Social Psychology

Herbert Blumer
University of Chicago


SOCIAL psychology is one of the youngest divisions of social science. It was first recognized with its present name toward the end of the past century; the first text carrying the title "Social Psychology" appeared in the early part of the present century; and it is only during the last two decades that courses in the subject have been included generally in academic curricula. Despite its recency the subject has attracted the interest of a large number of scholars, writers, and research workers, so that today its literature is extensive, its theories are many, and its points of view are very diverse. During its brief history it has undergone considerable change as well as development. Even at the present time it is responding to the introduction of new points of view which are altering its subject matter, its problems, and its methods of investigation. This has caused it to be marked by considerable diversity and lack of agreement. To understand the field of social psychology it is necessary to recognize this divergency in viewpoint and interest.

At the beginning of the present century, when social psychology was first emerging as a recognizable field of study, it was preoccupied with the problem of the nature of the "group mind." Due to a number of philosophical

(145) and historical developments, the belief had arisen that human groups could be conceived as possessing "minds" or "souls" like those that individuals were supposed to have. Ideas, beliefs, hopes, dreams, and wishes were attributed to groups as over and above individuals. Many felt that the main task of social psychology was to study group minds. This interest was reinforced by the emergence, especially in France, of a psychology of crowds.[1] The crowd was said to possess a character and mentality of its own, which could not be understood by studying individuals, since as individuals became parts of crowds or mobs they lost their own conscious personality and were fused into a new and higher mental structure. Under the influence of such beliefs social psychology became essentially a group psychology, with special interest in the minds of crowds.

In the development undergone by social psychology during the last three decades there has been a considerable decline in interest in studying the group mind and the crowd mind. While crowds and different types of groups still interest social psychologists, they are rarely viewed as possessing "minds," whose analysis is felt to be the primary scientific task. Indeed, the conception of a group mind, or a collective mind, has evoked abundant criticism on the ground that it is a metaphysical view that can not be verified. As a result of this criticism and as a result of the difficulty of making any empirical analysis in terms of "group-mindedness," this view has largely disappeared from present-day social psychology. Further, there has been a tendency to relegate to a place of minor importance i fie many forms of collective behavior that had formerly intrigued the students of group and crowd minds. Mobs,

(146) crowds, manias, social contagion, social epidemics, panics, stampedes, fashion, strikes, riots, mass behavior, agitation, and revolutions—such groups and types of collective behavior may gain some consideration at the hands of present-day social psychologists, but it is usually only a secondary consideration. The tendency is to entrust these problems to the newly emerging study of collective behavior, where they are treated alongside of such problems as social unrest, public opinion, propaganda, social movements, literary and nationalistic revivals, reform movements, myths, and legends.

Today, the interest of social psychology is focused largely on the social development of the individual. It is now generally agreed that every human being grows up inside of some form of group life, that in this development he is subject to the stimulation and influence of his associates, and that his conduct, his character, his personality, and his mental organization are formed inside of this association with his fellows. The central task is that of studying how the individual develops socially as a result of participating in group life. As we shall see, different ways have been proposed for studying this problem. Moreover, this central problem has many phases that are given markedly different emphasis by different social psychologists. Yet it represents the interest shared by all students who are recognized today as social psychologists.

Social psychology is particularly subject to the importation of theories and points of view from surrounding sciences and disciplines. The very nature of its central problem has placed it between the older and more recognized fields of psychology and sociology, and has invited the borrowing of the theories of both. Any general theory that gains any vogue in these two fields is rather certain

(147) to be applied to the field of social psychology. This means that the general theoretical disputes in psychology and sociology are transferred to social psychology, where, furthermore, are to be found the theoretical contentions as they exist between psychology and sociology. Likewise, social psychology reveals the presence of theories and points of view which have come from philosophy, psychiatry, anthropology, and other social sciences. This general situation has meant that on its theoretical side social psychology is likely to be marked by disagreement and by eclecticism, that is, the fitting together of parts of different theories.


To study the central problem of the social development of the individual it is necessary to consider the nature of the equipment with which the human infant begins life. There is some conspicuous difference between the views held by different groups of social psychologists regarding original nature. One of these views, the doctrine of instincts, was very prominent in social psychology up to a decade ago [2]; today it has very much less support. We shall begin by discussing it.

The view that human behavior can be explained in terms of instincts arose as a consequence of the development of the theory of organic evolution. The theory of organic evolution developed by Charles Darwin and his followers bridged the chasm which previously had been thought to separate human beings from animals. Human beings now came to be regarded as merely a higher type of animal, linked to the rest of the biological kingdom. Once this

(148) new view of human beings was formed, it was inevitable that students should seek to explain human behavior by principles that had been found satisfactory in explaining animal behavior. Previously, it had been customary to explain the behavior of animals in terms of instincts, and this type of explanation was felt to be quite successful. It now became the practice of many psychologists to explain the conduct of human beings and the life of human groups by the doctrine of instincts.

The doctrine of instincts may be thought of as a predeterministic view of original nature, since this original nature is used to explain social behavior. The view presupposes that human beings, like other forms of animal life, are born into the world with a biological make-up which pre-determines them to certain kinds of behavior under requisite circumstances. Instincts are regarded as the factors in the original or biological nature that lead to these different kinds of behavior. Thus the seeking of food is ascribed to a hunger instinct, the seeking of a mate to a sex instinct, fighting to a pugnacious instinct, the solicitous care of an infant by its mother to a maternal instinct, and the seeking of companionship and association to a gregarious instinct. Since this view is widely current in the popular thought of today, other illustrations will occur to anyone. Generally, it has been believed by those who hold this view that all significant forms of human conduct were to be explained by an appropriate instinct or combination of instincts. The task was to identify the proper instinct or instincts felt to be responsible for the given kind of human conduct. Instincts were thought to give individuals their basic motives and desires and, consequently, their interests and goals in life. Furthermore, since human

(149) institutions, such as the family, religion, education, and recreation, were recognized as being made up of individual actions, they were, in turn, believed to rest on instincts. The actual development of the child into an adult was explained, on one hand, as a maturation of certain of his instincts, and, on the other hand, as the redirection of his instincts into new forms of behavior.

While many instinct psychologists declared that instincts could be modified and could undergo change, logically, their whole approach has been a form of biological determinism. Since instincts were recognized as innate or inborn, to explain behavior solely by instincts meant really to declare that the biological make-up determines this behavior. In practice, as soon as the instinct psychologist succeeded in identifying the appropriate instinct in any given instance of human behavior in which he was interested (such as the sex and parental instincts in the case of marriage) there was no further need for explanation. To carry the explanation further one would have to account for the existence of the instinct or instincts, and to do this would lead one to a different problem—the study of the biological evolution of the human species. In practice, then, the interpretation or explanation of human conduct took the form of designating the instincts that were believed to be responsible for that conduct.

Criticisms which have been directed against the instinct doctrine during the last two decades have greatly lessened the prestige which it formerly had in social psychology. The criticisms have been of different kinds. One significant criticism is that the instinct psychologists show very marked disagreement among themselves as to what they mean by an instinct, and as to the specific instincts which they attrib-

(150) -ute to human beings.[3] The definitions which are given for the concept of instinct vary from the view that the instinct is a very specific, fixed form of behavior (as in the nest building of the robin) to the view that an instinct is a vague, general urge. The number of instincts supposedly possessed by human beings ranges from one or two up to several hundreds. The critics have argued that if instincts were present in human beings they should be capable of being identified, and that, if they could be identified, this should lead to agreement as to their character and number. The absence of this agreement is believed to point suspiciously to the absence of instincts. A second major criticism has been that the study of human infants does not reveal a biological nature that is made up of a small number of definite elements such as the instinct doctrine assumes. Human infants are found to have a complex, diversified, but unsystematized repertoire of actions, bespeaking a similar biological nature. This picture of the original nature of human beings, which is arrived at through empirical study, is presented as being strikingly at variance with the picture which is postulated by the instinct doctrine. A third criticism calls attention to the great variability of human conduct that is found to exist between people who belong to different cultures (such as the settling of quarrels among certain Eskimo groups by the two opponents singing songs at one another, in contrast to our practice of fisticuffs between two embittered school boys). It is declared that this variability forces one to explain human behavior in terms other than instincts, since instincts, by definition, are common to human beings and, consequently, cannot be used to explain differences between

(151) them. These critics point out that the heuristic value of the concept of instincts is that it permits one to generalize his observations of one member of a. species to other members of that species. Thus, the observation of beavers building a dam may lead one to attribute to them an instinct to build dams; since instincts by definition are possessed by all the members of the given species, one can declare in this instance that other beavers who have not been observed have this instinct and will engage in the same dam-building activity that has been observed. The variability of human behavior is held to be a severe obstacle to such generalizing; consequently, the concept of instincts loses all of its heuristic value as applied to human beings.

