From Emergencies inspire crowd cooperation, not panic (via Mind Hacks http://www.mindhacks.com/):
"Crowd plus emergency equals mass panic, or so urban myths and Hollywood films would have us believe. The reality, recognised by social psychology for some time, is that people in crowds often behave in remarkably cooperative and selfless ways. A new study by John Drury and colleagues suggests that this kind of collaborative behaviour emerges when people in a crowd acquire a shared identity. And contrary to the "mass panic" perspective, an emergency can be the very catalyst that brings people together."
There are links to John Drury's papers as well as a recent book "A PARADISE BUILT IN HELL:The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster" by Rebecca Solnit reviewd here: The Better Angels of Our Nature. Excerpt from the review:
"Her accounts of these five events are so stirring that her book is worth reading for its storytelling alone.
But what makes it even more fascinating is Solnit's demonstration that disasters give rise to small, temporary utopias in which the best of human nature emerges and a remarkable spirit of generosity and cooperation takes over. "Disaster," she writes, "along with moments of social upheaval, is when the shackles of conventional belief and role fall away and the possibilities open up." People suffering unimaginable misfortune often revert not to savagery but to an almost beatific selflessness, comforting themselves in extremis by aiding others. Solnit cites many examples of those who remember a disaster as, paradoxically, one of the great moments of their lives. The reaction is similar to that of some who recall the Great Depression as a time of spiritual and social richness."