Psychological aspects of perception of G. Tarde’s crowd theory among contemporary students

Vol. 29 Iss. 1 pp. 3643 | St. Petersburg State Institute of Psychology and Social Work | ISSN: 1993-8101


The article contrasts two aspects of the relevance of social theories - scientific and public. It is stated that the paradigm of "psychological contagion", which viewed the crowd as an irrational and destructive entity during the period from the late 19th throughout the middle of the 20th century, lost its scientific relevance due to the development of social and psychological knowledge. At the same time, it is asserted that in many respects it has preserved the public relevance, since it is still able to supply interested persons with simple, understandable, yet very exemplary, information about the psychological nature of the spontaneous associations. The results of an expert survey among students (n = 33) on the contents of the crowd theory, developed by G. Tarde at the end of the 19th century, are described. Key provisions of G. Tarde’s theory, shared by modern students, are defined. Special attention of respondents to the properties of the crowd and the processes of personality changes within is attributed to the fact that it is perceived as a source of double danger, acting as a subject, simultaneously, possible general aggression and possible personal disharmony among its members. The authors analyze the clarifications and criticisms voiced by the students about the constituents of G. Tarde’s crowd theory. Based on the results, a number of fundamental differences between the scientific and public relevance of the social theory are postulated.


crowd, crowd theories, G. Tarde’s crowd theory, criticism of the crowd theories, “psychological contagion”, contemporary students’ perception, scientific relevance, public relevance


Citation — Harvard Notation


  1. Bezsonov D.D. Massovyye prestupleniya v obshchem i voyenno-ugolovnom prave [Mass crimes in common and military criminal law]. St. Petersburg: Tipo-litografiya K.L. Pentkovskogo Publ., 1907. 480 p. (In Russian).
  2. Bekhterev V.M. Collective reflexology: The complete edition. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2001. 534 p.
  3. Vagner V.A. Biologiya i psikhologiya tolpy [Biology and psychology of the crowd]. Obrazovaniye – Education, 1905, (9), pp. 143-184 (in Russian).
  4. Voytolovskiy L.N. Rol chustva v kollektivnoy psikhologii (opyt psikho-fiziologicheskogo issledovaniya tolpy) [The role of feeling in collective psychology (the experience of a psychophysiological study of the crowd)]. Kiev: Lito-tipografiya I.N. Kushnerev i K Publ., 1904. 47 p. (In Russian).
  5. Gorbatov D.S., Bolshakov S.N. Psikhologiya tolpy: teoriya stadnogo instinkta nachala XX veka [Psychology of crowd: Theories of herd instinct at the beginning of the XX century]. Psikhologicheskiy zhurnal – Psychological Journal, 2017, 38 (1), pp. 98-106 (in Russian).
  6. Dobrovolskiy I.I. Psikhologiya “prestupnoy” tolpy [Psychology of the “criminal” crowd]. Russkaya mysl – The Russian Thought, 1894, (12), pp. 130-158 (in Russian).
  7. Kandinskiy V.Kh. Obshcheponyatnyye psikhologicheskiye etyudy [Comprehensible psychological etudes]. Moscow: tipografiya A.I. Mamontova Publ., 1881. 235 p. (In Russian).
  8. Kapterev P.F. O podrazhatelnosti v psikhologicheskom i pedagogicheskom otnosheniyakh [On imitation in psychological and pedagogical senses]. Obrazovaniye – Education, 1893, (7-8), pp. 1-41 (in Russian).
  9. Le Bon G. Psychologie des foules (1895). Paris: Félix Alcan, 1905. 130 p. (In French). (Rus. ed.: Le Bon G. Psikhologiya mass [Psychology of the masses]. In: Psikhologiya narodov i mass [Psychology of peoples and masses]. St. Petersburg: F. Pavlenkov Publ., 1896, pp. 149-329).
  10. Mikhaylovskiy N.K. Yeshche o tolpe [More about the crowd]. In: Sochineniya v 6-ti tomakh [Essays in 6 volumes]. St. Petersburg: Russkoye bogatstvo Publ., 1896, pp. 404-466 (in Russian).
  11. Tarde G. Les crimes des foules (extrait du Troisième Congrès International d'Anthropologie criminelle, 1892) (in French). Available at: (accessed 10.03.2018). (Rus. ed.: Tarde G. Prestupleniya tolpy [Crimes of the crowd]. Kazan: tipo-litografiya Imperatorskogo universiteta Publ., 1893. 44 p.).
  12. Tarde G. L’opinion et la folue. Paris: Les Presses universitaires de France, 1989. 184 p. (In French). (Rus. ed.: Tarde G. Obshchestvennoye mneniye i tolpa [Public opinion and the crowd]. Moscow: tov-vo A.I. Mamontova Publ., 1902. 202 p.).
  13. Tarde G. Prestupnik i prestupleniye. Sravnitelnaya prestupnost. Prestupleniya tolpy [A criminal and the crime. Comparative criminality. Crimes of the crowd]. Moscow: Infra-M Publ., 2009. 391 p.
  14. Aubry P. La contagion du meurte. Étude d’anthropologie criminelle. Paris: Félix Alcan, 1888. 184 p. (In French).
  15. Drury J., Stott C. Contextualising the crowd in contemporary social science. Contemporary Social Science, 2011, 6 (3), pp. 275–288. doi: 10.1080/21582041.2011.625626.
  16. McClelland J.S. The crowd and the mob: From Plato to Canetti. London: Unwin Hyman, 1989. 356 p.
  17. McPhail C. The myth of the madding crowd. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1991. 265 p.
  18. Reicher S. The psychology of crowd dynamics. In: Hogg M.A., Tindale R.S. (eds.). Blackwell handbook of social psychology: Group processes. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001, pp. 182–208.
  19. Spears R., Postmes T. Group identity, social influence and collective action online: Extensions and applications of the SIDE model. In: Sundar S.S. (ed.). The handbook of psychology of communication technology. Oxford: Blackwell, 2015, pp. 23-46.
  20. Stott C., Drury J. Contemporary understanding of riots: Classical crowd psychology, ideology and the social identity approach. Public Understanding of Science, 2016, 26 (1), pp. 2–14. doi: 10.1177/0963662516639872.