Ultimately the question as to whether human beings have instincts turns on the matter of definition. However, the criticisms which have been made of the doctrine have succeeded in bringing the problem of original nature into the open and have seriously challenged the simple deterministic view of original nature which is implied in the instinct view.

A second way of viewing original nature that is widely current today in social psychology is to regard the human infant as possessing varied, complex, but unsystematized sets of reflexes. These reflexes represent the original ways in which the infant responds to the stimuli in its environment. The reflex is a definite and specific kind of behavior which can be observed and studied in an experimental fashion. Many of these reflexes, such as the grasping reflex, have been identified; the human child has hundreds of them. Many are complicated and some, like chewing and swallowing, fit together in fairly elaborate patterns of behavior. It is generally recognized, however, that there is very little organization between the reflexes possessed by

(152) the human infant; hence, it can do practically nothing in the way of complicated behavior, in contrast with older children or with adults. The development of such behavior necessarily means that these original reflexes have to undergo redirection, change, and especially organization into new patterns of conduct. The equipment of reflexes possessed at birth, while very important as the basis for the formation of subsequent behavior in the child, consequently is not viewed as predetermining that formation. It is especially in this respect that this view of original nature differs markedly from that represented by the doctrine of instincts. Other features of this view are (a) that it is not hypothetical but is confined to what is actually observable in the infant, and (b) that its attention is directed toward the small units or segments of the infant's behavior (this, of course, is what the reflex represents), and not toward the general character of the infant's behavior. This view of original nature is identified with what can be termed the stimulus-response approach in social psychology. Later we shall consider how, in accordance with this approach, original nature is viewed as developing into social conduct and into personality.

There is a third important view of original nature, in present-day social psychology, that also fits into a special major approach which we shall have occasion to consider at some length. According to this view the human infant comes into the world with an unformed, unorganized, and amorphous nature. This is shown by its pronounced helplessness, by its inability to carry out concerted actions, and by its thorough dependence on older human beings for the satisfaction of its needs and, so, for survival. Its general behavior is random and unorganized. It is felt that this

(153) signifies a similar vague and unorganized state of the child's impulses and feelings. The infant is recognized to be very active, and consequently, to have impulses (such as the thirst impulse) which occasion it distress and consequently stir it into activity. These impulses, however, are regarded as being plastic and unchannelized, that is, as not being directed toward any specific goal. The infant has no idea or image of "what it wants," but merely experiences discomfort and distress under the influence of an impulse. This impulse gains expression in its emotional behavior and random activity. According to this view, the development of the infant into childhood and adulthood is fundamentally a matter of forming organized or concerted activity in place of its previous random activity, and of channelizing its impulses and giving them goals or objectives. This view, then, like the previous one, recognizes original nature to be important, but not determinative of its subsequent development. It emphasizes the active nature of the child, the plasticity of this nature, and the importance of the unformed impulse. It is substantially the view taken by the group of social psychologists who may be conveniently labeled "symbolic interactionists."

Of these three views of the original nature of human beings, the last two are those most frequently held in present-day social psychology. The last two views are not in conflict with each other, but they emphasize different attributes of the infant's behavior and nature. However, as we shall see, each gives rise to a different way of treating and interpreting the main problems of social psychology. A knowledge off original nature is merely a prerequisite to the more important concerns of social psychology. One must have such knowledge in order to consider intelligently

(154) the problem of how the human infant is influenced and affected by the groups, such as its family, in which it grows up.


If it is important for social psychology to understand the nature with which the infant begins its life in society, it is equally important to know something in general about the nature of human group life. Every human infant is born into a human group. Its survival during the early stages of infancy depends on aid, protection, and care at the hands of some older human beings, whether its parents or others. In this sense, the group is prior to the child. It becomes, important, consequently, to consider the nature of human groups in order to understand the influence of the group setting on the social development of the child. This topic, like that of original nature, is subject to different representations; it is necessary to consider the more important of these views as to the nature of social life among human beings.

We shall begin with the view of "cultural determinism." Just as the instinct doctrine represents an extreme view of original nature, so cultural determinism represents an extreme view of group life. It is extreme in the sense that it regards group life as the determining influence in the development of the child, and, consequently, thinks of original nature as being of minor or of no importance. Cultural determinism views the life of human groups as consisting of a body of customs and traditions, conventions, institutions, and ways of behaving which have been accumulated in the course of the group's historical experience. These ways of living are impressed on children born and reared in any given group ; they are viewed as existing prior

(155) to individuals who acquire them and, consequently, it is believed that they cannot be explained by referring to these individuals. In this sense, culture transcends individuals it is "super-organic"—that is, it has a character, a history, and a method of development of its own which cannot be explained by referring to the make-up or experience of separate human beings. Thus, it is contended, no one of us has created the language which he speaks, the moral code which he follows, the system of laws which he must obey, the economic system in which lie must work, the body of rights and privileges which he enjoys, and the set of obligations which he must observe. These organized forms of group life come to the individual from the outside and, consequently, cannot be accounted for by the characteristics and attributes of individuals.

Indeed, just the opposite is held to be true by cultural determinists. Their belief is that the growth and social development of the individual comes about by his taking over the ways of living of his group. His own behavior and conduct must be understood as an expression of these cultural patterns. His language, his food diet, his religious practices and beliefs, his moral code, his forms of play and recreation, his economic activities and ambitions, his political interests and beliefs, his prejudices, his type of courtship and married life—all these are regarded as manifestations of the cultural patterns of his group or groups. This molding influence of culture is clear in our external behavior; we speak the language of our group, use its monetary system, employ its forms of greeting, participate in its ceremonies and ritual, and in general follow its customs and conventions. However, the cultural determinists believe that the influence of culture extends far beyond these external forms of behavior. They believe that it shapes our tastes and

(156) appetites, our desires and wishes, our hopes and ambitions, our inclinations and aversions, our attitudes, and our thoughts and values.

This effort to explain the inner life and psychic activities of the individual in terms of the cultural patterns of the group is the most interesting work being clone at present by cultural determinists in the field of social psychology. It is being carried on especially by a group of French scholars. Most conspicuous among them is Lucien Levy-Bruhl [4] who has sought to prove that not only what people think is shaped by culture (this group uses the term "collective representations") but also, and more important, how they think. His studies of primitive people lead him to believe that their logic and forms of thinking are different from our own because of their different collective ideas. Our logic is governed by the law of contradiction; that of the primitives by the law of participation. Thus, our logic would not permit us to say that an individual can be in two different places at the same time, yet such thinking is quite possible under the logic of primitive people. The African chieftain who requests that no damage be done to the photograph which has been taken of him in order that he not be harmed or suffer illness is giving expression to this primitive logic, or as Levy-Bruhl would say, to pre-logical thinking. The chieftain "participates" in the photograph; to damage it would be to injure him. Halbwachs, another French scholar, has sought to show that memory, which has always been regarded as peculiarly individual, is shaped . and organized in the individual by the collective memories of the group, and that the process of recalling a memory by the individual is a social process, made possible only by

(157) reason of the fact that the individual uses the ideas or collective representations of his group.[5] Blondel has sought to explain the affective and emotional life of individuals in terms of collective representations or cultural patterns.[6] Other French social psychologists have made similar studies and interpretations of other phases of the individual's mental life.

The approach of cultural determinism is usually regarded by social psychologists as extreme. While it may explain what is common to the conduct of people who belong to the same cultural group, it is pointed out that it does not account for the important differences that prevail between such people. In general, it views the individual as a passive recipient of the cultural patterns of his group, and ignores the contributions which he may give to his own conduct. It pays little attention to original nature, sees no problem in social development, and belittles the possibilities of human beings having unique lines of experience. While the approach of cultural determinism is interesting, it is not entirely in accord with the main current of social psychological thought.

A more widely held view of the nature of human group life is that generally taken by those social psychologists who have been referred to as employing the stimulus-response approach. While they recognize that human groups possess culture, in the form of customs, traditions, folkways, mores, conventions, and institutions, their belief is that these are really constituted by sets of individual habits. A group merely consists of a number of individuals;

(158) its so-called ways of behavior are regarded as being merely what is either common or uniform to the individuals who compose the group. The various forms of culture or ways of group activity are not thought, then, to exist as real and separate things with a life of their own. They are thought to be combinations of the activities of separate individuals. The individual, alone, is real; the group is merely a convenient way of referring to a collection of individuals. According to this view, the group setting in which the child is born and reared consists of separate individuals, such as father, mother, brothers, sisters, neighbors, playmates, relatives, and so on. Each of these individuals has his own habits and ways of acting, between which there may be uniformity or common characteristics, such as that all of them speak the same language, or wear clothing. These separate individual ways of behaving, taken together, constitute the social milieu of the child, or stated otherwise, they comprise the social stimuli to which the child is subject.

