Source Book for Social Psychology


650 Sociology; Social Psychology

176. The Crowd and Unconscious Attitudes and Stereotypes1

Much early writing on crowd behavior dealt with it in terms of group consciousness, mob mind and other psychological concepts applied to mass phenomena. If we mean by such terms as crowd mind merely a universality of attitudes, ideas and actions in a group of individuals, there is perhaps no serious objection to be made. But the difficulty arises as soon as we pass from this analogous treatment to the belief that mobs or audiences possess a super-individual consciousness. It has been our point of view throughout this volume that group materials are best described in terms of cultural patterns, that is in sociological terms, leaving to social psychology the description of the individuals in social interaction. So long as crowd behavior can be dealt with as a phase of interaction, psychological terms are pertinent. When we deal with the more permanent aspects of group behavior, such as one sees in certain institutional formulations, one must introduce the sociological terminology as well.

The opening selection from Bentley gives us a psychological analysis of human groups. While we have not adopted in this volume the distinction of groups in terms of congregate and assemblage, it is clear that in studying collective behavior some distinction may well be made between groups wherein the individuals are in physical contiguity and other groups wherein they are not physically in each other’s presence, but are held together by psychological bonds. Bentley’s discussion of social meanings and social objects is important. Participation becomes essential to the rise of social meanings. Now this participation may be either direct and presentative as in a mob or audience, or it may be indirect and inferential as in the wider group reached by a newspaper, or in the still wider group of a national political party, or in the international group of bankers, scientists or artists interested in some common objective. Bentley further shows how institutionalization furnishes a means of priming individuals for participation. Institutions imply previous associations, common sentiments and a standard arrangement of actions. In truth, it is upon this basis that Cooley remarks that public opinion and institutional organization are not antithetical but that one grows into the other. Finally, Bentley has introduced the valuable concept of polarization into his description of social action in the crowd.

Miss Clark following the principles laid down by Bentley has described types of crowds and common predispositions which find expression in the crowd situation.

Allport’s paper is an attempt to measure the effect of other persons upon mental associations. This shows something of possible experimentation in the field of crowd behavior. Such work will throw more objective facts into focus and ought to lead to fundamental concepts more valid than those now accepted.

The crowd is distinctly under the domination of stereotypes and word formulas in all cases. As Disraeli puts it, "With words we govern men." The paper by Le Bon brings into focus the close interrelation of word forms, leadership and crowd action.

Scott points out the primitivity of our thought and action in the crowd. The inhibitions are removed and we are more or less free to proceed on lower, more animal levels of response.

Martin, taking his cue from the psychoanalysts, has described crowd behavior most incisively from the point of view of the unconscious formulations behind crowd thinking and acting. He has shown that the crowd is essentially filled with that egotism, hatred and the sense of absolute rightness that also marks the paranoiac. While this treatment of the crowd is most enlightening, it suffers from being based entirely upon an individual psychology. It fails to recognize cultural factors and moreover it does not clearly indicate the place of interaction of individuals. It fails to point out that paranoiac attitudes are part and parcel of the whole unconscious foundation of the in-groups to which we belong. It fails to state clearly the relation of these attitudes to cultural patterns. In short, while incisive and invaluable, it must be supplemented by consideration of other factors than the individual psychology of Freud, Jung and Adler.

Allport’s social psychology is distinctly built around the individual, but he indicates the effect of social stimulation upon the individual’s behavior. In dealing with crowd behavior he attributes the so-called crowd phenomena to the "sense of universality" and projection of our feelings into others. The moral consciousness of the man in the crowd is brought round by a process of projection and rationalization, so that the essential egotism of it may be covered up in a palaver of high-sounding words.

Scott’s description of methods of influencing a crowd shows the place which the leader has in crowd behavior. The appeal, moreover, is not through the reasoning capacities, but through the emotional and instinctive tendencies.

In the second section are two papers on fashion as a phase of crowd behavior. Clerget shows clearly the place which prestigebearers have on fashion. He indicates the spread of fashions from one social class to another, and the fact that changes in fashion may be a sign of transformations in the whole intellectual, emotional and habitual life of a people. This is nicely seen in the present flapper styles which have some relation to the marked advances in the economic emancipation of women.

