Crowd psychology is a branch of social psychology, focused on crowd behavior.
Theory on the behavior of crowds, going back as far as Plato, originally assumed that crowd behavior was that of an unthinking mob. Substantive study of crowds in the social sciences was reinvigorated by The Origins of Contemporary France (1875/1893), by the conservative historian Hippolyte Taine (1828-93). But it was in [[The Psychology of Crowds|Le Bon[The Psychology of Crowds (1895) that French sociologist Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931) first mined the writings of existing theorists on crowd behavior to create the new discipline of crowd psychology.
Le Bon listed th ree primary elements of crowd behavior, including,
- a unity of collective identification, giving a sense of limitless power;
- the creation of a sensitivity to emotional appeals due to that unity;
- collective intelligence in the crowd dropping to that of the lowest common denominator.
Crowds, said Le Bon, are easily subject to collective hallucinations, suggestions originated by individuals in the crowd that are thoughtlessly and contagiously adopted throughout the whole. Le Ban’s theory of crowd psychology received little significant challenge until the later works of sociologists such as George Rude (1910-93) and E. P Thompson (1924-93). Thompson’s studies of the actual behavior of crowds focused primarily on the social context and demands of crowds, while Rude looked at the composition of existing crowds. Their studies challenged views of the crowd as essentially primal and irrational, and instead showed crowds as often being composed of relatively better-off members of communities who are responding to specific threats to their communities, at the same time acting on cultural assumptions that are widely shared.
The study of the psychology and behavior of crowds had long been merely speculation before Le Bon, whose influential studies integrated the study of crowd behavior into formal social science.