A third view of human group life is that held by those social psychologists whom we have termed the symbolic interactionists. They, also, recognize that the life of human groups presents itself in the form of a body of customs, traditions, institutions, and so on, but they do not regard these forms of culture as consisting merely of so many different individual ways of acting. Instead, they believe that these forms of culture consist of common symbols, which are mutually shared and possessed by the members of the groups. Individual ways of acting are alike because these individuals are guiding their behavior by a symbol which they share in common. Thus, individuals wear clothing, in accordance with the custom of their group, because each of them shares the common understanding that he is supposed to wear clothing. In the same way, any custom,

(159) folkway, or way of acting common to a group of individuals is traceable back to their possession of a common symbol or understanding.

This view deserves a little further elaboration. Group life is believed to consist of co÷perative behavior. Thus, for illustration, in a university classroom the students and instructor have to co÷perate in order for the class to exist as a group. The students listen while the instructor talks. If the students and instructor all talked at once or paid no attention to each other there would be no class, as we understand it in our culture. Their activities are adjusted to each other so as to give rise to orderly co÷peration. One might say that this occurs because of our customs and traditions of classroom behavior. More accurately one can say that it is clue to the fact that students and teacher have a common understanding or common expectation as to what they are to do. Thus the students understand they are to take certain seats and listen to the instructor; they expect this of one another. They also expect the instructor to talk to them instead of, let us say, going to sleep in his chair; he shares their understanding of what he is to do. The co÷perative activity in the situation arises from and is made possible by the sharing of common symbols, understandings, or expectations.

According to this view, then, the group setting into which the child is born is made up of co÷perative forms of activity that prevail because the people in the group possess a set of common symbols or understandings. What is important in the setting or milieu of the child is not primarily the activities of the individuals around it, but the symbols and understandings that guide these activities. The child's social environment, in this sense, is symbolic. This, then, is the view of the symbolic interactionists.


A knowledge of original nature and of the group setting will now permit us to approach the central problem of the social development of conduct. To a, large extent our task here is to show the interplay between the original nature and the group setting, since it is in this interplay that social development occurs. This consideration makes it unnecessary to treat any further the view of biological determinism, as in the case of the instinct doctrine, and the view of cultural determinism, since each regards one or the other of the two factors of original nature and the group setting as unimportant. This leaves us with. two views of original nature and two of group life, representing the approach of the stimulus-response social psychologists and of the symbolic interactionists. These are the two dominant views in modern social psychology; our subsequent discussion will consist largely of following the thread of each of them in treating the general problem of social development in its different ramifications.



Our discussion may begin with the way in which the formation of the child's conduct is regarded by those social psychologists who work primarily with the stimulus-response formula. As we have seen they view the original nature of the infant as consisting essentially of an elaborate equipment of reflexes which are, however, lacking in organization or systematic character. The group setting consists of individuals who engage in separate activities between which, however, there are common and uniform features. These activities and the individuals who manifest them constitute the social stimuli to which the child is subject in the course of its development. The task is to explain how the original reflexes of the infant become formed and

(161) organized, under the influence of the social stimuli, into habits or patterns of conduct.

To explain this development of the original ways of responding into new forms of behavior under the influence of social stimuli, use is made of two schemes. One is the widely current notion of the conditioning of responses. This scheme is associated with the classical experiments of Pavlov, the Russian physiologist, on the salivary secretions of dogs. It was found that if a neutral and innocuous stimulus (such as the sounding of a buzzer) were presented to the dog immediately before being fed with meat, after a few repetitions this neutral stimulus by itself would cause the dog to secrete saliva, a response which it previously did not call forth. The conditioning of responses is a mechanism, then, by which responses are transferred to new stimuli; it is a primary explanation used by many social psychologists to account for the changing of human behavior or the development of conduct. However, the conditioning of responses means merely that an already established response is called forth by a new stimulus; it does not explain how new responses appear. To fill this gap, the adherents of the stimulus-response approach usually evoke some theory of habit formation according to which pre-existing forms of response become integrated or fit into a new pattern of conduct. Thus, it is believed that in association with other human beings one's own responses are called out by the stimulation of others and in this process become woven into new patterns of behavior.

This mechanism of habit formation and that of the conditioning of responses are offered to explain how the individual develops his conduct through his association with other people. It is through them that the child is supposed to acquire a language, to adopt the customs of its group,

(162) to learn how to act like others, and to form its own social habits. Since, according to the scheme, all of these forms of behavior are in the nature of responses, we should note, again, the nature of the social stimuli to which they are made. These stimuli are necessarily things that can influence the sense organs of the individual; hence, they are the specific kinds of human behavior that the individual may observe around him, what he may hear, or, as in the case of substitute stimuli, what he may read. The presentation of such forms of behavior to the individual, especially to the child, may be reinforced by gestures of approval and disapproval, by words of praise or blame, "by threats, by exhortation, by encouragement, by censure, by prohibition, and so forth. It is felt that it is these gestures, especially, which constitute the social stimuli in response to which the individual forms his social behavior.

On the whole, the effort to explain the development of social conduct by the conditioning of responses and the mechanism of habit formation has not been especially illuminating or fruitful. It has usually been merely the translation of descriptive accounts of such conduct into the terms and principles of the stimulus-response scheme. Thus one might seek to account for the development of habits and attitudes of delinquency among certain boys living in the slum areas of our large American cities. In terms of the stimulus-response scheme, this has usually meant the isolation of the social stimuli, in such areas, in response to which delinquent behavior is formed—such stimuli as the congested living in such areas, the lack of effective parental control, association with bad companions, and the prestige attached by the boys to skillful stealing. The development of delinquent responses to such "stimuli" would then be accounted for in terms of "conditioning" or in terms of

(163) some theory of habit formation. An interpretation of this type usually tells one little that he did not know prior to the interpretation. The deficiency of this general interpretation of social conduct in terms of the stimulus-response scheme arises undoubtedly because of the difficulty of determining the exact stimulus to which a. given form of behavior is a response. Since ordinarily, as in the case of delinquency, the number of stimuli in the situation to which one might respond are very many, the selection of some of them as being the incitants to the given behavior being studied is rather arbitrary, in the absence of any experimental control. The social psychologist usually selects as the social stimuli those features of the situation which impress him as being important, but in doing so he tells us little that could not have been gained without the notions of stimulus and response. The declaration that the formation of the given behavior, such as delinquency, has occurred by "conditioning" or by a certain type of habit formation seldom says anything more than that such formation of behavior has occurred. As we shall see, it is rather with respect to other problems that the stimulus-response approach seems to have value as a, scheme of study and interpretation.

A more satisfactory explanation of the formation of social conduct in the individual through his association with others seems to be offered by the symbolic interactionists. As we have seen, they view the human infant as an immature organism, having a great deal of activity that is prompted by impulses, which, however, are vague in character. The actual behavior of the child is random and unorganized. The social setting of the child, as in the case of its family life, is represented by organized ways of acting which exist because the members possess common expectations as to how they should act. The task here is to explain how the

(164) interplay between the organized forms of group life and the unorganized behavior and impulses of the child leads to the formation of organized social conduct on its part. The explanation that is offered to this problem is in terms of the satisfactions that are given to the impulses, and in terms of the "definitions" that are given to the behavior. A few words should make this clear. The associates of the infant respond to its impulsive activity by giving certain satisfactions that are prescribed by the culture or the common expectations of the group. Thus, to take a classical example, the infant has a thirst impulse which it expresses in a diffuse way by its crying and by agitated and random behavior. In our culture the parents or attendants of the infant give it water to drink since among us this is the kind of liquid which one is expected to use to satisfy thirst. In this way, the impulse is given the particular kind of satisfaction that our culture prescribes; elsewhere in the world the satisfaction that is given may be quite different. In certain parts of France the infant is given a weak solution of wine to drink, since this is what is expected; in different regions in China tea would be used to satisfy the thirst of the child. Through the given form of satisfaction the impulse becomes organized, that is, directed toward a goal, instead of being merely an expression of distress. Thus, through the repetition of the given satisfaction, the thirst impulse develops into a wish for water in our infants, into a wish for wine in the case of certain French infants, and into a wish for tea among some of the Chinese infants. In these instances, the impulse has been formed into a wish by becoming organized around an image of the requisite satisfaction. When re-experienced now, the thirst impulse comes under the guidance and direction of the image. The impulse now has a goal or object—something which it

(165) formerly did not have. The behavior, instead of merely being a random expression of distress, becomes directed toward the object of satisfaction. In this way it is believed that the vague impulses of the infant become organized and its random behavior channelized.

