Source Book For Social Psychology
The extreme forms of crowd behavior may be called mental epidemics or psychological contagions. The crowd easily changes into the mob. With the more violent expressions found in an intense crowd, or in a mob, the release of repressions goes on rapidly. Every age and people seem to experience these more extreme forms of crowd behavior. And in the earlier writers on crowd psychology
the tendency was to lay down a set of universal laws of this action. If we accept the standpoint of the present volume, however, we shall see that a purely psychological explanation is not adequate. While there are doubtless many features in common in all violent crowds, each expression of crowdish manner must be studied in the light of its social and cultural setting as well as in terms of the psychological changes in the individuals who make up the particular crowd. In short, we shall have to deal again not with one but with three variables, the individual, the culture setting, and the social interaction or group situation, if we are to comprehend the full meaning of mental contagions throughout history.
In the present chapter selections have been made of historical incidents from the Middle Ages to the present day. Examples might have been chosen from primitive peoples and from classical or biblical literature. The crowd situations which developed in Athens are known to us all. So, too, the crowd phenomena in the treatment of the prophets in the Old Testament and the mobs that cried of Jesus "Crucify Him" and the crowds which harassed Paul are equally familiar to us. But for our purposes we have chosen a series of instances of mental epidemics of medieval and modern periods, which we may describe as the more violent sorts of crowd behavior. These have a spread over a territory and have persisted
( 694) for a certain period of time. Yet they did not become formalized into institutions.
The opening selection from Sidis reviews briefly the place which suggestion and social pressure play in crowd phenomena. Sidis believes that the personality, being determined largely by social influences, is throughout highly suggestible. By. translating his terms into present-day psychology, we can see that his point of view is akin to that of Scott and especially Martin cited in Chapter XXII. Sidis wisely appreciates the place which culture patterns, customs and codes of society, play in fostering crowd behavior and mental epidemics.
The second selection from Sidis lists the best-known examples of crowd contagions throughout later Medieval and Modern historical periods. Of the first period, the Medieval, only two short examples are given, the Crusades, especially the curious Children's Crusaded and the Flagellants. One may consult Sidis and especially Mackay for further illustrations for this period.
At the outset of the Modern period there was an outbreak of demonology or witchcraft mania which swept over all Europe. Here upon the basis of the Christian dogmas about Satan and his powers. all of Europe seemed for a time filled with delusions of persecution and other paranoid types of thought. This touched both Catholic and Protestant countries and reached all social classes from serf and peasant to learned doctor and nobleman.
Within a century speculative manias being to appear in northern Europe. In Holland one of the most curious types of speculative crazes occurred, the whole thing revolving about the buying and selling of tulip bulbs. This was perhaps the beginning of that series of speculative manias which reach down to our own time. As the Middle Ages was culturally marked by the Christian doctrines, so the Modern period is marked by the capitalistic thesis, of which desire for profits looms large. The speculative tendency, the primitive belief in luck, comes into great prominence and from the 17th century on to the latest boom of Florida land and Nevada goldfields. the "interest in pecuniary speculation is omnipresent in the areas affected by the capitalistic order of society.
The Mississippi Bubble is a classic illustration of crowd behavior. The rather mild-mannered and keen John Law was largely the vic-
( 695) -tim of circumstances. This case shows the craze of wealth, of the desire to get something for nothing which the present writer believes is very strong in all peoples, certainly in those in our Occidental cultures. It shows furthermore how the masses project upon a leader qualities almost divine. The veneration accorded Law during the halcyon days of the Mississippi company in Paris indicate the mad extremes to which the populace will go under the influence of social stimulation and emotion.
The selection from Anthony from the life of Catherine the Great gives us a picture of mob behavior in which there is a conflict between scientific procedures in medicine and religious superstition of the masses. This sort of crowd situation may be duplicated almost in our own time. One need hardly mention the crowdish attitudes of those organizations which oppose vivisection, vaccination and the teaching of the theory of biological evolution in our public schools.
While the speculative manias loom large in the last three hundred years, religious interest has not completely disappeared. In fact, as Max Weber and Tawney have shown, there is no genuine conflict between Protestant dogmas and capitalism. Hence, religious concern may exist independently but alongside of pecuniary interests in the Occidental peoples. While there were religious manias during the Middle Ages such as the Crusades, the Dancing Mania and the Flagellants, with the coming of the Reformation there was an outburst of religious expression in which the most violent and extreme crowd phenomena were witnessed. The behavior of such divergent sects of Germany as the Anabaptists, the rise of Methodism in England, and the Edwards and Whitefield revivals are cases in point.
Miss Cleveland's paper presents some of the crowd behavior seen in a backwoods revival in the early nineteenth century in the United States. This outburst of religious expression can only be understood, however, in terms of the whole historical setting of the time and place. To secure the more complete picture the student should read the full cultural history of the period. The material here given is only illustrative of the psychological phase.
The interest in the El Dorados of the world has always been noteworthy. The discovery of gold in the New World led to feverish search for gold both in North and South America. So, too, in the American period, the finding of gold at Sutter's Mill, produced a
( 696) mad rush to the Pacific coast of thousands upon thousands of our population then largely located east of the Mississippi. The selection from Cleland shows the beginning of the epidemic in California itself with some notes on the mania as it reached the eastern half of our country.
In our own time we have had the oil booms of Oklahoma and more recently the land boom of Florida. The paper by Shelby gives a picture of some aspects of the crowd behavior in the latter instance.
The final paper of the chapter is selected from Ross's well-known discussion
of counter-agents to mob mindedness. He shows the importance of intellectual
training, of stable social tradition and custom, especially the existence of the
strong ties of family, morality and religious practice. One may infer, I think,
from his discussion that periods of change and chaos like the present are much
more apt to see violent crowd situations than the more conservative, unchanging
societies of other historical periods. The Crusades, for instance. constituted
one of the first expressions of coming change in the medieval life. The
speculative manias arose during the great commercial outburst following the
discovery of the New World and the establishment of commercial contacts with the
Orient. Today. while the contiguous crowd may not develop any more frequently
than before, certainly the existence of easy means of communication, like the
press, makes possible the building up of crowd attitudes and the spread of
various mental manias over wide areas and through various classes of people who
are not in physical proximity. We shall examine some features of this latter
sort of collective behavior in subsequent chapters.
- B. Sidis. The Psychology of Suggestion. New York: Appleton, (1898).
- C. Mackay, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions London (1852).
- K. Anthony. Catherine the Great. New York: A.A. Knopf (1925).
- Catherine Cleveland. The Great Revival in the West, 1797 - 1805. Chicago: University of Chicago.
- R.G. Cleland. A History of California: The American Period. New York: Macmillan (1922).
- G.M. Shelby. “Florida Frenzy.” Harper’s 62, (1926).
- E. A. Ross. Social Psychology New York: Macmillan (1908).