Social Psychology

Floyd Henry Allport
Harvard University

Slowly but surely, social psychology is coming into its own as the study of the social behavior of the individual. Many writers are noting, and some are investigating, social stimulus and response, and the specific effect of a social environment upon individual reaction. In spite of the persistent speculative essays of the old school, the trend is encouragingly toward observation and experiment. Recent literature echoes the cry for "socialization" in social theory, in government, in education, and in life. If the war has rescued individuality, it has also taught the value of cooperation and the stern necessity for the reconstruction of individual interest so as to include a regard for the social welfare. Here again lies the need for study and control of the socially significant aspects of individual response.

Our survey reveals three dominant topics of interest which may serve for classification. They are (1) "social mind" theories, (2) the social behavior of the individual, and (3) social behavior in relation to society.


The sterile controversy over the reality of a group mind still drags along. Most of the discussions are purely philosophical and so outside our present interest. Bosanquet (3) argues for the existence of a "general will" which gives definition to individual wills. Its existence is grounded in (1) the implication of the rights of others to choose for themselves in matters in which we ourselves

(86) have option, (2) a supporting system of universally agreeing wills, and (3) the permanent inclusion in an act of legislation of the life experiences, sufferings, and purposes of thousands of individuals.

Sageret (37) is concerned with a "collective mind," existing only in individuals. Its substance is social heredity, and its work is the enrichment of individual life as the fertile soil enables the acorn to develop into a giant oak. Without the social inheritance of tools and crafts we should revert to savagery. Newton, stripped of the collective gift of civilized language and concepts, could scarcely have aspired to mediocrity in the primitive horde. The collective mind operates like the swift, automatic reflexes of the bee always in the interest of the hive. There is the "bee-man" in whom the collective mind functions like breathing, without, his knowing how or why. The soldier who in one moment scoffs consciously at patriotic ideals, in the next gives his life without thought for his country. In another paper, the same author (36) considers opinion to be equivalent to the collective consciousness of a community or nation. It operates in the same reflex manner with the force of a sentiment, affective rather than rational in character. It is non-constructive, critical, and readily exploited by demagogue and journalist.


Beginning with social behavior in animals, Lameere (24) observes as chief principles (1) mutual aid, (2) division of labor, and (3) collective co÷rdination of labor. The last is illustrated by beavers building a dam. Social heredity of constructive habits is considered possible among animals. Kempf (21) describes some interesting personality types and their interaction among monkeys. There is the socially dominant monkey taking food away from the others, as well as the weak and timid individual who constantly watches the facial expressions of the stronger. Strategy is displayed in food getting, sex behavior being sometimes used as a decoy. Human homosexuality, prostitution, and sex psychoses are traced by Kempf to our simian ancestors.

We owe to Giddings (16) a suggestive program of pluralistic, as distinguished from individually isolated, behavior. Into every social occurrence there enters a degree of "like-mindedness" which consists of the "sum of like reactions, instinctive, habitistic, and rational." Social life is further complicated by the fact that each man serves as a complex stimulus to his fellows. Like responses

(87) are produced more readily than unlike. The "caw" of one crow readily stimulates the "caw" of another. Hence aggregation follows upon the line of least resistance in stimulation, and the assumption of a gregarious instinct is unnecessary. That animals of like structure tend to associate no one would deny. But we can hardly follow Giddings further; for like responses are probably more often the result than the cause of aggregation, unless we are speaking of small and specialized groups. Pluralistic behavior, says Giddings, may arise as a "dramatization" of originally isolated or socially meaningless behavior. For reasons important to the individual his "action" develops into "acting." The author does not enter into the process of this development as a method of social control, nor into its significance for the psychology of communication; but these implications appear to be far reaching in their importance. "Consciousness of kind," "social pressure," and "social solidarity" are treated in the remainder of the paper.