The other mechanism of importance is known as the "definition of the situation." This refers to the indication that is given to the individual as to how he is expected to act in a situation, or what view he is to take of it. Thus, the mother's words, "No, no," is one way in which a given situation is defined for the child. A slogan such as, "A real man acts this way," is another illustration of defining a situation. References to a given line of conduct as dangerous, unseemly, improper, or desirable are further "definitions." Gestures of disgust, approval, interest, doubt, and so forth likewise form ways of defining the situation. A "definition of a situation," then, is the means by which the attitudes and views of the group are conveyed to the individual. In getting the group's definition of a situation, the individual is able to act like others and, in doing so, to acquire a new form of social behavior. Stated otherwise, it is through the "defining of the situation" that the individual takes over the expectations and understandings of his group. This gives him a set of symbols which serve to direct his behavior; this body of symbols or meanings represents the activities that make up his social conduct.

Satisfaction and definitions represent the ways in which (he members of the group respond to the ongoing activity Of the child. It is through them that the child develops objects and objectives, and acquires a set of schemes or rules which it uses to guide its behavior in its social relationships. It is important to note that this process of satisfaction and definition is not confined to the social devel-

(166) -opment of the child; this process is the primary way, also, by which changes in social behavior occur among adults. As we shall see later, it is possible for the individual under certain circumstances to "define situations" in his own way without direct dependence on the responses of other human beings.

This discussion of the development of social conduct, whether conceived in terms of the stimulus-response formula or in terms of symbols or expectations, points to the influential role of culture. The formation of organized ways of acting in the individual represents to a, large extent the ordering of his activities by the cultural patterns of the group. Each individual tends to reflect in his own habits and thoughts the customs and traditions of his group. In this sense, we must think of a large part of his conduct as being cultural, and of his developed nature as being largely cultural. It is this cultural nature of the individual which enables us to understand the wide diversities in behavior that prevail among different peoples, as among, let us say, an Eskimo tribe, a Bantu tribe in Africa, a Chinese village in central China, the nobility in 17th-century France, and an Úlite group in New York today. The members of these different groups have had their conduct formed inside of the peculiar cultural patterns of their respective groups.



In addition to the cultural nature, which the individual forms in his interaction with other human beings, it is important to note another aspect which has been termed "human nature," in the narrow sense of the term. We are indebted to Professor C.H. Cooley for the most illuminating treatment of this topic. Cooley regards human nature in the following way:


By human nature we may understand those sentiments and impulses that are human in being superior to those of lower animals, and also in the' sense that they belong to mankind at large, and not to any particular race or time. It means, particularly, sympathy and the innumerable sentiments into Which sympathy enters, such as love, resentment, ambition, vanity, hero-worship, and the feeling of social right and wrong. [7]

In this statement Cooley thinks of "sympathy" not in the sense of pity or compassion, but instead as the unique human ability to project oneself imaginatively into the position of another and to experience vicariously his feelings and state of mind. In watching a tight-rope walker who appears as if he were about to fall, one may himself experience uneasiness and a, feeling of loss of his own equilibrium, even though he be seated comfortably and securely in a chair. One may share the embarrassment and dismay of a high school girl who has forgotten her lines in a play. Or, one may realize that he is an object of envious attention, which, of course, is tantamount to viewing himself through the eyes of his observers. Sympathy refers, then, to the human ability to put oneself imaginatively into the role of other human beings. Sentiments, such as those which Cooley mentions, are founded on the trait of sympathy. To be genuinely vain, for instance, one must look on oneself as an eulogistic or praiseworthy object, from the point of view of some person or group of persons. In this sense, sentiments are peculiar to human beings.

Cooley regards the formation of human sentiments, as well as the cultivation of sympathy, to be results of the social experience which the individual has in primary groups. Sonic primary groups are the family, play groups,

(168) sets of companions, rural neighborhoods, fraternities, and so on, wherein the individuals maintain intimate and personal relations with one another. The persons who form a primary group live in one another's experience; what affects one of them, such as an injury, is a matter of direct and deep personal concern to the others. The child is born and reared in such primary groups; by participating in their life, it is inducted in the intimacy and personal relations that prevail. It is led to take, imaginatively, the roles of its fellow members iii these primary groups, and to incorporate into itself the sentiments that prevail among them. In this way it becomes human.

Primary groups, as Cooley points out, are universal among mankind. Among all peoples, regardless of race, degree of civilization, or form of culture, are to be found these small groups having a common psychological structure in the form of intimate, personal, and sentimental relations. Since they exist in all peoples, and since everywhere they have the same psychological make-up, it follows that all normal human infants will develop a common human nature as a result of life in such groups. Everywhere they will develop the same general set of sentiments, such as those Cooley has mentioned. In the light of this analysis we can understand more clearly that people everywhere share in a common nature—a nature which is not innate but which develops socially through primary-group association.

The implication of our discussion is that the child, through its association with others, develops a cultural nature and a human nature. Culturally, it will be like the people of its own group but very different from people who have different cultures. In terms of human nature, it will be very much like people everywhere. This raises an interesting question as to the relation between culture and human

(169) nature. In general, culture can be thought to set the ways in which human nature may express itself. Thus, while all people can be insulted and resent insults, the ways in which they can be insulted and the forms of resentment will be largely determined by the patterns of culture. Further, one may think of culture as a covering which, overlays human nature and tends to screen it from easy observation. When people of different cultures meet, their attention is caught by one another's cultural behavior (such as forms of dress, kind of language, forms of greeting, customs, conventions, and so on) because such behavior is visible, strange, and frequently shocking. They are led, consequently, to regard each other as strange, alien, queer, and uncultured. Since others do not act and look like one's own kind, it is rather inevitable that one is led to regard them as being not quite human. Indeed, this is likely to be the common experience of people on meeting those whose cultural behavior is significantly different from their own. To the extent, however, that one can penetrate through this cloak of culture, and enter intimately into the personal and primary-group life of these people, one becomes aware of their sentiments or their human traits; in other words, one finds them to be human and like the members of one's own group.



Throughout the discussion of the formation of social conduct in its two aspects of cultural nature and human nature, references have been made to the interaction that goes on between human beings. It is important that we now consider more closely the nature of this interaction and the more important forms that it takes. In the discussion of this topic we are compelled again to consider the diver-

(170) -gent treatment of this topic as it exists between the stimulus-response social psychologists and the symbolic interactionists.

The treatment in terms of the stimulus-response conception is relatively simple. It should be prefaced by a short statement concerning the fundamental nature of the stimulus-response scheme. In a rigid sense, this scheme is based on a neurological conception according to which the human being is merely a responding organism. All activity of the individual is recognized to consist of muscular movements; muscular movements, moreover, are recognized to occur because of innervation by currents of nervous flux. Such currents are merely transmitted by, or conducted through, the pathways of the nervous system; they arise at sensory nerve endings, or receptor organs, as a result of stimulations that take place at these points. According to this view the individual is merely an organism responding to stimuli, with the nervous system being merely a set of conductors. Behavior represents responses to stimuli; the development of new behavior represents the establishment of new responses to stimuli. In accordance with this view, all conduct comes inside of the stimulus-response formula.

In applying this scheme to the association of human beings, we observe that each constitutes a source of stimulation to the others; each in turn is a responding organism to the others. The stimuli are anything done or said that excites a receptor organ, thereby throwing into play the neurological mechanism leading to response. Thus, interaction between human beings consists of an elaborate process of stimulation and response, which may make use of any or all of the sense organs, and of any or all of the sets of muscles of the individual. Any movement of an individual, any gesture that he makes, any sound which he

(171) utters, any feature or aspect of his appearance, becomes a stimulus if it happens to excite some receptor organ of another individual. The response comes in the form of any muscular movement that follows upon the excitation of a receptor organ. In the association of human beings the interplay of stimuli and responses clearly becomes very elaborate. The ways in which stimulation may occur are multitudinous, and the kinds of responses correspondingly many, but the process (in the form of a nervous excitation and a muscular response) always remains the same. Some authors have endeavored to analyze this stimulus-response scheme of interaction into differentiated elements. Usually, this has led to formal classifications, such as arranging stimuli into visual, olfactory, auditory categories, and the like, and arranging responses in terms of the different systems of the musculature which are brought into play. Such analytical attempts seem to yield little of value. On the whole the approach to social interaction in terms of the stimulus-response conception has not thrown much light on the nature of social interaction, probably because of the basic physiological character of this conception.

The symbolic interactionists view social interaction as primarily a. communicative process in which people share experience, rather than a mere play back and forth of stimulation and response. They hold that a person responds not to what another individual says or does, but to the meaning of what he says or does. Their view, consequently, might be regarded as inserting a middle term of interpretation into the stimulus-response couplet so that it becomes stimulus-interpretation-response. What is chiefly important is that the interaction is believed by them to be carried on by symbols or meanings. Thus A acts; B perceives this action and seeks to ascertain its meaning, that is, seeks

(172) to ascertain A's intention; B responds according to what meaning or interpretation he has attached to A's act; in turn, A responds according to the meaning which he sees in B's response. One might think of social interaction as a shuttling process and liken it to a game of tennis, with the understanding that each of the participants is responding to what he judges to be the meaning or intention of the other person's actions. Since each participant responds on this basis, he must, in some sense, be viewing this action from the point of view of the person who is engaging in the action. In this way, he comes to share this individual's perspective. This is what is meant by the statement that human interaction involves the sharing of experience, and is not merely a series of adjective responses.

