The power of the crowd

At Peace Direct we’re launching a new Crowdfunding initiative to raise vital funds for our Voice of Image project in Sri Lanka. As part of our research, we wanted to look into the effects that large groups of people can have on a situation. With the World Cup in full swing we thought – what better place to start? Here’s what we found.

Image credit: Crystian Cruz
Image credit: Crystian Cruz

As you may know, here at Peace Direct we’re launching a new Crowdfunding initiative to raise vital funds for our Voice of Image project in Sri Lanka. Crowdfunding involves raising small amounts of money from a large number of people online – from a virtual crowd. As part of our research, we wanted to look into the effects that large groups of people can have on a situation. With the World Cup in full swing we thought – what better place to start? Here’s what we found.

Prior to a ball even being kicked, Brazil were heavy favourites to win this summer’s World Cup. Some bookmakers were only offering odds of three to one on a home victory. There’s no doubt Brazil are a top side, and they have previous form, having won the tournament no fewer than five times: but there’s more to it than that. Host teams have reached the semi-final stage in 12 of the last 19 World Cup tournaments, and have won on six occasions. Clearly there’s an advantage to be gained from playing on home ground.

According to research by the investment bank Goldman Sachs, the advantage of being at home can be equated to a 0.6 goal head start in any particular match. How can this be explained?

Former footballers and managers alike have been keen to emphasise the impact of the home fans as they roar on the Brazilian national team. The common assumption is that the positive mood of the crowd contributes to an improved performance by the team, who are buoyed by their support: and that the away teams suffer from a hostile crowd. However, research by social scientists suggests that while this does occur in certain matches and to a certain extent, far more significant is the ability of the crowd to sway the referee.

Obviously referees are trained to be immune to the crowd and do their best not to be affected.

But it is in our nature to be swayed by a majority: it can even provoke us to doubt our own perceptions. The pioneering social psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a study in which he placed a group of people in a room for a visual perception test. All but one of them had been instructed to give the same incorrect answer. This was designed to test the resolve of the uninstructed individual, who always answered after the others. 75 per cent of the uninstructed people gave an incorrect answer, in many cases despite knowing it was incorrect: they said they had decided the group must know best, or they did not want to appear different from the group. Given this power of the group to sway the individual, imagine the power of thousands of screaming football fans…

So the impact of a crowd is clear. They can play a role in determining the final result, and possess the ability to swing it in their team’s favour. We want to harness this power and assemble a crowd of our own, online, to generate a real result for the young people of our Voice of Image project. Crowdfunding, like other social media, works through the power of the online crowd to generate support and influence events. In this case, the effect could be as life-changing as winning the World Cup. The young people we are supporting will be helping to build a better future in their post-war country, and prevent it descending into conflict again.

More details of the crowdfunding campaign will be emailed out in our Practical Peace newsletter on July 3. Do sign up for it if you haven’t already – it’s always packed with latest news and inspiring stories  from the frontline of peacebuilding. And together we can play to win.

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