Allport (1) agrees with Giddings in the denial to instinct of a fundamental role in social psychology. The "instinct fallacy" errs in injecting social experience and habit into the germ plasm. Social response is as truly learned as any other aptitude. Another besetting error is the "group fallacy." The locus of all psychology is the neuro-muscular system of the individual. Discussion of groups adds nothing but confusion. The need for direct observation of the individual in a social situation is emphasized. For convenience we may distinguish two forms of social behavior: (1) making and responding to direct social stimuli, as in conversation, hunting, and reaction to facial expression; and (2) response to indirect or contributory social stimuli, as in performing any action in the presence of others or in common with them. The latter type would include the behavior of the individual in the crowd. Giddings' "dramatization" of action would represent the development of a contributory into a direct social stimulus. The results of the writer's experiments measuring the effect of contributory social stimuli upon the members of a group are given in brief summary.

The social influence under the condition of rivalry has been studied by Moede (29) in a group of boys 12 to 14 years of age. Tests of rate of tapping showed that competitive tapping produced a higher speed than solitary work. Dynamometric grip tests were given (a) with the individual alone, (b) in dual contest, and (c) in teams of five boys each. The strength records made increase in

(88) the order stated. An inverse correlation is shown between the ability of the subjects in the tests and the degree of beneficial effect of the social stimulus. In dual contests differences of temperament as well as of ability affect the character of the rivalry.

An important contribution to our knowledge of response to social stimulus in facial expressions is made by Langfeld (25, 26). The subjects gave names to 105 different emotional states expressed in photographs of an actor. Laughter, fear, aversion, and anger were successfully named. In mixed expressions the more evident components often obscured the weaker. Subtle states and permanent moods were not well interpreted. In making their judgments the subjects employed methods of (a) empathic response, and (b) imagining the whole social situation appropriate for the expression concerned. Further results in judging the expressions under the influence of suggestion were obtained.

These three studies represent the recent experimental literature.[1] The results, though numerically few, are probably of greater value than all the rest of the theoretical writings combined.

An allusion to social behavior is made by Kitson (23) who notes the subtle cues of breathing, head and eye movements, facial expressions, and the like, which tell the salesman that the "psychological moment" has arrived to press the closing of the deal. Sidis (40) bases crowd and mob phenomena upon the laws of suggestion and dissociation deduced by him from normal and abnormal individual suggestibility. In the mob the " sub-waking, reflex, and automatic self" is dissociated from the "rational or waking self," and suggestion, favored by all the necessary conditions of inhibition, limitation, and monotony, reigns supreme. War and other "social manias" are discussed in this light, and the need for rational individual expression in national life is emphasized. George (15) defines the social mind as a newly acquired "social attitude" of the individual. One's movements must be so regulated as to keep pace with the movements of others. In the war this regulatory attitude was seen in the "marching self," and in all forms of co÷peration. Social efficiency is the war's great teaching.

Thought, from the standpoint of Creighton (g), is behavior socially conditioned. The contribution of each individual has its social origins. The social environment is seen to be indispensible in the formulation of the problem, the discussion which aids its

(89) solution, and the final test of verification. Peterson (32) shows more specifically that ideas are essentially ways in which a large number of persons respond in the same manner to certain symbols or objects. The stability of concepts and the stability of custom are one.

Inexorably the Freudian psychology has found its way into social thinking. Jordon (20) declares the need of a "social psychoanalyst" to reveal to groups the true nature of their suppressions, and to redirect the "economic creative impulse" (libido) away from radicalism and into more intelligent adjustments. Follett (13) desires to apply Holt's concept of "integration" to the present social discord. Interpenetration of thought (integration) should take the place of compromise (repression). Community must be a process, like an integrated personality, creating its own purpose through its very integration. Finally, Bruce (4) turns the Freudian tables by postulating, in self-centered mankind, a repression of the gregarious instinct and feelings of sympathy for others(!). This repression has found its release in the widespread fervor of the Red Cross movement.


