Chapter 20: Elementary Features of Volition

James Rowland Angell

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All of our study up to this point has been devoted to the several distinguishable features of consciousness by means of which mental operations are carried on. We have discussed the several phases of the cognitive activities, such as memory, imagination, perception, conception, judgment, and reasoning. We have described the salient peculiarities of the affective processes. We have analysed the racial hereditary traces in consciousness as shown by emotion, and we have from time to time exhibited the different forms of motor coordinations with which the organism appears to be endowed, and through which it executes its adjusting movements. It remains for us in the following chapters to bring these various descriptions and analyses into perspective with one another by examining in its entirety, and with much more of detail than was furnished in Chapter III., the development and character of voluntary control.

Method of Study.-- Hitherto we have made it a general practice to begin our study of a given mental process by analysing its more conspicuous and characteristic features, and then, with this as a starting point, we have turned back to trace, whenever we could, the genesis and function of the process in the individual or the race. We have always laid great stress on this genetic side of the case, because it is evidently impossible to evaluate and interpret a biological phenomenon intelligently unless one knows its antecedents, and mental facts furnish no exception to this rule. But, on

(341) the other hand, mental facts are so complex and elusive that an effort to trace the unfolding of consciousness can hardly be successful save when one has already some inkling of what to look for. In the investigation of volition we can proceed with a much larger measure of freedom than heretofore, because we have already dealt with the more important elements concerned, e. g., attention, sensation, perception, ideas, and movements. We shall, therefore, after a brief analysis of these elements pass on to considerations of a primarily genetic kind. Subsequently we shall return to consider the more complex relations of voluntary acts.

General Analysis of Volition.-- When we direct our attention to the immediately discernible features of voluntary acts in adult life, we note that such acts always involve foresight of some end, that this end is desired or at least consented to, and that certain muscular movements then occur which are meant to attain the end.[1] We observe, further, that on some occasions the mere presence of an idea carries with it instantly and without deliberation the execution of movement, whereas on other occasions arrival at the stage of mental consent requires long trains of reflective thought, and movements expressive of the decision may be postponed indefinitely. Sometimes the decision seems to be a relatively passive affair which makes itself on the basis of the facts considered. Sometimes, on the other hand, the whole self seems to be projected into the choice, and the consciousness of this mandate of the will is designated by James and others as the "fiat."

(342) Moreover, we observe that ordinarily the attainment of a e decision finds the muscles already capable of carrying out the necessary coordinations, but occasionally the will can command no adequate motor agents. We may readily illustrate these cases.

As I sit at my desk I feel a draft. Without a moment's hesitation I rise and close the window. Here is a perceptual process, followed immediately by an appropriate movement of voluntary muscles. Again as I write, a word comes into my mind the spelling of which is uncertain. Instantly I turn it up in the dictionary. Here is an idea followed promptly by a movement of the volitional kind. As I proceed with my writing I come to a point where I must decide whether or not to incorporate a certain subject in my text. The merits of the question require long and careful consideration. Finally I decide to drop the matter from my book, and forthwith my writing goes on upon another topic. In all the cases thus far cited I have been in command of the motor coordinations needed to realise my purposes. But if I suddenly desist from writing and decide to step to the piano in the next room and indulge in a sonata, my willing becomes a mere burlesque, for I cannot play. We may safely start, then, from the assumption that every voluntary act involves the presence in the mind of ideas anticipatory of the act. With this doctrine as a point of departure we must examine more precisely our volitional consciousness and its relation to our movements. So far as the "flat" represents in the author's opinion a genuine feature of volitional processes, it will be discussed in a later chapter in connection with the consciousness of effort. It will evidently be judicious to select for our present study acts which differ as widely as possible, both as regards the muscles employed in their accomplishment and in the character of the results achieved. Let us first, then, consider a series of voluntary acts in which different muscles are concerned.


