What is mass behavior in psychology

Summary of Psychology of the masses

The century of revolutions

With the French Revolution in 1789, the absolutist monarchy was abolished in France. The following years were marked by violent political unrest; the pursuit of a democratic state soon turned into bloody terror that cost the lives of countless people. At the same time, the country was repeatedly involved in wars. Soon the state was transformed under the rule Napoleon Bonapartes into a military dictatorship. In 1804 he even had himself crowned emperor. After the fall of Napoleon, returned in 1814 Louis XVIII a bourbon returned to the imperial throne. As early as March 1815 he was driven out again by Napoleon, who, however, had to give up definitively in June after the battle of Waterloo. The reign of the Bourbons lasted 15 years - until the July Revolution of 1830. After uprisings in Paris Charles X. forced to abdicate and Ludwig Philip I., Duke of Orléans, was made king. In February 1848 another revolution broke out in Paris, again with devastating consequences: riots, terror, executions, political instability. Only under the authoritarian rule of Kaiser Napoleon III, who ruled from 1852, the country was granted a period of calm. It ended in 1870 with the war against Prussia: Napoleon III. was captured and France became a republic again. In 1871, before the end of the war, the communists and socialists came to power in the uprising of the Paris Commune, but the uprising was suppressed. In the Third Republic from 1875 onwards, the political situation remained basically stable, but the clashes between socialists, nationalists and monarchists dragged on for the following decades. Thus France saw four revolutions in a century; the people lived with terror and oppression. The unstable political situation was exacerbated by the social upheavals in Europe: With increasing industrialization, large sections of the population became impoverished and an industrial proletariat was formed.


When Gustave Le Bon published his treatise on mass psychology in 1895, he was able to fall back on a wealth of illustrative material: France had been shaken by revolutions and political unrest for over 100 years. He had witnessed the revolution of 1848 and the Paris Commune in 1871 himself, and he was a doctor at first hand in the war between France and Prussia in 1870/71. Le Bon knew the people as a mass that can safely be carried away to the cruelest crimes and willingly and blindly follow a strong leader. At the same time, he made the experience that all attempts to establish a democratic form of government sooner or later ended in anarchy, but that a strong political leader could at least temporarily ensure stability.

Before Le Bon, criminologists had books on mass psychology Gabriel Tarde (The laws of imitation, 1890) and Scipio Sighele (The criminal mass, 1891) published. Le Bon took up the ideas of these works and combined them with his own ethnographic research. In addition, current scientific discoveries flowed into the work. With the research of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch only a few years earlier it was possible to prove that some diseases are transmitted by pathogens. Also Gregor Mendels Hereditary discoveries were only 30 years ago. In addition, interest in psychology and especially in the unconscious arose in those years; the phenomenon of hypnosis cast a spell over people. Le Bon took up the new findings and tried to use them for his study of mass psychology.

Impact history

Psychology of the masses, Gustave Le Bon's main work, had a strong impact in the first third of the 20th century. Earlier research on the subject of mass psychology had largely gone unnoticed, but Le Bon's provocative theses became known worldwide and had a major influence on the further development of the fledgling scientific disciplines psychology and sociology. The author is rightly considered the founder of mass psychology. No less than Sigmund Freud should take up the topic again a few decades later in his work, e.g. B. in Mass Psychology and Ego Analysis (1921). The Spanish philosopher also addressed the issue of mass José Ortega y Gasset (The revolt of the masses, 1929) and the writer Elias Canetti apart, the latter specifically in his work Mass and power (1960). In his opinion, neither Gustave Le Bon nor Sigmund Freud had adequately grasped the phenomenon. Le Bons theses influence sociology and media studies to this day, e. B. in research on public opinion. However, they have also come under fire in the past few decades. So came the American sociologist Clark McPhail a few years ago in The Myth of the Madding Crowd (1991) to a result contrary to Le Bon, namely that the behavior of people as individuals or as part of a group does not differ fundamentally. Recent empirical research, e.g. B. an experiment by Philip R. Laughlin from the 1970s, Le Bon's theses also seem to contradict: the likelihood that a group would solve a difficult intelligence test was far greater than that of an individual.