In the early days of social psychology the belief was very common that all social interaction was in the form of imitation or suggestion, or of the combination of the two. It is now recognized that the great bulk of interaction is in the nature of divergent responses which individuals make to one another. Sometimes one's response to the action of another may resemble that action; more likely it will represent a different kind of behavior. This suggests that it is under only special conditions that social interaction takes the form of imitation. Likewise, the circumstances under which interaction takes the form of suggestion are also limited. While imitation and suggestion have a much more limited scope than was previously thought, they remain two very important forms of interaction that deserve our consideration.

The nature of imitation has been treated very satisfactorily by Ellsworth Faris in an article on "The Concept of Imitation." [8] Construing imitation broadly as a reproduc-

(173) -tion of a copy, that is, doing essentially what one observes another doing, Faris is led to recognize three kinds, each of which requires a different type of explanation. The first can be identified as quick, unwitting imitation, an illustration of which is the contagion of yawning, or flight in a panic, or imitative behavior in a mob. Such imitative action requires that the individual be already strongly disposed to act in a certain way; under such circumstances the sight of another person acting in that way releases one's own act, without one's intentions and usually without one's awareness. Thus, if one feels fatigued and bored in a lecture room, he is already prepared to yawn; and the sight of another person yawning serves to release his own impulse to yawn. In this kind of imitation it is clear that there is no interpretative process involved; the imitation follows directly and automatically upon the perception of the given form of action.

A second form of imitation can be thought of as being gradual and unwitting in character. It is best illustrated by the acquisition of a dialect. One who resides for a considerable period of time in a community whose speech is marked by a different dialect is very likely to undergo a change in his own pronunciation, in the direction of the dialect. Such a change occurs, ordinarily, without awareness and, frequently, contrary to an individual's desire not to change his manner of speech. Such imitation can be explained, Faris declares, by a rather subtle process of imagination. If a person, who is in contact with those employing the different dialect, is led to re-enact in his own mind the scenes in which such people have spoken to him (as he might in recalling some discussion he has had with them), he will have a definite tendency to speak to himself as they had spoken to him. In having an image of

(174) them speaking to him, he will be essentially talking to himself as they had spoken to him. Thus, unwittingly and inaudibly, he is using their dialect. Through the repetition of such imaginative rehearsals of the talking of others he tends increasingly to speak in the manner in which they speak. This type of imitation is not confined to the acquisition of dialects; through it one may also acquire gestures, mannerisms, kinds of posture and carriage, and even attitudes and values. This gradual unwitting imitation, as in the case of the quick unwitting imitation, shows the absence of any interpretation of what one imitates.

The third kind of imitation recognized by Faris is conscious or intentional imitation, as in the case of the copying of a fashion. Here the imitation occurs because of a conscious desire to act in accordance with the copy of behavior which is presented. This given behavior is interpreted by the individual in such a way that he intentionally seeks to copy what he sees. This form of imitation is the most common of the three kinds. It is clearly an instance of the symbolic interaction that has been discussed previously.

Suggestion is a form of social interaction that has intrigued students of human behavior for a long time. The theories of suggestion are legion, and the differences between them are usually quite significant. Practically all agree that the operation of suggestion involves the disappearance of the critical interpretation that one ordinarily employs on hearing requests and commands. The conditions under which the normal critical faculties disappear and the manner of their disappearance is made partially clear to us by the knowledge of hypnosis. In the hypnotic situation (where suggestion is most pronounced) the subject has had his range of attention narrowed down until it is largely confined to the hypnotist. The subject seems to become

(175) immune to stimulations to which he would ordinarily be receptive. One might say that the subject has become preoccupied with the hypnotist, so that he is acutely and sensitively responsive to him but to no one else. Some writers refer to this by saying that the subject is in rapport with the hypnotist. In this condition of hypnosis the subject has seemingly lost his ability to invoke different images and to play them over against one another, as we do in ordinarily critical reflection; instead, he appears to be under the control of a small, restricted set of images. These few remarks are sufficient to indicate that an individual becomes suggestible when he gets thoroughly in rapport with others, or when he becomes thoroughly preoccupied with them, so that he loses his ability to call forth different kinds of images which might permit him to remain in a detached and critical position. In ordinary social life one may enter into different degrees of rapport with his associates, depending on the situation, and show a corresponding variation in suggestibility. As a process, suggestion represents a. divergence from the usual interpretative activity that characterizes social interaction; it is only at certain points and under certain conditions that it displaces the usual form of interpretative interaction.


No single topic is given more attention in contemporary social psychology than that of personality. Social psychology is frequently defined as the study of personality. Sometimes, also, some particular element of personality, such as attitudes. is singled out for major consideration. We shall consider the treatment that is usually devoted in social psychology to the nature of personality and its composition.


In our earlier remarks, some discussion was given to the development of social conduct in the child. Our interest was devoted primarily to the forms of behavior which are built up in the interaction with one's fellows. One can and must think of these forms of behavior as having their counterpart in the appearance of an organization in the individual. To acquire or to develop new ways of action is to form a different personal organization; the more profound and extensive are the changes in one's forms of conduct, the more altered and changed is the individual himself. Personality can be regarded as the personal or social organization which is formed by the individual as he develops social conduct. One writer refers to personality as the "social manö;[9] this expresses the same idea. Personality represents the organization of tendencies to act that are developed by an individual in the course of his interaction with others. This usage, it should be rioted, differs from a widespread popular conception, wherein personality is identified with the kind of impression that one makes on others.

In accordance with this general way in which personality is viewed in social psychology, different kinds of personality would be represented by such socially formed individuals as a real-estate salesman, a frontiersman, a primitive witch-doctor, a slave, a slave holder, a Chinese peasant, a sophisticated and urbane aristocrat, and a father in a patriarchal family. In these illustrations the respective personalities stand forth vividly as definite social types. It should be clearly understood, however, that every one of us has a personality in exactly the same sense, even though it be not as definitely delineated and marked. Each

(177) one of us, in other words, has a whole body of social actions built up as a result of contact and association with the members of the different groups in which we have lived. The tendencies to these actions, as they become organized and fit into patterns, constitute our respective personalities.

This matter can be understood a little more clearly, perhaps, through a consideration of the tendencies to social action. It is the general practice among social psychologists to explain such tendencies by the concept of attitudes. An attitude represents the way in which one tends to act toward a given object or situation. Some writers refer to it as the set of the organism toward a given type of behavior; others, as a sort of condensation of a pattern of conduct, which exists as a readiness to carry out this pattern of conduct. What is important to note— is that an attitude does stand for the form of behavior that one would engage in, were he actually to act toward the objects of the attitude. In this sense, some attitudes may be very precise and others more general, depending on how definite and precise would be the behavior in ,which one would engage. Standing for forms of conduct, our attitudes would exist for all objects and situations toward which we are prepared to act: mothers, friends, policemen, insurance agents, teachers, ministers, schools, the law, churches, political parties, races, and so forth. Each of us has an extensive set of attitudes corresponding to individuals, peoples, groups, institutions, and situations that are objects t o us. It is the constellation or organization of these attitudes in the case of each of us that constitutes our respective personalities. It should be stressed again that these attitudes stand for , forms of social conduct. The personality, consequently, represents the organization of our social conduct. In the course of our association with others as

(178) we come to develop new forms of social conduct, correspondingly we develop new attitudes. As these attitudes fall into new patterns of organization, we change our personalities.

Our consideration of personality and its formation from the stimulus-response view will be brief, since the treatment is ordinarily quite simple. An attitude is viewed as a tendency to respond in a certain way. Since the stimulus-response scheme is fundamentally a, neurological scheme, the attitude is regarded as a neurological set, that is, a series of nervous pathways prepared to innervate certain muscle systems. The personality is the organization of attitudes, so it in turn might be regarded as a sort of master set of the nervous system. The problem arises as to how the attitudes fall into a larger pattern of organization. The explanation of this problem is given in the two mechanisms of conditioning of responses and habit formation that we have previously discussed. Particularly the latter, since it is presumed to lead to a, process of integration of separate, discrete sets of habits, and reflexes, is employed to account for the formation of personality.