The Sensory and Ideational Elements of Control over Voluntary Acts.-- When I wish to sing or whistle a melody, I observe that the appropriate muscular movements follow the presence in my consciousness of auditory and kinaesthetic images. I seem first to hear the melody mentally, and to feel the sensations which come from my throat and lips when I do actually sing or whistle. In writing, on the other hand, I observe, especially in the case of words which are difficult to spell, that my movements are more or less controlled by visual imagery. I get a glimpse at a visual image of the word to be used. In this case, however, I am also often aware of auditory images of the sounds of the sequent letters as they would be heard were the word being spelled aloud. There is, moreover, a rather constant escort of kinaesthetic images arising from the former sensations of the hand movements employed in writing the word. I may even use as cues for the ensuing movement the kinaesthetic sensations originating in the muscular contractions of the hand. In throwing at a mark my attention is almost wholly absorbed in looking at the spot for which I am aiming. The control of the throwing movement in this case is largely from visual sensory currents, dimly reinforced, however, by kineasthetic impression$ from various parts of the body. In jumping from a standing position there is first a visual perception of the distance or height to be cleared, followed almost instantly by a setting of the various muscles of the body involved in the act, with a consequent mass of kinaesthetic sensory impressions aroused by these muscular contractions. When these sensations have reached what is judged to be an adequate quality and intensity, the mind says " go," and the jumping occurs.

These illustrations suggest that sensational or ideational processes may be used indifferently as the immediate precursors of coordinated movements, and they suggest, furthermore, that any kind of sensory or ideational material may be used in this way. Our cases have disclosed auditory, visual,

(344) and kinaesthetic qualities, but a further search would have revealed still other forms.

If these cases seem too trivial to be fairly illustrative, we may turn to a case involving some serious practical consequences, e. g., the consideration of a large investment. It will, however, be seen at once that such a case promptly reduces to the form of reasoning, and we may' therefore, without more ado refer back to the evidence which we presented in our discussion of that process, to show that imagery of one kind or another is a conspicuous and constant feature of it. We shall find ourselves on such occasions as that of our illustration passing in mental review ideas which represent the pros and cons of the proposed investment. Little by little one of these groups of ideas begins to displace the other, and to become more firmly organised in our consciousness, until at last the opposite group is altogether vanquished and devitalised. The expression of our decision may take verbal form, or it may result in our writing a check, or making some other equally significant motor response.

Types of Connection Between the Sensory-Ideational Elements and Movements. -- Now if we call to mind each of our illustrations we shall notice that in certain cases the idea which apparently controlled the voluntary act was an idea of the movement itself. This is partly true in the case of singing, more largely true in the case of jumping, where peripherally aroused impressions dominate over those centrally aroused. That is to say, in certain instances kinaesthetic sensations and images furnish us the material by means of which we practically anticipate, and so control, the movement we wish to make. In other instances, however, the sensations and images have to do primarily with the results of the movements, or with something connected with these results in a secondary fashion. The auditory images used in the control of singing, whistling, and sometimes writing are cases in point. In controlling vocal movements in this way we are

(345) employing images which are copies, in a measure, of sensory impressions made upon the ear by the vocalisations. But when the hand movements of writing are thus controlled, we clearly have a roundabout connection between vocal spelling movements, with their auditory consequences, and hand spelling motions. In the case of our investment decision the ideas may have had to do entirely with the conditions of the markets, the vitality of our own bank account, etc., and the act which expressed the decision, e. g., signing our name to a check, may never once have come to mind until the deed was about to be executed. We must recognise from these observations that the ideas and sensations by means of which we supervise our movements may be of the most various character, and their relations to the movements may be either very close, as in the case where they are kinaesthetic, or indefinitely remote. James employs a useful pair of terms in calling those ideas of movement which originate in the part of the body moved, " resident," designating all other ideas which arise from the consequences of the movement, "remote." It must be added, however, that in practice the severance of the two from one another is in most persons by no means so complete as his description implies. After we have commented upon another important characteristic of these volitional acts we must attempt to discover just how it comes about that the various forms of sensation and imagery which we have noted attain their connection with the relevant movements.

