Discussion of F. H. Allport's "The Group Fallacy and Social Science"

Emory S. Bogardus
University of Southern California

Like Professor Allport, I should repudiate a group determinism theory. But if there is a "group" fallacy, there is also undoubtedly an "individual" fallacy. At birth a human being is an "individual" but he does not remain so long. At once he becomes a participant not in the life of other "individuals," but of "persons." A person is as much a set of relationships and a product of

( 704) larger and more complicated sets of relationships known as groups, as he is an independent individual. The term, individual, has its chief merit in distinguishing between the members of a group. As an "individual," apart from "groups," he is nothing but an organic being. He is hardly a mental being unless an idiot may be called such.

The "individual" is a social myth, except as he is a member of a "group." As a result of intersocial stimulation he moves up from the biological level. The interstimulation that occurs between him and members of the group, not as mere individuals but as persons, explains him more than any other method of approach can do. His experiences not as an individual among other individuals, but as an interstimulating unit of a group, give him attitudes, a sense of values, in short, personality. He is more group-made than individual-made.

In the presence of a crowd a person acts differently than he does before the individuals, taken one by one, who compose the crowd. He sometimes responds to the group as a whole in ways much superior to his responses to the members as individuals; again, he responds on occasion to the whole in ways of which he would be ashamed if he were meeting individuals as such. In any social situation, a person responds to a number of circumstances, "of which the group itself may always be one."[1] The "group" is not wholly a fallacious concept.

The individual is a set of relationships largely physical and physiological. The person is a set of relationships that are more, namely, social. A small group, such as the primary group, is a set of organized personality relationships. A large group is in part a set of organized small groups and of personal relationships. An appreciation of a small group is essential to an understanding of larger social groups. We get an idea of a national group containing a hundred million people although we know personally not more than a few hundred individuals, because we are members of family, community, and other small groups. The concept of the group is useful in giving an understanding of society in its larger aspects.

I cannot agree that social psychology is the study simply of the social behavior of the individual; neither is it the behavior of individual groups. It is the study of the intersocial stimulation that occurs between members of groups, that is, of persons with both "individual" and "group" traits.


  1. F.C. Bartlett, Psychology and Primitive Culture, p. 11

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