The Significance of Environment as a Social Factor

Luther Lee Bernard
University of Minnesota


The Significance of Environment as a Social Concept. A thoroughly scientific theory of environmental influences could be developed only after the modern scientific theories of inheritance had rendered confusion of environmental and hereditary determination of conduct and disposition impossible and when an analysis of the psycho-social environment had been made possible by the development of social psychology. The influence of environmental factors falls into three fairly,distinct periods of development of the individual, the preconceptual, the prenatal, and the postnatal. Civilisation and character products of environment. The psycho-social environment exerts its influence primarily in the postnatal stage of development. This type of environmental influence makes itself felt directly through the sense perceptions and indirectly through the process of rational interpretation, and because of its volume and its extensive differentiation, it has come to correct and dominate the instinctive controls. Thus modern social life and personal character are the product primarily of the psycho-social environment. In this way civilization outgrows the dominance of instinct and sets up social norms of its own of an environmental origin.

Before the nineteenth century the inheritance and the environmental methods of the transmission of human and other animal characteristics were not carefully distinguished, even by the most effective thinkers. It is true that the term instinct, or its equivalent, was in use among the Greek philosophic writers, and we find it appearing intermittently in the writings of the metaphysicians and theologians of the Middle Ages. It is to be met with occasionally in Shakespeare's plays and in the philosophic treatises of the English and the continental writers before the nineteenth century, and especially in the books of the Scottish school of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. There is a chapter on instinct in one of the compilations of Goldsmith on natural history and another in Herder's masterpiece, and some of the French writers of the Enlightenment make frequent use of the term. The philosophers with a Calvinistic bent appear to have had an especial proclivity for the instinct interpretation of character, along with their more general doctrine of predestination. But the

(85) conception of instinct, as a sort of mental aspect of the general doctrine of heredity, was vague and relatively-undefined. Hume, for example, one of the more critical and concrete philosophers of the time, with a decided psychological interest, invokes the term, but he rarely gets down to the use of specific instincts. The conspicuous lack of the earlier ages is a critical definition of the term and a classification of instincts which would permit of constructive organization of character and the manipulation of the instincts for the ends of effective social organization and control.

Such concrete and functional thinking had to await the future development of biology. An adequate theory of heredity could not be produced before the appearance of the science of the cell. Following the work on the cell came the rapidly constructive thinking of Darwin in connection with the theory of pangenesis, the vastly richer hypotheses of Weismann and the transforming discoveries of the Mendelians. Hitherto heredity was conceived of merely as a method of transmitting accumulated traits, however these traits may have been obtained; and after the decay of the theological endowment theory and the metaphysical essence theory, so closely allied respectively with the doctrines of a special creator and the hypothesis of natural law, the more common assumption was that the traits came immediately or originally from the environment.

Various theories to account for the storing of these environmentally originated traits for future transmission were worked out. Lamarck's hypothesis now seems crude to us, but it was probably as penetrating as was possible without some detailed knowledge of the structure and functioning of the reproductive cells. Darwin's theory of pangenesis must be considered apart from his earlier gross environmental studies of evolution on the basis of geographic distribution, as an attempt to use the new knowledge of the cell as a basis for the explanation of the assumptions regarding transmission to which his general geographical studies had led him. It was the most complete attempt so far to account for the assumed storing in the reproductive cells of the environmental accumulations known as acquired characters. More recently the mnemic theory and revisions of the Darwinian theory of pangenesis have

(86) aimed at the same lines of explanation. But further developments in the understanding of the cell have led to the rejection of the doctrine of the inheritance of acquired characters and have substituted the theory of the essential continuity of the germ plasm enunciated by Weismann and the differentiation and specialization of inheritance according to definite ratios of occurrence set forth by Mendel and the Mendelians. Accordingly we cannot account for the environment's influence upon human character and social organization in this simple and direct manner. Any effective explanation must fall back either upon a theory of environmental domination of selection for inheritance on a Mendelian basis, or upon some adequate account of the direct effects of environment upon individual traits and social organization, which results are to be explained as transmitted socially rather than biologically.

It was to be expected that the earlier theories of the transmission of character traits would assume that this transmission was internal or hereditary rather than external or environmental. Such a doctrine found its theoretical justification in the old metaphysical doctrine of natural law, which accounted for things on the assumption of essences or essential principles dwelling within them. On the concrete practical side it had the weight of long observation back of it, the empirical experiences of the stock breeder and the agriculturist who had observed that like produces like. Since the days of the myths it had not been believed, except possibly among the unlearned who gathered their wisdom from the folk traditions, that transformations of type took place in the process of reproduction. What was observed to be true in certain definite processes of inheritance for the plants and lower animals was assumed by analogy to be true for man, even in his mental life and with respect to his moral and social qualities. Because these were observed to follow the principle of "like father, like son," it was assumed that such characteristics were inherited. When the actual mechanism of the process of inheritance was not known, such an assumption could not easily be disputed. The coming of Mendelism, however, has made necessary a far-reaching revision of the old traditions regarding the easy inheritance of all sorts of characteristics, especially of those which are dependent, on the one hand,

( 87) upon the external transmission of some ponderable body foreign to the chromosomes, such as a toxin, or hormone, or a bacillus or a bacterium, and, on the other hand, of those traits which are defined in terms of moral and social or other abstract values, instead of in terms of their concrete biological structural organization. With the elimination of these two large classes of traits from the possibility of inheritance under the Mendelian conception of heredity's inheritance as a biological and a psycho-social concept is greatly diminhed and that of environment is of necessity correspondingly increased.

The theory of environmental controls in the transmission of traits has developed much more slowly than that of inheritance controls. This is particularly true of the large group of controls lying within the psycho-social environment. The chief reason for this is the greater degree of abstraction which is necessary to perceive the functioning of the environmental controls. The similarity of parent and offspring is easily perceived and since the attention in connection with the explanation of this similarity is directed primarily to the process of reproduction, and since inheritance itself is a concept derived at first empirically from the concept of reproduction, this similarity has been attributed universally to inheritance. But the day of the crude reproduction correlation concept of inheritance has passed, and not even a professor of biology in a reputable university can any longer define heredity as the degree of resemblance between parent and offspring.[1] Inherited traits are something more than those characteristics which come from parents; they are those traits which come from parents in certain ways, that is, through the chromosomes of their reproductive cells.

