Social Psychology

Chapter 12: Response to Social Stimulation in the Crowd

Floyd Henry Allport

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The Crowd Situation. A crowd is a collection of individuals who are all attending and reacting to some common object, their reactions being of a simple prepotent sort and accompanied by strong emotional responses. These conditions distinguish the crowd from the co-acting group, since in the latter the attention of each individual is usually concentrated upon his own task, and his responses are non-emotional habits of a rather complex type. A co-acting group whose members are attending to a common stimulus may be readily converted into a crowd. The crowd differs from the face-to-face group in that its individuals respond to some object common to all, while the members of the face-to-face group respond entirely to one another. The social stimuli offered by the face-to-face group are direct; those afforded by the crowd are contributory. Dynamically the crowd is a large-scale suggestion phenomenon. It exhibits all three phases of the suggestion process. The people are brought together by a common interest preparing them for a certain type of action. The harangue of the leader, or similar stimulus common to all, increases this preparation to the point of breaking forth. The command or first movement of some individual toward the act prepared affords the stimulus for release. And finally, when act and emotion are under way, the sights and sounds of others' reactions facilitate and increase further the responses of each.

A number of vivid accounts of crowd behavior have been written. They have, however, directed attention mainly to the crowd as a whole, and so have been descriptive rather than explanatorv (cf. Chapter I). Individual causation has either been overlooked or else subordinated to such metaphors as `psychic planes,' 'forces,' `contagion of emotion,' and 'crowd self.' Although valuable as pioneer studies, these accounts, in the writer's opinion, fail to reach the heart of the crowd situation.



Prepotent Drives in Various Crowds. One often reads that in violent mobs the elemental cave-man stands revealed. Fear, lust, and rage appear in their naked simplicity and barbaric strength. Some writers assert that the 'instincts' are here released in their original, unmodified force. Others, of more romantic bent, believe that in the crowd there is a regression to an atavistic or primitive type of man. Whatever the manner of explanation, the fact is clear that in crowd phenomena the fundamental drives of protection, hunger, and sex are the supreme controlling forces. These responses (described in detail in Chapter III) are modified in the direction of brutal strength rather than that of socialization. In the crowd panic in a theater fire the reactions of withdrawal and escape occur in their fullest power, unchecked or undirected by regard for others. The socialized modifications of these reactions, such as withdrawing in a way that does not inconvenience or endanger others, are inhibited because insufficient to cope with so overwhelming a stimulus; and the original withdrawal reactions accompanied by terror are released in their immediate and most vigorous form.

Food riots among the famished populations of the Central-European cities serve as recent illustrations of the release of the hunger reaction. A similar epidemic of looting accompanied the Boston police strike a few years ago. Old attitudes of envious longing for the goods displayed in shops were suddenly released by the removal of the pressure of the law. The participants in a lynching mob exhibit responses of struggle against the thwarting of certain fundamental individual drives. If our own kin are done violence, our prepotent habits of love (family and sexual responses) are violated or imperiled. Hence the primitive wrathful struggle reaction is evoked. It is precisely this response, conditioned by the various details of the case as stimuli, which is called forth when we learn of this sort of violence done to others. We put ourselves in the place of the person who has been outraged, or the near kin of that person, and react accordingly. Sympathetically aroused rage

(294) at the thwarting of family and sex interests is thus the dominant impulse. Indignation of the same type as that aroused in the lynching crowd has been widely expressed in regard to political radicalism, bomb plots, and reported 'nationalization of women' in Russia. The defense of life, of property, and of the love interests in the family have become public issues precisely because they are felt as private demands in the life of each individual. The strike riot combines the various elementary drives. There are involved the fear of losing one's livelihood and the angry struggle against powers which threaten the hunger drive and the love interests centered in the family of the workman.

All of the fundamental, prepotent reactions are therefore operative in crowds of various sorts, and conversely, all spontaneous, mob-like crowds have their driving forces in these basic individual responses.

Crowds as Struggle Groups. Crowds then are struggle groups of an elementary and violent character. With the exception of a few varieties, such as panics and religious revivals, the reactions of struggling, fighting, and destroying are their universal phenomena. The menacing of the drives of a large number of individuals simultaneously both draws them together and incites them to common action. The struggle and the anger may take a mild form such as the rivalry for supremacy in a football match; or it may be as violent as that of the lynching party. But it is always a struggle of some sort against limitation, oppression, and opposition to the free satisfaction of original or derived drives.

It is often said that crowds are creatures of hate and invariably demand their victims. There is, however, sufficient psychological reason for this. The formation of the crowd springs from the collective struggle responses of individuals. The mob members do not demand a victim merely in order to shed blood, but to restore their thwarted responses to their normal operation. The anger is often unreasonable, and the choice of the victim hasty and unjust; but the principle stated remains true. If the culprit lives, law-abiding people feel the security of their homes and property threatened. He must therefore be put to death. Crowd vengeance is thus a manifestation of the struggle response.


Individual factors are often neglected in crowd theories. Accounts of the earlier writers, such as M. Le Bon, suggest that crowd phenomena result from the mere fact of aggregation, and that the crowd is an enormous detached force to be wielded in any direction at the caprice of its leader. The first of these implications may be seen in the following quotation: - "the fact that they [the individuals] have been transformed into a crowd puts them in possession of a sort of collective mind which makes them feel, think, and act in a manner quite different from that in which each individual of them would feel, think, and act were he in a state of isolation.”[1] This interpretation puts a premium upon the bare aggregation into a crowd, and minimizes the significance of those fundamental drives which control the individual. Le Bon drew many of his illustrations from the crowds of the French Revolution. Yet he failed strangely to realize that it was not the 'collective mind' or the 'crowd impulse' which stormed the Bastille and guillotined scores of aristocrats. It was the individual citizen who did this —  the man who 'in a state of isolation' had for many years felt the same hatred and cherished the same spark of vengeance and lust for freedom that was now bursting into flame in the crowd. Nothing new or different was added by the crowd situation except an intensification of the feeling already present, and the possibility of concerted action. The individual in the crowd behaves just as he would behave alone, only more so.