Attention and Volition.-- More fundamental, perhaps, in volitional processes than the controlling imagery is the fact of attention. No idea can dominate our movements which does not catch and hold our attention. Indeed, volition as a strictly mental affair is neither more nor less than a matter of attention. When we can keep our attention firmly fixed upon a line of conduct, to the exclusion of all competitors, our decision is already made. In all difficult decisions the stress of the situation exists primarily in the tension between

(346) the ideas representing the alternatives. First one and the another of the possibilities forces itself upon us, and our attention will not rest for more than a moment or two upon any single one. The chapter upon attention brought to our notice a number of reasons for believing this process to be a universal feature of consciousness, and we can feel no surprise, therefore, to find it playing a dominant role in volition where consciousness displays its most significant characteristics. It is by means of our ideas that we anticipate the future and project for ourselves the lines of our conduct, but it is by means of attention that we actually succeed in making some one of these anticipatory ideas real in the form of action. Attention must have something to work upon, and this some. thing is supplied in the form of sensational and ideational presentations. Attention is the function by means of which mental possibility becomes motor actuality. With this fact in mind our next business must be the tracing of the development by means of which the various kinds of ideas which we find ourselves using to control our movements come to have this peculiar power. This undertaking involves our turning back to the conditions in infancy and early childhood, during which most of our important coordinations are established.

Primitive Motor Consciousness.-- The primitive consciousness of the new-born child is confronted not only by the objects of the external world outside the organism, it is also in frequent receipt of impressions from those muscular movements of the organism itself to which we have so often referred. The vague precursors in the child's mind of his subsequent clearly recognised perceptions and ideas of movement are thus primordial. In any event, consciousness with the germ of attention in it is present from the beginning, and the stimulations of which it must immediately become aware, in however vague and inarticulate a manner, are in part, from the very outset, sensory stimulations aroused by mus-

(347)-cular movements. So far as consciousness is concerned, then, sensation and movement come into existence together; for consciousness they are really one.

Transition From Random to Controlled Movements.-- We have already had occasion in earlier chapters to inventory the capital of motor coordinations with which the new-born babe is endowed, and we have found it confined to a few simple reflex movements, for the most part poorly executed, to a few possibly "spontaneous movements," and to a store of automatic activities concerned with respiration, circulation, and nutrition. Voluntary action in any proper sense is wholly wanting, and this finds its immediate explanation in two considerations: (1) the psychological fact that voluntary action implies action toward some recognised end which the absence of experience necessarily precludes; and (2) the physiological fact that the cortical centres are still too imperfectly developed to afford interconnections between the sense organs and the voluntary muscles. The latter consideration is, of course, fatal to any immediate development of voluntary control, but even were the nervous system functionally mature at birth, the first difficulty would prevent the rapid establishing of such control. In our description of impulsive activities in Chapter III. we noticed that little by little the merely random movements of infancy become coordinated with reference to certain sorts of stimuli, until by the end of the third or fourth week, with most children, the eye movements can be controlled, and by the end of the twenty-fourth month all the more important rudimentary muscular movements can be executed. Now, what are the intermediate steps between this period of merely reflex, or random, impulsive activity with which the child begins life and the period of voluntary motor control?

Elementary Principles of Transition.-- We may lay down two general propositions to start with, which must be continually borne in mind in order to avoid misapprehension. These

(348) principles, which are sustained by all observation, are: (1) that all voluntary control is built upon a foundation of movements which are already going on in an impulsive way; and (2) that the development of control, although from the beginning it extends in a measure, perhaps, to all the voluntary muscles, proceeds more rapidly, now in one group and now in another. Broadly speaking, the larger muscles are first brought under accurate control, while later on the more delicate movements of the small muscles are acquired; a fact which should be taken into account in the early occupations of children. This law of periodic or rhythmic growth characterises all mental and bodily development. A child may have fairly good control of its eye movements, while the arm movements are still vague and inaccurate; and it may have acquired considerable dexterity with its hands, while still unable to command its feet with much success. Volition must not, then, be thought of as a process in which consciousness somehow brings into life movements which previously did not exist. The problem of the evolution of control is the problem connected with the coordinating, in reference to certain ends, of movements already occurring in an uncoordinated way. We are under no obligation to explain the existence of the movements. They are already in evidence. Our problem is simply concerned with the method of their systematisation, and their organisation, in connection with consciousness.