Mackay shows the spread of slang and other language phrases among the masses. These phrases are usually meaningless by the time they reach the masses. They come to cover an inconceivable number of situations, often contradictory. They have all the marks of slogans, with emotion accompanying the words, but little of clear idea. Slang, then, becomes a fad or fashion and is under the influence of the laws of human interaction just as are fashions in clothes or tastes in reading or eating.

My thesis is that the crowd-mind is a phenomenon which should best be classed with dreams, delusions, and the various forms of automatic behavior. The controlling ideas of the crowd are the result neither of reflection nor of "suggestion," but are akin to what, as we shall see later, the psychoanalysts term "complexes." The crowd-self—if I may speak of it in this way—is analogous in many respects to "compulsion neurosis," "somnambulism," or "paranoiac episode." Crowd ideas are "fixations"; they are always symbolic; they are always related to something repressed in the unconscious.

Our own view may be summarized as follows: (1) The crowd is not the same as the masses, or any class or gathering of people as such, but is a certain mental condition which may occur simultaneously to people in any gathering or association. (2) This condition is not a "collective mind." It is a release of repressed impulses which is made possible because certain controlling ideas have ceased to function in the immediate social environment. (3) This modification in the immediate social environment is the result of mutual concessions on the part of persons whose unconscious impulses to do a certain forbidden thing are similarly disguised as sentiments which meet with conscious moral approval. (4) Such a general disguising of the real motive is a characteristic phenomenon of dreams and of mental pathology, and occurs in the crowd by fixing the attention of all present upon the abstract and general. Attention is thus held diverted from the individual’s personal associations, permitting these associations and their accompanying impulses to function unconsciously. (5) The abstract ideas so entertained become symbols of meanings which are unrecognized; they form a closed system, like the obsessions of the paranoiac, and as the whole group are thus moved in the same direction, the "compulsory" logic of these ideas move forward without those social checks which normally keep us within bounds of the real. Hence, acting and thinking in the crowd become stereotyped and "ceremonial." Individuals move together like automatons. (6) As the unconscious chiefly consists of that part of our nature which is habitually repressed by the social, and as there is 651 always, therefore, an unconscious resistance to this repressive force, it follows that the crowd state, like the neurosis, is a mechanism of escape and of compensation. It also follows that the crowd-spirit will occur most commonly in reference to just those social forms where repression is greatest—in matters political, religious, and moral. (7) The crowd-mind is then not a mere excess of emotion on the part of people who have abandoned "reason"; crowd-behavior is in a sense psychopathic and has many elements in common with somnambulism, the compulsion neurosis, and even paranoia. (8) Crowds may be either temporary or permanent in their existence. Permanent crowds, with the aid of the press, determine in greater or less degree the mental habits of nearly everyone. The individual moves through his social world like a popular freshman on a college campus, who is to be "spiked" by one or another fraternity competing for his membership. A host of crowds standing for every conceivable "cause" and "deal" hover constantly about him, ceaselessly screaming their propaganda into his ears, bullying and cajoling him, pushing and crowding and denouncing one another, and forcing all willy-nilly to line up and take sides with them upon issues and dilemmas which represent the real convictions of nobody.

1 Reprinted by permission from E. D. Martin, The Behavior of Crowds, pp. 19; 48–50. New York. Harper & Brothers, 1920.


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Chicago: "Source Book for Social Psychology," Source Book for Social Psychology in Source Book for Social Psychology, ed. Young, Kimball, 1893-1972 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927), Original Sources, accessed April 22, 2018,

MLA: . "Source Book for Social Psychology." Source Book for Social Psychology, in Source Book for Social Psychology, edited by Young, Kimball, 1893-1972, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1927, Original Sources. 22 Apr. 2018.

Harvard: , 'Source Book for Social Psychology' in Source Book for Social Psychology. cited in 1927, Source Book for Social Psychology, ed. , Alfred A. Knopf, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 April 2018, from