It has been difficult to concentrate upon the apparent process by which biological traits are produced in the organism by the environment because, frequently, nothing identical or closely similar to the resulting trait is to be found ill the environment. Consequently the connection cannot be naively assumed, on the basis of likeness, as in the case of the older reproductive concept of inheritance. The connection in such cases can be discovered only by a process of analysis and synthesis, which is often highly

(88) abstract, and is therefore, in its higher forms, dependent upon the development of the sciences, whose formulas and principles must be employed in the process of abstraction. A large part of the work of modern science, both in its development and in its applications, is concerned with the working out of mechanisms and hypotheses of mechanisms for the production of organic character by dissimilar environmental factors. A science of environmental transmission, therefore, had to await the development of abstract science in general. Even the old empirical theories of environmental influence tend toward the assumption of similarities, on the analogy of inheritance through reproduction, as witness the popular beliefs (once accepted by the learned) regarding pre-natal influence and the doctrine of signaturism in medical magic, as for instance the treatment of smallpox with an infusion of the scarred leaves of liverwort, and the slightly more abstract and sophisticated belief that the loftiness of mountains reproduces itself in a loftiness of the human spirit.

Much more difficult is it to discover environmental causation in the psycho-social environment when the apparently more obvious explanation of inheritance transmission is at hand. The external transmission of mental, moral, and social traits from parent to offspring is much more difficult to explain to the relatively uninformed in science than is the crude inheritance theory based on the simple reproduction concept. It is a much more abstract concept, the putative relationship is much less direct and much more detailed in content. But with the modern sciences of the cell and Mendelian inheritance and of psychology and sociology before us, both processes become highly abstracted and we can no longer make our choices between the two explanations on the easy basis of naive probability, but we must choose the more difficult, and the more accurate, course of relative critical demonstrability. The demonstration of the environmental transmission and production of psycho-social traits is only now in process. It has lagged somewhat behind the development of the Mendelian theory of inheritance and is a necessary correlate to it; for the theory of environmental transmission must take care of what the Mendelian hypothesis cannot cover.

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In a large sense the concept of environment is more inclusive than that of heredity, for after all it is the organization of the environment which selects the so-called successful variation or mutation for survival instead of extinction. Whatever may account for the change in the chromosome which gives rise to the new trait— and there is no reason to suppose that this producing condition or cause is not environmental, where it is not produced by fertilization— all traits that would survive must demonstrate their capacity to aid the containing organism in a successful adjustment to whatever environment exists for it. Heredity does not create its environment, although it helps to modify the future environment. In fact, whole races or species are eliminated in short order when cataclysmic changes occur in the environment, simply because the mechanism of inheritance cannot change rapidly enough to cause the type to conform to the new environmental demands. Consequently, heredity may be said to have developed in the service of the environment as a method of stabilizing the type of organisms to a certain mean adjustment to the environment, in order that it may not fluctuate to the point of self-extinction through radical and random responses to untypical phases of the environment, while at the same time it maintains such continuity of existence as to preserve past selected accretions of value to the type and retains sufficient flexibility through environmental selection of variations that the type will not perish because of divergence from the main line of environmental development. Thus the type is able to become much richer in content or complexity and specialization of function without undergoing extinction, because its life-history has been transferred from the individual exclusively, to the race. It is possible that it was because of such a situation and need that reproduction came to be mediated through the specialized reproductive cells rather than through fission or budding, thus giving a greater weight to the race life as against the individual's life-history in determining the character or capacity for adjustment of the offspring, while at the same time providing, through pairing and fertilization, for a greater degree of stable variability within the category of heredity than could be secured through fission. However that may be, heredity

( 90) cannot set environment aside; it can only stabilize its fluctuations, eliminate or repress the minor and short-time ones, and correlate them into longtime pressure processes, corresponding to the type history, while adjustments within the heredity are made to the fluctuating environment with such a degree of resistance as to preserve the functional continuity of the type without destroying its existence altogether from rigidity.

Recent biological, psychological, and sociological studies bearing on the question of environment have acquainted us with certain facts which can be summarized here only in the briefest manner. In those fields where the environmental controls are purely physical or biological, we must be especially brief. First, we may consider an example of the influence of the physical environment. "The French botanist Bonnier divided a common dandelion (Taraxacum vulgate), and grew one half in the lowlands and the other half in the mountains. While the former grew into a tall and slender plant, the half raised in the Alpine heights grew into a plant of very different appearance, with longer roots, much shorter stems, smaller and more hairy leaves, larger and brighter flowers. Each variety will produce its like in its own locality; but seeds of the Alpine plant will produce only the lowland form if sown there, and vice versa, the seeds of the lowland form will grow into the Alpine form in the mountains. Moreover, if either form be transplanted into the other region, it will soon grow into the variety characteristic of its new habitat."[2] If the variety of Primula sinensis with red flowers "be grown in a hothouse at a temperature of between 15 degrees and 20 degrees centigrade, it will yield white flowers. Brought back to a normal temperature it will again bring forth red flowers. Which modification appears depends on the stimulus."[3] The differential influence of feeding, a biological environmental control, upon the development of the organism can be equally strikingly illustrated. "The egg from which the queen (bee] is produced is the same as the other eggs, but the worker nurses, by feeding the larva only the highly nutritious bee-jelly, make it certain that the new bee shall become a

( 91) queen instead of a worker."[4] It is claimed by some physiologists that the feeding of thyroid to animals during pregnancy will cause them to give birth to young with a very large thymus gland.[5] Whether this be true or not, it is a matter of observation that the mother's diet influences the development of the child. Of a similar influence upon offspring and upon the generating organisms themselves are the numerous toxins, drugs and narcotics, and hormones from the ductless glands, the supply of which depends so largely upon the character and regulation of the biological, or even physical, environmental controls. To be sure the inheritance factor is not absent from such developmental processes. ft exists as the long-time correlation or standardization of environmental values referred to above. But the differential characteristics, those which give definition and character to these types in distinction from other types, are due to differential environments. Such differential characterization is as much as can be claimed for any set of factors. Both heredity and environment are always present in the shaping of every higher organism.

