What is the Difference Between Contagion Theory and Convergence Theory

The main difference between contagion theory and convergence theory is that contagion theory argues that individuals act irrationally when they come under the hypnotic influence of a crowd while convergence theory argues the behaviour of the crowd reflects the behaviour and attitudes of individuals who join the crowd.

People tend to act differently when they are part of a crowd. Moreover, the behaviour of a crowd of people who take action together toward a shared goal is called collective behaviour. Sociologists have proposed several theories to explain this collective behaviour. Contagion theory and convergence theory are two theories that explain the behaviour of a crowd.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Contagion Theory 
     – Definition, Features
2. What is Convergence Theory
     – Definition, Features
3. Difference Between Contagion Theory and Convergence Theory
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Contagion Theory, Convergence Theory

Difference Between Contagion Theory and Convergence Theory - Comparison Summary

What is Contagion Theory

Contagion theory was introduced by the French scholar Gustave Le Bon in his 1895 book, “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind”. According to Le Bon, being a part of a crowd cause people to behave in a certain way. He states that when individuals become a part of a crowd, they come under its ‘hypnotic influence’ and begin to act irrationally and emotionally. They can no longer control their emotions, and begin to act violently, even savagely. In addition, the anonymity of belonging to a large group of people also contribute to this behaviour.

As the name contagion suggests, the irrational behaviour of the crowd is contagious, like a disease. This grows with time and consumes the whole crowd, stirring up strong emotions and making them act violent. French revolution in the 18th century is a good example to explain contagion theory and crowd behaviour.

What is Convergence Theory

Convergence theory is a theory that shed new light on collective behaviour. This theory does not state that crowds exert an undue influence on individuals to act in a violent way. Instead, it explains that the behaviour of the crowd reflects the behaviour and attitudes of individuals who join the crowd. Therefore, in convergence theory, the individuals affect the crowd, instead of the crowd affecting the individuals.

What is the Difference Between Contagion Theory and Convergence Theory

To explain this phenomenon further, it’s the people who feel a certain way about a particular issue and want to act in a certain way that converges with similar people. The crowd they form reflect their similar attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours. Let’s look at a mob who commit a hate crime – for example, harassing homosexual people. Here, this mob is made of people who hate homosexuality and who hate gays and lesbians. This is a like-minded crowd. Moreover, their collective behaviour reflects their beliefs and attitudes.

Difference Between Contagion Theory and Convergence Theory

Definition

Contagion theory is a collective behaviour theory that argues that individuals act irrationally when they come under the hypnotic influence of a crowd while convergence theory is a collective behaviour theory that argues the behaviour of the crowd reflects the behaviour and attitudes of individuals who join the crowd.

Basics

In contagion theory, crowds exert an undue hypnotic influence on individuals to act in a violent way, but in convergence theory, like-minded people come together to form a crowd, and attitudes, beliefs, and behaviour of individuals shape the crowd behaviour.

Crowd vs Individuals

In contagion theory, the crowd affects the individuals while in convergence theory, individuals affect the crowd.

Conclusion 

Contagion theory argues that individuals act irrationally when they come under the hypnotic influence of a crowd while convergence theory argues the behaviour of the crowd reflects the behaviour and attitudes of individuals who join the crowd. Therefore, this is the main difference between contagion theory and convergence theory.

Reference:

1. “Theories of Collective Behavior.” Course Hero, Available here.
2. “21.2 Explaining Collective Behavior.” Open Textbooks- Sociology, University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing, 8 Apr. 2016, Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “5406019” (CC0) via Pixabay

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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