As heretofore, much of our social psychology has been produced by sociologists. Since it deals mainly with social movements, formations, and problems, rather than the social aspects of individual behavior, its contribution to our present need is somewhat casual. We shall therefore emphasize only the facts of importance for social psychology proper. The following sub-interests of social science will afford a useful classification: (I) sociological theory, (2) psychology of racial temperament, (3) marriage and family problems, (4) social movements, (5) social control and government, (6) rural problems, and (7) educational problems.

1. Sociological Theory.—Chapin's book (6) appears in the fourth edition. It is a clearly written and well (though rather hypothetically) illustrated text-book of prehistoric sociology. The chapters on "Association" and "Social Heredity" give concise elementary statements of the prevailing conceptions and theories. The specific contribution of this edition is the writer's treatment of social selection (appendix). "Social" selection, producing group conformity by killing the offender or innovator, is contrasted unfavorably with "societal" selection by which new ideas and unusual conduct are themselves directly suppressed. The second type

(90) works by modification of habit, the first by innate disposition controlled by social (natural) selection. Social selection founded upon eugenic birth-rate control, rather than upon death rate, is advocated by the author.

A convenient summary of the theories of Giddings is presented by Northcott (30). The doctrines of "kind" as a specific stimulus and response, toleration, and social mind as concerted feelings and acts are explained. Unlike responses are valuable in promoting interest and rivalry. Agreement is founded more often upon emotion than upon belief or reason. Ross (33) discusses socialization in a less psychological way. There are various socializing factors, such as commensalism, compatriotism, sport, community of interest, and nationalization. Obstacles to socialization are Bolshevism and unrest, differences of race, food, manners, and traditions, and a resented imputation of inferiority. The question of the individual versus the aggregate is discussed by the same author (34). Ross shows how, in all social fields, our earlier notion of a standard "average" treatment for all is giving way to the more enlightened concept of "the individual." In a third paper (35) Ross uses the term "individuation" to designate the "pulverization of social lumps" that releases the individual members. In the clan, the family, the village, the church, and the state, the dissociation of individual life from social bonds has been in progress.

Like considerations lead Boodin (2) to describe the "unit of civilization" as the small "moral unit" composed of free individuals with a "community consciousness" and a "joy in common creativeness." Only this unit is productive and enduring. Power organization is ephemeral. The same theme appears in Clow's paper (7). Small "primary" groups, rarely exceeding six members, are based on sympathy and congeniality. Interesting examples among children are presented. Such groups are marked by loyalty and co÷peration within. Their bearing upon educational practice is important.

2. Psychology of Racial Temperament.—Tolfree (44) portrays the social aspect of Russian character. Their profound and mystical sense of communism is expressed, not as a deliberate policy, but as a "kind of organic propulsion," inarticulate and unreasoned. There is a spontaneous "sense of primordial life." The Russian is intolerant of any abridgment of his personality, dreading even connubial bondage. Shepherd (39) presents the Latin American traits as egotism, exclusiveness, stiff conventionality, bombast, impulsiveness, non-morality, inability to co÷perate, and lack of power to obtain another's viewpoint.


3. Marriage and Family Problems.—Galbraith's readable book (14) includes a discussion of the psychology of love, courtship, modesty, and coquetry. Wise choice of a mate requires psychological insight. The maladjustments, or "danger zones," of married life are man's over-assertiveness, poor domestic economy, the "spirit of martyrdom," jealousy, and woman's ignorance regarding her husband's leading interests. Woman's success as wife and mother demands that she have a vocation outside the home thus keeping abreast of the life of the world. How this can be done iii practice is a problem left to the reader's imagination. Egress from the danger zones, among persons of inferior nature, is often through home-wrecking and desertion. The psychology of this subject is included in parts of Colcord's book (8). Sex maladjustments are the most frequent causes of desertion. Incompatibility of temperament is third in importance. It is common for the deserter to "rationalize" his offense and shift the blame to the spouse.

