Fundamentals of Social Psychology
Chapter 22: Crowds and Mobs
Emory S. Bogardus
THE crowd is a common yet dangerous form of intersocial stimulation. Nearly everyone is subject to its influence, especially the young and all who do not have the scientific attitude. Crowds are whirlpools of group life. They are effervescent centers of a common affective and social nature. Wherever a few persons are gathered together, the elements of a crowd exist. When large cities develop, and means of transportation increase, crowd conditions multiply and the desires for social response and new experience assume superficial and reckless expressions.
Some crowds are heterogeneous, that is, are composed of persons who at a particular moment possess diverse aims. A number of persons at a busy street corner constitutes a heterogeneous group, for they have varied purposes and are going in different directions. In a railroad station heterogeneity prevails, although at train times, small homogeneous groups try to crowd past the gateman, o gather to meet incoming trains. These little whirlpools quickly disappear and heterogeneity again reigns.
The crowd may also be homogeneous. Its members have a common aim, and further, each member is aware that the other individuals are stirred by the same feelings as is he. The homogeneity vibrates chiefly in terms of feeling. A crowd, as the term is used here, is a number of persons in the physical presence of each other, who are displaying their feelings more than usual.
Feelings tend to submerge reason. Crowds act quickly on inherited
( 255) feeling bases, but reason slowly if at all. Crowds are passional. It is easy, therefore, to understand the phrase, the crowd is reversionary. The tendency of a crowd to revert to primitive methods is natural. To attempt to prevent a crowd from resorting to primitive ways is thus to work against primitive nature. It is easier not to let a crowd form at all than to try to stop it from reverting to low feeling planes.
A crowd of human beings is closely related to a herd of cattle, a covey of birds, a shoal of fish. There are the same standard responses to danger signals, the same casual leadership, the same stampeding. In their simpler elements crowd characteristics can be studied by analyses of animal groups.
The homogeneous crowd must have a leader. In times of danger its members move frantically until a leader appears. A bleacher crowd of college people is helpless without a yell leader. If none is present, the call is made for one, demanding that some one stand up and lead. When a crowd is to do something and there is no leader present, it is helpless. Various members are singled out with the command, "you lead."
The members of a crowd experience a heightened state of suggestibility. The preponderance of feelings over reason is one explanation. The excitement that is apt to prevail throws people off their guard. The force of numbers overwhelms the individual. Time for reflecting and judging is wanting. Only a part of each individual is functioning, and that, in a one-sided way.
The ordinary person in a crowd suffers a weakening of his sense of responsibility. The anonymity makes the individual feel that he can do anything and "get away with it." The processes and results are the same as in the large corporate group or the nation group, which is known sometimes to be conscienceless.
Freedom of speech is ill tolerated in a crowd; anyone who speaks contrary to the prevailing opinion is hooted. A crowd of capitalists would refuse to listen to the harangue of a bolshevist; and a crowd of bolshevists would not sit supinely under the lashing of a capitalist. A crowd, not being able to reason much, cannot be expected to understand abstractions.
Crowds are highly egoistic. Listen to the ordinary song of a crowd and its self-centered nature is usually evident. The refrain often takes some form of a simple, selfish idea, such as "Who are we, who are we, we are it." The crowd sings its own praises ; but if an individual were to brag, the crowd would ostracize him. Whenever a crowd "yells," it often applauds itself vigorously, especially if it be directed by an experienced "yell leader." The fact that a yell leader can get a crowd to applaud its own doings, testifies to crowd egoism.
Crowds are fickle. Napoleon appreciated this point. "Your majesty," exclaimed an aid-de-camp on one occasion, "hear the crowds cheering for you." Without smiling Napoleon replied, "They would cheer just as loudly if I were going to the guillotine."
Unreasoning, they are easily turned hither and thither by any "catchy" slogan. Their feeling elements have no stability and hence their depend-ability grades low. It is almost impossible to foretell crowd developments or achievements ; whatever else they may be, they are likely to be fleeting.
Moreover, decisions that are made wholly in a crowd are undependable. A person who makes an important decision while under the influence of the crowd has a hard struggle before him, unless he has a store of habits in harmony with the decision. A decision made in a crowd is apt to be feeling-made ; one who takes a vital step in this way usually needs the support of sincere, thoughtful, and helpful associates,—until he can develop a stock of habitual reactions to sustain the decision.
More wild enthusiasm for a given project can be created in a crowd than anywhere else. Such enthusiasm, however, generally vanishes swiftly, for it lacks depth. The reaction to it, moreover, is often debilitating. After the World War ended and the enthusiasm for democracy, much of which was crowd-made, died down, the reaction in our country toward selfishness, greed, and arrogance, was widely evident.
When Josey declares that "the members of a crowd, animated by a common purpose, seem lifted up and ennobled by a power that is not purely their own,"  he forgets that under crowd conditions purposes are as often destructive as constructive. Crowd contagion may be good or evil, depending on the goal to which it is directed by the leaders. "It is bad to `catch' disease, but not bad to `catch' good health. All depends on what is caught." This statement has a measure of truth, but overlooks the fact that "catching" social visions may be a temporary matter. They do not become realized in practice until supported by habits.
To get people together in a crowd offers a quick way to unify them. But the charlatan and mountebank are prone to manipulate people through crowd influence, whereas the cultured man confines himself to addressing assemblies. The educated person who tries to harangue a crowd usually belittles himself without reaping any good results.
Usually a banquet develops the crowd spirit; feasting together produces good feeling and a jovial mood. When joyous feelings are running high, leaders in the form of a toastmaster and speakers selected beforehand
(257) appear and propose a campaign, call for subscriptions, or otherwise "sign up" the feasters. Moreover the guests would consider themselves ingrates if they refused to respond to a request from their host.
A revival meeting illustrates another type of crowd reaction. Expectancy is aroused by the evangelist's reputation. The singing and prayer bring people into a feeling of unity. Crowd contagion is developed by the speaker's appeals. His references to "mother," "home," and "children," bring up reminiscences of emotional moments in the past. Sympathy, tenderness, sentiments of olden days are stimulated, and then the appeal is clinched in the name of religion, and "decisions" are made and converts announced. The psychology of the revival has been analyzed by many authorities, all of whom agree that crowd contagion and suggestion are fundamental phases. These factors are apparently utilized without the evangelist and others who are in charge being aware of the rôle played by them. The real function of the revival is not that of securing sudden conversions without any previous preparation therefor, but rather that of bringing crowd conditions to bear upon individuals and of urging them to make decisions that selfishness or inertia would prevent. When an individual refuses to heed "the still small voice of conscience and God," then crowd conditions may be invoked.
"Gang" behavior affords interesting crowd phenomena. The gang is a relatively permanent group, but one of such elemental and primitive traits that it resembles a temporary crowd. Its subservience to a leader, its feeling bases, its use of "might" as the means of determining right, its fickleness, its inconsistencies—all these are crowd characteristics. In addition it is slippery because it is a primitive group trying to survive under the changed conditions of modern civilization. It must fight for its life, since it is a survival in part of outworn behavior principles. Its struggles to exist, display conflicts between primitive and modern levels of group standards. When hard pressed the gang resorts to mob behavior. It becomes a brute with its back against a wall, gnashing its teeth, and resorting to any means whatsoever in its defense. It recognizes no moral or social standards or responsibility.
The clique exemplifies many crowd characteristics. It is dominated by feelings organized into prejudices, by irrationalities, and by superstitions. The members take pride in foolish lingo, such as all being descended from
( 258) "the same sacred cow," or in swearing to uphold some nonsense formula. Narrow pride and a wide selfishness constitute the interactions of the clique with other groups.
Boys form gangs and girls specialize on cliques or "sets." The clique is "exclusive, undemocratic." It has no organization, leaders, history. "The set (or clique) snubs its rivals; the gang fights them." The reason for the lack of organization in a clique is that it is negative rather than positive like a boy's gang. A clique is noteworthy because certain individuals are excluded from it. It has "no positive mission of accomplishment like the gang which sets out to rob orchards, fight other gangs, and so on." Its appeal lies "in offering an intimacy from which others are excluded." It is therefore more self-centered than a gang.
Civilization means multiplication of crowds. The automobile and street car bring people together, and the newspaper, telegraph, and radio spread announcements, making possible the temporary grouping of thousands on short notice. Stadiums increase from ten, fifty, to one hundred thousand capacity. Automobile races and football games bring together multitudes. Large cities create propinquity and unlimited possibilities of crowd formation.
Speed of living and the multiplication of stimuli with little chance to reflect, further the crowd emphasis on feelings and its repudiation of reasoning. Thus, the social soil is a hotbed for crowd life. Education is doing much to offset this tendency, but is still far from measuring up to its task. The social problem of the day, according to one writer, is found in "the growing habit of behaving as crowds." "Our society is becoming a veritable babel of gibbering crowds," with every interest creating propagandist and partisan crowd spirit.
Many of the evils of crowd phenomena arise from crowd rivalry. In a contest in which one group is pitted against another, crowd contagion becomes strong. One crowd strives to outdo its competitors, not because
( 259) of genuine interest in its goal, but for the sake of "victory" and of the consequent opportunities to gloat or "crow" over the defeated crowd. The victorious crowd in an athletic or political contest takes unconcealed pride in displaying an inflated crowd egoism.
There are spectator crowds and participator crowds. The spectator group may be either single or double minded ; it may be unitary or bi-partisan. Spectator crowds are in constant danger of degenerating into mobs of participator crowds.
An athletic contest brings out two gigantic spectator crowds. If the contest is close, the members of both groups will likely give way to their feelings and revert to blindly biased and almost savage partisanship—forgetting that the fundamental element in the contest is to afford physical training to all the members of both teams and exhibitions of skill for the enjoyment of the onlookers. The evils of intercollegiate athletics thrive partly because of the demands of spectator crowds expressing themselves in a desire for victory at almost any cost, and in a variety of recidivistic tendencies. There would be no intercollegiate football games were it not for the presence of spectators—hence the responsibility of spectator crowds is great. If the evil influences of crowd contagion causes students literally to hate competing education institutions, to commit marauding expeditions on them, and to keep up a running fire of insult, then athletics and education alike have been profaned.
A mob is a crowd in a very high state of suggestibility. It is characterized by frenzied behavior. It is a crowd that has become frantic. The term, mob, is from the same root word as mobile, and designates a crowd that is rapidly moving, not always in the pursuit of a given object, but one that easily shifts its attention.
The ease with which a crowd may be turned into a mob on a moment's notice is significant. The point is well illustrated by the experiences of William McDougall in Borneo, who witnessed a crowd of 5000 primitives turned adventitiously and almost instantly into an angry mob of uncontrollable fury.
Representatives of all the tribes of a large district of Sarawak had been brought together by the resident magistrate for the purpose of strengthening friendly relations and cementing peace between the various tribes. All went smoothly, and the chiefs surrounded by their followers were gathered together in a large hall, rudely constructed of timber, to make public protestations of friendship. An air of peace and goodwill pervaded the assembly, until a small piece of wood fell from the roof upon the head of one of the leading chiefs, making a slight wound from which the blood trickled. Only the immediate neighbors of this chief observed the accident or could perceive its effects; nevertheless in the space of a few seconds a wave of angry emotion swept over the whole assembly, and a general and bloody fight would have at once commenced, but that the Resident had insisted upon all weapons being left in the boats on the river 200 yards away. The great majority of the crowd rushed headlong to fetch their weapons from their boats, while the few who remained on the ground danced in fury or rushed to and fro gesticulating wildly. Happily the boats were widely scattered along the banks of the river, so that it was possible for the Resident, by means of persuasion, threats, and a show of armed force, to prevent the hostile parties coming together again with their weapons in hand.
The mob is a participator crowd. It is not necessarily a group of ignorant or essentially wicked persons, but often is composed of ordinarily intelligent persons who for the time being have resigned their personal standards. The mob is a monster, possessing gigantic power which causes it to throb throughout its being. It is a tornado, using its pent-up forces irresponsibly and ruthlessly.
Mobs are groups that frantically rush toward or attempt to escape from an object or person. They are motivated by hate or fear. In the first case the group rushes toward somebody; in the second, away from something, creating a panic. Mob spirit is usually manifested at a lynching, and a panic sometimes occurs in a burning building wherein people are congregated. Pogroms, witchcraft persecutions, and religious persecutions, also represent mob spirit. Manias, crazes, and orgies are modified forms of mob behavior.
Lynching behavior is aroused by an arresting act of gross misconduct by some individual. A basic factor is the feeling that the courts will move too slowly, that the guilty party may escape punishment, and that the offense is so serious as to merit impromptu treatment. The offence is generally personal and against the body of the victim. The mob spirit arises out of enraged feelings, demands a leader, and is greatly multiplied by crowd contagion. The alleged offender is hunted like a dog and when
( 261) caught is given no quarter. At this point the pent-up and multiplied feelings of the mob burst with cyclonic fury upon their victim. All reason has fled, and nothing remains but brute force gloating over its prey, and vengeance. The sight of the alleged guilty party, and even his agonies under torture, act as stimuli to more fiendish deeds.
The utter irrationality of the lynching mob is shown by the incident, referred to in an earlier chapter, that occurred in Omaha in 1919, when the mayor of that city attempted to quiet the mob that was searching for an alleged Negro offender, and suffered the experience of having the mob turn upon him and attempt to hang him—the chief executive of a metropolitan city and the elected representative of law and order. It is clear, therefore, that such a mob is a relic of barbarism; it has no useful function in a democratic state that is built upon principles of justice.
NIGHT RIDING MOBS
Ku Klux Klan activities easily
degenerate into mob rule. The Klan in resorting to night riding and the hood
gives each member an anonymity which furthers irresponsible conduct. The tool
which the Klan uses, namely, intimidation, is a psychological element
exceedingly dangerous, and unamenable to reason. It creates fear and results in
panic. Thus, the purposes of the Klan, are doubly subject to mob abuse. As soon
as the Klan begins pursuit of an "enemy," it easily develops all the traits of a
Pogroms, a form of race riot, which have been discussed in an earlier chapter as a form of "craze" are also illustrative of mob rule. In Poland and the Ukraine the Jews occupying a middle position between the poverty-stricken peasants beneath and the autocratic nobility above have lived in constant fear of mob rioting.
Under these circumstances, pogroms have broken upon the Jews with the fury of a tornado. Without warning, Jewish property has been destroyed, Jewish homes burned, the women ravaged, the aged and the children killed. Mutilations and atrocities beyond description have been committed. In a few days the storm passes, the terror-stricken survivors make the best of their condition, and the peasants return to their accustomed tasks as though nothing unusual had occurred. Mary Antin referring to children being torn limb from limb before their mother's eyes, and to other atrocities, significantly says : "People who saw such
( 262) things never smiled any more, no matter how long they lived; and sometimes their hair turned white in a day, and some people became insane on the spot."
Race riots in the United States between whites and negroes furnish important data. As a rule these riots are preceded by reports of an attack upon a white woman or girl by a Negro, and then the mob fury breaks. The riot usually lasts until the alleged offender has been caught and dealt with summarily as by lynching. Widespread riots are illustrated
by the outbreak in 1917 in East St. Louis which lasted five or six days, creating panic, destruction of property, and murder. The Chicago riot of July 27—August 2, 1919, was unusual in that it was preceded by no reports of attacks on white women. A clash between the whites and blacks on the shore of Lake Michigan at 29th Street included stone throwing, the drowning of a Negro boy, and the refusal of a policeman to arrest a white man accused by Negroes of stoning the boy.
Within two hours the riot was in full sway, had scored its second fatality, and was spreading throughout the south and southwest parts of the city.... (It) swept uncontrolled through parts of the city for four days. By August 2 it had yielded to the forces of law and order, and on August 8 the state militia withdrew. . . . Of the thirty-eight killed, fifteen were whites and twenty-three negroes; of 537 injured, 178 were whites, 342 were negroes, and the race of seventeen was not recorded.
Beneath this race riot as well as others, and especially of pogroms, there are rampant race prejudices. No adequate means of social control or of social self-control had been developed to meet biases and misunderstandings which had long been smoldering. In a sense a race riot never comes suddenly; it always gives long-suffering warnings that it is about to break forth. When reason and justice are asleep, mob spirit rises.
The burning of witches at the stake illustrates mob violence of the worst sort. It is usually perpetrated under conditions of superstition and gross
( 263) ignorance, and hence its viciousness is partly accounted for. A person, no matter how innocent, if singled out by ecclesiastical authorities as a witch, becomes at once the victim of public vengeance of the mob type. The stimulus is often religious, for the witch is considered the servant of Satan and hence one to be destroyed.
POLITICAL AND INDUSTRIAL MOBS
Political and industrial mobs are usually composed of people battling for a principle. Their primitive sense of injustice has been provoked into anger. Crowd contagion does the rest. The storming of the Bastile in 1789 was done by a mob which expressed the public desire for social, economic, and political justice. Industrial mobs, likewise, have generally represented a principle, a desire for more power, a demand for bread and justice. Like political mobs they are often led by agitators and composed of uneducated people mad with rage at mistreatment.
In the case of the panic the attempt is to escape impending danger. In its elemental form a panic is best illustrated by a stampeded herd of cattle, wild horses, or elephants. In the Iroquois Theatre disaster in Chicago the cry of "Fire"sent a multitude of people toward the wholly inadequate exits and individuals piled up, trampling down and smothering those beneath to death. The desire for security caused otherwise considerate men to climb over helpless women and children until the exits became blocked with jumbled and dying humanity. The group in cases of this kind is composed of persons who are chiefly strangers to each other. The security impulses being stimulated by a wild emotional contagion are not offset by any sense of social responsibility and hence there is utter disregard of human lives. In a panic everybody is struck simultaneously with the acutest attack possible of self-consciousness. Napoleon was correct when he instructed his officers to tell their men of danger beforehand in a quiet, non-exaggerated way, thus enabling them to steel themselves against fear and to withstand panics.
Manias, crazes, and orgies represent modified forms of mob behavior. In the case of a mania, people are aroused to want the same thing at the same time. A bargain counter sale often generates a mob in which the belief is current that the number of the desired object is less than the number of purchasers. In a "run on a bank" a panic takes place; fear of not getting their money rules people. The supply of money is thought to be less than the demand, social interest is almost nil, and the security impulse dominates. In a craze, as referred to in an earlier chapter, excitement runs high and produces all sorts of irrational attempts to get something for nothing, or at least before some one else gets it. Orgies are generally connected with the use of alcoholic liquors. They are accompanied by bestial and immoral conduct. A false sense of sociability and of the means for providing it leads to the excessive use of intoxicating liquor which promptly produces debauchery.
THE MOB CURVE
In mobs, particularly in those where anger is the driving factor, there is a noticeable mob curve. The curve rises irregularly until the objective of the mob is reached. It hovers at a dizzy height of brutal vengeance until its victims have been punished and tortured; after which, it falls rapidly, almost perpendicular. The panic curve is similar, although its sudden fall is brought about by the results of stampeding. In the mob curve the effects of group contagion are easily seen. When the contagion bubble bursts the mob spirit flattens out.
CONTROL OF MOBS
The problem of controlling mobs is similar to that of controlling fire, that is, it is easier to prevent them than to end them after they have once gained momentum. A mob in full fury will not listen to reason; it can be stopped only by force, by water power; or as an enemy army, by bayonets, shrapnel, and poison gas. The problem is really that of getting at the generating conditions. By preventing injustice and by furthering constructive measures of justice, mob action may be reduced to a minimum. The problem is both personal and social. Human beings who are educated to control their emotions and desires, who have built socialized habits
( 265) and attitudes, and who assume social responsibilities in orderly ways are generally immune against mob contagion,—for example, a community where law and order and justice prevail, where racial, religious, and political differences are studied rationally and handled by sober judgment. By anticipating problems of this character, communities may safeguard themselves against mob rule. With scientific methods of handling social problems, with freedom for the development of constructive impulses and desires, and with a socialized atmosphere permeating all group life, mobs disappear.
1. Crowds, the most common form of temporary grouping, are either heterogeneous or homogeneous, depending on their range of purposes.
2. In a homogeneous crowd, feelings run high, reason is submerged, a leader is demanded, a heightened state of suggestibility exists, freedom of speech is tabooed, wild enthusiasm may be aroused, but fickleness prevails.
3. Crowds are either spectator groups, that is, onlookers, or participator groups, that is, mobs.
4. Multiplication of means of communication and increased facility of transportation make crowd formation easy.
5. Mobs are crowds in a very high state of suggestibility, and motivated usually by anger, but occasionally by fear, creating a panic.
6. The mob curve rises by rapid degrees to a giddy height where it hangs until the mob is appeased, and then it falls abruptly.
7. The best way to control a mob is to prevent it by means of socialized habits and social justice.
1. Define a crowd.
2. Are the people in a railroad station a heterogeneous or homogeneous crowd?
3. Why does the crowd generally have a leader?
4. Why is one's individuality wilted in a dense throng?
5. Why is the crowd-self ephemeral?
6, Explain : A crowd is recidivistic.
7, Why does a crowd refuse to tolerate freedom of speech?
8. Why is the crowd-self irrational?
9. What are the chief differences between a spectator crowd and a participator crowd?
10. Compare a lynching mob with a panic-stricken mob.
11. What is meant by the mob curve?
12. What are the best ways of controlling a mob?
1. Why do feelings run through a crowd more readily than ideas?
2. In order to unify people why is it necessary to touch the chord of feeling?
3. Explain : "In a psychological crowd people are out of themselves."
4, What are the advantages of organized cheering? the disadvantages?
5. What effect will your study of the social psychology of the crowd have upon your attitude toward the crowd?
6. If you have been in a mob, what was your experience?
7. Is a holiday jam in a railroad station a mob?
8. Is the social psychology of a mob of Hottentots the same as the social psychology of a mob of college professors?
9. Where can the blame for mob action justly be placed?
10. What are the best means of bringing a lynching mob to a rational point of view?
11. What is the best way to prevent a panic in case of fire in a large auditorium filled with people?
12 "Is a vote taken at a mass meeting a genuinely democratic act?"
ASSIGNMENTS AND READINGS
Christensen, Arthur, Politics and Crowd-Morality (tran. by E. English, publ. by Dutton, n.d.).
Cooley, C. H., Social Organization (Scribners, 1909), Ch. XIV.
Conway, Martin, The Crowd in Peace and War (Longmans, Green: 1915).
Galsworthy, John, The Mob (Scribners, 1905).
Howard, G. E., "Social Psychology of the Spectator," Amer. Jour. of Sociology, XVIII:33-50.
Le Bon, Gustave, The Crowd (London, 1903).
Martin, E. D., The Behavior of Crowds (Harper, 1920).
McDougall, William, The Group Mind (Putnam, 1920).
Mecklin, J. M., The Ku Klux Klan (Harcourt, Brace: 1924).
Pillsbury, W. B., Psychology of Nationality and Internationalism (Appleton, 1919), Ch. VI.
"Psicologia della folla," Rev. ital. di. sociol., III:168-95.
Ross, E. A., Foundations of Sociology (Macmillan, 1908), Ch. V.
———, Social Psychology (Macmillan, 1908), Ch. III-V.
Sidis, Boris, "A Study of the Mob," Atlantic Mon., LXXV : 188-97.
Sighele, Scipio, La foule criminelle (Alcan, Paris, 1892).
Tarde, Gabriel, L'opinion et la foule (Paris, 1901), Chs. I, II.
Thompson, Wallace, The Mexican Mind (Little, Brown: 1922), Ch. IX.