What constitutes a crowd from the psychological point of view--A

numerically strong agglomeration of individuals does not suffice

to form a crowd--Special characteristics of psychological

crowds--The turning in a fixed direction of the ideas and

sentiments of individuals composing such a crowd, and the

disappearance of their personality--The crowd is always dominated

by considerations of which it is unconscious--The disappearance

of brain activity and the predominance of medullar activity--The

lowering of the intelligence and the complete transformation of

the sentiments--The transformed sentiments may be better or worse

than those of the individuals of which the crowd is composed--A

crowd is as easily heroic as criminal.

In its ordinary sense the word "crowd" means a gathering of

individuals of whatever nationality, profession, or sex, and

whatever be the chances that have brought them together. From

the psychological point of view the expression "crowd" assumes

quite a different signification. Under certain given

circumstances, and only under those circumstances, an

agglomeration of men presents new characteristics very different

from those of the individuals composing it. The sentiments and

ideas of all the persons in the gathering take one and the same

direction, and their conscious personality vanishes. A

collective mind is formed, doubtless transitory, but presenting

very clearly defined characteristics. The gathering has thus

become what, in the absence of a better expression, I will call

an organised crowd, or, if the term is considered preferable, a

psychological crowd. It forms a single being, and is subjected


It is evident that it is not by the mere fact of a number of

individuals finding themselves accidentally side by side that

they acquire the character of an organised crowd. A thousand

individuals accidentally gathered in a public place without any

determined object in no way constitute a crowd from the

psychological point of view. To acquire the special

characteristics of such a crowd, the influence is necessary of

certain predisposing causes of which we shall have to determine

the nature.

The disappearance of conscious personality and the turning of

feelings and thoughts in a definite direction, which are the

primary characteristics of a crowd about to become organised, do

not always involve the simultaneous presence of a number of

individuals on one spot. Thousands of isolated individuals may

acquire at certain moments, and under the influence of certain

violent emotions--such, for example, as a great national

event--the characteristics of a psychological crowd. It will be

sufficient in that case that a mere chance should bring them

together for their acts to at once assume the characteristics

peculiar to the acts of a crowd. At certain moments half a dozen

men might constitute a psychological crowd, which may not happen

in the case of hundreds of men gathered together by accident. On

the other hand, an entire nation, though there may be no visible

agglomeration, may become a crowd under the action of certain


A psychological crowd once constituted, it acquires certain

provisional but determinable general characteristics. To these

general characteristics there are adjoined particular

characteristics which vary according to the elements of which the

crowd is composed, and may modify its mental constitution.

Psychological crowds, then, are susceptible of classification;

and when we come to occupy ourselves with this matter, we shall

see that a heterogeneous crowd--that is, a crowd composed of

dissimilar elements--presents certain characteristics in common

with homogeneous crowds--that is, with crowds composed of

elements more or less akin (sects, castes, and classes)--and side

by side with these common characteristics particularities which

permit of the two kinds of crowds being differentiated.

But before occupying ourselves with the different categories of

crowds, we must first of all examine the characteristics common

to them all. We shall set to work like the naturalist, who

begins by describing the general characteristics common to all

the members of a family before concerning himself with the

particular characteristics which allow the differentiation of the

genera and species that the family includes.

It is not easy to describe the mind of crowds with exactness,

because its organisation varies not only according to race and

composition, but also according to the nature and intensity of

the exciting causes to which crowds are subjected. The same

difficulty, however, presents itself in the psychological study

of an individual. It is only in novels that individuals are

found to traverse their whole life with an unvarying character.

It is only the uniformity of the environment that creates the

apparent uniformity of characters. I have shown elsewhere that

all mental constitutions contain possibilities of character which

may be manifested in consequence of a sudden change of

environment. This explains how it was that among the most savage

members of the French Convention were to be found inoffensive

citizens who, under ordinary circumstances, would have been

peaceable notaries or virtuous magistrates. The storm past, they

resumed their normal character of quiet, law-abiding citizens.

Napoleon found amongst them his most docile servants.

It being impossible to study here all the successive degrees of

organisation of crowds, we shall concern ourselves more

especially with such crowds as have attained to the phase of

complete organisation. In this way we shall see what crowds may

become, but not what they invariably are. It is only in this

advanced phase of organisation that certain new and special

characteristics are superposed on the unvarying and dominant

character of the race; then takes place that turning already

alluded to of all the feelings and thoughts of the collectivity

in an identical direction. It is only under such circumstances,

too, that what I have called above the PSYCHOLOGICAL LAW OF THE

MENTAL UNITY OF CROWDS comes into play.

Among the psychological characteristics of crowds there are some

that they may present in common with isolated individuals, and

others, on the contrary, which are absolutely peculiar to them

and are only to be met with in collectivities. It is these

special characteristics that we shall study, first of all, in

order to show their importance.