Since individual preparation for response underlies crowd phenomena, it follows that the course' of action is fairly determined from the start. While the crowd may sometimes be quelled, it can scarcely be diverted from its original intent to an opposite one by the words of a demagogue. When such a one tries to do this he is usually ridiculed or forcibly silenced. If he succeeds in persuading many of the individuals to adopt his view, the crowd is dispersed. As long as it remains a crowd it must cling to the fundamental reactions upon which the individuals have been launched. Crowd members are suggestible in the hands of a leader; but the suggestion must always be in the direction of some compelling response of the individuals. The common notion of the fickleness of crowds must certainly be qualified.


It is the individual therefore who is the raison d'être of the crowd., His response both provides the motive for the collective behavior and limits its direction. Action is facilitated and intensified through the presence of the crowd; but, it originates in the drives of the individual. This fact is fundamental for our understanding Of the more subtle phases of the crowd influence to which we now turn.


'Contagion.' The Induced Emotion Theory. Although the behavior of the individual in the crowd is not different in kind from his behavior when alone, it is greater in degree. The excesses to which some men go in the license of warfare, the industrial or race riot, the lynching mob, and the religious and financial craze, are too familiar to require special illustration. Certainly there is something in the stimulations afforded by crowd members to one another which augments the responses of each in an extraordinary degree. This has been recognized for a long time; but attempts to explain the mechanism of such interstimulation have been very meager. Writers have been content to speak of it in metaphorical terms such as 'conduction' or `contagion of emotion.' Professor McDougall has advanced his theory of sympathetic induction of the emotions as an explanation in this field.[2] This theory has already been stated and criticized (p. 234). It will be recalled that its main hypothesis regards the facial and bodily expression of an emotion as a stimulus, arousing, as an instinctive response, the same emotion in the beholder. If we grant this theory to be a true account of the influence of the emotion of one person upon another, the large number of such evidences of emotion within the crowd would act with combined effect to evoke in each individual an emotional reaction of terrific power.

We found occasion to question the existence of the process of sympathetic induction in Chapter X. A further objection to its use as an explanation here is that it overlooks the fact of sufficient reason for response within the individual himself. We can best illustrate the defects of this theory by applying it, with a rival

(297) theory, to an actual incident analogous to the crowd phenomenon. The writer was once pulling two little children, a boy and a girl, in a small cart. Upon rounding a curve the cart upset spilling the occupants onto the pavement and shaking them up considerably. The boy, though bruised and alarmed, was evidently suppressing his tendency to cry, when the girl recovered her breath sufficiently to set up a loud wail. The boy thereupon broke into crying. According to the 'induction theory' the sight and sound of the weeping in the girl served as stimuli which aroused the same reactions in the boy, because crying tends to follow as an instinctive response to the expression of grief in another.

If we examine the case more closely, however, we shall find two essential elements: (1) a coon stimulus (the shaking up) producing in both children a preparation for the same response (crying) ; and (2) the release of this setting in the second individual by the sight and sound of its occurrence in the first. Both phases were necessary parts of the incident. If the boy had not been spilled out of the cart along with the girl, the crying of the latter would probably not have caused him to cry. On the other hand, if the girl had kept silent, it is unlikely that the bruises received by the boy would have set him to weeping. Thus, although an important allied effect is seen in the social stimulus expressing the same emotion, we must recognize the necessity of a reason far the reaction in the individual himself. To explain the boy's behavior as the result of `sympathetic induction' of emotion from the behavior of the girl is therefore to give false emphasis to the latter. There was already in the boy the beginning of the crying reaction (facial expression), showing that a reaction strongly prepared was being inhibited. The stimulus from the cry of the girl merely aided in breaking through this inhibition and releasing the prepared reaction. It contributed to the emotional response, but it did not induce it.[3] [4]


Stated in this way the incident falls definitely under the head of social facilitation as defined and illustrated in the preceding chapter. When the individual is set to respond by a certain act the stimulations received from the performance of that act by another serve to release the act and to augment it as it is being carried out. We have here, in the writer's opinion, the exact situation existing in crowds. We have already seen that there is a strong incentive operating in each individual quite apart from the social stimulations present. Given this preparation for action, or the incipient response itself, the similar behavior of others provides the release and the augmentation of the act and the emotion to a high pitch.

Social Facilitation in Crowds. The same law, therefore, which explains the social increment in the co-working group is operative also in the heightening of emotion and action in the crowd. In the former case it was the performance of some complex task which was facilitated by the co-working of others. In the crowd it is the emotional reaction which is facilitated by the expressive behavior (facial expressions, gestures, shouts, hisses, murmurs) of the others. In the crowd there is also the attitude for the overt reaction of flight or attack, prepared in each individual by the common stimulus to which all are attending. This is released and augmented by the sight of others performing the same act. The pressure of elbows and bodies as the crowd surges forward effects the individual in a powerful manner. It serves not only as a social facilitation, but as a suggestion of the vast size and strength of the mob and the necessity for placing one's self at its disposal. In the crowd, even more than in the group, the individual assumes an attitude of the most complete submission and conformity. This

(299) attitude renders him still more susceptible to the effects of social facilitation.

Although social facilitation is rather an observed process than a complete principle of explanation, it is certainly a more accurate interpretation of the facts than is the induced emotion theory. The individual who is 'one of the crowd' will go to any extreme in carrying out the action he is set to perform. Facilitation can increase his response almost without limit. Lacking this common setting social stimuli have little facilitating value. We may summarize the explanation of crowd excitement in the following words: By the similarity of human nature the individuals of the crowd are all set to react to their common object in the same manner, quite apart from any social influence. Stimulations from one another release and augment these responses; but they do not originate them.

There are two objections which might be raised to the statement that emotions are not caused by the expressions of one's fellows, but only brought to a higher pitch. First, it is alleged that some participate inthe laughter and excitement of crowds when the cause is unknown to them. They laugh because they hear others laugh. While there are probably individual differences, laughing under these conditions is usually a pretense. We usually inquire what the joke was, so that we can react with the others. The same tendency is noted in experiments in judging facial expressions. The attempt is made to guess the situation that would evoke such expressions; and upon determining this the recognitive response to the expression is immediate and genuine. This well represents the crowd situation. The cause of the reactions of the others is known because all are responding to the same situation; and this fact gives full meaning and stimulating value to the emotional behavior in one's fellows.