Law of Excess Discharge. -- We may profitably select for examination a case illustrative of one typical form in which control over these unordered movements is secured. Let us suppose that a bright and noisy rattle is presented to the notice of a child who has learned to focus his eyes, but who is as yet unable to reach intelligently for objects. How does the child learn to grasp such an object, which he sees and hears? The rattle stimulates at once both eye and ear. The child's first reaction is, perhaps, one of astonished inspection,

(349) as he gazes at this unfamiliar thing. The noise continues and the bright colour catches the attention. The sensory currents from the two sense organs find no adequate drainage channels in the motor attitude involved in watching, consequently they begin to overflow into other channels. Now there are already established, as we have remarked a number of times, pervious pathways leading centrifugally away from the motor regions of the central system. These are the pathways employed in the impulsive, instinctive movements, etc. The overflow from our sensory disturbances naturally tends, therefore, to pass off in these directions, and presently we see that the child is moving his hands and arms and head more or less violently, and often the muscles of the trunk and legs are also much affected.

First Accidental Success.-- At first these movements are inevitably spasmodic, vague, and uncoordinated. They simply suggest, as we observe them, some sort of explosion in the motor centres. We say that the child is interested by the rattle, that he wants to get it, and no doubt his consciousness is much agitated by the experience. But we must guard against the fallacious supposition that be wants the rattle in any such conscious intelligent manner as an adult might desire an object. The child may be acting as he does simply because his nerves make him do so, just as one sneezes when sufficient pepper is introduced into the nostrils, not because one necessarily wants to sneeze, but because it is impossible to help it. Whatever may be the outcome of the first exposure to such a stimulus as this, the continued presence of the rattle for a few moments is very likely to result in some movement of the arms adequate for grasping it. It will be remembered that the grasping instinct is among the most primitive of all. This successful grasping may not occur until the rattle has been held out in this way a Dumber of times. But the activities which we have described are those which commonly precede such success, whether it be attained quickly or slowly.


Pleasurable Tone of Accidental Success. -- The first step, therefore, in securing voluntary control of the hand and arm under such circumstances is based upon the tendency of the sensory stimulations to produce diffused motor discharges throughout many muscles of the body. Certain of these motor activities result in changing the stimulus in some way. The next problem is, therefore, concerned with the consequences of this fact, which in the case of our illustration consists in the successful grasping of the rattle. Such an act affords a new and generally delightful surprise, and in this fact is found the reason for its importance in furthering the volitional control.

According to the general law of habit which we have so often invoked, the persistent drainage of the sensory impulses set up by the rattle, out through the miscellaneous motor channels of the nervous system, would establish a certain predisposition in these impulses to pour out through these same channels whenever the rattle was observed. This seems, indeed, to be the fact. But when the rattle is actually grasped we have a new stimulus immediately introduced. In place of the rattle seen-and-heard, we have now the rattle felt-and-heard-and-seen-moving-with-the-hand. These distinctions, of course, cannot exist for the baby with any such definiteness as they do for us who are looking on. But they exist as differences actually felt, however inadequately they might be described, supposing the child were able to express himself. The mere change of the stimulus visually attended to must, then, under the supposed conditions, serve momentarily at least to intensify the child's attention to the total situation. Furthermore, the grasping of the object, involving as it does a definite motor coordination of an efficient kind, is per se agreeable, i. e., it is a normal activity of functions (in this instance instinctive) adequate to the demands laid upon them. The result of success in the reaching and grasping, with its heightened conscious tone, will accordingly accentuate the

(351) disposition to fix in the form of habit the total series of reactions which have led up to this outcome. It now remains to observe how the child avails himself of the progress thus far attained to master completely the movements concerned.

