Crowd Psychology


Mass Psychology
Mob Psychology


Loss or suppression of individual agency in group settings

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … the range of possible collective action
  • Knowing is … being subsumed (in collective action)
  • Learner is … a follower (individual-in-group)
  • Learning is … being influenced (i.e., being caught up in the flow)
  • Teaching is … N/A




Crowd Psychology is concerned with how the sensibilities manifested in/by crowds can differ from and interact with the sensibilities of the individuals within the crowd. Reasons for these differences can vary dramatically. Factors can include peer pressures, ideological rigidity and arrogance, group homogeneity and cohesion, group isolation and exclusivity, anonymity (freedom from attention), arousal, and/or limited knowledge. Some subdiscourses are:
  • Collective Behavior – individual behaviors that are similar across members of a collective
  • Collective Hysteria (Epidemic Hysteria; Group Hysteria; Mass Hysteria) – the spontaneous eruption of atypical (and, often, extreme) thoughts and behaviors in a group
  • Collective Narcissism: the “in-group” phenomenon – that is, the tendency to see one’s own social group as the best, most desirable, and most important
  • Collective Unconscious (Carl Jung, 1920s) – a construct from Psychoanalytic Theories that suggests that all humans have access to the inherited accumulation of primitive human experience, which manifests itself in dreams, myths, religions, and so on
  • Communal Reinforcement: phenomenon in which a crowd embraces a frequently repeated assertion as truthful, regardless of empirical evidence
  • Conformity: perspective focused on conscious and nonconscious acts of revising personal attitudes and beliefs to comply with group norms
  • Convergence Theory: perspective that interprets crowd behavior as rational, arising when like-minded individuals gather
  • Crowd Manipulation: description of deliberate uses of principles of Crowd Psychology to manipulate crowds for specific purposes
  • Deindividuation Theory: perspective concerned with weakening of personal controls in crowd situations
  • Doublethink: description of instances in which an individual, in different social contexts, maintains beliefs that are contradictory – but experiences no sense of conflict (or, sometimes, awareness of contradiction)
  • Emergent Norm Theory: perspective that posits norms will eventually arise and individuals will fall in line in crowds that start out with little unity
  • Group Behavior – a generic phrase used to label both actions performed by a group as a whole and actions performed by an individual that can be attributed to being part of the group – that is, actions that are atypical of individuals when alone
  • Group Fallacy – an erroneous assumption that properly resides with a collective – that is, it cannot be fully understood by analyzing individual assumptions
  • Group Mind (Collective Consciousness; Collective Mind; Group Consciousness) – the hypothesis that, under certain social circumstances, individual minds seem to fuse in a manner that enables/causes the collective to act as if guided by a single consciousness
  • Groupshift: description of occasions in which individuals in groups make riskier or more extreme decisions than they would on their own
  • Groupthink: description of occasions in which the members of a group conform around a problematical principle or decision with little or no consideration of alternatives
  • Herd Behavior: description of coherent collective action without an organizer or an explicit common purpose
  • Herd Mentality (also: Gang Mentality, Mob Mentality, Pack Mentality): description of peer-to-peer influence in crowds, contributing to behavioral norms anchored to emotions rather than reason
  • Homophily: formalization of the folk observation that “birds of a feather flock together”; a description of individuals’ tendencies to cluster and bod with others perceived as similar
  • Peer Pressure (also: Social Pressure): description of individuals adjusting attitudes, affiliations, beliefs, and behaviors to comply due to influence of peers
  • Shared Psychosis (folie à millions): an extreme event of collective delusion that goes well beyond Groupthink, both in terms of numbers involved (millions can be drawn in) and the magnitude of the delusion
  • Social Contagion: description of how/why behaviors and affects spread from one member of a crowed to another, based on an analogy to the spreading of an illness by a germ/contagion (see Memetics)
  • System Justification Theory: description of tendencies of some individuals to use the status quo as a justification for otherwise troubling or indefensible beliefs or habits


Crowd Psychology and most of the discourses associated with it are founded on two key assumptions. Firstly, the individual psyche is considered as an insulated form that is separated from the collective ethos. Secondly, and invoking the Immersion Metaphor, the individual psyche is seen to be prone to the influence of the collective ethos. (The word influence originally meant “influx” or “flowing into.”) That is, the “theory” here is little more than an uncritical application of an uncritical metaphor, positioning it as an explanatory principle when it is merely figurative description.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

Crowd Psychology is a theory of learning. It is often invoked or deployed as an explanatory theory of the sort of learning that happens in oppressive collective settings.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Crowd Psychology is a not a theory that informs teaching action, but is certainly has something to say about influencing learning and thinking in group settings.

Status as a Scientific Theory

There is little doubt that the sorts of phenomena that are studied within Crowd Psychology happen sometimes. Indeed, there are abundant descriptive examples in the literature associated with the field. However, owing to the fact that proponents often seem unaware of the metaphorical substrate of Crowd Psychology and its associated discourses, unless they are coupled to more nuanced understandings of the nested and co-entangled cognitive dynamics of individuals and collectives (see, e.g., Collective Intelligence, Socio-Cultural Theory), they do not meet all our criteria of scientific theories.


  • Collective Behavior
  • Collective Hysteria (Epidemic Hysteria; Group Hysteria; Mass Hysteria)
  • Collective Narcissism
  • Collective Unconscious
  • Communal Reinforcement
  • Conformity
  • Convergence Theory
  • Crowd Manipulation
  • Deindividuation Theory
  • Doublethink
  • Emergent Norm Theory
  • Group Behavior
  • Group Fallacy
  • Group Mind (Collective Consciousness; Collective Mind; Group Consciousness)
  • Groupshift
  • Groupthink
  • Herd Behavior
  • Herd Mentality
  • Homophily
  • Peer Pressure
  • Shared Psychosis (folie à millions)
  • Social Contagion
  • System Justification

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Crowd Psychology” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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