Crowd psychology

Depiction of American Patriots lynching a Tory during the American Revolution

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 Rene Girard, Gustave Le Bon, Wilfred Trotter, Gabriel Tarde, Sigmund Freud, Elias Canetti, Steve Reicher and Julia Constintine. At a general level, crowd psychology is concerned with the behaviour and thought processes of individual crowd members and the crowd as a whole. Given the prevalence of crowd events, and the potential safety issues associated with such large gatherings of people, the topic is receiving increasing attention from agencies responsible for crowd management and also from governments.[1]

Contents

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.[2] 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, leaders ultimately associate themselves with a specific 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."[3]

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.

See also

References

  1. ^ Challenger, R., Clegg, C. W., & Robinson, M. A. (2009). Understanding crowd behaviours. Multi-volume report for the UK Government’s Cabinet Office. London: Cabinet Office. http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/understanding-crowd-behaviours-documents
  2. ^ McPhail, C. (1991). The myth of the madding crowd. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
  3. ^ T. W. Adorno, "Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda." In Vol. III of Psychoanalysis and the Social Sciences. Ed. Géza Roheim. New York: International Universities Press, 1951, pp. 408-433. Reprinted in Vol. VIII of Gesammelte Schriften. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1975, and in The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture. Ed. J. M. Berstein. London: Routledge, 1991.

Further reading

External links


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