Excerpts on

Group Thinking and Collective Behavior


The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind by Gustave Le Bon, 1899.  

 

"Little adapted to reasoning, crowds are quick to act...  How powerless they are to hold any opinions other than those which are imposed upon them.... [They are led] by seeking what produces an impression on them and what seduces them." Pages xvi, xx,

 

"[Crowds possess a] collective mind which makes them feel, think and act in a manner quite different...  [The member of a crowd gains] a sentiment of invincible power which allows [him] to yield to instincts which, had he been alone, he would... have kept under restraint." Page 9

 

"In the case of human crowds the chief is often nothing more than a ringleader or agitator, but as such he plays a considerable part. His will is the nucleus around which the opinions of the crowd are grouped and attain to identity. ... A crowd is a servile flock that is incapable of ever doing without a master. The leader has ... himself been hypnotised by the idea, whose apostle he has since become. It has taken possession of him to such a degree that everything outside it vanishes, and that every contrary opinion appears to him an error..." Page 118

 

"The arousing of faith -- whether religious, political, or social, whether faith in a work, in a person, or an idea -- has always been the function of the great leaders of crowds, and it is on this account that their influence is always very great." Page 120

 

"These ringleaders and agitators may be divided into two clearly defined classes. The one includes the men who are energetic and possess, but only intermittently, much strength of will, the other the men, far rarer than the preceding, whose strength of will is enduring...." Page 122

 

"When, however, it is proposed to imbue the mind of a crowd with ideas and beliefs -- with modern social theories, for instance -- the leaders have recourse to different expedients. The principal of them are three in number and clearly defined -- affirmation, repetition, and contagion....

 

"Affirmation pure and simple, kept free of all reasoning and all proof, is one of the surest means of making an idea enter the mind of crowds. The conciser an affirmation is, the more destitute of every appearance of proof and demonstration, the more weight it carries.... Statesmen called upon to defend a political cause, and commercial men pushing the sale of their products by means of advertising are acquainted with the value of affirmation. Affirmation, however, has no real influence unless it be constantly repeated, and so far as possible in the same terms. It was Napoleon, I believe, who said that there is only one figure in rhetoric of serious importance, namely, repetition....

 

"The influence of repetition on crowds...  This power is due to the fact that the repeated statement is embedded in the long run in those profound regions of our unconscious selves in which the motives of our actions are forged. At the end of a certain time we have forgotten who is the author of the repeated assertion, and we finish by believing it. To this circumstance is due the astonishing power of advertisements. When we have read a hundred, a thousand, times that X's chocolate is the best, we imagine we have heard it said in many quarters, and we end by acquiring the certitude that such is the fact...." Pages 126-127

 

"When an affirmation has been sufficiently repeated and there is unanimity in this repetition -- as has occurred in the case of certain famous financial undertakings rich enough to purchase every assistance -- what is called a current of opinion is formed and the powerful mechanism of contagion intervenes. Ideas, sentiments, emotions, and beliefs possess in crowds a contagious power as intense as that of microbes." Page 127

 

"Imitation, to which so much influence is attributed in social phenomena, is in reality a mere effect of contagion. ... [What is] affirmed comes by repetition to fix itself in the mind in such a way that it is accepted in the end as a demonstrated truth." Page 127?


Communal reinforcement: "Communal reinforcement is a social phenomenon in which a concept or idea is repeatedly asserted in a community, regardless of whether sufficient empirical evidence has been presented to support it. Over time, the concept or idea is reinforced to become a strong belief in many people's minds, and may be regarded by the members of the community as fact. ...

     "The phrase 'millions of people can't all be wrong' is indicative of the common tendency to accept a communally reinforced idea without question....

     "Communal reinforcement can be seen as a positive force in society if it reinforces a concept or idea which is true or beneficial to society..."

 

Meme: "[rhymes with theme], coined in 1976 by the zoologist and evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins, refers to a unit of cultural information transferable from one mind to another.... A meme propagates itself as a unit of cultural evolution and diffusion ó analogous in many ways to the behavior of the gene...

     "Proponents of memes suggest that memes evolve via natural selection... on the premise that variation, mutation, competition... influence their replicative success."

 

Groupthink: "...exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing... and evaluating ideas. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the groupís balance.... [E]ight symptoms....

- A feeling of invulnerability... encourages risk taking.

- Discounting warnings that might challenge assumptions....

- Stereotyped views of [contrary people or ideas]...

- Pressure to conform ...

- An illusion of unanimity....

- Mindguards... shield the group from dissenting opinions."

 


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