With respect to the psycho-social environmental controls, recent abstract analysis of social processes has uncovered much material illustrative of the working of these factors upon the individual character and the social organization. The whole subject of the physiology, the neurology, the psychology, and the sociology of habit formation is pertinent here. The analysis of the mechanics of suggestion imitation, rational imitation, and original rational adaptation, begun about half a century ago, and the newer data of the psychoanalysts and Freudians, have given us the external and much of the neuro-psychic mechanisms for the transmission of traits from one person to another and the development of consequent differential traits in any individual as the result of definite psycho-social environmental pressures. When we come to realize the significance of these factors for environmental control we shall attribute a new significance to the social psychology of the Tarde-Rossian type, the reputation of which has recently suffered somewhat from the biological preoccupation which has dominated even

( 92) the minds of the sociologists during the last ten or twenty years. These data have already been applied very successfully to practical ends in connection with education, politics, business, and literature. Advertising and propaganda have become largely phases of social psychology, as indeed has the writing of successful scenarios and novels. Extension work, political campaigns, the dissemination of culture and the encouragement of the fine arts can be carried on with a maximum of success and economy only when these factors are duly recognized and utilized. Special sciences, such as educational psychology, the psychology of advertising, the psychology of politics, are growing up around the principles of social psychology, which is itself fundamentally the science of social control through the organization and manipulation of the psycho-social environment.

Such, in the most general terms, being the significance of environment for the developmental process, we may now turn to a somewhat schematic analysis of the types and incidents of environmental influences, that is, to the mechanics of environmental transmission at the various stages of individual development. Obviously we shall not have occasion in this paper to offer an account of the mechanics of hereditary transmission.

For convenience, the individual developmental process may be divided into three stages, which we may call respectively the preconceptual, the prenatal, and the postnatal, corresponding specifically to (1) the history of the parent reproductive cells before the point of conception or fertilization, (2) the period of the development of the organism from the point of fertilization to the point of birth, approximately nine months later, and (3) the development and history of the organism from the point of birth to the point of dissolution or death, when it ceases to function as living organisms function. Until fairly recently whatever happened to the organism in either of the first two of these stages was attributed to inheritance and the developments in the third stage were assigned sometimes to inheritance and sometimes to environmental influence. Gradually, however, the reputed importance of environment in the third stage has increased at the expense of inheritance. We have also come to recognize that environmental pressures are

( 93) frequently exerted long before birth, in fact, in some instances, before conception, and inheritance is fixed, not all along the line from the point of conception to that of birth. but at one point only, that of the fertilization of the ovum by the sperm. Whatever the newly formed organism, which begins life as a single cell, receives from the parents through their fertilized reproductive cells by way of inheritance, is fixed and determined when the chromosomes of the one parent cell unite with those of the other parent cell. These inheritance determiners thus formed will control the inherited organization of the offspring's organism throughout the remainder of its life and will determine its development. But no new determination of character can come from inheritance channels, for the parent cells have acted once for all. All new and additional traits must come from the environment, either the prenatal or the postnatal, as modifications of the predisposed line of hereditary development; and these modifications are legion. They begin to occur immediately after fertilization and increase in volume and importance until anywhere from the twentieth to the fortieth year, or later, of postnatal life, for persons of normal intelligence, and for a shorter period for the feeble-minded, depending on the degree of their defect.

If we consider the sources from which these environmental forces or pressures arise we may designate them as three. First, the physical environment, such as objects which act upon the organism directly, producing traumatisms, modifications of structure, or displacements of the position of the organism as a whole, and also those forces which act in the main indirectly upon the organism, usually by conditioning its development and its functioning, including temperature, humidity, altitude, contour, soil and mineral resources, electrical condition of the atmosphere, and the like. Secondly are to be mentioned the factors of the biological environment, which are difficult to distinguish functionally from those of the physical environment, and which often operate in the two ways above described. In addition, they may operate much more intimately upon the organism, because they, in certain of their forms, constitute the food supply and thus operate directly and indirectly from within the organism as conditioners of its

(94) development and functioning. Also, certain other forms of the biological environment enter the organism as guests and perform radical functions of transformation of either a normal or a pathological character. Thus the great host of germ diseases, not to stress the disorders caused by parasites or the beneficial functionings of certain bacilli, constitute no inconsiderable portion of man's biological environment, in this case operating within the organism itself. Furthermore, both the biological and the physical environments— and even the psycho-social environment, which we have not yet discussed— may set up certain functional and structural dispositions or slants of the organism, more or less permanent in character, which inevitably condition further biological functioning and, more important still, help to form its spiritual life, that is, the organism's functioning through mental, moral, and social adjustments, or the attitudinal and valuational adjustments which it makes to the outside world. Thus a personality may be rendered sensitive, irritable, egotistical, altruistic, self-depreciative, constant, or fickle, and a host of other things which may be fairly adequately expressed in the everyday language of men. Such relatively constant slants or dispositions of the organism, centering more often, perhaps, in the nervous system than in the gross physiological organization, may properly be regarded as a third type of biological environment, in this case residing wholly within the organism and affecting primarily, although not wholly, the personality as such.