 The second objection is that persons not in sympathy with the attitude of the crowd members are sometimes won over by stimulation from the crowd. Those who "come to scoff remain to pray." A young man who went to a meeting of international radicals in a spirit of hostility to their views found himself rising with the throng when their brotherhood hymn was sung. Such cases, however, are explained by the attitude of submissiveness and

(300) suggestibility in the presence of large numbers. In certain individuals this attitude leads to conformity of action. It is a set for general conformity, however, rather than an induction of specific responses by the sight of those responses in others. More ascendant persons report that their hostility and opposition to a crowd they oppose are increased, instead of abolished, by the expressive behavior of those about them.

It seems likely, therefore, that our preceding interpretation of crowd excitement holds true in general. The origin of responses is determined not by crowd stimuli but by the prepotent trends of the individual himself. The increase in the violence of emotion and action in crowds is due to the effect of behavior stimuli from others in releasing and reinforcing these prepared responses of individuals.

The Origin and Spread of Social Facilitation. Special Devices. The initial movements which release and augment the activity of the crowd members usually begin at some center, and spread in widening circles to the periphery of the crowd. The process is swift and complete. The first to act or express their feelings are the most suggestible and uninhibited persons. Ignorant and impulsive individuals may thus precipitate an avalanche of social stimulation which finally overwhelms the more intelligent and self-controlled. The vast power of crowd facilitation may thus be at the disposal of the least competent. This is one of the serious charges brought against the crowd as a factor in modern social life.

In our study of group influence we found that the social increment was in direct proportion to the overt evidence of the co-working of others. The same rule applies to crowd excitement, and is practiced by all those skilled in the art of, public control. Speakers who wish to stir their audiences use special methods for eliciting responses of a demonstrative sort, so that an abundance of contributory social stimuli may be in evidence. The introductory humorous story arouses the individual's mirth, and facilitates through his laughter the laughter of ethers. Appeals are made to emotional rather than to thought responses; for emotional expression is the very material of which crowd facilitation is made. A crowd cannot be made up of reasoning individuals, because reasoning involves few outward responses through which individuals

(301) stimulate one another. Sentiments common to all are touched upon, since these involve expressive postures of stimulating value. Revered names are mentioned, and appeals are made in the name of justice, brotherly love, and patriotism. Routine activities such as reading or singing in concert, and rising and sitting together are familiar methods of making individuals more aware of one another, and so establishing a receptive attitude toward the expressive stimuli later to be evoked. Crowd building thus forms a vital portion of the forensic art.[5]

Spatial Factors and Circularity in Crowds. Social Behavior in the Audience. If a number of individuals attending to some common object are arranged side by side in a row, each individual (except those at the ends) will receive contributory visual stimulations from two others, his right- and left-hand neighbors. In a crowd, however, the irregular grouping of persons makes it possible for each to be affected from all sides, and to receive stimuli, not from merely one or two, but from a large number of individuals. This fact, a purely mechanical one, must be recognized in explaining the heightened reactions of the individual in the crowd. Not only is the strength of social facilitation multiplied many fold by this arrangement; but each person is overwhelmed with greater submissiveness in the observed presence of large numbers.

Many of the persons, moreover, who stimulate their neighbors see or hear the intensified response which their behavior has produced in the latter, and are in turn restimulated to a higher level of activity. This effect is again felt by their fellows. Thus the effects of social stimulation increase themselves by a kind of circular 'reverberation' until an unprecedented violence of response is developed (cf. p. 152). The circular effect thus made possible upon the individual is multiplied by the number of persons in the crowd who are within range of mutual stimulation with that individual. It is thus said that in a crowd the strength of excitement increases in geometrical proportion to the number of individuals present.

Public speakers not only aim to produce individual responses of value for social facilitation; they give attention also to the spatial

(302) factors influencing the action of such stimuli. Requesting a scattered audience to sit near the front not only increases the direct control of the speaker, but also brings the auditors sufficiently close together for their expressive behavior to take effect upon one another. Dr. C. R. Griffith has shown that the presence of social stimuli on all sides influences the progress of the student in the classroom. In lecture classes the average grades of students taken from various parts of the room show that the optimum region for high averages is slightly forward from the middle row of the class and well in from the sides. In the first couple of rows and in the rows at the extreme rear, as well as in sections separated from the main body by aisles and pillars, the average is distinctly lower. The good student sitting in these regions usually redoubles his effort and overcomes the handicap by harder work. But the indifferent student shows evidence of permanent lowering of marks traceable to the lack of the accustomed spur to effort which he received in other classes where he sat nearer the center of the group.[6]

Due allowance being made for unfavorable angle of vision, distance from the lecturer, and the like, there remains clear evidence that these differences in attainment are due to differences in facilitation received from the attentive attitudes, note-taking, and signs of interest of those about one. Students in the front row had only their immediate right- and left-hand neighbors as sources of contributory stimulation. Those in the rear row had, in addition to these, a large number of stimulations from in front of them; but they lacked the 'feeling of being backed up' by fellow auditors. Though we are not visually stimulated by those behind us, our attitudes for work or excitement seem to be considerably determined by the knowledge that they are there.' Dr. Griffith's results are the more remarkable because the social stimuli afforded by listeners to an academic discourse are usually very slight. In the excited behavior within the crowd these gradients of social facilitation must he marked indeed.


The relation of audience and speaker is in itself a complex phenomenon. The individuals respond to the direct stimulation of the spoken sounds. Meanwhile the overt components of their responses are serving as contributory stimuli to one another enhancing the effect of the speaker's words. The responses are further increased by the circular mechanism described above. Finally, there is a circular facilitation of response between the speaker and the listeners. The ‘amens' and 'hallelujahs' of the congregation stir the revivalist to still more eloquent discourse, thereby increasing again the volume of religious emotion. The cries of the audience provoke ever fiercer denunciations from the revolutionary orator. These in turn release fresh torrents of emotional response.[7] Many audiences which begin as groups of reasoning, co-acting individuals thus develop into turbulent crowds.