4. Social Movements.—War, as considered by Partridge (31), is a kind of movement based psychologically upon "reversions," "intoxications," "social instincts," esthetic motives, ideals, and "causes." The author lays stress upon the "mood," a vague synthesis of feelings, sentiments, desires, instincts, and habits, producing a restless activity without specific object. "Warlike moods" are usually precipitated by fear and anger. It is the purpose of education to analyze the part forces of these great springs of action in order to redirect their energy away from destructive wars to social achievement. Spargo (43) calls attention to the psychological peculiarities, bordering on abnormality, found in all social levels among the devotees of Bolshevism. This movement is to be reckoned with only by a sympathetic understanding of the mental state and motives of its adherents. Psychologically it is symptomatic of a deep lying social maladjustment. Maudsley's book (28), which contains more generalization than act, criticizes the psychological foundations of socialism. Humanity is better off under individualizing conditions. An error exists in attempting to re-make human nature simply by changing the form of government. The negro population, according to Haynes (18) is becoming class-conscious, and desires to share the fruits of the new international doctrine of self-determination. Sensational newspaper publicity has done much to precipitate race riots between the negroes and whites.


5. Social Control and Government.—Democracy, according to Ellwood (11, 12), must run through the whole of social life if it is to succeed as a form of government. As the "rule of public opinion" it must be based on "rational like-mindedness." The negative laissez-faire policy is fatal to it. There must exist a positive spirit of fraternalism and co÷peration throughout the nation. In other words the individual should be socialized in his interests and desires. This is also the opinion of Kern (22). Citizens must desire to set up a government which will benefit society as a whole, not their own class preŰminently. The ideal of democracy is to develop the "social attitude" in the individual, to make him feel himself, not as "subject" of an impersonal government above and remote from him, but as a part of that government itself. The ethical theory of Hirst (19) is founded upon the same idea of socialization. No man can be good in and for himself. Society, he argues, is based upon an extension of the "other-regarding sentiments," developing from the parental instinct, first to the weak and helpless, then to all mankind. Tribal government is protective in purpose, and "conscience is an imitation of tribal government set up in the breast of the individual." Just as in gestation the mother in feeding herself also nourishes her child, so in human affairs generally desire to succor others becomes indistinguishably fused with our regard for self. Not only "feeling for" the helpless infant, but the very "apperception" of it are alleged to be instinctive.

6. Rural Problems.—Groves (17) preaches the need for socialization in rural life. The country church and school should become organized centers of community life. The country home, unusually potent in the lives of the young, is in need of spiritualizing influences. The mind of the farmer is patient and conservative. Isolation has done little to foster in him an amiable, social feeling. Public opinion is sadly lacking in rural life, and the voice of the farmer is seldom heard abroad. The suggestive influence of the city press is strong upon the farmer. Suggestion also operates upon the children producing discontent with rural life, jealousy of one's neighbors, and harmful precocity in sex life. According to Schoen (38), the influence of the gregarious army life swells the ranks of rural youth who go from the service to the city rather than back to the farm.

The "little town" as described by Douglass (10) also stands in need of socialization and of affiliation with the rural life about it rather than with the city which it so fatuously imitates. Along

(93) with the intensely personal and often narrow character of their interests, the little-towns-folk possess great opportunities for social enterprise and community leadership.

7. Problems of Education.—In no practical field is the need of socialization more keenly felt than in education. Smith (41) advocates the addition of social teaching to the regular curricular education in all departments, physical, cultural, and vocational. Such instruction would train the student in the exercise of his knowledge in citizenship. The very nature of education, says Smith (42), is social. The child learns more matters, and more important matters, from the social inheritance in the home and about him than from the curriculum of the school.

Lull (27) introduces the socializing principle into school practice. In extra-curricular activities such as debates, sports, and school magazines, the social incentive to achievement is great. In the class work also both interest and volume of thought can be increased by having practical problems arising in the lesson worked out by class discussion. Burns (5) applies the idea by dividing the class into discussion groups of five members, with a leader in each group. Each member contributes something to the discussion, and the group leaders report to the class as a whole. To the social psychologist such methods are of interest as rough but practical experiments in measuring the specific social influence.


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  1. Excepting studies on suggestion of which a number have appeared recently. This topic will be covered in a separate review.

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