Finally, we may mention the factors of the psycho-social environment, which condition the development and functioning of the organism, in addition to the two types of environmental factors mentioned above. The psycho-social environment consists of all those associated activities of men, in actual process or hypothecated in fiction or theory, which are apprehended in the consciousness or the subconsciousness of people and which are products of the psychical processes of the actors. Under this environmental category must be included, among other things, all the traditions of men coming down even from the most primitive times, the myths and folk tales, superstitions, the beliefs in religion and aesthetics, in morals and in the practical and political conduct

(95) of life; the written creeds, the constitutions, statutory enactments, administrative rules and diplomatic formulaes and interchanges; the daily newspaper, literature of all the manifold kinds and voluminous extent; the speeches of agitators and the partisan plea of the trusted representative of the sovereign people, the resolutions of committees of protest and the prayers of minorities and majorities to their governments, of the devout and the wicked to their divinities; the voice and aims of assemblies, of crowds and other temporary organizations, of publics, and of institutions. In fact, all the multitudinous sources of mental stimulation which in our civilization are available for the organization and the direction of thought, in particular the printed sources, which have so multiplied in recent times as to surpass by far in volume and influence all other sources put together, except daily talk and random interchange of opinions, and which constitute a vast magazine from which men extract their opinions, imbibe their attitudes and draw the data for their constructive thinking, in so far as they are trained for this process, go to make up the surpassing richness of the psychosocial environment.

This environment has become so rich and varied in content and so strategically powerful that it dominates and transforms the instinctive nature of man in the early years of his individual development. For the early savage, who possessed a comparatively insignificant psycho-social environment, instinct was very largely in the saddle. What meager technique, traditions, and beliefs had been handed down to him from the past by way of halting oral language held powerful sway over his imagination, but the volume of these was not sufficient to modify greatly the operation of his instinctive urges. But the history of men has been the story of the growth of institutions, with their rich content of tradition and customs, belief and ritual, suggestion and rational interpretation. which have now come to have an immense volume and which ale clamped down upon the developing child from the cradle and mold him after their own images, for good or evil. The instinct is but the beginning of his mental life, and even this has been largely selected into a vestigial character by the social institution of postnatal care, so that it does not function even in the earliest infancy

(96) unmodified by environmental pressures. The delayed instincts never are able to appear in their native simplicity and operate uncontrolled by the conventions and other social valuations and standardizations which take hold of and dominate the fields of social action in which they are to function. For example, the sexual instincts and the maternal instincts find socially evaluated and prescribed grooves ready made for them when they appear and here they must be kept, or the organism will pay the penalty of conflict or disorganization. The fields of activity in which they function socially— reproduction and child care are now standardized and controlled, as far as the minds of rational and socialized individuals are concerned, long before these delayed instincts appear. In fact, the psycho-social environment embodies a great mass of tradition, public opinion, propaganda, and literature, scientific and other, prescribing how these activity complexes must function. Mere instincts cannot be permitted to overturn this laboriously, often carefully, built-up system of psycho-social environmental controls. Not even the purely vegetative instincts connected with food and respiration are permitted to retain their pristine simplicity, but are disturbed and modified or suppressed by modern cookery and the other arts and mutilations of life. The psycho-social environment masters us all; perhaps not as the philosopher would desire, but certainly in ways which tax the imagination of the ordinary man.

The results of this discussion of the sources of environmental pressures may be stated graphically in the following partial and incomplete classification.

I. Subjective Environmental Factors (those operating from within the organism or from the parent organism in close contact, operating directly upon the individual)

1. Impacts and traumatisms
2. Drugs and Narcotics
3. Germ infections
4. Toxins
5. Hormones and vitamines

II. Objective Environmental Factors (those operating from sources outside the organism and in the main indirectly through the conditioning of the life processes, but sometimes directly)

6. Physico-geographic environment:

 1) Contour and surface: (a) Rivers, (b) Seas, (c) Mountains, (d) Mountain passes, (e) Deserts, (J) Plains, (g) Plateaus, 
(h) Swamps, (i) Forests (j) Distance

 2) Altitude

 3) Light

 4) Temperature

 5) Humidity

 6) Electrical conditions

 7) Succession of seasons

 8) Inorganic resources: (a) Iron and other metals, (b) Coal and other fuel minerals, (c) Water, (d) Plant foods, especially nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus

7. Organic factors— fauna and flora

 1) Animals for food

 2) Animals for power

 3) Plants for food and healing

 4) Plants for clothing and shelter

 5) Parasites

 6) Germ life

8. Psycho-social Factors

 1) Psychic organizations (a) Traditions, (b) Conventions, (c) Beliefs, (d) Creeds, (e) Dogmas, (f) Prayers and spells, (g) Folk superstitions, (h) Myths, (i) Theologies, (j) Cultural ideals, (k) Artistic and aesthetic principles, (l) Codes, (m) Constitutions, (n) Proverbs and folk wisdom, (o) Scientific hypotheses, (p) Scientific experimental data and laws, (q) Propaganda

 2) Social activity organizations: (a) Language, (b) Customs, (c) Rituals, (d) Institutions: (domestic, economic and industrial, religious, moral, aesthetic, political, legal, cultural, educational, military) (e) Business enterprises and corporations, (f) Cultural clubs and organizations, (g) Religious bodies and denominations, (h) Military organizations, (i) Political parties and clubs, (j) Administrative and executive organizations, (k) Educational activities and organizations, (l) Art organizations and activities, (m) Domestic activities, (n) Reform associations, (o) Criminal and vicious activities and organizations.

It will be noted that the items or factors here emumerated are classified under two general headings, according as they are primarily subjectively placed and act in the main directly upon the organism and as they are objectively placed and act primarily and

(98) for the most part indirectly upon the organism. This twofold division is not altogether mutually exclusive in its arrangement, for the classification is a two-dimensional one. It seeks to list the factors according to developmental traits as well as the types of environmental influence operating upon the organism in each of those stages. Thus, generally speaking, Part I is intended to cover the preconceptual and the prenatal stages, while Part II covers the postnatal stage of development. Even within each general group there is some slight overlapping of the terms of the classification, but this overlapping has been avoided in so far as was possible. No claim is made as to completeness of classification, although it is hoped that it approaches fairly well toward completeness of outline. Any one of the terms might be expanded into numerous subdivisions and in the subdivisions themselves a great many co-ordinate terms might be added. Its purpose is primarily to illustrate the range of the sources and the extent of the environmental influences of a definite sort which operate upon man and his institutions.

