Crowd psychology: Wikis


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Crowd psychology is a branch of social psychology. Ordinary people can typically gain direct power by acting collectively. Historically, because large groups of people have been able to bring about dramatic and sudden social change in a manner that bypasses established due process, they have also provoked controversy. Social scientists have developed several different theories for explaining crowd psychology, and the ways in which the psychology of the crowd differs significantly from the psychology of those individuals within it. Carl Jung coined the notion of the Collective unconscious. Other major thinkers of crowd psychology include Gustave Le Bon, Wilfred Trotter, Gabriel Tarde, Sigmund Freud and Elias Canetti.


Theories of crowd psychology


Classical theories

The main idea of Sigmund Freud's crowd behavior theory is that people who are in a crowd act differently towards people from those who are thinking individually. The minds of the group would merge to form a way of thinking. Each member's enthusiasm would be increased as a result, and one becomes less aware of the true nature of one's actions.

Le Bon’s idea that crowds foster anonymity and sometimes generate emotion has become something of a cliché. Yet it has been contested by some critics, such as Clark McPhail who points out that some studies show that "the madding crowd" does not take on a life of its own, apart from the thoughts and intentions of members. Norris Johnson, after investigating a panic at a 1979 Who concert concluded that the crowd was composed of many small groups of people mostly trying to help each other. However, ultimately, leaders themselves identify themselves to an idea.

Theodor Adorno criticized the belief in a spontaneity of the masses: according to him, the masses were an artificial product of "administrated" modern life. The Ego of the bourgeois subject dissolved itself, giving way to the Id and the "de-psychologized" subject. Furthermore, the bond linking the masses to the leader through the spectacle, as fascism displayed in its public representations, is feigned: "When the leaders become conscious of mass psychology and take it into their own hands, it ceases to exist in a certain sense... Just as little as people believe in the depth of their hearts that the Jews are the devil, do they completely believe in their leader. They do not really identify themselves with him but act this identification, perform their own enthusiasm, and thus participate in their leader's performance... It is probably the suspicion of this fictitiousness of their own 'group psychology' which makes fascist crowds so merciless and unapproachable. If they would stop to reason for a second, the whole performance would go to pieces, and they would be left to panic."[2]

Edward Bernays (1891 – 1995), nephew of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, was considered the father of the field of public relations. Bernays was one of the first to attempt to manipulate public opinion using the psychology of the subconscious. He felt this manipulation was necessary in society, which he felt was irrational and dangerous.

Convergence theory

Convergence theory holds that crowd behavior is not a product of the crowd itself, but is carried into the crowd by particular individuals. Thus, crowds amount to a convergence of like-minded individuals. In other words, while contagion theory states that crowds cause people to act in a certain way, convergence theory says the opposite: that people who wish to act in a certain way come together to form crowds. An example of convergence theory states that there is no homogeneous activity within a repetitive practice, sometimes observed when an immigrant population becomes common in a previously homogeneous area, and members of the existing community (apparently spontaneously) band together to threaten those trying to move into their neighborhoods. In such cases, convergence theorists contend, the crowd itself does not generate racial hatred or violence; rather, the hostility has been simmering for some time among many local people. A crowd then arises from convergence of people who oppose the presence of these neighbors. Convergence theory claims that crowd behavior as such is not irrational; rather, people in crowds express existing beliefs and values so that the mob reaction is the rational product of widespread popular feeling.

Relevant texts

• Berk, Richard A. Collective Behavior. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown, 1974

• Buford, Bill. Among the Thugs: The Experience, and the Seduction, of Crowd Violence. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc. (1990)

• Canetti, Elias (1960). Crowds and Power. Viking Adult. ISBN 0-670-24999-8.

• Johnson, Norris R. "Panic at 'The Who Concert Stampede': An Empirical Assessment." Social Problems. Vol. 34, No. 4 (October 1987):362-73

• La Boétie, Etienne, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (16th century) with an introduction by Murray Rothbard, Free Life Editions, 1975. ISBN 0-914156-11-X (etext freely available here, translated by Harry Kurz under the title "Anti-Dictator", Columbia Univ. Press, 1942, with an introduction)

• Le Bon, Gustave (1895). "The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind". Retrieved November 15 2005.

• Mackay, Charles (1841). Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Wordsworth Editions. ISBN 1-85326-349-4.

• McDougall, William, The Group Mind (1920)

• Mc Phail, Clark, The Myth of the Madding Crowd, New York, Aldine de Gruyter, 1991.

• Moscovici, Serge

o (English) Social influence and social change, Academic Press, 1976.

o (French) Psychologie des minorités actives, P.U.F., 1979

o (French) L’Age des foules: un traité historique de psychologie des masses, Fayard, 1981 (about Gustave Le Bon's invention of crowd psychology and Gabriel Tarde)

o (English) Social Representations: Explorations in Social Psychology, Polity Press, 2000

• Rheingold, Howard, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, 2003

• Reich, Wilhelm, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, (1933) 1946 revised and enlarged US edition

• Surowiecki, James, The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, 2004

• Tarde, Gabriel. Les lois de l'imitation (1890), La logique sociale (1895), L'Opinion et la foule (1901), etc.

• Trotter, Wilfred, Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, 1914

• Turner, Ralph, and Lewis M. Killian. Collective Behavior 2d ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1972; 3d ed., 1987; 4th ed., 1993.

• Wells, H.G. Men Like Gods, 1923. (Wells describes a fictional utopian world in which crowds have been eliminated from society.)


1. ^ See Serge Moscovici, L’Age des foules: un traité historique de psychologie des masses, Fayard, 1981 2. ^ Theodor Adorno, "Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda" in The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, London, Routledge, 1991, p.132

• Anonymous (group) • Bread and circuses • Bystander effect • Carl Jung • Charisma • Collective behavior • Collective Effervescence • Collective hysteria • Collective consciousness (and Georg Lukács' critique of Le Bon's crowd psychology, notably through the concept of class consciousness) • Collective unconscious • Communal reinforcement • Conformity (psychology) • The Wisdom of Crowds • Elliott wave theory • Edward Bernays • Gabriel Tarde and Gustave Le Bon, early theorists of crowd and social psychology • Group behavior • Groupthink • Herd behavior • Herding instinct • Hive mind • Kurt Lewin • LGAT • Macy Conferences • Memory hole • Mob mentality • Over-soul • Social proof • Volksgeist ("Spirit of the People") • Wilfred Trotter

[edit] Other • Dr. J. P van de Sande (Dutch and English, see On Crowds)

See also





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