An additional explanation is made in terms of "thinking," since the process of thinking is a, means whereby the individual can by himself, so to speak, devise new ways of behavior and form, correspondingly, new attitudes. Through the process of thinking, also, habits of conduct and corresponding attitudes may become organized in larger patterns. The importance of thinking makes it advisable for us to give it some specific treatment in terms of the stimulus-response approach. Thinking is regarded as essentially an internal process of acting through the use of language symbols or by use of verbalization. The word or language symbol is viewed as a substitute stimulus, that

(179) is, it refers to some object in the environment to which response might be made. Thus, through the use of the language symbol one may respond incipiently or actually as one would to the object which is symbolized. Through the use of this scheme it is felt that one can explain thinking in terms of the stimulus-response formula. When one thinks, he is silently talking to himself and responding to his own talk; and just as he may develop new ways of action in response to the social stimulation of others, so lie may do likewise in responding to the language that he addresses to himself. From this point of view thinking represents the internalization of a process of interaction, made possible by the fact that words serve as substitute stimuli. More specifically, it cane be thought of as the internalization of the process of habit formation. Indeed, in terms of solving problems, thinking is regarded as 'An interior trial-and-error procedure generically like that in which a rat might engage in seeking to work its way out of a puzzle maze. In this process of thought the individual is capable of forming new habits, and consequently his activity therein is subject to the same mechanisms of conditioning and habit formation that have been previously considered. Since one's own habits and attitudes are likely to be among the stimuli to which one is responding in the acct of thinking, larger integrations of forms of behavior are likely to be built up. Thus thinking becomes a significant way in which the individual may develop, as well :as alter, his attitudes and his personality.

The treatment of personality by the symbolic interactionists requires a, more elaborate consideration. We can begin with a brief account of attitudes. The attitude is regarded not so much as a. neurological set, but as a general readiness to act according to the meaning or value of an

(180) object. It can be thought of as corresponding to this value. One author, indeed, speaks of it as the subjective aspect of a value, and of the value as the objective aspect of the attitude.[10] The point is that our attitudes toward objects such as individuals, groups, peoples, practices, and institutions are determined by the meanings that such objects have for us. The attitude arises, consequently, through the process by which such objects are defined for us.

The most important of these objects is the individual's own self. It is through the development of a self that the individual forms a personality or gives organization to his attitudes. This topic is usually given no consideration in the stimulus-response approach, but in the view of the symbolic interactionists it acquires a position of central importance.

The most illuminating treatment of the self has been given by George H. Mead.[11] In referring to a human being as having a self, Mead simply means that such a person may act socially toward himself, just as he may act socially toward others. An individual may praise, blame, criticize, or encourage himself; he may become disgusted with himself, and may seek to punish himself, just as he might be able to act in any one of these ways toward someone else. What this means is that a human being may become the object of his own actions. How does an individual become an object to himself? And what is the significance of his having a self? These are the two questions we wish to consider. Their answers will cast much light upon the nature and formation of personality.


The growth of the self in the child, Mead points out, passes through three stages. The first stage, appearing usually during the second year of the child's life, is marked by meaningless imitative acts. The small child who has seen its parents read newspapers may hold a newspaper before it and move its head from side to side. It does not get the meaning of this act; the newspaper may be upside down, and besides, the child cannot read anyway. However, this otherwise useless imitative behavior is significant—it implies that the child is beginning to take the roles of those around it, that is, to put itself in the position of others and to act like them.

In the second stage—the play stage, which appears later in childhood—this role-taking becomes very evident, and, furthermore, it becomes meaningful. We are familiar with the behavior of children as they engage in play-acting—"playing mother," "playing nurse," "playing teacher," "playing janitor," and so forth. Here the child puts itself in the role of the given person and acts in accordance with the part. What is of central importance to such play-acting is that it places the child in the position where it is able to act back toward itself. Thus, in "playing mother" the child can act toward itself in ways in which its mother is accustomed to act toward it. The child may talk to itself as the mother does, addressing itself by its proper name and making commands to itself. It is apparently in this play stage that the child first begins to form a self, that is, to direct social activity toward itself; and it is important to note that it does so by taking the parts or roles of other people. This latter point has great significance, because it means that the particular ways in which it does act toward itself are set by the customary actions of those whose roles the child takes. A more vivid way of stating

(182) the point is to say that the child views itself in terms of the way in which it is viewed by those whose roles it takes; its conception of itself is formed out of the way in which it is regarded by others. We shall have occasion to stress this point again shortly.

In the play state, strictly speaking, the child forms a number of separate and discrete objects of itself, depending on the different roles from which it acts towards itself. This is shown in the fickleness and inconsistency with which we are familiar in the case of small children, as contrasted with the consistency of adults. This sets the problem of how a unified self is established —a self which remains more or less constant from one situation to another. Mead explains that the development of a unified self, a conception of oneself that remains the same, is a result of experience such as is had iii participating in games. In the game situation, the participant has to take the roles of a number of people simultaneously. We may illustrate this with the game of baseball. On a given play, a player expects each of the other members on the team to carry out a given action. In adjusting himself he anticipates what each is going to do. In this sense he takes a number of roles in his imagination at the same time.

Mead points out further that this role-taking ability, as it is developed in the game situation, permits the individual to take the role of the group, that is, what is common to a number of different individuals. He speaks of this as taking the role of the "generalized other." One may then act toward oneself from the position of the "generalized other," and consequently guide one's actions in terms of the expectations of this generalized other. One does this, for example, when he governs his conduct by some moral conception or maxim. He is really talking to himself and

(183) acting toward himself from the standpoint of the generalized other, which can be thought of as representing the group. A young man may seek to act in all situations like a gentleman; accordingly, he governs his conduct from the standpoint of this role, reminding himself, urging himself, cautioning himself, as the case may be, in accordance with the demands and expectations of this role. It should be clear that in taking a generalized role, the individual is able to stabilize his conduct, that is to say, keep it essentially consistent from situation to situation. Correspondingly, in response to such a generalized role, the individual is able to integrate his attitudes or to develop an organized self.

It has been indicated that the individual derives his conception of himself largely from the way in which he is conceived by others. This point shows, especially, how closely our personalities are formed by the kind of positions which we occupy in our various groups. Toward each social position (teacher, dean, graduate student, minister, mother, doctor, and so forth) people have certain common attitudes; they expect a certain kind of conduct and behavior from people in these status-positions. Consequently, one who occupies such a position is aware of these expectations and is cognizant of the way in which he is viewed by people because he does have such a, status. To maintain this position his conduct must conform to these ,expectations, and it is inevitable that he views himself largely in accord with the public attitude toward his role. In this way his conception of himself reflects the attitudes of others and the social organization that is sustained by these attitudes.

What is implied by this treatment is that the individual undergoes a change in personality as he develops a new

(184) conception of himself. Viewing himself differently, he places new expectations on his conduct and guides this conduct by these new rules or demands. To have a new conception of oneself means, in accordance with Mead's view, that the individual has a new generalized other, which, in turn, is to be recognized as representing a common or abstract group role. Tracing backward this relationship, one may say that an individual changes his personality by getting a new social position; in this new status, he becomes cognizant of the new way in which he is viewed by society; a generalized other is formed corresponding to these views and expectations held by the group; the presence of this generalized other means that he has a new conception of himself, and his conduct and tendencies to action are organized in accordance with this conception of himself.

From what has been said, one can see the intimate way in which the personalities of people are connected with the nature of social life in their respective groups. Whether personality be viewed in the formal way proposed by the stimulus-response adherents, or in the more subtle manner suggested by the symbolic interactionists, it shows clearly the impression of group life. Since it represents patterns of action which have developed under the influence, guidance, and pressure of one's associates, it can be recognized as being genuinely social.



One problem pertaining to social conduct and personality to which a short discussion should be devoted is that of motivation. Many people have sought persistently to learn if human conduct could be explained by a few fundamental motives, and many have proposed a wide diversity of

(185) schemes. Some reference has already been made to one of the more pronounced efforts to reduce social behavior to a simple set of motives, in our discussion of the doctrine of instincts. The loss of interest in the instinct approach has not lessened the concern of many social psychologists with the problem of fundamental motivation. Some, borrowing from the studies on animal behavior, have been led to speak of "drives" as the source of human motivation, and to regard simple sets of these drives as the basic human motives. One author, Allport, has proposed an ingenious scheme which would permit fundamental motives to be placed inside of the original reflex equipment of the child.[12] He has singled out six of the original reflexes of the human infant which he considers basic, or, as he terms them, "prepotent." These reflexes are starting and withdrawing, rejecting, struggling, hunger reactions, sensitive-zone reactions, and sex reactions. Around each of these prepotent reflexes important habit systems are organized, such as concealment, modesty, pugnacity, aggressiveness, passivity, constructiveness, and rivalry. The prepotent reflexes, as well as the habit systems formed on them, represent ways in which individuals are peculiarly responsive to stimuli. Because of this sensitivity to stimuli, and readiness to respond, the prepotent reflexes acquire a character which makes them act as motives.