We may now take up a concrete application of this classification to the different stages of development, with a view to determining at least a rough approximation of the environmental factors at work upon the organism in each stage. For purposes of clearness we may profitably start with the pre-natal stage. The environmental factors which may be assumed to be at work in this stage are, in part at least, as follows:

I. General Physical

 1. Impacts

 2. Muscular strains

 3. Traumatisms

 4. Temperature

 5. Nutritional elements

    II. Special Physical

 1. Poisons, such as lead, arsenic, strychnine, etc.

 2. Drugs and narcotics, such as alcohol, morphine, etc.

    III. Biological— of external origin

 1. The acute infectious diseases, such as syphilis, tuberculosis, typhus, and typhoid

IV. Biological— from the mother

 1. Toxins arising from: (a) Germ infections, (b) Drugs and narcotics. (c) Fatigue in extreme cases, (d) Undernutrition in extreme cases (e) Malnutrition in extreme cases, (f) Shock and strain

cases in extreme

 2. Effects from the above in shortening the period of gestation and bringing on premature labor.

V. Biological— from the mother

 1. Normal or abnormal vital functioning of the mother

 2. Hormones from the ductless glands

 3. Vitamines from the bloodstream (possibly)

Under the first of these groups belong the various injuries clone to the child while in utero. These may occur as the result of falls, attempts at abortion through the use of physical methods or drugs, or various accidents due to improper eating or drinking, excitement, shock or illness of the mother, where the cause is purely physical and does not fall under one of the other headings. Whether such poisons as arsenic, lead and other chemicals (second group), some of which may be taken into the mother's system from her contact with the industrial arts, act directly upon the child from the blood stream or indirectly through the abnormal stimulation of the mother's muscular system, glands, and secretions, they may have very marked effects upon the unborn child. Some pathologists deny that drugs may be carried from the mother to the child through the blood stream in such quantities as to produce an addiction in the nerve tissues of the child, while others cite cases of such supposed occurrence. In one such case the child is supposed to have been born with a morphine addiction taken over from its drug using mother and was successfully treated for this addiction. If such effects are possible from drugs and narcotics, the way is opened up for the explanation, purely in terms of prenatal pressures, of what was formerly regarded, even among pathologists, as inherited alcoholism, tolerance for nicotine, etc., but which we 'low recognize, in the clearer light of the Mendelian theory, could not be such. In any case, the indirect effects of these poisons upon the child through the organism of the mother is sufficiently marked.

That a few of the germinal infections may penetrate from the mother to the relatively protected child is well enough known to

( 100) medical science and the social worker concerned with child welfare. The more conspicuous cases have brought this fact to the attention, although study of it has only begun in interest. The most dangerous of these germ infections, and the one most studied in its effect upon the unborn child, is syphilis, more than one-half of the stillbirths being currently attributed to this single cause. The child may be infected with such a disease, the infection run its course, and the child die before its birth; or it may reach the end of term, or it may be prematurely born, leaving the disease to run its course afterward. Even in the case of comparative recovery from a severe prenatal infection the delicate and incompletely developed tissues of the child, especially those of the nervous system, are likely to be permanently injured, with the result that the child is handicapped for life by some special organic weakness, mental defect, or glandular derangement which makes its organism unduly susceptible to attacks from disease germs, toxins, shock, or other depressive influences in the postnatal period of development. It is this third group of prenatal factors which is responsible for most of the degenerative influences upon the child in utero, unless possibly we should except the toxins arising from this and other sources. The effect of the other factors is primarily to shorten the term of embryonic growth with all the consequences for the postnatal development of the child which this involves.

Doubtless one of the most prolific sources or forms of prenatal pressures from the environment is that of the toxins generated in the mother's organism and transmitted to the child. Such toxins may arise from germ infections, from the operation of poisons, drugs and narcotics upon the mother's tissues, and possibly from excessive fatigue, undernutrition, malnutrition, and shock and strain. Such toxins have been produced experimentally in at least the cases of undernutrition and malnutrition, and it is very possible that they are produced under ordinary conditions of organic growth in certain cases. These toxins may operate directly upon the child's tissues, producing degenerative conditions, or they may operate in some indirect manner, such as by influencing the secretions of the ductless and other glands. I have attempted to arrange the sources of these toxins in something like the order of

( 101) their frequency and importance. Some of the more conservative physiologists and pathologists might even deny that some of the conditions placed toward the end of this list could produce toxins which would affect the child. The possibility of adverse effect upon the child from all of these sources included under Group IV is very great and constitutes a strong argument for the careful hygienic regimen to which thoughtful mothers subject themselves during pregnancy and especially for the protection of working women against the adverse effects of industrial occupation. The effect of the last four of these factors listed under Group IV is more frequently to bring on labor prematurely than to produce a pathological condition of the embryo's tissues or directly to disarrange the process of its development. So far we have spoken only of the pathological prenatal environmental effects. Another group of prenatal environmental influences, in the main normal and helpful to the development of the foetus, deserve mention. These are the hormones developed from the mother's ductless glands and the vitamines which may possibly be taken from her blood stream. In a general way, also, the normal functioning of the mother with respect to her digestion, circulation, glands, mental condition, emotional poise, and the like, constitutes at least an indirect if not a direct physiological environmental condition for the proper development of the child. This important group of environmental influences ordinarily escapes our attention because it is the more usual condition. It will be segregated into its several aspects and measured quantitatively only as science advances to a completer analysis of the physiology, psychology, and sociology of reproduction as they pertain to the maternal organism as a whole, rather than as they pertain merely to the processes of copulation, fertilization, embryonic development and parturition, on which processes it has been largely concentrated up to the present. Physiology has already discovered the hormones and the Vitamines and has developed theories regarding their origin and functioning. Some beginnings have been made in the application of this knowledge to the study of the prenatal environmental controls of the child. An instance has already been mentioned in the case of the supposed influence of thyroid feeding to the mother upon the size of the

(102) thymus gland in the child. Definite observations have shown enlargement of the thyroid in the child as a result of the maternal secretion. Also the relative enlargement of the foetal uterus and the occasional secretion of milk in the infant's breasts at the time of birth indicate that the maternal hormones under the stress of great activity have had their effect upon the glands and organs of the child. Is it not reasonable to suppose that, even though the foetus normally manufactures its own hormones, it is not unaffected by the general state of the maternal secretions and its development is somewhat conditioned thereby ? As yet accurate methods of measuring such effects have not been worked out, nor has the subject itself been adequately studied. Also, we may suppose that without a proper supply of vitamines, which can come only through the nourishment supplied by the mother, the child cannot develop the proper neural and muscular tone and will be deficient in resistance to infections and incapable of making normal advances in growth. But at the present time this effect is impossible to demonstrate because of the lack of a method by which the actual operation of the vitamines upon the foetus can be detected and measured.