Suggestion and the Suggestion Consciousness in Crowds. The social facilitations present in crowd-audiences are a portion of the general suggestion process outlined in Chapter X. Before the actual suggestion for release of action there is the preparation of an attitude for compliance with whatever stimulations to action may be received. The prestige of large numbers is probably based on the primitive ascendance of direct physical power. We are overwhelmed by the press of humanity about us. Individuals therefore upon finding themselves in a crowd adopt an immediate, though perhaps unconscious, attitude of yielding to all suggestions coming from that source. The commands of the crowd leader are multiplied in their weight by the number of auditors upon whose ears they fall, for they seem to be coming to us from them as well as from him. In this thorough submission of attitude it is not to be wondered at that cries such as "Lynch him!" and "Kill the scab!" touch off the skeletal reactions with which they are integrated (see pp. 213 -11).


Social facilitation and the submissive attitude inhibit all forms of response at variance with the crowd tendency. They also narrow the focus of attention upon the suggested act. All marginal consciousness, all deliberative or restraining factors, and all critical attitudes are inhibited. Even the background of the consciousness of self, present in many of our more normal moments, is obliterated. There is a narrowing of the conscious field to the acts and feelings suggested. Emotional factors contribute to this effect. Even in a solitary environment an extremely violent emotion causes a temporary lapse of personal consciousness. As we say, ‘we didn't know what we were doing until it was all over.' The bodily changes in the wild excitements of crowd action evidently produce a similar effect.

The mental condition just described resembles the behavior and consciousness of the hypnotized subject. There is little reason, however, to assert with some writers, that crowds are hypnotized, and that crowd phenomena are due to the 'subconscious activities' of a 'dissociated self.' Hypnotic suggestion phenomena, such as collective hallucinations, 'gift of tongues,' and the like are sometimes seen in crowds under long strain of hope or expectation. These, however, are to be regarded rather as anomalies due to special forms of preparation than as typical instances of suggestibility in crowds.

The Conservatism of the Crowd Man. Submission to large numbers has a further consequence. It renders individuals in the crowd extremely conservative. Conservatism may be defined psychologically in two ways. The first way is to regard it as an attitude of conformity with one's contemporaries. This we have found to be present in judgments rendered in the group. It is carried over into the crowd as conformity, not only of thought and belief, but of feeling and overt action. The second conception of conservatism is that of adherence to the historically established view, or tradition, of the crowd. This attitude is fundamentally the same as the other. The reason why we refuse to depart from the traditional form of response is largely because, until proved otherwise, it is the accepted form. After a sudden change in popular feeling or belief conformity to tradition is avoided and

(305) stigmatized as 'reactionism.' It is the opinion of the present majority to which the individual adheres. Both forms of conservatism are thus based upon the attitude of submission to the crowd, and both are illustrated by the drift of opinion in such bodies.

The conservatism of the crowd man is always in relation to his particular crowd. However radical a crowd may be from the standpoint of the nation at large, its individuals are always conservative in relation to the standards it maintains. Their submission to the decisions of its majority and to its established principles is absolute.


The Impression of Universality. There are strict limits to the assumption, stated on page 301, that the number of stimulations brought to bear upon the individual increases in a geometric relation to the number of persons in the crowd. If one is surrounded by a throng, those near at hand shut out the view of those more distant. Barring volume of sound, therefore, a man in the center of a crowd of five hundred should receive as many contributory stimulations as the man in the midst of a crowd of five thousand. It will be agreed, however, that excitement runs higher in the vast throng than in the smaller body. We must therefore find some explanation, other than facilitation through social stimuli, to account for this dependence of crowd excitement upon numbers. A number of references have been made to the attitude assumed by the individual when he knows that he is in the presence of a large company. This situation is more complex than that of the small crowd with actual all-to-all contacts, the form of the response being largely determined by a central adjustment in the individual's nervous system, as well as by the external stimulations which call it forth. In terms of behavior we may say that the individual reacts to stimuli which he actually receives as if they were coming from an enormously greater number of individuals. In terms of consciousness he imagines that the entire vast assembly is stimulating him in this fashion. He has mental imagery— visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic —  of a great throng of people whom he knows are there, although he does not see them. These people

(306) moreover are imagined as reacting to the common crowd object. There is vivid visual and motor imagery of their postures, expressions, and settings for action. We have already seen that there is an attitude to react as the other members of the crowd are reacting. There must of course be some evidence of how they are reacting in order to release this attitude. In default of evidence through stimulation (as in case of those concealed from view) mental imagery supplies the necessary clues.

This fact has been well stated by Dr. W. D. Scott in the following introspective terms: "If the speaker has presented an idea in the form of a mental image, and I am a member of the crowd, the idea then seems to be presented to each individual, for I feel that each of them is thinking the thought and seeing the picture just as the speaker presented it, and hence it is in a sense presented to me by all of those present. Since the idea as presented is assumed by me to be accepted by all present, it would seem absurd for me to question it."[8] It will be convenient to speak of the attitude of responding as if to a great number of social stimuli and the accompanying imaginal consciousness of the crowd's reaction as the impression of universality.

Social Projection. A further imaginal factor is revealed in the behavior of the individual in the crowd. Whence comes this impression that the entire crowd is accepting and acting upon the suggestions given by the speaker? Why does the individual suppose that the attitude of those whom he cannot observe is favorable rather than hostile to the words uttered? The sight of compliance in one's immediate neighbors in part affords an impression which is extended to the entire crowd. The mere fact that the speaker is known to have prestige also counts. But a further explanation probably applies here. It may be stated as follows: As we catch a glimpse of the expressions of the others we 'read into them' the setting which for the time is dominating us. This tendency is true of all perceptions under the influence of a special attitude. We ourselves accept and respond to the words of the leader; acid therefore we believe and act upon the assumption that others are doing so too.

(307) The attitude and imagery involved in this reference of self-reaction '; to others we may call by the figurative term, social projection.

In crowds social projection and the impression of universality work hand in hand. To feel fully the presence of the multitude we must realize an identity between their behavior and ours. The response which we imagine to be universal is a 'projection' of our own response. By a circular_ effect, moreover, this same response comes back to us with all the reinforcement that large numbers bring. The sequence is therefore as follows: (1) we react to the common object of attention; (2) we assume the attitude and belief that others are reacting in the same way, and interpret their expressions so far as seen with that meaning; and (3) our response is increased all the more because of this (assumed) agreement and support of the others.

