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 and constructs include:
  • Bandwagon Effect – the tendency to follow popular trends in embracing opinions, interpretations, fashions, behaviors, and so on. The Bandwagon Effect is often described as self-amplifying – that is, the rate of uptake can be proportional to the number of people already on the bandwagon.
  • Behavioral Contagion (Behavior Contagion) – a rapid mimicking of the actions of others nearby, typically with limited critical analysis of the behavior
  • 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
  • Communal Reinforcement – when an idea comes to be accepted as truthful within a community by virtue of constant repetition, whether factual or not
  • Conformity – perspective focused on conscious and nonconscious acts of revising personal attitudes and beliefs to comply with group norms. Attitudes toward and influence on Conformity include:
    • Inner-Directedness (David Reisman, 1950s) – an orientation to self-identification that operates largely independently of others’ views, expectations, and demands
    • Other-Directedness (Outer-Directedness) (David Reisman, 1950s) – an orientation to group identifications and/or collectively defined norms and standards (vs. individual self-definition)
    • Tradition-Directedness (David Reisman, 1950s) – an orientation to self-definition in ways consistent with traditions, heritage, and/or other cultural norms, typically as defined by parents, inherited religion, and/or cultural institutions
  • 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
  • Diffusion of Responsibility – the inverse relationship between group size and the individual’s inclination to help a person in need. As groups grow larger, group members feel less and less personal responsibility to provide assistance.
  • Echo Chamber (Echo Chamber Effect) – an insular, self-referencing social grouping in which beliefs are reinforced and amplified through repetition without critique
  • 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
  • Group Relations Theory (Gordon Allport, 1950s) – the perspective that one’s personality is not just a specific pattern of traits, but also subject to social determinants
  • 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 Instinct – the drive to congregate. Among nonhuman species, it manifests as flocks, packs, etc., and among humans it appears in the formation of social groups
  • Herd Mentality (Gang Mentality, Mob Mentality, Pack Mentality) – description of peer-to-peer influence in crowds, contributing to behavioral norms anchored to emotions rather than reason
  • Hipster Effect (Anti-Conformist Effect) – when people who oppose a dominant culture begin to adhere to alternative (but nonetheless conformist) sets of opinions, looks, and activities
  • 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 (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 (Mass 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)
  • Social Matching Effect – a tendency toward diminished group productivity as individuals’ contributions track toward those of the least-productive members
  • Social Proof – deliberately mimicking others’ actions in an unfamiliar or ambiguous social situation, based on the assumption that that those others likely know more about the context
  • Socialized Delinquency (Subcultural Delinquency) – antisocial or criminal acts attributable to a youth’s efforts/desires to be part of a social collective that encourages such acts
  • Sociocentrism – placing the social group’s needs or priorities ahead one’s own
  • 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. For a counterpoint to Crowd Psychology, see Collective Intelligence.

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.


  • Bandwagon Effect
  • Behavioral Contagion (Behavior Contagion)
  • Collective Behavior
  • Collective Hysteria (Epidemic Hysteria; Group Hysteria; Mass Hysteria)
  • Collective Narcissism
  • Communal Reinforcement
  • Conformity
  • Convergence Theory
  • Crowd Manipulation
  • Deindividuation Theory
  • Diffusion of Responsibility
  • Disrupt-then-Reframe Technique
  • Door-in-the-Face Technique
  • Echo Chamber (Echo Chamber Effect)
  • Emergent Norm Theory
  • Foot-in-the-Door Technique
  • Group Behavior
  • Group Fallacy
  • Group Mind (Collective Consciousness; Collective Mind; Crowd Mind; Group Consciousness)
  • Group Relations Theory
  • Groupshift
  • Groupthink
  • Herd Behavior
  • Herd Instinct
  • Herd Mentality (Gang Mentality; Mob Mentality; Pack Mentality)
  • Hipster Effect (Anti-Conformist Effect)
  • Homophily
  • Inner-Directedness
  • Low-Ball Technique
  • Other-Directedness (Outer-Directedness)
  • Peer Pressure (Social Pressure)
  • Shared Psychosis (folie à millions)
  • Social Contagion (Mass Contagion)
  • Social Matching Effect
  • Social Proof
  • Socialized Delinquency (Subcultural Delinquency)
  • Sociocentrism
  • System Justification
  • That’s-Not-All Technique
  • Tradition-Directedness

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Crowd Psychology” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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