The factors affecting the unborn child, according to Professor Richard E. Scammon, of the University of Minnesota Medical School, may be classified and characterized as follows:

1. Sex.— This is the largest factor affecting weight and differential development.

2. The activity of the mother during pregnancy.— The greater the activity of the mother the less the weight of the child.

3. The age of the mother.— The older the mother the larger the child until the mother has attained the age of thirty-five.

4. The number of previous pregnancies.— The number of pregnancies increases the weight of the child until the third or fifth pregnancy, independently of the age of the mother.

5. The germ infections, such as syphilis, tuberculosis, typhus, and possibly typhoid.— These infections affect not only the weight of the child but also the normality of its development in other ways, as explained above.


6. Race.— The peoples of northwestern Europe are heaviest at birth, and the weight decreases the farther south and east, generally speaking.

7. Social condition of the mother.— This and the next two factors are deceptive. The real factor here is probably the greater activity of the mother, more mothers having to work at exhausting tasks the poorer their social condition.

8. Illegitimacy.— Illegitimate children are lighter than those born in wedlock. This factor, however, reduces to the younger age of the mother, the fact that the child is usually the first born, and the fact that the mother is ordinarily a working girl.

9. The seasonal incidence.— Although season is supposed to have a weight correlation, none was found in the study of 1,900 cases in Minneapolis by Professor Scammon and Miss Brinton.

10. Length of period between pregnancies.— It is possible, although it is not definitely confirmed, that the longer the period between pregnancies the heavier is the weight of the new born.

All of these factors except the first and the sixth, sex and race, are clearly environmental rather than hereditary. This classification, it will be noted, is of a general statistical character, stating results merely. It does not attempt to arrive at the physiological and other internal environmental conditions which produce the results listed under the several categories; such was roughly attempted in the preceding classification and analysis of prenatal environmental factors. However, it presents a striking argument for the importance of the environmental conditions of the prenatal development of the child. According to Professor Scammon these factors carry over in their effect on development for a longer or shorter time in the postnatal period.

The preconceptual environmental factors need retain us very briefly. Strictly speaking, the child does not exist before the point of conception, but the material out of which it is to be formed by the union of the two parental reproductive cells does exist and is subject to environmental influences. It must be remembered that the reproductive cell consists of two parts, the cytoplasm or outer part, and the nucleus or inner part, which carries the chromosomes. According to the Mendelians, whom we must

( 104) accept as authoritative at the present moment, the inheritance of the offspring is determined in the chromosomes which unite, after a process of division and elimination, and enter into the new one-celled organism which is the beginning of the child. But this new being does not start life with merely nucleus and chromosomes; it has body also, so to speak. That is, the new cell, being made up of both cytoplasm and nucleus, receives cytoplasm from both parent cells, although, because of the greater supply available, it receives more cytoplasm from the mother's cell. Whatever may have happened in an environmental way to this cytoplasm now becomes a part of the body endowment of the new individual. Whatever is thus transmitted from parent to offspring through the cytoplasm of the reproductive cell obviously is not inherited, for it is not carried in the chromosomes.

What environmental factors may operate between parent and offspring in this way? The most general answer would be that anything which can be transferred from the somatic to the reproductive cells through general and ordinary physiological processes may be thus transmitted to the child environmentally. It must not be forgotten that the reproductive cells, although they are self-generative through fission, must draw their nutriment from the somatic secretions and fluids; that is, they ingest the substance of somatic cells. They are also subject to the general temperature conditions of the somatic portions of the organism and they are to a certain extent subject to contact with wandering foreign bodies coming from the somatic organism. May we not safely say, therefore, that the parental reproductive cells may possibly be affected by nutritional elements, hormones, vitamines, temperature, occasional infecting germs, toxins generated within the parental organism, and possibly by drugs and poisons taken into the Parent's organism from without ? If we grant this conclusion it is obvious that the range of the environmental influence in the preconceptual period upon the future offspring is very considerable, although it is markedly less in the number of items and generally in the influence of each item than in the prenatal period of development, because of the more effective isolation of the reproductive cells.

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The question may arise— I have met it frequently— as to how we can distinguish this imputed preconceptual environmental influence from heredity. May not, after all, so far as we know, these factors which are supposed to have been carried in the cytoplasm or in its environment have entered the nucleus and have affected the chromosome determiners and thus have produced a hereditary effect? There are tests for this supposition. In the first place, mere entrance of one of the factors into the nucleus, supposing that it could be transmitted from this point, would not render it hereditary. It would have to become an integral part of some chromosome to influence the heredity in the Mendelian sense. It is not likely that a disease germ or a toxin would be incorporated into a chromosome and thus reproduce itself continuously in future generations. Also it would be necessary for such a trait to reappear according to some definite ratio in future generations to be regarded as hereditary. More important still is the fact that the introduction of a disease germ into the nucleus would in all probability destroy the whole nuclear content and thus render reproduction from that cell impossible. The introduction of toxins in large quantities would probably have the same effect. But the toxins could scarcely reproduce themselves in the nucleus, even if they could be incorporated into the chromosomes without destroying the latter; for the supply would soon disappear and this source of inheritance of toxins would prove ineffectual. Finally, it must be remembered that for any such factors to be inherited they themselves, and not their products or results, would have to be transmitted through the chromosomes. If we admit, as seems possible, that some or all of these factors, especially the nutritional elements, temperature, toxins, and hormones, might, under some conditions, so influence the chromosomes as to change their nature and thus modify the inheritance, still it would not result that these factors would thereby Come to he inherited. Only their effects would be inherited. For example, Professor Tower's experiments with potato beetles seem to show that the permanent mutations which he produced did not involve the transmission of the agent with which he produced them.

The major purpose of this tentative analysis of the environmental factors at work in the prenatal and the preconceptual

( 106) stages of development has been to show how large a range of traits appearing in the new-born child, which were formerly attributed to inheritance, must be explained in terms of environmental causation. The old notion, still popularly current, that inheritance covers everything received in the organism up to the point of birth, must go by the board, while room is made for the operation of environmental forces throughout the period of the development of the organism and even before that development begins as a new entity. A few of the traits which may now be attributed, in part at least, to these early environmental influences, which formerly were assigned exclusively to inheritance under the older theories, are feeble-mindedness, epilepsy, cretinism, and various other psychopathic and neuropathic conditions, rickets, syphilis (still called hereditary in many serious works by biologists and pathologists), malformations, including such characteristics as acephaly and the cyclopean eye, nervous lesions, digestive and nutritional derangements of early infancy and childhood, glandular derangements, the so-called diatheses, and the like.

Turning now from the prenatal and the preconceptual periods of development to the postnatal period, we find that all these factors are at work here also. But they operate in somewhat different ways, because the sources of infection and contact are no longer through the prenatal reproductive cells and the organism of the mother. In fact each of the categories of factors outlined under the discussion of prenatal environmental influences finds itself greatly expanded to include numerous other sources and types of influence and infection not here listed. For example, the number of germ diseases to which one is liable in the postnatal period is vastly multiplied. The same is true of the chances for toxic influence; for each organism, taking its own food and drink and coming in contact with various substances which may be taken into the boy in a variety of ways, is able to manufacture toxins on a large scale. The liability to drug addictions and to poisons from without is also greatly increased. Impacts, muscular strains, the variety of nutritional modifications, temperature modifications, increase almost without limit. Likewise the self-acting organism manufactures its own hormones and the function-

( 107) -ing of its ductless glands is conditioned largely by the strains imposed upon them from the organism's activities and the toxins and foreign bodies introduced into it. Vitamines are taken directly into the organism through its food supply, and the organism's general condition has a more direct effect upon the development of functional and structural traits. In addition to this increased operation of the same factors found in the two earlier periods of development, are many additional ones which act indirectly and often at long range, but nevertheless act very effectively. These we have classified generally as physico-geographic, climatic, organic, and psycho-social. We need not, at this point, expand these general rubrics into their subdivisions, nor is there space for an analysis of their effects upon individual character and social organization. Besides, this aspect of environment has been recognized in the more recent textbooks on sociology and is beginning to receive fairly adequate treatment there. The space given to it here must not be held to indicate its relative importance.

The most significant type of environmental factors operating upon man in the postnatal period of development is the psychosocial, consisting of all the psycho-physical contact and cultural content phenomena of modern society. The psycho-social environment operates with any degree of directness only in the post-natal period of development, because only here are the senses which can mediate it at the service of the child. This type of environment is not limited to the institutions, although they constitute the larger part of it; it embraces in addition all those less well-organized and less permanent forms of social organization and social value foci which influence human conduct and thinking. To name these institutional and non-institutional environmental controls in detail would require more space than this paper occupies. Nor is it necessary to name them, since they are generally familiar in out line to everyone interested in the structure of society. To describe their working in detail would, obviously, involve the writing of a treatise on social psychology. We may therefore content ourselves for present purposes with the omission of the same sort of semi-detailed analysis of the psycho-social environmental factors as was made of those environmental factors operating in the preconceptual

(108) and the prenatal stages of development, and devote our time to an account of the methods by which the psycho-social environment can operate in the building up of individual attitudes and social traits.

Before the development of Mendelism, with its specific definition of inheritance traits and the reduction of them to unit characters, the concept of the instincts was for the most part relatively vague and writers on the subject had more to say about the working of "instinct" than about the operation of the specific "instincts." But the concrete turn given to the whole question of inheritance by the propagation of the Mendelian laws stimulated the psychologists to work out unit psychic characters on the analogy of unit anatomical characters, and there have appeared as a consequence numerous classifications of instincts within the last twenty years or less. One may get the full force of this contrast in the methods of attacking the problem of psychic inheritance by comparing Henry Rutgers Marshall's Instinct and Reason, published in 1895, with McDougall's Introduction to Social Psychology, or Thorndike's Original Nature of Man, published in 1908 and 1913 respectively. The attempt to reduce the concept of instinct to a concrete working basis was wholly praiseworthy, but the method of doing it was not very scientific, when viewed from the standpoint of a biological definition of instinct. Writers of the McDougall type, who still represent the prevailing method, made the mistake of defining instinct in terms of the functional value of the activity for society instead of in terms of its structure. Now any biologist would know that it is structure which is inherited. It is not possible to inherit a social or moral value, because it is not possible to inherit an abstraction. The result of the McDougall method of isolating instincts was to bring together the most dissimilar and constantly changing types of activities under one general heading and give them a common name because they possessed a common social or moral value. In this way groups of acts which had no internal structural unity were spoken of as unit characters, and the same act might be included in a number of activity complexes of different social values and functions and, therefore, be regarded as different instincts. The fact is that not instincts, but acquired habit com-

( 109) -plexes, were being isolated, and even these were not constant in their structural organization, but only in their social value and functioning. Psychologists of the type of Thorndike have realized this and have attempted to break up the habit complexes named after their functional social values into the concrete structural original activity processes which constitute them and name them accordingly. This has been successful in part only, but the results so far have uncovered two facts of value to the social psychologist. One is to the effect that the preponderant portion of the great activity complexes, formerly misnamed instincts, are acquired elements received from the psycho-social environment, and the other fact is that the psycho-social environment is more powerful in forming the character and attitudes of the individual than is man's original inherited nature.[6] In primitive society and the early life of the infant, instinct may have been more powerful than habit, although this assumption may be questioned in the case of the infant of today, because another animal with well-developed habits of child-care— its mother— makes good its lack of instinctive adjustment to the life-processes. As pointed out above, the volume of environmental controls has now become so great that the instincts which remain complete in the heredity of the human child rarely have an opportunity to function unmodified in social situations, but are made to conform in a super-organized expression to social standards and values. This process of transformation of the instincts under environmental control has gone so far that the psychoanalysts have sounded a warning to the effect that dangerous conflicts between the original and the acquired nature of man have become manifest in modern life. However, it is likely that some of the most stressful conflicts exist between values set by opposing habit activity complexes.

