Mass Panic and Social Attachment: The Dynamics of Human Behavior

Article excerpt

MASS PANIC AND SOCIAL ATTACHMENT: THE DYNAMICS OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR Anthony R. Mawson Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007, 309 pp., $124.95 (hardcover)

A psychotherapist, musing on mortality, mentioned to me that, were the plane to go down, she would prefer be traveling from a vacation with her spouse so as to spend the last moments with a person she loved devotedly. Anthony Mawson applies science to human responses to catastrophe. Mass Panic and Social Attachment begins curiously invitingly: It is dedicated to Professor Mawson's parents and brother, it is introduced with a chronicle of an academic career not overlooking warm details such as the author's musical performances (perhaps a diversion?) at bars and restaurants in Massachusetts. The book cover is a photograph emphasizing the angularity of city streets and reminiscent of the opening shots of "North by Northwest," itself a familiar and comfortable reference but a study in distress and affiliation as well.

Mawson gets into deeper waters by presenting several theoretical models of group panic, dating forward from the 1940s, describing human behavior based on emotional (rather than pragmatic) reactions. The common feature of these theories is attachment. Children, when wary, grasp for parents; groups seek authority figures in occasions of crisis.

Mawson aligns human panic with other sorts of emotive behavior-rage, flight (sympathetic), and eventually withdrawal and immobility (parasympathetic). His observations, if sometimes tedious (prisoners and confession, for instance), are never so for long and frequently lucid (cognitive mapping to identify the familiar, incongruity, the concept of havens of safety). …