Skip to main content

How Do We Get Into Mall Brawls?

The science behind the massive brawl at a Kentucky shopping center.
A scene from the brawl at Mall St. Matthews. (Photo: DaddyWeaknd/Twitter)

A scene from the brawl at Mall St. Matthews. (Photo: DaddyWeaknd/Twitter)

A massive brawl erupted in an unlikely location last week: a Kentucky mall. On Saturday, up to 2,000 people—all in their teens or early 20s—were involved in a series of disturbances at Mall St. Matthews. The fight spanned hours and affected the entire mall. Fifty police officers were forced to join the six cops already on duty at the mall to contain the disorder. NBC News reports:

About 8 p.m., authorities started to advise stores in the mall to close their doors, but those involved in the brawls were refusing to leave. "Businesses were in the process of closing their doors, steel grates, and you had juveniles that were not allowing businesses to close up — [they were] climbing on the grates," [a police spokesman] said.

The source of the brawl is unknown, but such a large disturbance at such a typically innocuous and alcohol-free space inevitably brings up the question: Why do humans brawl? A look at the research offers a few explanations:

  • Humans may just crave violence. Pacific Standard previously covered an animal study that suggested violence can activate the reward pathways in the brain—the same ones revved up by food, sex, and drugs.
  • Stressful situations—like being packed into a crowded mall over the holiday season—are a breeding ground for outbursts. Stress can quickly lead to violence, Howard Stevensen, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania told ABC News after a string of fist-fights between adults at Chuck E. Cheese.
  • Maybe we're just desperate for approval. A study from the Dalla Lana School for Public Health in Toronto found that young men may fight in hopes of gaining approval and influence among their peers. "[I]t turns out that most young men overestimate how much their peers approve of fighting," wrote Kurt Kleiner, who summarized the study for the University of Toronto Magazine in 2011. "And the more the man overestimates peer approval for fighting, the more likely he is to get in a fight."
  • Humans are inclined to mimic other humans. Another 2011 study found that Rock-Paper-Scissors players unconsciously copied the moves of their opponents. The study suggested that the tendency to automatically imitate others was hard for the study participants to overcome.

Luckily, no arrests or serious injuries were reported after Saturday's incident. Still, score one for online shopping.