The dominance of character formation by the psycho-social environment comes about in this wav. The dynamic factors in human society, such as the increase of population and its consequent pressure upon the industrial arts, the growth of knowledge and technique, and the utilization of the natural resources and

( 110) inventive processes in general make necessary new adjustments in society. These new alignments call forth a new set of inventions, including institutional and other more temporary group organization, directed at first to the satisfaction of man's instinctive needs, but in the course of time becoming ends in themselves. Thus there arise, in the process of adjustment to the dynamic factors in society— which multiply so rapidly in modern civilization that the slow process of biological selection cannot produce new instincts to take care of the adjustments to these factors— at first a set of secondary wants or desires or interests, which are embodied in the institutional or other psycho-social content. In time these are overlaid and modified by further derived values or ends, until the instinctive element no longer dominates in them, and in many cases the socially imposed value is in contradiction to the suppressed or transformed instinctive one. In this way modern man has come to be largely an artificial, clothes— wearing, idea-imitating, convention— copying, even at times a thinking, animal who turns his instincts to the service of artificially conceived ends in an artificial, but much improved, society. The original ends set by his selected instinctive food and sex, fear and associational, needs and interests no longer dominate his life, but they become incidents to the main current of a competitive and co-operative socialized existence.

It is possible to impose these environmentally determined values upon man because, due to his higher brain organization, including the hundreds of millions of incompleted neurones with which he begins postnatal life and his consequent power of habit formation, he has learned to mediate abstractly his action in adjustment to the outside world, either by means of his own previous abstracted experience adjustments or, more frequently, by copying those already worked out and stored in the psycho-social environment, that is, in institutions, in fends of scientific knowledge, in literature, and the like. Thus civilized adult man is able to reverse the process of individual adjustment to a very considerable extent. Instead of always acting first and thinking afterward, as the child at first tends to do, he develops environmentally derived inhibitions upon action, as well as abstracted thinking symbols, which

( 111) enable him to work out abstractly a course of conduct (it may be done either consciously or subconsciously), often even in contradiction to his instinctive or more naive habit impulses and to put it into overt action from within outward. Thus the cerebral neurones, directly and indirectly, have become the chief distributors of adult human action. Language, with its powers of abstract symbolization, has enabled man to transform the perceptions of the senses of sight and hearing— which in civilized society become adapted to types of environmental stimuli unknown to the instinctive nature of man— into activity values for which his instincts do not equip him. His mind, through the aid of artificially and environmentally organized sensory perceptions, and language, which represents compressed abstracted symbolizations of meaning, becomes a great abstracting and distributing apparatus for the transmission of the psycho-social environment. In this way the artificial or derived psycho-social environmental processes and values are able to transmit themselves largely intact.

In this respect psycho-social environmental transmission is perhaps as independent of the instinctive organization of man— although not wholly independent of it— as is the hereditary transmission of biological traits through the segregated reproductive cells independent of the somatic cells. The analogy is not complete, because each individual develops his power of abstraction originally from an inherited basis of neural response. But, as pointed out above, the abstracting power once developed with appropriate acquired symbols mediating the process, the seat of control of the neural adjustment or thinking process tends to be shifted, through revised and analytical perception processes, from the internal control of instinct and previously formed habit organization to newly apprehended psycho-social environmental control factors. The act now begins in the cerebral cortex and may be extended to muscular response, if conditions are favorable, or it may never get beyond the initial stage of neural cerebral organization. Where we have a succession of such incompleted activity processes, one neural adjustment running over into the other, without eventuating in overt muscular activity, we have what we call thinking, or a preliminary adjustment of the organism on the basis of intellectual

(112) processes. These may take place either consciously or subconsciously, and thus the adjustment may be either consciously or subconsciously made. It may also remain permanently incompleted, as most of our thought adjustments do.

In this way most of the activities not of a reflex or purely habitual character are dominated by the psycho-social environment, and practically all of the content of our evaluational thinking— that which does not go over into immediate muscular response— is so dominated. Thus it is seen that the instincts do not control habit formations, except among primitive men and possibly the younger children. The older we grow, if at the same time we become wiser, that is, acquire more abstract symbolical thinking content, the farther away we get from instinctive domination and the more we come under the control of the values and processes of the psycho-social environment. For most men these values and processes are imposed without much reflection or abstract valuation on their part; they are merely copied. But the more thoughtful, the better-informed, types of men take them over reflectively, that is, they in some measure consciously transform their environment as well as adapt to it.

Such, in brief, is the method by which we obtain our higher habits or psycho-social environmentally controlled activities and attitudes and ideal values. The most important, the major, controls, in civilized society come in this way. We are just beginning to develop a science of environmental transmission comparable to that of biological transmission and to differentiate the two in our thinking, and rationally to plan and organize the environmental psycho-social ones. This is the chief, but not the only, task of social control. At a day when the more timid sociologists are almost ready to surrender to their aggressive competitors in biology we need to realize that our problem of environmental controls is at least as important and certainly as complicated and absorbingly interesting as that of the biologists. Furthermore, we should recognize that both the biologists and the sociologists work toward the same general end of social and racial betterment and should co-operate instead of compete.


  1. Gamble, Animal Life, p. 230.
  2. E. S. Goodrich, Evolution, p. 36.
  3. Ibid., p. 37.
  4. Jordan and Kellogg, Animal Life, p. 153.
  5. L. Berman, The Glands Regulating Personality, p. 281.
  6. L. L. Bernard, "The Misuse of Instinct in the Social Sciences," Psy. Rev., March, 1921.

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