The scheme which seems to have attracted the widest attention among social psychologists is that known as Thomas' four wishes. In his work, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America Thomas has suggested that social conduct might be an expression of one or another of four fundamental wishes. These wishes are for response, recog-

(186) -nition, new experience, and security. Every human being, declares Thomas, has a. fundamental desire for a certain amount of kindness, sympathy, and affectionate attention; each seeks a place of distinction and importance in the eyes of his fellows; each searches for a certain degree of novelty, new stimulation, and unaccustomed experience; and, finally, each wishes a place in life that yields him safety and security. While these wishes, according to Thomas, vary in degree of intensity, from person to person, they are universal among all human beings. Types of personality arise according to which of the four is dominant in the make-up of the individual; thus people in whom the wish for security is dominant are likely to be staid, conservative, and Philistine. Thomas believes that if all four wishes are adequately satisfied, the individual is well adjusted, that if one or more are not adequately satisfied, the individual is maladjusted. The reorganization of conduct and personality can be effected by playing upon these four wishes and by satisfying them.

No scheme of motivation proposed so far has been so useful, either theoretically or practically, as to gain general acceptance among social psychologists. Some writers, indeed, believe that it is impossible to reduce human conduct to a simple set of motives. While the problem of motivation persists, it generally is given only minor consideration in social psychology.



Much of the interest of social psychologists is taken up by research. A great deal of work is being devoted to the investigation of social behavior and to the study of personality. It is in this area that theoretical differences

(187) become pronounced, since different points of view dictate what kind of problems are to be selected for study, and what methods are to be employed in the investigation. This is particularly true in the case of the stimulus-response point of view and that of the symbolic interactionists—the two most important approaches in contemporary social psychology. The theoretical differences between these two views cover the most significant controversy in social psychology, and this controversy becomes most vivid when the problem of how to conduct social psychological research arises. We shall consider the research approach of each group and the nature of its investigations.

The stimulus-response formula leads inevitably to the focusing of attention on a limited span or unit of conduct. Since the human being is regarded as a responding organism, the immediate task is that of ascertaining the stimulus to which the response has been made. Or, if one starts with a given stimulus, one's interest is in knowing what will be the response that is made to it. In either event, one is concerned with bringing behavior inside of the stimulus-response couplet, so that the behavior is bounded, so to speak, on one side by a stimulus, and on the other by a response. The stimulus-response couplet becomes the unit of observation. Actual conduct, as we see it in the case of people as they engage in their ordinary forms of living, is believed to represent a highly complicated series and texture of such stimulus-response sequences. The application of the stimulus-response scheme to its research study becomes exceedingly difficult because of the profuseness of stimuli and responses in this conduct. To use the stimulus-response approach effectively one must be in a position to detect accurately what are the stimulus and the response that are in relation to one another. The stimulus-response

(188) approach favors the study of human behavior under conditions that afford Ô reasonable certainty of being able to isolate the respective stimulus and response.

It is for this reason that the stimulus-response approach has not lent itself readily to the general observation and study of human conduct. Instead, it favors specific study and observation of behavior under limited conditions, wherein stimuli and responses can be detected with assurance. It is easy to see how this approach would encourage investigation of human behavior under essentially laboratory conditions, wherein one has stimuli under control and where, consequently, one can determine with reasonable certitude the responses that are made to a specific stimulus. Our attention will be given first to these experimental studies as they are being carried on in the field of social psychology.

Most of this experimental work is devoted to the study of how the ability of an individual to perform some task is influenced by the presence of other human beings. This is believed to throw light on the larger problem of how one is influenced by living in a group. This experimental work has been nicely summarized by Dashiell in an article on "Experimental Studies on the Influence of Social Situations on the Behavior of Individual Human Adults." [13] He finds that the experimental work covers seven kinds of group situations to which individuals may be subject.

It is easy to see that (1) these group members may play the role merely of passive audience for the subject; (2) they may be working alongside him but not with any particular reference to him; (3) they may be contestants against him in that work; (4) they may verbally seek to affect his work with remarks about him or what he is doing;


(5) they may co÷perate with him by interchange of ideas; (6) they may be his sole source of, information thus forcing him to rely upon rumor or hearsay; (7) in all these situations their influence upon him may be due to sheer numbers or majority or to personal prestige. Each of these describes a relationship common enough in daily life so that any findings obtained would have promise of wider, social application. [14]

The other important method of doing experimental work is to subject individuals to some definite stimulation, for the purpose of observing the changes that take place in their attitudes, views, or opinions. One of Thurstone's studies will serve as an example. He tested a number of high school students to ascertain their attitudes toward the German people. Then he showed half of this number a motion picture which depicted German soldiers and citizens in an unfavorable light. Finally, he retested the students, using those who had not seen the picture as a control group. He ascribed the differential change in attitude among those who had seen the picture to the influence of this picture.

In addition to this interest in experimentation, the stimulus-response approach lends itself especially to the use of devices of investigation such as questionnaires, schedules, and tests. The items on such forms are seemingly in the nature of definite stimuli; the responses are given easily in the form of checked and categorical replies. A great deal of use is being made of such devices in contemporary research in social psychology, especially in the study of attitudes. Questionnaires have been devised in large numbers to ascertain the attitudes of people on such topics as race, nationality, war and militarism, religion, and fascism. This interest in identifying attitudes through the use of

(190) questionnaires has turned, in response to certain scientific concerns, to the task of measuring such attitudes. Several devices for measuring attitudes have been proposed, of which the most interesting and ingenious are those prepared by L. L. Thurstone.[15]

From these remarks, one can infer that the stimulus-response approach favors, distinctly, the use of research methods that are "objective" and that permit measurement and quantification. The reasons for this are quite apparent. As we have already seen, the stimulus-response scheme is fundamentally neurological; in accordance with it, the inner processes that intervene between stimulation (which always takes place at some receptor organ) and response occur in the nervous system, as a rather elaborate transmission of currents of excitation. Strictly speaking, in this scheme there is no place for the insertion of so-called mental or psychic experiences. (This explains in part why the stimulus-response scheme is so congenial to what is known as the "behavioristic" approach, which abjures concern with "mental" phenomena and limits itself to what can be observed.) With the checking off of inner experiences to neural processes, interest in observation becomes focused primarily upon the responses. These are presented in forms that are observable either directly or indirectly and, consequently, satisfy the scientific rule of being open to public verification. Generally speaking, the stimulus-response scheme requires that both the stimulus and the response be observed; hence it readily lends itself to the "objective" approach.

The tie-up with the interest in measurement and quantification is obvious. First, one should note that there is a widespread belief among many social scientists that the

(191) formation of their disciplines into genuine sciences requires the introduction of measurement and quantitative procedures, such as mark the physical and natural sciences. Many social psychologists have taken this view with respect to their study. The kinds of data and subject matter that are delimited by the stimulus-response approach, because of their "objective character," suggest the possibility of quantitative treatment. It is from this angle that one should largely view such research devices as questionnaires, schedules, tests, and scoring sheets; they are devices of an objective and quantitative nature.

These remarks should make clear the general way in which the stimulus-response approach views the investigation of human behavior. The character of the approach tends to commit its adherents to a research procedure wherein the behavior to be studied is narrowed down until it comes within the span of the stimulus-response couplet; a procedure which permits one to identify both the stimulus and response; and a procedure which enables one to describe objectively and handle quantitatively what is being observed. From this point of view one can understand the direction taken by much research in social psychology, and the nature of this research.

The line of research implied in the view of symbolic interaction proceeds in a different direction. Its nature is shaped by the way in which this scheme views human behavior. The difference can be stated rather tersely: the stimulus-response approach is interested in reaction; the symbolic interaction view in action. There is involved here more than a play on words. That the stimulus-response scheme is concerned with response is evident. Some discussion will be necessary to make clear what is meant by the opposing notion of "action." We have already seen, in

(192) our discussion of original nature, the interest taken in "impulses" by the symbolic approach. By beginning with this concept we can fill out what is meant by action. The view is that activity begins with an inner impulse rather than with an external stimulus, and that this activity may undergo quite a course of development before coming to overt or external expression. Thus, to give one example, a bank cashier who embezzles some money may have been thinking of committing such an act for months before actually doing so. According to the symbolic-interactionist view, all of the meditating, thinking, day dreaming, planning, and imaginative playing with temptation that might go on in such a case constitute part of the actual act of the embezzlement. In this sense, action may have a covert or inner career before coming to external or overt expression. It should be noted that the stimulus-response view limits its concern to essentially this overt or external aspect.

Another way of stating this point is to declare that the symbolic interactionists accept the act as the unit of study, and not the stimulus-response couplet. The "act" includes the complete span of action, such as we have in mind when we say that an individual is carrying out an act. Its initial point is set by the experiencing of an impulse; its terminal point by the reaching of an objective or goal that gives satisfaction or consummation to the impulse.

