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The use of 'panic' in talk of Hillsborough
New research published in the Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, concludes that the term ‘panic’ should not be used to describe behaviour in emergencies. The study suggests it is too loaded and does not accurately describe what actually happens in such situations. looks at popular representations of crowd behaviour in disasters which are often wrongly characterised as ‘panic’.
Dr Chris Cocking, senior lecturer in the University of Brighton’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, and John Drury, senior lecturer at the University of Sussex’s School of Psychology and a member of the British Psychological Society, analysed four survivors’ accounts of the disaster during the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
The survivors interviewed were Liverpool fans who were caught up in the crush. Researchers investigated how the survivors used the term ‘panic’. While the word was used frequently, more detailed analysis showed that their accounts did not match the classic criteria for ‘mass panic’, i.e. uncontrolled emotion and selfish behaviour. Furthermore, participants also referred to ‘orderly’ behaviour, and cooperation, even when the threat of death was present.
Dr Cocking said: “Participants used ‘panic’ not only to describe fear and distress but also to apportion culpability towards the actions of the police who they considered responsible for the tragedy. This shows the complexity and possible inconsistencies in usage of the term.
The research was part of a larger study which rejected the notion of ‘mass panic’, suggesting instead that people often come together psychologically in emergencies, and the resultant shared identity is the basis for cooperation amongst survivors.
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