The most striking peculiarity presented by a psychological crowd

is the following: Whoever be the individuals that compose it,

however like or unlike be their mode of life, their occupations,

their character, or their intelligence, the fact that they 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.

There are certain ideas and feelings which do not come into

being, or do not transform themselves into acts except in the

case of individuals forming a crowd. The psychological crowd is

a provisional being formed of heterogeneous elements, which for a

moment are combined, exactly as the cells which constitute a

living body form by their reunion a new being which displays

characteristics very different from those possessed by each of

the cells singly.

Contrary to an opinion which one is astonished to find coming

from the pen of so acute a philosopher as Herbert Spencer, in the

aggregate which constitutes a crowd there is in no sort a

summing-up of or an average struck between its elements. What

really takes place is a combination followed by the creation of

new characteristics, just as in chemistry certain elements, when

brought into contact--bases and acids, for example--combine to

form a new body possessing properties quite different from those

of the bodies that have served to form it.

It is easy to prove how much the individual forming part of a

crowd differs from the isolated individual, but it is less easy

to discover the causes of this difference.

To obtain at any rate a glimpse of them it is necessary in the

first place to call to mind the truth established by modern

psychology, that unconscious phenomena play an altogether

preponderating part not only in organic life, but also in the

operations of the intelligence. The conscious life of the mind

is of small importance in comparison with its unconscious life.

The most subtle analyst, the most acute observer, is scarcely

successful in discovering more than a very small number of the

unconscious motives that determine his conduct. Our conscious

acts are the outcome of an unconscious substratum created in the

mind in the main by hereditary influences. This substratum

consists of the innumerable common characteristics handed down

from generation to generation, which constitute the genius of a

race. Behind the avowed causes of our acts there undoubtedly lie

secret causes that we do not avow, but behind these secret causes

there are many others more secret still which we ourselves

ignore. The greater part of our daily actions are the result of

hidden motives which escape our observation.

It is more especially with respect to those unconscious elements

which constitute the genius of a race that all the individuals

belonging to it resemble each other, while it is principally in

respect to the conscious elements of their character--the fruit

of education, and yet more of exceptional hereditary

conditions--that they differ from each other. Men the most

unlike in the matter of their intelligence possess instincts,

passions, and feelings that are very similar. In the case of

every thing that belongs to the realm of sentiment--religion,

politics, morality, the affections and antipathies, &c.--the most

eminent men seldom surpass the standard of the most ordinary

individuals. From the intellectual point of view an abyss may

exist between a great mathematician and his boot maker, but from

the point of view of character the difference is most often

slight or non-existent.

It is precisely these general qualities of character, governed by

forces of which we are unconscious, and possessed by the majority

of the normal individuals of a race in much the same degree--it

is precisely these qualities, I say, that in crowds become common

property. In the collective mind the intellectual aptitudes of

the individuals, and in consequence their individuality, are

weakened. The heterogeneous is swamped by the homogeneous, and

the unconscious qualities obtain the upper hand.

This very fact that crowds possess in common ordinary qualities

explains why they can never accomplish acts demanding a high

degree of intelligence. The decisions affecting matters of

general interest come to by an assembly of men of distinction,

but specialists in different walks of life, are not sensibly

superior to the decisions that would be adopted by a gathering of

imbeciles. The truth is, they can only bring to bear in common

on the work in hand those mediocre qualities which are the

birthright of every average individual. In crowds it is

stupidity and not mother-wit that is accumulated. It is not all

the world, as is so often repeated, that has more wit than

Voltaire, but assuredly Voltaire that has more wit than all the

world, if by "all the world" crowds are to be understood.

If the individuals of a crowd confined themselves to putting in

common the ordinary qualities of which each of them has his

share, there would merely result the striking of an average, and

not, as we have said is actually the case, the creation of new

characteristics. How is it that these new characteristics are

created? This is what we are now to investigate.

Different causes determine the appearance of these

characteristics peculiar to crowds, and not possessed by isolated

individuals. The first is that the individual forming part of a

crowd acquires, solely from numerical considerations, a sentiment

of invincible power which allows him to yield to instincts which,

had he been alone, he would perforce have kept under restraint.

He will be the less disposed to check himself from the

consideration that, a crowd being anonymous, and in consequence

irresponsible, the sentiment of responsibility which always

controls individuals disappears entirely.

The second cause, which is contagion, also intervenes to

determine the manifestation in crowds of their special

characteristics, and at the same time the trend they are to take.

Contagion is a phenomenon of which it is easy to establish the

presence, but that it is not easy to explain. It must be classed

among those phenomena of a hypnotic order, which we shall shortly

study. In a crowd every sentiment and act is contagious, and

contagious to such a degree that an individual readily sacrifices

his personal interest to the collective interest. This is an

aptitude very contrary to his nature, and of which a man is

scarcely capable, except when he makes part of a crowd.

