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Wolff, C.T. (1973). Meetings of the New York Psychoanalytic Society. Psychoanal Q., 42:322-323.

(1973). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 42:322-323

Meetings of the New York Psychoanalytic Society

Carl T. Wolff

November 9, 1971. CROWDS AND CRISIS: PSYCHOANALYTIC CONSIDERATIONS. (Nunberg Memorial Lecture.) Phyllis Greenacre, M.D.

Dr. Greenacre discussed historical factors which have contributed to the current importance of activism and crowd phenomena, and briefly reviewed the concepts of Le Bon, Trotter, and Freud concerning man in crowds. She distinguished between crowds and groups in terms of their degree of organization. The previously held distinction between 'psychological' crowds, gathered for a special purpose, and spontaneous crowds is not clear-cut; both can show the phenomena of increasing tension, tendencies to irritability, and emotional contagion.

Conditions within the crowd may be used to promote activism. Crowds work through a process of conversion rather than reasoned consideration, and in an atmosphere of excitement and intense emotional pitch. There is a high degree of sensual stimulation with many people in close bodily contact which leads to strengthened moods and increased body tensions with an intensified pitch for activity. Speech becomes more primitive; there is a progressive loss of the sense of self-boundaries and a feeling of powerful oneness with the crowd which approaches the feeling of primary narcissistic omnipotent expansion ordinarily seen in the psychoses or religious fanaticism. There is also a sense of alienation which, if shared with the crowd, may lead to the paradoxical illusion of being in the majority. This extensive but partial regression resembles religious revivalism and the state in infancy when individuation is still somewhat insecure. Introjective-projective reactions and primary identifications are typical of the revolutionist's aggression in the crowd. The nature and degree of regression make understandable the whole gamut of pregenital activity mobilized to express hostility, including the use of bodily excretions and of vulgar and lewd speech.

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