Mass psychology concerns three main areas: the social nature of individuals, their interactions with others, and their representations of the social world. In many ways it is very simular to social psychology, although it focuses more on the individual and the group. It deals with how people keep (or fail to keep) the power to make their own choices against pressure from other groups in society, and from centres of authority.

The social psychologist Erich Fromm thought that the feeling of separation between mother and child gave the offspring considerable anxiety, which he claimed, could be used in a creative way (productive work and relationships), or in a destructive way (violence and anti- social behaviour). By joining mass movements, Fromm said that the individual’s problems were ignored, and that conforming to the group would reduce the initial uneasiness. He associated this trend to nationalism. It could also be attributed to hooliganism or religious sects in a modern context. When people join these groups, some researchers have found that they can change their values and beliefs according to the group tendency (Fromm, 1957).

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Mass communication in the form of television, radio, and cinema can also spread cultural norms and trends, and can exert a heavy influence on public opinion and perceptions. People can use these forms as a source of escapism, or a means of identifying with fictional lives (Howitt, p. 23, 1982). The philosopher Roland Barthes argued that the imagery or slogans used in advertising can be used to sell the product to the general public. He claimed that in these cases, the instinct within people wins over the reasoning mind. Political propaganda, (i. e. Lord Kitchener’s recruiting posters during world war II), without delving into the complex issues which surround war, works in the same way.

(Barthes, 1967) Extremist groups such as religious cults, national movements or simply adolescent gangs intent on crating mayhem are run with very simple sets of norms (Reich, 1997). Examples might include believing one’s country is “best”, choosing to wear particular clothing because it is “cool”, or stealing because they feel society is unbalanced. These groups can be considered quite dangerous as they project their own problems on the rest of the world. Remaining separate from wider, open and more inclusive social norms could escalate resulting in disastrous consequences (i. e. the genocide of World War II, and the September 11th attacks this year)

Because extreme examples of mass behaviour result in violence, such as the dominance of “mob rule”, maintenance of peace and social cohesion depends on an understanding of mass psychology. To sum up, it would be reasonable to say that mass psychology and social psychology form a part of everyday life. The layperson is bound to come across it in some form be it through advertising, attitudes and behaviour, and interaction with other people.

However, when describing psychology, the layperson will have a tendency to omit these facts, resulting in an incomplete and somewhat inaccurate view of the subject.


Aronson, (1988) The Social Animal Ash, Woodward, (1989) Psychology in 20th Century Thought and Society Baron, Byrne, Griffit, (1999) Social Psychology Barthes, (1967) The Discourse of history Carson, Buskist, Martin, (2000) Psychology; the Science of Behaviour Fromm, (1957) The humanistic science of man Hogg, Vaughan, (1998) Social Psychology Howitt, (1982) Mass media and Social Problems Lapiere, (1934) Social Forces Rachman, (1966) Psychological Record Reich, (1997) The Mass Psychology of Fascism