A few illustrations from daily life will give a clearer notion of the imaginal and attitudinal behavior we are discussing. In conversation one who makes a telling remark often laughs, raises his brows, or shows by other expressions that he is conscious of having deeply impressed or startled his interlocutor. Such consciousness may be, and often is, wholly fallacious. The speaker is so absorbed in his own enthusiasm that he misinterprets the response of the other to indicate a fuller sympathetic agreement with his own reaction than really exists. This is a special instance of the attitude of social projection. The impression of universality, if we may so call it when only two are concerned, becomes in this case au illusion of universality. The bashful youth 'projects' his intense consciousness of himself into those about him and thus becomes embarrassed or timid. The swaggering individual and the adolescent, holding personal conversations in a loud tone of voice, regard others as sharing the admiring or sympathetic interest which they feel in themselves. Facial expressions and postures of others are often wrongly interpreted by us as signs of the same emotions we are experiencing. As a boy the writer was harassed by the belief that other people, through some telepathic process, were aware of his inmost thoughts. In certain types of insanity unconscious and dissociated thought reactions are projected to others, so that the patient does not recognize them as his own, but alleges that they

(308) are the ideas or accusations of others concerning him. This is the 'projection' of psychoanalysis. We shall return to it in Chapter XIV.

The Crowd Attitudes and Public Opinion. Psychologically speaking, 'the public' means to an individual an imagined crowd in which (as he believes) certain opinions, feelings, and overt reactions are universal. What these responses are imagined to be is determined by the press, by rumor, and by social projection. Impressed by some bit of public propaganda, the individual assumes that the impression created is universal and therefore of vital consequence. Thus the impression of universality is exploited and commercialized both on the rostrum and in the daily press. Newspaper columns abound in such statements as "it is the consensus of opinion here," "telegrams [of remonstrance or petition] are pouring in from all sides," "widespread amazement was felt," and the like.[9]

In one of our large cities a great ado was created recently by the sensational newspapers in the interests of a reduction in street-railway fare. A petition to the Legislature for lower fares was circulated and a large number of signatures secured. The newspapers meanwhile magnified the public cooperation by editorial, article, and photograph. The names of petitioners were affixed, not to the pages of a book, but to a roll which when unwound would form "a document a mile and a half long" and which "could be wrapped around the State House many times." This "remarkable document" was "rolled on a giant reel," and hauled to the State House "in a truck" (although a single man with a wheelbarrow would have sufficed). Notwithstanding this great array of names, secured and exaggerated through the illusion of universality, no facts or figures were produced in support of legislative interference with the existing rate of fare. The whole movement was a piece of newspaper and political propaganda. And the "remarkable document" was laid upon the table.


During a recent visit of General Pershing to Boston there appeared a newspaper article inspired, perhaps, by a discontented faction of World War veterans. The following quotation will show the attempt of its author to magnify the personal grievance to one of civic interest. (Italics are by the present writer.)

The controversy which has been raging since the refusal of certain YD leaders to attend the mayor's banquet at the this evening [30 out of 300 invited refused to come] has accentuated interest in the general's coming, and Boston is perhaps more concerned over the character of the reception accorded him than in whatever he may do or say while here.

The reader who is not on his guard is likely to be seriously misled by journalism of this character. The allusion to the 'concern' of large numbers produces an unthinking belief in the importance of the statements made. The artifice, however, seems obvious enough when we pause to inquire how the reporter could possibly have known what Boston as a whole was 'concerned over.'

The same deception lurks in flaring headlines. Our eye is caught by these 'scare-heads,' and we say to ourselves unconsciously: "This is big news: it is printed large to attract universal attention. Hence every one else is looking at it as I am doing. That which everybody is interested in must be of great importance."[10] And we proceed, ready to be duly impressed with what follows: Newspapers which capitalize the illusion of universality in this way unfortunately have little to say that is fit to read. But the unscrupulous and sensation-hunting journalist has scored in securing attention and in controlling a portion of public opinion through social projection and the illusion of universality.


Allied and Antagonistic Responses. Resolution of Individual Conflicts in the Crowd. In our discussion of social facilitation it was pointed out that the responses of the individual were augmented through the presence of the other crowd members. But the change

(310) is not solely in the speed and strength of reactions; there is a qualitative difference as well. In the crowd the individual becomes more drastic and violent in carrying out his prepotent impulses j than under other conditions. Extreme measures such as destruction of life and property —  measures from which the individual would shrink with abhorrence when acting alone —  are employed and regarded as justified. This release of the crowd man from the usual moral restraints forms a special problem to which we must now give attention. Let us begin by considering a typical case.

In a comparatively recent strike of coal miners in a Middle-Western State a mob of armed strikers raided the company's property and seized forty or fifty imported, non-union workmen. The intention was to force them to march ahead of their column exposing them to ridicule and abuse through the streets of the mining settlement. Before they had gone very far, however, the shouts of rage from the strikers became so violent that those marching at the head advised the 'scabs' to fly for their lives. This they did, taking to the fields and woods on either side of the road. One of the strikers fired a shot, and immediately the column broke, pursuing the fugitives in at directions and shooting them down without mercy.

This massacre was an immediate expression of the struggle response unmodified by social considerations. Any object which thwarts movement or which opposes prepotent demands for food and sex, and for the safeguarding of love interests in the family will evoke this sort of struggle. Such were the vital interests of the strikers which they felt were at stake in their industrial conflict. And the enemies who were, as they conceived, most active in threatening these interests were the non-union workmen; hence the powerful drive to crush these intruders. We may call this the egoistic (or unsocialized) drive. It was present in each striker. From the moment the 'scabs' were imported there was in each striker the neural setting to drive them out, or if necessary to destroy them.

But although each individual previously to this incident had felt the desire to attack the intruders, he did not do so. There were two reasons for this. The first was fear, that is, the response of

(311) withdrawing from any contemplated act which would cause him still greater suffering through punishment. The second reason, a deeper one, was that he had been taught from infancy to respect the lives and property of others. Even if there could have been no possibility of punishment, it is not likely that any single striker would have murdered one of the non-union men in cold blood. Long-standing habits of respect for others and aversion to acts socially regarded as crimes are too strong for this. We may call this restraining attitude the socialized drive.