Progress After First Success.-- In the first place, observation will at once disclose the fact that from this point on progress is generally slow and tentative, differing markedly in this respect from certain features of the process by which adults learn new coordinations. A considerable number of attempts may be necessary before the baby can repeat promptly his first successful movement. When the coordination is actually well matured, two striking characteristics distinguish it from the predecessors out of which it has grown. It is accurate, not hesitant nor vague, and it involves only the muscles actually necessary for its perform. ance, instead of many others in various parts of the body. How have these useless movements been eliminated? We cannot reply to this question with as much definiteness and detail as is desirable, but the general nature of the process seems to be somewhat as follows.

Elimination of Useless Movements.-- The baby's consciousness is all the time vividly enlisted in the movements which he is making, but the rattle furnishes the constant focus for these, and for the baby's attention. Of all the movements which are made, those are most likely to get notice which are most intimately connected with the immediate field of attention. Needless to say, these are the movements of the child's own hands and arms, which he must see whenever they chance to approach the rattle, and which he must vaguely feel as often as they move. So far, then, as the rattle is the centre of the baby's attention, those sensations will receive most emphasis in consciousness which are most immediately connected with it, which coalesce most readily with it into a single experience, changing when it changes, remaining unchanged when it is unchanged.


Once again, let it not be supposed that we are for a moment offering such an analysis as the above as an account of any. thing present reflectively to the child. His naivete may be as great as possible. We are simply describing the kinds of sensations which must apparently get most conspicuous representation in his consciousness. It would seem, then, that the movements of the hand and arm would get most vivid attention among the various random movements of the body, and that of the several movements which the hand and arms might accidentally execute, those again would receive most emphasis which actually resulted in grasping the object. The situation seems to hinge for the explanation of its development into controlled movement, with lapse of useless move. ments, upon the pleasurable fixation of attention on the rattle and the consequent emphasis of all sensations caused by movements affecting this centre of attention. Such movements as regularly affect the rattle are thereby necessarily emphasised, so long as the rattle is the object of attention, and the predisposition for the sensory impulses to drain out through them is heightened. The others fall away largely because the neural energy is adequately provided for in these new-formed pathways. But they do not fall away at once, and the effective coordination is not set up at once. The process is slow, and gives every indication of being a real growth.

The Case of Ideational Control.-- If this account be accepted, it suggests an explanation of how it might come about that when an interesting object was placed before a child he might be able to reach it. Our explanation thus far has been cast in terms of the law of habit, operating under the intensifying effects of agreeable attention upon motor discharges of an impulsive and excess-discharge type. But what explanation does it afford of the ability voluntarily to control the hand and arm movements of this kind when a stimulating object is wanting? How does it account for the origin of

(353) such ideational control as was evidenced in our analysis of adult volition at the beginning of the chapter?

If we have been correct thus far in our account of the manner in which movements of the voluntary muscles become coordinated in response to certain sensory stimulations, it ought not to be difficult to get at the manner in which ideational processes secure the same result. The facts upon which the correct explanation rests were discussed in the chapters beginning with perception, memory, and imagination. All centrally initiated imagery is ultimately derived from antecedent sensory sources, and like its sensory precursors it all tends to be converted sooner or later into motor activity. In asking how ideas come to set up movements, therefore, our only problem is how particular ideas come to be followed by particular appropriate movements. The tendency to produce motor changes of some kind is an innate characteristic of all imagery processes. In this sense all our ideas are motor. Or, as certain psychologists would put it, all consciousness is conative. The real question is, why an idea should ever fail to produce a movement, and we anticipate our discussion so far as to say forthwith that such failure is due simply and solely to the inhibiting effect of some other ideational process, which is also struggling for motor expression.

In connection with our first illustration of the attainment of control over an eye-hand coordination, we have traced the process by which needless movements are eliminated and accurate efficient ones become fixed. So far as memory images of these movements have been forming and gaining durability in the course of the development, those images have evidently had most opportunity for emphasis which have been constantly connected with the successful coordinations. They are, therefore, most likely to persist in consciousness.

