From the ancient Greeks to modern riot police, men moving into “battle,” either against an invading Persian army or to control a protest, often do so as a unit—shoulder to shoulder, their legs moving in lockstep. To outsiders, such formation marching presents a commanding aura, an appearance of unity, cohesion and power. For the men moving in formation it does something similar: it makes their enemies feel smaller, weaker. It could even, suggest two psychologists, make the men in the unit more prone to aggression.
According to a new study, an experiment suggests that men who walk with others in synchronized movements “envisioned a purported criminal as less physically formidable than did men who engaged in this task without synchronizing.” Stretching from the study’s specific findings, the scientists suggest that this could make men, hopped up on power, more likely to be aggressive, says the Washington Post.
In a release about the research the University of California says that the idea has obvious relevance to the events that recently took place in Ferguson, Mo. Much attention has been paid to police SWAT team’s use of military-grade gear. But SWAT is an acronym for “special weapons and tactics.” “[W]hat if the simple act of marching in unison — as riot police routinely do — increases the likelihood that law enforcement will use excessive force in policing protests?” asks UCLA.