A third cause, and by far the most important, determines in the

individuals of a crowd special characteristics which are quite

contrary at times to those presented by the isolated individual.

I allude to that suggestibility of which, moreover, the contagion

mentioned above is neither more nor less than an effect.

To understand this phenomenon it is necessary to bear in mind

certain recent physiological discoveries. We know to-day that by

various processes an individual may be brought into such a

condition that, having entirely lost his conscious personality,

he obeys all the suggestions of the operator who has deprived him

of it, and commits acts in utter contradiction with his character

and habits. The most careful observations seem to prove that an

individual immerged for some length of time in a crowd in action

soon finds himself--either in consequence of the magnetic

influence given out by the crowd, or from some other cause of

which we are ignorant--in a special state, which much resembles

the state of fascination in which the hypnotised individual finds

himself in the hands of the hypnotiser. The activity of the

brain being paralysed in the case of the hypnotised subject, the

latter becomes the slave of all the unconscious activities of his

spinal cord, which the hypnotiser directs at will. The conscious

personality has entirely vanished; will and discernment are lost.

All feelings and thoughts are bent in the direction determined by

the hypnotiser.

Such also is approximately the state of the individual forming

part of a psychological crowd. He is no longer conscious of his

acts. In his case, as in the case of the hypnotised subject, at

the same time that certain faculties are destroyed, others may be

brought to a high degree of exaltation. Under the influence of a

suggestion, he will undertake the accomplishment of certain acts

with irresistible impetuosity. This impetuosity is the more

irresistible in the case of crowds than in that of the hypnotised

subject, from the fact that, the suggestion being the same for

all the individuals of the crowd, it gains in strength by

reciprocity. The individualities in the crowd who might possess

a personality sufficiently strong to resist the suggestion are

too few in number to struggle against the current. At the

utmost, they may be able to attempt a diversion by means of

different suggestions. It is in this way, for instance, that a

happy expression, an image opportunely evoked, have occasionally

deterred crowds from the most bloodthirsty acts.

We see, then, that the disappearance of the conscious

personality, the predominance of the unconscious personality, the

turning by means of suggestion and contagion of feelings and

ideas in an identical direction, the tendency to immediately

transform the suggested ideas into acts; these, we see, are the

principal characteristics of the individual forming part of a

crowd. He is no longer himself, but has become an automaton who

has ceased to be guided by his will.

Moreover, by the mere fact that he forms part of an organised

crowd, a man descends several rungs in the ladder of

civilisation. Isolated, he may be a cultivated individual; in a

crowd, he is a barbarian--that is, a creature acting by instinct.

He possesses the spontaneity, the violence, the ferocity, and

also the enthusiasm and heroism of primitive beings, whom he

further tends to resemble by the facility with which he allows

himself to be impressed by words and images--which would be

entirely without action on each of the isolated individuals

composing the crowd--and to be induced to commit acts contrary to

his most obvious interests and his best-known habits. An

individual in a crowd is a grain of sand amid other grains of

sand, which the wind stirs up at will.

It is for these reasons that juries are seen to deliver verdicts

of which each individual juror would disapprove, that

parliamentary assemblies adopt laws and measures of which each of

their members would disapprove in his own person. Taken

separately, the men of the Convention were enlightened citizens

of peaceful habits. United in a crowd, they did not hesitate to

give their adhesion to the most savage proposals, to guillotine

individuals most clearly innocent, and, contrary to their

interests, to renounce their inviolability and to decimate


It is not only by his acts that the individual in a crowd differs

essentially from himself. Even before he has entirely lost his

independence, his ideas and feelings have undergone a

transformation, and the transformation is so profound as to

change the miser into a spendthrift, the sceptic into a believer,

the honest man into a criminal, and the coward into a hero. The

renunciation of all its privileges which the nobility voted in a

moment of enthusiasm during the celebrated night of August 4,

1789, would certainly never have been consented to by any of its

members taken singly.

The conclusion to be drawn from what precedes is, that the crowd

is always intellectually inferior to the isolated individual, but

that, from the point of view of feelings and of the acts these

feelings provoke, the crowd may, according to circumstances, he

better or worse than the individual. All depends on the nature

of the suggestion to which the crowd is exposed. This is the

point that has been completely misunderstood by writers who have

only studied crowds from the criminal point of view. Doubtless a

crowd is often criminal, but also it is often heroic. It is

crowds rather than isolated individuals that may be induced to

run the risk of death to secure the triumph of a creed or an

idea, that may be fired with enthusiasm for glory and honour,

that are led on--almost without bread and without arms, as in the

age of the Crusades--to deliver the tomb of Christ from the

infidel, or, as in '93, to defend the fatherland. Such heroism

is without doubt somewhat unconscious, but it is of such heroism

that history is made. Were peoples only to be credited with the

great actions performed in cold blood, the annals of the world

would register but few of them.

FIXED BELIEFS. HETEROGENEOUS CROWDS facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail