Major theories to explain crowd behaviour are: (i) Group-mind Theory (ii) Freudian Theory (iii) Theory of Multiple Factors.
Though it cannot be denied that the crowd also possesses a capacity for constructive work, yet it is its destructive character which has forced sociologists and psychologists to devote their attention to it.
Many theories have been advanced to explain why the crowd behaves in a particular way.
(i) Group-mind Theory:
According to the Group-mind theory the individual in the crowd loses his individuality and becomes a part of the crowd which comes to develop its own crowd consciousness. The crowd consciousness supplants the individual consciousness of the individuals. The members of the crowd participate in the crowd consciousness and act according to the stimulus provided by the crowd.
The mentality of the individual member becomes de-individualized and he begins to act on an emotional level which is common to all the participants. According to this theory, the crowd becomes so attuned that it responds only to the appeal, the slogans, the ideas which are conformable to the de-individualized mentality. The Group-mind which is not the sum of the minds of the members of the group is a mind of its own distinct from minds working on different levels.
Its working is based on emotions, appeals, suggestions and slogans. Its acts are less rational and more emotional. It is an irresponsible mind focusing its attention on some immediate object. Its mental level is very low. It becomes easily excited and acts in a hypnotic way. It is on this account that individuals behave most irrationally in a crowd than otherwise behave individually.
The ‘Group-mind’ theory has been advocated by Lebon, Espinas, Trotter, Durkheim, McDougall and Allport.
Lebon was the first writer to put forward the theory of Group-mind in 1892. In his book Crowds he has written, “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.” Thus, according to Lebon, the different individuals in a group do not think individually but think experience and act through group mind.
When individuals collect in a crowd, their individual minds become a part of the collective mind. The collective mind thinks in its own way and formulates its own ideas and thoughts which the individual minds do not formulate in their individual capacities. In the crowd the mind of the individual acts in a manner in which it would not act if left alone.
Lebon has laid great emphasis on the unconscious motives. According to him, in a crowd these unconscious motives get more active. The individual is influenced by these unconscious motives and his own conscious motivation sinks into the background. In a group, the individual gets a sense of invincible power and hence he tries to completely satisfy his instinctive passions in him.
Lebon says, “Moreover by the mere fact that he forms part of an organised group, a man descends several ladders of civilization. Isolated, he may be a cultivated individual in a crowd he is a barbarian that is, creature acting by instincts. He possesses the spontaneity, violence, the ferocity and also the enthusiasm and heroism of primitive beings.”
Theory of Espinas:
Espinas was a French philosopher and an authority on biology. His theory of the group mind reflected biological concepts. According to him, just as in an individual the various cells of his organism combine to form a consciousness that he regards as his own and which is a unity, in the same way in society the collective consciousness is formed out of the collection of many individual consciousness taken together.
In this way Espinas calls group-mind as social consciousness. According to him, there is a sort of self consciousness in every group and it is because of this existence that when its culture is attacked from the outside it raises a voice against it.
Trotter has sought to explain man’s social behaviour on the basis of herd instinct. Every man, according to him, is possessed of the instinct of gregariousness. Man’s gregariousness activates his mental system as a result of which he accepts the command of the group without any argument and acts according to the command given. Since man wants to live in a group so he does not want to do anything which may displease the group. Accordingly his social behaviour is caused by the herd instinct.
Durkheim has sought to explain group behaviour in terms of collective consciousness. According to him, when people collect in a group, a collective consciousness is created by the mutual exchange of ideas and notions. Mind is another name for the flow of consciousness. When several minds meet together, there is a flow of consciousness from one mind to another.
Out of this flow, a social consciousness is created which is not just a collection of consciousness of various individuals. Just as a chemical compound is a group of several elements but its qualities are different from the qualities of its various elements, similarly, the social consciousness is a compound of several individual consciousness but its qualities are different from the qualities of the consciousness of the individual. According to Durkheim, the social consciousness is more superior and comprehensive than the individual consciousness.
Mc Dougall’s Theory:
McDougall criticised the theories of collective consciousness put forth by Espinas and Durkheim. Instead he postulated the theory of group-mind. According to Mc Dougall, every group has a mind of its own. The group-mind is not a mere collection of the minds of all the individual members of group.
The group-mind has the power of influencing the mind of the individuals. It is because of this power of the group-mind that the thinking of the individual changes when he becomes a member of the group. The level of intelligence of the group-mind is low. So its thinking is low and emotional. It becomes easily excited and acts in hypnotic way.
According to Allport, the behaviour of the individual in the crowd is influenced by two processes of social facilitation and interstimulation. Because of the process of social facilitation all the individuals are seen behaving in an identical manner. The members of a group motivate each other.
Because of this inter-stimulation the members of the group feel possessed of an unconquerable power. Social facilitation and inter-stimulation curb the reasoning capacity of the individuals and increase their suggestibility. Consequently the individuals behave in a manner they would not behave in their individual Capacities.
The Group-mind theory is a simple theory to explain an otherwise complex phenomenon of crowd behaviour, but as MacIver says, ‘There is no evidence of ‘group-mind’, a mind that exists apart from and controls the mind of the individual members of the crowd.” We cannot think of the mind of a group as anything but the minds of its members thinking or feeling in like ways and making like responses.
The only centres of feeling are the individual selves. The act of thinking cannot be separated from the mind. In a group, mind communicates with the mind but one never becomes the other. When it is said that the minds of the individuals in a crowd become closely identified in the furtherance of some immediate cause, we only use a metaphor indicating that we are jointly co-operating towards that cause.
This co-operation or even the integration of the minds of the various individuals can never become the coordination which belongs to the acts of n single individual. Therefore, to ascribe a mind to the crowd, to place it by the side of individual mind though working on different levels fails to do justice to the individuality of the social being Reinhardt says, “No sane individual believes that a mob mine exists as a form of transcendent ego separate and apart from nervous tissue.”
Even then, though the theory of Group-mind as an explanation of crowd behaviour stands unproved and rejected, yet it is one that continues to have a popular appeal. By ascribing a mind to the crowd and regarding the crowd as an actor with the same or similar attributes as the individual being, it does provide some simple explanation of an otherwise complex phenomenon of crowd behaviour.
(ii) Freudian Theory:
Martin, E. D. and other thinkers of the Freudian view interpret crowd behaviour as the release for repressed desires. According to them, in every day course of life, powerful tensions are developed in individuals because modern society imposes artificial restraints on the expression of natural human impulses, such as for example, the sexual impulse.
The crowds bring into play not only the consciously repressed desires of men but also those hidden and unconscious desires which the discipline of normal social life has repressed. The ‘censor’ within the individual is set aside in the crowd, and the ‘instinct’ or basic ‘id’ impulses, which are normally confined to the inner depths of the personality come to surface. The crowd thus provides a momentary release of otherwise repressed drives.
While the Freudian theory is helpful in explaining certain phases of crowd behaviour, it is not substantiated by factual observation. Sometimes, the crowd behaviour may be the expression of impulses repressed or thwarted by the conditions and social controls of everyday life, but it may not be true of all the crowds.
It is wrong to suppose that all crowds are unnatural and pathological. If we examine the many varieties of crowd expression at different times and places, we would find that there is an important relationship between the social and cultural conditions and particular modes of crowd.
Why were the large gatherings of youth in Meerut, Lucknow, Ludhiana and Allahabad moved to frenzied demonstration than in the rural areas or similar towns? In answering this question the conditions of the urban environment, its vicariousness and impersonality would have to be taken into consideration.
Again, how are we to explain the fact that student trouble has very rarely taken place in the South? Obviously any satisfactory answer would have to take note of the culture of that area. Interesting contrasts are presented by crowd behaviour in different societies. Assault and battery are much more common in English speaking countries than in France, where rioters wreck their vengeance on property rather than on persons.
There an audience listening peacefully to a public address, or the spectators witnessing a game may suddenly become a crowd on account of certain sudden experience Moreover, the crowd also illustrates the principle of solidarity. It exhibits fundamental social impulses. In a crowd all the differences of high and low, rich and poor are submerged and all act as one man. The Freudian theory is clearly unable to explain all these features of crowd behaviour.
(iii) Theory of Multiple Factors:
It is, therefore, evident that no simple explanation can be given to explain a complex phenomenon of crowd behaviour. The crowd is under a “spell”. It takes its members into the world of magic, where things happen unaccountably. It is unthinking in its love and ruthless in its hate.
The individual in the crowd responds uncritically to the stimuli provided by the other members. It is said that crowd behaviour is learned. The individual by nature learns to make almost automatic responses to the wishes of others, particularly those in authority and those he greatly respects. From infancy on he is so dependent upon the judgment of others for direction in his own affairs that he comes to lean heavily on the opinion of others.
He imitates their ways and wishes to court their favour. For these reasons, among others, when he finds himself in a congenial crowd of persons, all of whom are excited, he also becomes naturally excited. Suggestion dislocates our consciousness. The more awesome the source of suggestion, the greater the degree of dislocation and the greater the amount of automatic behaviour.
If the leader of the crowd is one who is admired, the effect of suggestion is further heightened. The greater the number of the people in the crowd, the greater is the stimulation because of the volume of stimulation. Moreover, if suggestions come continuously, regularly and evenly, the effect of suggestions is heightened.
The anonymity in the group also leads the individual to behave in a manner in which he would not behave when left to his own. Ross writes, “Marked by anonymity people feel free to give reign to the expression of their feelings. In a crowd the individual responsibility is blotted out. The participants remain anonymous and there is no one on whom the authorities can pin the offence. De-individualisation of the individual in the group leads to reduction of inner restraint and to more expressive behaviour.”
Thus, according to the theory of multiple factors, a number of factors like unaccountability, imitation, low degree of intelligence, suggestibility, lack of volition, stimulation, anonymity, unconscious impulses and influence of leaders work upon the crowd and influence its behaviour.
To quote Mc Dougall, “A crowd is excessively emotional, impulsive, feeble, in consistent, irresolute, and extreme in action, displaying the coarse emotions and the less refined sentiments extremely suggestible, careless in deliberation, hasty in judgment, incapable of any but the simpler and perfect forms of reasoning, easily swayed and led, lacking in self consciousness, devoid of self-respect and a sense of responsibility and apt to be carried away by the consciousness of its force, so that it tends to reproduce all the manifestations of any irresponsible and absolute power.”
However, if cultural influences are strong, man will not follow the crowd. If an individual has attitudes and habits which are fundamentally opposed to those of the crowd, he will not be led by it. The crowd cannot call for behaviour for which there does not already exist a favourable basis in established attitudes and habits.
If cultural directives are strong and adequate, they would serve as effective checks on suggestibility. Cultural aids such as schooling or scientific training do lessen the chances of irrational and irresponsible behaviour of an individual. Education may lessen the probability of crowd contagion, even if it cannot eliminate it.