Instinct: A Study in Social Psychology


Luther Lee Bernard

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The present work is the result of interrupted labors which began in a graduate seminar in the year 1909-1910 when the author attempted to apply Professor McDougall's classification of instincts to the classification of criminals. The immediate result was the conviction that McDougall's instincts were habits, and further constructive work found issue in an unpublished report on "Instinct and the Social Sciences," taking issue with McDougall's viewpoint regarding the significance of the theory of instincts then prevalent for the social sciences. Several years' teaching in small colleges of many and various courses little related to the thesis I wished to develop left insufficient time to complete my investigations. In the year 1917-1918 I found opportunity to reduce in part my accumulated data to manuscript, but the unsettledness and shifting of work consequent upon the war prevented completion. The grant of an Amherst Memorial Fellowship in Social Psychology for the year 1920-1921 (it was not possible to avail myself of the fellowship until a year later) enabled me to make additions and in a measure to complete the task. After some further delay the work is offered to the public, essentially as written in 1922.

In the years since 1909 numerous investigators have become interested in the subject of instinct and various articles and books have appeared setting forth views more or less similar to my own. My own critical and constructive findings on the topic of instinct have appeared in several book reviews, especially in the American Journal of Sociology, since 1911, in papers before the annual meetings of the American Sociological Society, in several articles, and particularly in the

(vi) Psychological Review for March, 1921, in an article entitled "The Misuse of Instinct in the Social Sciences." The present volume is in agreement with the views set forth in the previous publications.

I should like to disclaim any intention of covering all aspects of the subject of instinct in this volume. I have not had the time nor the facilities for making laboratory investigations of specific instincts, such as will be carried on by the neurologists and animal biologists in the near future. Studies of this kind scarcely exist as yet. If the results of such studies had been available my task in doing what I have undertaken would have been much lightened. This type of investigation is a coöperative labor which will occupy the time of many investigators for many years. My particular problem grew out of the necessity of accounting for the traits of people functioning in a social environment as a means to the establishment of a theory of the organization and control of conduct. This is a problem which presses with peculiar insistency upon the sociologist and the educationist. It is only because the biologist had so evidently failed to offer dependable conclusions for human society and the psychologist had not yet attacked the question with insight and earnestness that it became necessary for the sociologist to enter the field to secure the information which his special science so urgently demanded. My investigations have been primarily from the angle of social psychology.

The method used in this study may be regarded by some as largely negative, although positive conclusions have been reached and much of the treatment, especially that which is concerned with neurological data, is of a positive character. Some of the data used are still more or less controversial, but this cannot be avoided in the study of a subject which is itself as yet highly controversial. I am aware that there must be errors, some of them possibly serious ones, in this study,

( vii) but these will be detected and remedied. If the solution of the problem can be materially advanced as a result of the present work its object will have been accomplished.

Practically all of the most valuable literature on instinct, especially that which, like the present work, is in the nature of an analysis of the concept, has appeared too late for me to give it adequate recognition in the text. Two of these works, appearing after I had published my conclusions in 1921 and when my material had been essentially organized, should be mentioned particularly in this general way because of their excellence. These are C. C. Josey's Social Philosophy of Instinct and John Dewey's Human Nature and Conduct. [1] It has been a matter of great interest, through the years since I first became concerned with this subject, to watch opinion in the social sciences gradually reverse itself from the position in which McDougall placed it in 1908 and immediately thereafter. This reversal, still in process, has been particularly noticeable among the sociologists and is beginning to take place among the psychologists, educationists, and economists. One very striking instance is in my mind. In 1911 I had a considerable correspondence with one of our leading sociologists who at that time deplored my attack on the current instinct theory and asserted that a true science of sociology could not be built except upon the basis of the theory of the instincts as it was then being advocated by McDougall and others, including himself. Recently the same sociologist warned the social psychologists against making a fetich of the concept instinct lest their worship should stir up such just opposition as to bring the whole theoretical structure down about their ears.

The detailed work of this study has been heavy, especially

(viii) in connection with the collection and classifying of instincts, the results of which appear in Chapter IX, and it could not have been carried through except for the assistance of many friendly helpers. I owe much to many persons, but I wish especially to acknowledge my debt of gratitude to Professor Bruce L. Melvin, of Cornell University, formerly an instructor in the University of Minnesota, Elizabeth C. Hayes, of the Child Guidance Clinic of the University of Minnesota, Jessie S. Ravitch, of the University of Minnesota, and Marion J. Bjorhus, of the School of Social Work and Public Health, Richmond, Virginia, all at one time or other assistants in Sociology in the University of Minnesota, and to Miss Lucretia Schroer of the State Department of Education, St. Paul, whose interest in the subject led her generously to typewrite the manuscript. I wish also to express my appreciation to Dr. Howard C. Warren for permission to republish as the final chapter of this book the substance of the article, "The Misuse of Instinct in the Social Sciences," referred to above, and for permission to reproduce some of his own classifications in the text of this work, and particularly to the Amherst Memorial Fellowship Committee, to Professor Walton H. Hamilton for his interest and suggestions and for reading the manuscript, to Professor Charles H. Cooley for reading the manuscript and for his generous words of encouragement, and to Mr. John F. Markey, instructor in the department of sociology of the University of Minnesota, for reading the proof and making valuable suggestions.

Minneapolis, Minn., April 3, 1924.


  1. F. H. Allport's Social Psychology appeared after this book was in type. It is not necessary to call attention in detail to the striking similarity of viewpoint regarding instinct and emotion in his book and mine.

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