For many of us, being in a large crowd can be a stressful experience. But for some, this type of environment can make a person feel at their happiest. Now, a new study published in the journal PLOS One suggests reasons behind these different feelings about busy environments.

Researchers from the University of Sussex, the University of St. Andrews and the University of Leeds, all in the UK, surveyed participants who attended two crowd events.

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A new study suggests that people who are happier in crowds are able to share a ‘social identity’ with crowd members and do not see others as an invasion of personal space.

The first event was an outdoor music concert called the Big Beach Boutique, which took place in Brighton, England, in 2002. Around 250,000 people attended this event, and each crowd member only had 0.5 m2 of space. The investigators surveyed 48 people who attended this event.

The second event was an outdoor protest march against changes in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Approximately 7,000 people attended the march, and each person had around 0.3 m2 of space. From this event, the researchers surveyed 112 attendees.

Questionnaires required the participants to disclose whether they were feeling too crowded at these events, their social identification with other members of crowd, and whether they felt any positive emotions.

Survey results revealed that the more the participants defined themselves as feeling “a part of the crowd,” the less likely they were to report feeling too crowded.

Furthermore, the more the participants said they felt too crowed, the less positive emotion they reported.

The investigators say these findings help explain why a crowd may look “hellish” from the outside, but once on the inside it can be a “heavenly” experience. They note that for many people, the crowd itself is seen as a main part of the event attraction.

The researchers note that their findings may also have important implications for psychology.

Dr. John Drury, of the University of Sussex and co-author of the study, explains that psychologists believe individuals have a “fixed need” for personal space, making other people a threat to our comfort. But he said this “wrongly assumes” we only have one “personal identity.”

He adds:

Our findings are part of a body of work that shows that we have multiple identities based on our group memberships.

The salience of different identities varies according to social context. At those times when people share a social identity with us, their presence is not an invasion of our space at all. They are not ‘other’ – they are ‘us.'”

Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that a spouse’s voice is easier to understand or ignore in a crowd.