Neural Habit and Ideational Control.--The explanation of the fact that such ideas are able to call forth the movements

(354) desired seems to rest wholly upon the principle of neural habit. The appearance in consciousness of the idea of the movement means in the first instance a re-excitation neurally of a certain central portion of a sensory-motor arc. Granted that such an excitation takes place, whatever its neural antecedents, we can feel sure, from the polar nature of nervous currents, that it will issue in a motor discharge. The ideational process simply reinstates, as we have so often noted heretofore, the latter portion of a previous sensory-motor process. This relation is exhibited graphically, although with extreme simplification of the actual facts, in the accompanying diagram (figure 60), in which SSSM represents

FIG. 60. The pathway from S to M represents the course of a sensory stimulus passing from a sense organ to a muscle through cortical centres. The pathway I to M represents the course of an ideationally, or centrally, aroused neural activity traversing in part the same pathway as the previous sensory stimulus, and issuing in the same muscle.

the course of a sensory impulse forward into a coordinated reaction; and IIIM represents the same reaction, but in this case with its initiation in an image or idea. If it be admitted, then, that we have already discovered the essential steps in the process by which movements become coordinated in reference to certain sensory stimuli, it follows inevitably from the considerations which we have brought forward in earlier chapters that a re-excitement of the central regions

(355) connected with these sensory-motor coordinations will, unless inhibited in some definite manner, reproduce the same motor reactions. Imagery is the conscious factor in such central excitations. The idea of a movement is, neurally considered, the beginning of that movement.

The Learning of New Coordinations by Adults.-Having now analysed the primitive establishment of sensory and ideational motor control, it will be profitable to pause a moment and examine certain peculiarities of adult processes. It has sometimes been maintained that adults in learning any new coordination avail themselves, first, of the " resident" imagery, i. e., that which represents the kinaesthetic sensation of the moving part; and that after the coordination has been established they resort to " remote " imagery, i. e., that which represents the sensory effect of the movement -upon sense organs other than those in the part of the body moved. There is undoubtedly a measure of truth in this formulation, but it requires some modification before we can accept it. So far as concerns the development of coordinations in babies, it is evidently very difficult, if not impossible, to determine what kinds of imagery are employed; and, anyhow, (as we have seen) the important primary steps in the process are probably based -upon the use of sensations, and not images at all. When we turn to adults and examine the facts in the case of acquiring a new series of coordinations, such, for example, as playing the piano, we find very great individual variation, but in general the process is of the following character:

We first employ the visual impression to guide us as to the proper position for our hands. We then attempt to secure a distinct tactual-kinaesthetic impression of the feeling of the hand and fingers when their position is correct for securing certain results, e. g., playing the scale. For a long time the proper playing of the scale requires the control of both the visual and the tactual-kinaesthetic processes, one of which is resident and one remote Moreover, it is visual and kinaes-

(356)-thetic sensory elements, rather than images or ideas, which are employed at the outset. After the coordination is fairly well established, the sensory control may be disregarded and either kind of imagery may then be employed to discharge the movement. As a matter of fact, when this stage is reached another and more remote form of imagery generally steps in and takes command. Playing commonly is done from a printed score, and always, save upon a few humanely constructed instruments, produces sound. When the control of the finger movements is highly developed, the sight of the score, the visual image of it, or the auditory image of the sound of the composition, may serve entirely well to bring about the movements, which seem to "take care of themselves," as we say.

It appears, therefore, that the change in the form of imagery which we employ in the control of our movements is not to be described merely in terms of a transfer from resident to remote. The sequence of events in the most highly devel. oped cases seems to be of this character, i. e., resident-and-remote-sensations immediately connected with the movements, resident-and-remote-images immediately connected with the movement, remote-sensations-and-images mediately connected with the movement. The clue to the several steps in the onward progress will generally be found in inquiring where one's interest is located at the moment. So long as this is necessarily in the movement itself whose control we desire, the psychological elements will all be found gathered about this. Some of them will be resident, some remote. The moment the movement is mastered, however, interest generally moves forward to the application of the movement in some larger undertaking, and at this stage the mental elements which refer to the movement and bring it into operation may be only remotely connected with it. But the connection is, nevertheless, real, however seemingly remote, and the appropriate muscular activity never follows an idea,

(357) unless one's previous experience has in some fashion or other established a nexus of the habit type. The functional organic connection between such ideas and their motor expressions is just as genuine as that displayed by any other kind of ideo-motor fusion. It is only from the standpoint of the outside observer, who either does not know or else neglects the antecedent development, that the two things appear remote and disconnected from one another.