One phase of early habit formation is of special importance in the present connection. When the child plays with fire, or is otherwise careless with dangerous objects he is likely to be hurt by these objects themselves. He thus learns to withdraw from acts or objects which punish him by the laws of nature. When, however, he lies, steals, destroys property, or injures playmates, his elders play a necessary part in the punishing process. Social law, rather than natural law, will, he soon learns, punish him for these acts. It is an absolute rule that in the early stages of this moral training other human beings are present and inflict some form of punishment accompanied by reproving words and expressions. Withdrawal from antisocial acts therefore begins as a prepotent response (withdrawal from pain of chastisement) conditioned by the presence and reproving behavior of others. As the child grows older teachers, playmates, and friends take the place of parents as punishers and inhibiters of antisocial conduct. Finally it is the community at large, and the imaginal consensus of public opinion, which by reproving attitudes forbid the participation in crimps against others. Throughout life therefore, as in childhood, the real or imagined presence of others and their expressions of disapprobation remain the necessary conditions which restrain us. Inhibition of misconduct toward others is founded upon social disapproval.

In the heightened emotional of the mob, such as that preceding the massacre of the workmen in our illustration, the egoistic drive of each individual is brought into the sharpest antagonism to this socialized drive. The struggle for satisfaction of personal needs is pitted against the powerful habit of regard for law and human life. The striker wishes, to destroy the non-union

(312) worker; yet he does not wish to destroy him. Since one cannot both kill and spare at the same time, a point of tension is reached in the crowd at which a slight added may decide the issue.

The crucial moment arrives when the first gun is fired or the first blow struck. The individual then sees with his own eyes that others are delivering the blow that he longs to deliver, and are thereby expressing, not disapproval of acts of violence, but the strongest kind of approval. In the face of this it is impossible still to cling to the imagined disapproval of society at large. The crowd in flesh and blood, a more concrete evidence, is immediately and unthinkingly substituted for public opinion in general. By this stroke the entire support upon which the inhibition of violence had rested is cut away. Social disapproval has been converted before our eyes into social approval. That which had been an inhibition to killing the 'scabs' now becomes a facilitation; an attitude antagonistic to the egoistic drive has become an allied one. The drive to kill or destroy now spends itself in unimpeded fury.[11]

The Moral Consciousness of the Crowd Man. Justification of these acts in the consciousness of the individual follows a course parallel with the release of the egoistic drive. All doubt or worry as to one's course of action disappears when one finds one is acting with the other members of the crowd. The fact that others approve of what one wants to do by doing the same thing themselves gives a comfortable sense of moral sanction. The experience of relief is like that of the boy who, having gone swimming or eaten the jam in the face of the sternest parental injunction not to do so, suddenly finds that his mother did not care very much after all. The atmosphere clears in similar fashion when one's egoistic drives are sanctioned and released through crowd stimuli.

The moral consciousness of the individual in mob violence develops somewhat as follows: (1) "1 could do this thing which I want to do as a member of a crowd because no one would observe me, and I would therefore escape punishment. (2) Even if I should be detected, no one could punish me without punishing all the

(313) others. But to punish all would be a physical impossibility. And (3) more than that, it doesn't seem possible to punish a crowd, because that would be making a large number of people suffer. And that is unjust: it is the interest of the many which must always be safeguarded. Hence (4) since the whole crowd show by their acts that they wish the deed to be done, it must be right after all. So large a number of people could not be in the wrong. And finally (5) since so many people will benefit by this act, to perform it is a public duty and a righteous deed."

Words are soon found in which to rationalize the injustice of the mob's action, and none of its participants raises a question. "They got what was coming to them: they tried to steal our jobs," was the remorseless statement of the striking miners as they surveyed the bodies of their victims. Where the struggle group is large and the impression of universality strong, the sense of moral justice is exalted to the plane of the heroic. Members of hooded mobs are impressed with the 'patriotism' of their self-justified acts of violence. The commander who sank the Lusitania received a medal expressing the admiration of the German nation. Revolutionists have put men, women, and children to death upon no further charge than that they were (or might have become) "enemies of The People."

Crowd Ethics in Vocational and Fraternal Groups. The formula that whatever all the members of the crowd do is right is carried over into the various imaginal crowds, or 'publics,' to which individuals belong. If, for example, a tradesman finds that certain practices which he would like to employ, but which are against his ethical training, are used widely by his fellow-tradesmen, he is apt to reason, like the individual in the crowd: so many do it, therefore it must be right. He substitutes his particular trade-class for society at large, just as the crowd member takes the action of a few individuals about him for an expression of the entire body politic. This impression of universality is, of course, an illusion; for the conduct sanctioned carries out what the individuals of the crowd concerned wish to do, but violates the interests of the rest of society.

Class-made morals are one of the greatest enemies to that broader view upon which the theory of democracy is based. The ethics of

(314) the few sanctions injustice to the many. The reporter will not 'write any man up' unless he refuse to provide the desired information for publication. Should he withhold this, it is right (since all reporters follow this practice) to expose him to public abuse or ridicule. Religious denominations and fraternal orders show this tribal tendency in their moral codes. A double standard of justice is set up for the 'insiders' and the `outsiders' of the group concerned. The Bolshevist argues that it is right for him to send bombs through the mail, because he does it in the interest of the masses (his faction), and the capitalists have usurped all other agencies through which the rights of 'The People' can be asserted, There is, of course, honor among thieves; and even prostitutes have their codes of ethics.[11]

Martin's Principles of Crowd Behavior. Mr. E. D. Martin, in a suggestive book, The Behavior of Crowds, has applied the Freudian psychology to elucidate special mechanisms of release through crowd channels.[12] The main thesis may be expressed in his own words as follows: "In the crowd the primitive ego achieves its wish by actually gaining the assent and support of a section of society. The immediate social environment is all pulled in the same direction as the unconscious desire." [13] And again: "The crowd is always formed for the unconscious purpose of relaxing the social control by mechanisms which mutually justify such antisocial conduct on the part of members of the crowd." [14]

This statement does not differ fundamentally from the account we have given above. But through calling attention to repression and the unconscious operation of egoistic drives Martin has been able to present in a novel fashion many of the characteristics of 'crowd behavior.' The neural antagonism which we have observed

(315) between the egoistic and socialized drives often goes on in unconscious terms. It resembles that class of neurotic and paranoid symptoms studied by modern psychopathology.

