anxiety

England experienced riots last week as unrest spread across London and then to other cities. Groups of youths were seen to loot shops and set buildings on fire - and there are fears the criminality may spark copycat riots in regions as yet unaffected by the disturbances.

As well as in the capital, outbreaks of similar criminal activity were seen in Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Nottingham and Liverpool.Much of the trouble appears to be caused by large groups of young people - raising concerns a mob mentality may be influencing more individuals to get involved.

Chartered Psychologist Dr Jennifer Wild, a member of the Society's Division of Clinical Psychology. said: "The violence we are seeing across London and the country is extremely concerning. Everyone will likely experience a rise in levels of fear and anxiety. This will have most impact on those directly affected by the violence as well as people with pre-existing anxiety problems who already suffer from high levels of fear."

Dr Susan Marchant-Haycox, a member of the British Psychological Society's Division of Health Psychology, said: "The riots over the last few days have shown how the media has gone overboard in reporting events - highlighting criminal crowd behaviour. Crowd violence is frightening as the dynamics at work concerns deindividuation - that is one act of violence against a person has a snowball effect in a crowd who participate in the violence because they lose their self awareness and self control. Front page pictures and television news coverage of violence in London and Birmingham are adding fuel to the fire - possibly resulting in more violence. Those involved are enjoying seeing their violence publicised in the media. The media should act responsibily".

Our Research Digest blog has a round-up of comments from behavioural experts and columnists as they attempt to make sense of the riots.

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