The Disappearance of Consciousness From Controlled Coordinations. -- It remains to emphasise once again one of the rudimentary facts about the establishment of motor control before passing on (in the next chapter) to certain of the more

complex features of the process. We have repeatedly had occasion to remark that consciousness tends to disappear the moment that physiological conditions are established adequate to the supervision of the various motor adjustments necessary to the organism. The case of volition affords the conspicuous and typical instance of this disposition. When a special form of motor activity is needed, attention steps in and the psychophysical processes which we have just described cooperate to effect a satisfactory coordination. This coordination is then deposited, so to speak, in the nervous system in the form of a habit. When further organic demands arise, this habit is ready at hand and capable of being employed with a minimum of conscious control. In this way consciousness is ever pressing onward, supported by the reserve forces of habitual coordinations, which can at any moment be summoned in the conquest of new realms. Volition has thus no sooner established a habit than it turns about and employs the habit as a tool in the construction of larger, more extensive habits.

In adult life almost all of one's important decisions are carried out in a practically automatic manner by established coordinations of the habit type. Writing, reading, walking, talking-what is there that one does which does not in the last analysis reduce to the use of acquired habits? The

(358) ethical and pedagogical importance of this absolutely fundamental nature of habit, upon which we enlarged in Chapter, Ill., must be obvious. When viewed in this way one sees, too, why volitional processes seem at first sight to have so much of the miraculous in them. Why and how should the mere flitting of an idea through my mind lead to such remarkably complex and well-adapted acts as the playing of an aria, the' paying of a bill, etc. ? The answer is literally impossible, unless we turn back and trace the progress step by step through which the coordinations have become established and come into functional connection with particular ideas. When we have made such an approach to the problem as this, the solution is seen to involve definite and intelligible laws operating in a fixed and definite way.

Conscious Imitation as a Basal Type of Volition. -- It will be recalled that we classified one form of imitation among the impulsive types of reaction. Psychologists are at variance with one another as to its instinctive nature. It will appear when we take up the discussion at this point, as it did in the chapter on instinct, that certain varieties of imitation are undoubtedly Dot instinctive in any demonstrable manner, whereas certain other varieties of it strongly suggest this origin. Moreover, certain forms of reaction which have been called imitative are characterised by the mere repetition of a movement regardless of its immediate provocative. Imitation in the more customary and limited sense applies properly to cases in which the action of some second person is intentionally copied-in purpose, if not in fact. It must also be added that whereas imitation in the common implication of the term applies to acts done consciously and with definite intent, certain imitative reactions are apparently executed without any explicit purpose and with a minimum of conscious supervision. These complexities in the modern meaning ascribed to the term "imitation" need to be borne in mind if one is to avoid confusion. This is especially true

(359) when one is referring to such acts for light upon the mode in which voluntary control is attained.

Primary Imitation. -- The repetition of monosyllables, such as da-da, which many babies indulge in long before they begin to use vocal sounds intelligently, may serve to illustrate the first type of imitative acts. Sometimes these sounds are closely similar to certain words which the child may have heard. But it seems questionable how far the term imitation can fairly be applied to acts of this character. In any case they belong to the form of activity which Mr. Baldwin has dubbed " circular reactions." The articulatory movements, once they are made, produce auditory and kinaesthetic sensations. These sensory stimulations drain out again through the already pervious pathways leading to the same muscles, and so the process goes on more or less indefinitely. Such employment of the muscles is, within the limits of fatigue, per se agreeable, and we must suppose that even though the function of consciousness under these circumstances is largely reduced to that of a spectator, it nevertheless, as spectator, indorses the on-going activity and serves thus in some measure to fix in the habit form the neural-motor groupings which are concerned. Certainly, when one can get the child's attention the movements are commonly checked for the time being, thus suggesting that in some way they are after all in a measure dependent upon the conscious processes.

