What is Panic?

Panic is a form of crowd behavior that occurs when a large number of people react to a real or perceived threat with strong emotions and self-destructive behavior.

Common notion is that panics are mobs that are scared or anxious. These feelings increase as members of the group think chances of succeeding are growing slimmer and slimmer. Most panics are caused by people trying to get away from a specific situation or environment. Some are caused by people who are trying to secure a limited commodity, such as food or water, after a natural disaster.

Panics can also arise in response to events that people believe are beyond their control—such as major disruption in the economy. Although panics are relatively rare, they receive massive media coverage because they provoke strong feelings of fear in readers and viewers, and the number of casualties may be large.

In the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life (Capra 1947), the main character, George Bailey, comes face to face with a mob that is on the verge of becoming a panic. A crowd forms when people who have money deposited with George’s lending company hear word of a run on the bank. This mob is on the verge of becoming a panic because its members are looking for access to limited resources: their deposits in the bank. George explains that the loan company doesn’t keep large amounts of money on hand, and through some smooth talking he steers the mob away from violence.

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