Fuller attention must be given to the act, its course of development, and the forms which it may take in this development. The experiencing of an impulse, since it stands for tension and discomfort, stirs the organism into activity. This activity is random and merely "explosive" unless it comes under the guidance of an image. In the usual course of an act, the impulse tends to call up images of what offers some possibility of satisfying the impulse.

(193) This gives rise, on one hand, to a. wish (an impulse accompanied by an image of its satisfaction) and, on the other hand, to a goal or objective. This goal may be immediate, as in the case of food when one is hungry, or remote, as in the case of an ambition to complete a college education. The career of the act in moving toward its goal may be quite checkered; the act may be balked, frustrated, hindered, encouraged, or aided, and much of this may happen before the act gains any overt expression. This means that the act may have a very elaborate and rich inner development. Experiences of anxiety, fear, apprehension, hope, eagerness, gratification, dismay, and so forth, may characterize the act during its inner stages. In the face of frustration, the act may work itself into a variety of imaginative processes, such as day dreaming, analyzing, deliberating, and planning. These are all forms that it may take before coming to external expression.,

When it is viewed in this way, we can understand the importance which is attached to the life of inner experience. It is during the inner phase that the act is likely to gain its "richest development, undergo its greatest transformation, and acquire the form that it will show when it is expressed. The external or overt phase of the act, by comparison, seems to be of less importance in this respect. Further, in terms of the formation of attitudes and the organization of personality, this inner career of action is of paramount significance.

One would expect that starting from such a. view, actual study and research would use methods and techniques that aim to penetrate into the area of inner experience. Such is the case. We find that much use is made, in social psychology, of such devices as the life history, the interview,

(194) the autobiography, the case method, diaries, and letters.[16] These devices are employed for three purposes. First, to gain a picture of the inner and private experiences of the individual that seem to constitute the background for the emergence and existence of a given form of conduct. Thus the account given by a delinquent of his life history is held to reveal the texture of personal happenings, which presumably has given rise to, and which sustains, his delinquency. Second, to show the nature of the individual's subjective slant on life the world as he views it, the values and meanings which different objects shave for him, the "definitions" with which he seems to meet situations, his stock of attitudes, and the way in which he views himself. Third, to throw light on the life and operation of the imaginative processes: fantasying, evading, planning, deciding, and the different ways in which, in his imagination, he meet difficulties, frustrations, and problematic situations.

The difference between the line of research in accordance with the stimulus-response formula and that following out the view of symbolic interaction is apparent. The issue involved is a center of much controversy; pointed criticisms are made of each view by the advocates of the other.

The basic criticism usually made of the experimental approach, and of the objective, quantitative approach in the form of questionnaires, schedules, and tests, is that they fail to catch the "meanings" which mediate and determine the way in which individuals respond to objects and situations. The items on a questionnaire, on a schedule, and on a test may be clear and precise ; and, the individual may answer in the categorical and definite way that

(195) is needed for the quantitative treatment of the responses. But the point is made that the responses to these items do not tell what is the meaning of these items to the individual; hence, the investigator is not in a position to state what are the individual's attitudes or to know what would be his likely behavior if he were actually to act toward the objects to which the items refer. Similarly, it is charged that, in the experimental studies, there is a failure to consider the way in which the subject views the experimental situation; were he to revalue this situation, his responses would be very different. These criticisms, of course, are true projections of the fundamental view which symbolic interactionists have of human conduct, namely, that people act toward objects and situations in terms of what these objects and situations mean to them. Consequently, to understand their conduct, one must view the objects and situations through their eyes, so to speak. It is believed that the objective stimulus-response approach errs on this fundamental point, since the investigator or the experimenter regards the stimulus in terms of what it means to him, and not in terms of what it means to the subject. This being so, one is not in a position to evaluate the response, and consequently unable to form a proper judgment of the subject's personal organization and his tendencies to act.

On their side, the advocates of the objective and experimental approaches criticize the manner of research procedure of the symbolic interactionists as being subjective and unsuited to the development of scientific knowledge. To endeavor to understand conduct in terms of the "meaning" of objects to the acting individual merely leads the investigator to read his own feelings and ideas into such conduct. This is viewed as a dangerous procedure; the investigator ceases to be an impartial and detached observer

(196) but introduces his own subjective experiences, his likes and dislikes, into the interpretation of the conduct and the situation being studied. Such an approach is contrary to the character of scientific investigation. The charge is made, further, that the information that is gathered through the use of life histories, free interviews, and so forth, is so variable and unique in character that the task of comparing it is very difficult, and of generalizing accurately on the basis of it, virtually impossible. Scientific knowledge requires a body of basic data which are precise, data on which competent observers will agree, data which can be easily compared for purposes of generalization, and data which lend themselves to quantitative treatment. Such data, it is declared, are not forthcoming from the kind of investigations followed by the symbolic interactionists.

So far the basic issue between these two divergent approaches has not been settled, nor have the differences been reconciled. Some social psychologists have declared that the two approaches are supplementary, and that the presumed issue between the two is fictitious. This, however, is just an instance of the eclecticism which is so pronounced in social psychology. The issue remains, and theoretical interpretations as well as research continue to bifurcate along the two lines represented by the stimulus-response approach and the symbolic interactionist approach.


At the beginning of our treatment reference was made to the fact that the field of social psychology is particularly subject to the importation of theories from adjoining sciences, disciplines, and fields of study. One sees this today in the presence of social psychology, of psychoanalytic theo-

(197) -ries, psychiatric theories, Gestalt psychology, behaviorism, configurationalism from the field of philosophy, theories of genetics, endocrinological views (views relating to the importance of glands), theories of physiological types, and other views. It would have been too lengthy a task to have presented these views in addition to those to which we have given first consideration. It is sufficient to note that they have added to the theoretical confusion that prevails in social psychology.

This host of views that are pressing for consideration has meant that most of what is written in social psychology is exceedingly eclectic. Authors in general and textbook writers in particular choose, according to their fancy and discretion, views and theories from a variety of fields, and apply them to topics of social psychological interest. This makes the average treatment conglomerate and confusing, even though it may be superficially satisfying. It unfortunately sets social psychology to the task of trying to bring divergent views and notions together into a not too strained harmony, rather than the task of seeking empirical solutions of problems. Social psychology becomes a synthesis of imported theories instead of an analysis of its fundamental problems.

The problems of social psychology are genuine. The central one of the development of social conduct and the formation of a social organization in the individual is inescapable. Only the first steps have been taken toward the solution of these problems.


Murphy, Gardner, and Murphy, Lois, Experimental Social Psychology (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1931).
Thomas, W. I., and Znaniecki, Florian, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1927).


Young, Kimball, Social Psychology (F. S. Crofts & Company, New York, 1930).
Dewey, John, Human Nature and Conduct (Modern Library, New York, 1922).
Karpf, F. B., American Social Psychology (McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1932).
McDougall, William, An Introduction to Social Psychology (John W. Luce & Company, Boston, 1908).
Mead, George H., Mind, Self. and Society (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1934).
Allport, F. H., Social Psychology (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1924).
Bernard, L. L., Introduction to Social Psychology (Henry Holt & Company, New York, 1926).
Cooley, C. H., Human Nature and the Social Order (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1922),


  1. See especially LeBon, Gustav, The Crowd (G. Allen & Unwin, London, 1903).
  2. See McDougall, William, Social Psychology (John W. Luce & Company, Boston, 1924).
  3. See Bernard. L. L., Instinct: A Study in Social Psychology (Henry Holt & Company, New York, 1924).
  4. Levy-Bruhl, L.. How Natives Think (G. Allen & Unwin, London, 1926).
  5. Halbwachs, M., Les Cadres sociaux de la mÚmoire (F. Alcan, Paris, 192tţ) .
  6. Blondel, C., L'Introduction Ó la psychologie collective (A. Colin, Paris, 1928).
  7. Cooley, C. H., Social Organization, p. 28 (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1912). See also by same author, Human Nature and the Social Order (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1902).
  8. American Journal of Sociology, 1926, Vol. 32, pp. 367-378.
  9. Allport, Floyd, Social Psychology (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1924).
  10. Thomas, W. I., The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1927).
  11. Mead, G. H., Mind, Self, and Society (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1934).
  12. Allport, F. H., Social Psychology (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1924).
  13. In the Handbook of Social Psychology, edited by Carl Murchison (Oxford University Press, London, 1935).
  14. Ibid., p. 1099.
  15. Thurstone, L. L., "The Measurement of Social Attitudes," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1931, Vol. 26, pp. 249-269.
  16. The outstanding instance is the Polish Peasant in Europe and America by W. I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1927)

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