Characteristics of Conscious Imitation.-- Conscious imitation of copies set by other persons and felt by the child to be models, which he strives to duplicate, constitute a later, more complex, and possibly more important form of action. Indeed, Mr. Baldwin will have it that in this condition we meet the real beginning of volition, and to it he assigns the convenient designation "persistent imitation." The term "persistent" emphasises the fact that such imitative movements are made again and again in the face of partial failure. until success is finally achieved.


It must be remembered, however, that many consciously imitative acts are not repeated, or at all events are repeated after long intervals and without any reference to their previous performance. Thus, a child may make a definite effort to repeat a new word that he hears his parents use. His failure may be ludicrous and it may be weeks before another effort is made. In the case of older children and adults persistent imitation is an omnipresent phenomenon. If one boy in a group jumps over, a fence, every other boy feels himself under obligation to go and do likewise; and those whose efforts are below the accepted standard of excellence promptly devote themselves to correcting the defect, adopting for their pattern, so far as possible, the achievement of the leader of the group. In social life one large mass of people is always engaged in attempting to follow the pace of the leaders. Each smaller group has its own chief, who again sets the pattern for that group, and in no realm of life, whether aesthetic or religious, practical or theoretical, are we ever wholly free of the disposition to imitate. What is the actual process involved in the more rudimentary expressions of this deep-seated human tendency ?

The process may take place under either of two forms, seemingly distinct, but fundamentally alike. The imitation may be directed to repeating certain movements, e. g., the gestures, intonation, or facial expression of some other person, or it may be concerned with the production of a result similar to some standard object set up as a model, e. g., a letter, or a figure, in which case the actual movements employed may vary considerably from time to time without seriously impairing the integrity of the copy. Although this instance of reproducing some visible outline is more highly evolved than certain of the earlier forms of conscious imitation, it will serve satisfactorily to exemplify the basal facts about such activities and their relation to developing volition. It will be seen, moreover, that they are distinguished in one respect only from the type

(360) of developing coordination which we first described, i. e., in the presence of an external standard with which their results are compared.

A young child learning to write is commonly given a copy, and then the teacher takes a pen and demonstrates how it should be held, and bow the writing movement should be made. When the child essays his imitation the usual result is something of this kind: The pen is grasped with needless severity' the brows are wrinkled, the muscles of the body are tense, the breathing is spasmodic, and often the mouth is open, and the tongue discovered to be making futile movements in secondary imitation of the hand-tracing. Evidently the stimulus has resulted, as in other cases which we have examined, in an overflow of nervous energy into muscles which are largely irrelevant to the success of the immediate enterprise in hand. The product of this effort is compared with the copy, its failure to comply with the original is noted, and another effort is made. Or the repetition may be forthcoming, simply because the act itself is agreeable, and with a splendid disregard of any disparity between copy and original. In other cases-, candour compels one to admit, the next attempt is made under the influence of some one of the various forms of suasion of which the teacher may be master. When the activity goes forward of the child's own initiative, however, and when he is left more or less to himself, be slowly manages to improve his work both as regards faithfulness of portrayal and as regards the elimination of useless movements. Now this result is achieved in much the same manner as already described in connection with our illustrative baby and rattle, so that however fundamental these conscious imitative processes may be, in putting the child in touch with his social surroundings the method of procedure adds nothing essential to the forms we have already studied.


  1. Inasmuch as certain decisions seem primarily to concern our trains of thought rather than our muscular activities, as when we resolve to continue a course of reflection, our formulation may appear to emphasise unduly the motor features of volition. But it must be remembered that voluntarily carrying on a process of thinking requires the securing of definite motor attitudes, and furthermore, that all such thinking has as its purpose some future action, however long deferred we may expect this action to be.

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