The real motives for the actions of crowd members are not recognized, because they are antisocial. There are substituted rationalized motives, high-sounding abstract terms, and other 'defense mechanisms' in order to keep up the appearance of high and unselfish ideals. Attention, as Martin says, is focused upon the abstract and general thus permitting the actual concrete and selfish causes to function unconsciously. The changes rung on the word 'liberty' illustrate this tendency. Whatever the partisan of any class may be fighting for, he is apt to fight for it in the name of liberty. Radical groups have recently borrowed the time-honored slogan, 'Political Liberty,' and have converted it into 'Economic Liberty.' For a man to be free economically would, in the sense intended, mean that he would be free to consume as much of the wealth of the world as he chose. No one would be able to place a curb upon his consumption by securing more goods than he. This real motive, obviously primitive and selfish, cannot be admitted in these bald terms. A fine phrase, such as 'Economic Liberty,' is demanded. The crowd members are thus buoyed up by the exalted fiction that their intent is altruistic and even patriotic. In a similar way a group of aid-seeking War Veterans who were trying to secure the passage of a bonus bill substituted for the word 'bonus' the more idealistic phrase 'Adjusted Compensation.'

The very existence of the crowd depends upon its members being unaware that the crowd principles are only pretenses. The disguised motive must remain hidden from consciousness, or all sane individuals will at once recognize it and the illusion will be dispelled. This is the reason for the notorious intolerance of crowds. The good crowd man clings to the fictitious crowd slogans as a psychoneurotic person clings to his defense reactions. The hidden motive, or complex, is jealously guarded; and violent anger is shown toward all who threaten to discover it.

The hatred of crowd members is based upon a similar mechanism. By having an enemy to struggle against the crowd man strengthens his own cause. He is fighting against injustice and oppression;

(316) therefore he is fighting for the right. It does not matter if this hatred has to be elaborated as a pretense, so long as it is hatred. One of the commonest devices is unconsciously to 'project' into others the hidden motives that we ourselves possess (cf. p. 307). This accomplishes a double purpose: first, it provides some one to attack, and secondly, it conceals the true motives the more completely by showing how righteously opposed one is to people having 'such base purposes.' The German military party thus charged France and England with a conspiracy to conquer Germany and restrict her national life through control of the seas. The real motive behind the charge was the desire of Germany to conquer Europe and possess a maritime power equal to that of England. One of the favorite practices of present-day radicalism is to make itself appear the victim of all manner of oppression. A leaflet was recently circulated by the I. W. W. headquarters describing twenty-nine ways in which their members had been unjustly persecuted. References are frequent in these groups to their 'economic oppressors,' and to their 'beloved leaders' who are languishing in prison through the injustice of a capitalistic régime. Through hatreds of this sort crowd members fortify their belief in the absolute righteousness of the crowd principles.

Another interesting release which the crowd situation provides is an exalted attitude of self-importance. The opening words of the conventional public address contain a note of flattery to the audience. 'The privilege of addressing so distinguished a body,' or an equivalent phrase, is so common as to be considered good form. The members of the audience always respond favorably to such a tribute. It does not offend their modesty or good taste; for each one considers that the remark pertains to the crowd as a whole, and his own exaltation consists in being one of that remarkable crowd. Taking pride in one's group is a socially justifiable means of feeling pride in one's self. Crowd members for this reason can be cajoled with flattery of the most obvious type.[15]


It is, of course, true that the principles just described are not applicable to all crowds. In many instances there is nothing unconscious about the drives or the conflicts which they engender in individuals. In the strike riot, for example, the reactions are of the simple, undisguised, prepotent variety. The conflict is 'out in the open'; hence there is no defense against the recognition of motives. Yet it must be acknowledged that Mr. Martin has made a valuable contribution to the theory of crowd influence. Through his efforts many of the long recognized phenomena of behavior in crowds are brought before us with a new find deeper significance.

Summary. The reaction of the individual in the crowd is a primitive, unsocialized response. In mob violence it is for the immediate satisfaction of the demands of defense, hunger, or sex. Most crowds are struggle groups, resisting, often by violence, any limitation placed upon the individual members in regard to their fundamental needs. The deeds of crowd members are not rationally controlled, because the thought process in crowds is used only to serve the prepotent interests, and not to direct them. Hence the crowd thinking of the individual takes the form of rationalization, fine phrases, intolerance, and accusation, reactions which conceal the, true egoistic nature of the motives at work. Crowd struggle requires some one to struggle against. Its normal enemy is the hostile crowd or agency which is thwarting the desires or activities of the crowd members. In instances where the thwarting is due rather to circumstances than to human beings some enemy is found, and hatred developed against him in order to justify the crowd in getting what its members want by force.

The heightening of action and emotion in crowds is due largely to social facilitation through the expressions and movements of others. These movements must be of the same nature as those which the individual himself is set to perform or is actually performing. The attitude of submissinn to large numbers and consequent obedience to suggestion help in the release and augmentation of the prepared responses. The suggestibility of the crowd

(318) member is extreme, and his consciousness is filled with the suggested object or action to the exclusion of all else. Facilitation through social stimuli in the crowd is increased by the eliciting of expressive behavior from the individuals, and by so arranging them that they stimulate one another with maximum effect. Circularity of social behavior obtains among the individuals of an audience-crowd and between the individuals and the leader.

Parts of the crowd not actually seen or heard, as well as the 'general public,' are represented by imaginal consciousness and attitudinal settings in the individual. We respond as if stimulated by the present but unseen members of the throng. We thus have an 'impression of the universality' of a certain response, without adequate sensory evidence of its universality. 'Projection' of one's own consciousness and attitude into others, with resulting reinforcement in one's self, is common in such situations. It may lead to an 'illusion' of universality.

