Contagion vs Convergence Theory: Difference and Comparison

Several different psychological and sociological theories explain the behaviour of a crowd. A crowd has so many people, and yet all the individuals behave the same way, that is to say, the crowd has collective behaviour.

Contagion theory and convergence theory are two such theories that explain the collective behaviour of crowds.

Key Takeaways

  1. Contagion theory suggests that individuals in a crowd lose self-awareness and rational thinking, adopting the behaviors and emotions of those around them. In contrast, convergence theory posits that individuals with similar beliefs and goals come together to form a crowd, acting collectively based on shared values.
  2. Contagion theory emphasizes the spread of emotions and behaviors through a crowd, whereas convergence theory focuses on the intentional gathering of like-minded individuals.
  3. Contagion theory attributes crowd behavior to anonymity and suggestibility, while convergence theory considers crowd behaviour a rational expression of pre-existing beliefs and desires.

Contagion Theory vs Convergence Theory

Contagion theory states that financial crises in one country can spread quickly to other countries or even to the global financial system. Convergence theory suggests that as countries become more economically integrated, they will become more similar in terms of economic policies, institutions, and outcomes.

Contagion Theory vs Convergence Theory

The contagion theory mentions that a crowd has a hypnotic influence on smaller groups of people, and more specifically, individuals.

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This further explains that when an individual joins a crowd, he or she gets affected by the hypnotic influence of that crowd. The hypnotic influence affects the individual to feel and behave in a certain way, which is the same as the behaviour of the crowd.

The convergence theory explains why a crowd has a collective behaviour and a similar thought perspective.

It further states that the collective behaviour of a crowd is not because of any hypnotic influence, instead, the behaviour is due to the behaviour of the individuals that are part of the crowd.

Comparison Table

Parameters of comparisonContagion theoryConvergence theory
Introduced byGustav Le Bon introduced the convergence theory. J. E. Roeckelein introduced convergence theory.  
StatementAn individual when present in the crowd behaves irrationally due to the hypnotic influence of the other people present in the crowd. The behavior or attitude of a crowd can be determined by the behavior or attitude of the individual present in the crowd. 
MeaningIn the contagion theory, the crowd exerts a hypnotic influence on the individual to behave in a certain way. In the convergence theory, all the like-minded individuals form a crowd to share the same goal.
Affected byThe individual present in the crowd gets affected by the crowd. The crowd gets affected by the individuals present in the crowd.
BehaviorThe person behaves like the other individuals in the crowd.The crowd behaves like the behavior of individuals.

What is Contagion Theory?

In 1885, Gustav Le Bon published a book called ‘The Crowd’. As the name suggests, the book was about the psychology behind the functionality of a crowd and the psychology behind the behaviour of a crowd.

In this book, Gustav Le Bon introduced the contagion theory. However, at that time, the theory was not considered to be completely true or practical. It was just a rough estimation of the question of why a crowd behaves a certain way.

Therefore, the theory was further developed by two more people. Robert Park was the person who developed the theory after Gustav Le Bon. The theory introduced by Gustave Le Bon contained a lot of political aspects. However, the developed contagion theory by Robert Park was more rational and psychological.

The contagion theory was then finally developed by Herbert Blumer. He was a sociologist who gave the theory a more sociological aspect.

The final developed theory of contagion explains that when a person enters a crowd, his or her independent thoughts and feelings are eliminated by the hypnotic influence of the crowd.

As a result, the person tends to behave like the rest of the crowd to have a collective behaviour.

What is Convergence Theory?

The convergence theory, as the name suggests, is a theory where people who are like-minded or have a common goal come together and converge into a single group altogether, which results in a crowd.

Thus, this is the reason behind the collective behaviour of the crowd. The theory states that the behaviour of a crowd is not something that emerges on its own or due to any third factor.

Instead, the crowd’s behaviour emerges from the individuals’ like-mindedness, common goal, and other such attributes.

When several different people who have the same goal come together and form a group, then they work together to achieve their goal, their behaviour tends to be expressed in the same way, as a result, the crowd shows collective behaviour. 

For example, a crowd that is protesting against something must have a goal. Their goal must be to have their demands fulfilled by the concerned authority.

However, the crowd chooses violence during the protest to get their demands fulfilled.

Then the reason why the crowd chose violence would not be because the idea of violence emerged from somewhere, instead, the reason behind that would be because the individuals of that group wanted to choose violence.

Main Differences Between Contagion Theory and Convergence Theory

  1. Contagion theory states that the collective behaviour of the crowd is due to its hypnotic influence. On the other hand, convergence theory states that the collective behaviour of the crowd is due to the individuals.
  2. Contagion theory states that the crowd drives individual behaviour. On the contrary, convergence theory states that individuals drive crowd behaviour.
  3. Contagion theory states that the crowd might not have like-minded people. Whereas, convergence theory states that the crowd had like-minded people.
  4. According to contagion theory, hypnotic influence is the cause of the collective behaviour of the crowd. On the other hand, according to convergence theory, the like-mindedness of individuals is the cause of the collective behaviour of the crowd.
  5. According to contagion theory, the crowd may not have a similar goal. On the contrary, according to convergence theory, the crowd has a similar goal.
References
  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/sim.5408
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1539-6924.00306

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