A result of the submissive tendency of the crowd member is an increase in his conservatism. He is reluctant to oppose either the present or the past edicts of his crowd. This conformity is further maintained by his intolerance of any member who criticizes the crowd-principles, or who otherwise threatens the disclosure of the egoistic motives they conceal.

The violence of action in crowds is explained partly by social facilitation combined with the removal of individual responsibility. The chief mechanism, however, is the converting of social agencies which have heretofore been inhibitors of aggressive action into allied stimulations which facilitate such responses. Morality and selfrestraint are acquired through the approval and disapproval of society. In the climax of excitement and anger the individual substitutes the crowd he is in for society at large. Blows which he sees his immediate neighbors strike are considered by him to express universal social approval of the deed. The acts of crowds are, therefore, regarded by their members as morally necessary and right. They are in fact heroic acts; and the abstract principles in whose name they are committed are absolute and eternal.



Bon, G., The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.

Pillsbury, W. B., The Psychology of Nationality and Internationalism, chs. 3, 6,7.

Gault, R. H., Social Psychology, ch. 7.

Martin, E. D., The Behavior of Crowds, chs. 1-6.

Sighele, S., La foule criminelle. Paris, Alcan, 1892.

Davenport, F. M. Primitive Traits in Religious Revivals.

Scott, W. D., The Psychology of Public Speaking, chs. 10-12.

Ross, E. A., Social Psychology, ch. 3.

McDougall, W., The Group Mind, eh. 2.

Bogardus, E. S., Essentials of Social Psychology (2d ed.), ch. 11.

Tarde, G., L'opinion et la Foule, chs. 1, 2.

Sidis, B., The Psychology of Suggestion, part III.

—   "The Source and Aim of Human Progress," Journal of Abnormal Psy chology, 1919, XIV, 91-143.

Galsworthy, J., The Mob (a drama).

Griffith, C. R., "A Comment upon the Psychology of the Audience," Psychological Monographs, 1921, xxx (no. 136), 36-47.

Woolbert, C. H., " The Audience," Psychological Monographs, 1916, XXI, (no. 92), 36-54.

Shroeder, T., "Revivals, Sex and Holy Ghost," Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1919, xiv, 34-47.

Clark, H., "The Crowd," Psychological Monographs, 1916, xxi (no. 92), 26-36.

Cooley, C. H., Human Nature and the Social Order, eh. 10.


  1. Gustave Le Bon: The Crowd, p. 6.
  2. The Group Mind, p. 36.
  3. The mechanism of the release, moreover, was probably not an instinctive response to sounds by the making of similar sounds, but the operation of the circular reflex formed early in infancy. The individual tends to respond to the sound of others crying by crying himself because he has previously heard similar sounds from his own crying while engaged in this act. This mechanism for language responses was explained in Chapter VIII.
  4. To show that we have not been too arbitrary in applying Professor McDougall's theory to the incident used let us examine a similar case cited in support of the theory by that writer himself (Social Psychology, 8th ed., p. 95, footnote). He reports that his child while held in his arms was terrified by a peal of thunder. He himself, though normally unaffected by the noise of thunder, felt a distinct wave of terror upon hearing the scream of the child. His own fear he considered as a pure case of emotion induced in him by the expression of that emotion in another. But the facts seem also to fit the following very different explanation. Every one is frightened to some degree by sudden loud noises. (Such stimuli produce innate withdrawing responses in the infant.) As adults, we have learned to inhibit the full expression of fear at the sound of thunder, or at least we rationalize it by ascribing it to the lightning; but the neural setting is there, ready to be released by any allied stimulus which occurs in its support. Such an allied stimulus was given by the scream of the child. The emotion was therefore not induced, but only facilitated, by its expression in another.
  5. Cf. W. D. Scott: The Psychology of Public Speaking, ch. 12. A number of the crowd-building devices mentioned above have been drawn from Dr. Scott's account.
  6. These findings reveal the unfairness of always seating students alphabetically.  Instance our uneasiness regarding behavior which takes place behind our backs. When sitting with their backs to the middle of the room some persons are so sensitive to faint sounds made behind them that they believe they have an uncanny power, or a `sixth sense,' for feeling the presence of human beings.
  7. The term `polarization' has been suggested to designate audiences which are under the perfect control of the speaker's words, or whose attention is completely riveted upon the speaker. The term, however, is misleading in that it overlooks the contributory stimuli from another source, namely from other listeners, which are so vital in maintaining the relation indicated.
  8. Woolbert, C. H. (reference cited at the end of this chapter).
  9. The Psychology of Public Speaking, p. 178. Quoted by courtesy of the publishers, Messrs. Hinds, Hayden and Eldredge, Inc., New York.
  10. Some speakers, in order to disarm the critical and avoid argument, prefix their statements by "it is generally conceded that," or similar remarks. This, as Professor Pillsbury indicates, is usually an exaggeration, and sometimes a direct falsehood; but it produces in the unwary an illusion of universality and consequent submission to the opinion of the (imagined) public. Cf. W. B. Pillsbury: The Psychology of Nationality and Internationalism, p. 201.
  11. We have, of course, no articulate consciousness of this sort upon seeing large headlines. These words are intended merely to convey what is implied in our attitude at that moment.
    The writer knows of a girls' school, held in a residence building, which was burglarized one night, and a number of valuables taken. A few days later the principal received a letter containing the stolen jewelry, and explaining that the burglar 'never intended to rob ladies," but thought he was in the home of one of those "damned idle rich!"
  12. This book should be read by every student of psychology or the social sciences. The quotations here included are reprinted by courtesy of Messrs. Harper and Brothers, publishers. (The Behavior of Crowds. Copyright 1920, by Harper & Brothers. All rights reserved.)
  13. Page 35.
  14. Page 231.
  15. The following excerpt from a student’s description of a crowd at a boxing contest will illustrate this point (italics by the present writer): “Just before the main bout the announcer made an appeal for a collection for the ‘starving babies in Russia’ ending with, ‘I am certain the largest collection ever made in the arena will be taken here to-night.’ With that a big exalted feeling went through the crowd. Every one gave, including the writer, who was affected much the same as the others." Vote also the excellent illustration of social projection and the impression of universality so naively given in this incident. How could the writer possibly know that an exalted feeling went through the crowd, or, for that matter, that every one gave?

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