The Standpoint of Social Psychology

Robert H. Gault
Professor of Psychology in Northwestern University
Editor of the Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology

THE phrase "social psychology" implies a description of psychic phenomena as they are found in groups of various degrees of organization. The mere fact that individuals are in juxtaposition to one another in the lowly or highly organized group is only of secondary interest, though it is of real concern inasmuch as it affords an opportunity for the development of socio-psychic phenomena. But the phrase does not imply a description of all psychic phenomena. The pain, for example, that is occasioned by the window falling upon a finger, those pleasant experience that arise on a chilly day when the sun shining upon us through the window pane induces us to draw closer to the window, and a host of others, more or less analogous to these, are outside the circle of those that directly appeal to the student of social psychology. Truly, however, they may appeal indirectly to such a student, in which case the strength of their appeal is in direct proportion to the immediacy of their connection with unquestioned social phenomena. While I sit in my study, for example, the rumble of a truck upon the brick pavement outside is borne upon my ear to my disturbance. This in itself is of no interest to the social psychologist. But it suggests to me the situation of my newly acquired neighbor to whom I recommended this as a quiet street. I imagine, or I conceive him as assuming an attitude of reproach toward me, and I flinch somewhat at the thought that I may have been somewhat less than explicit and frank in my relations to him when he was considering moving into my neighborhood. The audible rumbling of the truck is the first step in the historical development of a series of definitely socio-psychic phenomena. The neighbor I imaged as having moved into the block in response to my own recommendation, and I am flinching in response to his disappointment as I image it. The experience of the young man in his attic room while preparing to participate in a debate a week later is meat for the social psychologist. The would-be debater is shaping and reshaping his argument always with one purpose in mind: to present such stimuli as will

(42) induce a favorable reaction on the part of the judges; and he has the while more or less distinct imagery of his prospective audience in attitudes of approval or of disapproval of this argument and of that one when stated in one and another form. Once more the Boy of 1916 and the Boy of 1917 are caught up into a certain elan—into a national spirit—when they march up and down upon the village green with their fellows in companies. Why? Because they know and imagine that tens of thousands of other boys like themselves from the Atlantic to the Pacific are doing the same thing, and that all are doing for the same reason that they are: viz. in response to the same set of orders from Washington. Were it not that knowing and imagining are in this case links in a chain building up an elan, these boys would be merely in juxtaposition upon the green, each one a jumping jack carrying a gun, and the social psychologist would pass them by. Their juxtaposition without the conscious processes I have mentioned could never develop the striking social phenomena that war time affords.

The activity of the artist and the reformer are illustrations off socio-psychic phenomena also. What they conceive to be the unexpressed or half-expressed voice of human need and aspiration is their guide in control of their behavior. In other words, they are reacting to an imagery of other people than themselves, and these people are conceived by the reformer as more or less inevitably reacting in definite ways to what he himself is saying and doing.

The behavior of the organizer of a large enterprise is another case in point. This is social behavior and its success will depend upon the completeness of the organizer's understanding, and his capacity for representing in his own consciousness the probable reaction of other folk to his own scheme in detail.

The foregoing, I think, is sufficiently suggestive of types of conscious socio-psychic phenomena.

But our phrase implies not only conscious phenomena, but unconscious mechanical backgrounds of the human personality as well: those backgrounds by reason of which individuals are sensitive to the presence, real and imagined, of other people; to conventions and customs; to what is "in the air"; to the spirit of the age; to public opinion; to prestige; to ideals as expressed in art in its various forms, etc. This means that at any rate some human instincts come into the ken of the social psychologist as well as other acquired predispositions — or complexes. The students of instincts and the Freudians (or better, the cousins of the Freudians, who, I think, take a saner view of the

(43) unconscious) have gone a long way toward suggesting how important are these backgrounds in the process of developing and organizing human social relations.

I may say here that the student of social psychology seems to me to be interested secondarily even in the forces and forms of physical nature in as much as they, on their part, serve as stimuli upon the population, inducing appropriate reactions thereto, that are fairly uniform among the members of the group, and ultimately settle into uniform habits. By this reason, each one is better able than he other wise would be to understand his neighbors and to react to them, and to develop a spirit of unity.

To this point, I imagine, there may be no serious difference of opinion. Difficulty arises, if at all, when we begin actually to examine the phenomena and to analyze them with a view to developing a science. The very first empirical datum that comes to the hand of the psychologist here is an awareness—a consciousness of stimuli and reactions among people. This awareness may be perception or imagination 'or thinking. The instinct, the predisposition, the unconscious complex are inferences among others that we arrive at in our efforts to understand reactions, and very helpful ones at that. Other inferences may be more questionable. For example, there is something about group life, about co-operation among individuals, that leads us to talk about a crowd mind, a group mind, or a social mind. The individual in a crowd or in a highly organized group does not behave as does the same individual in isolation. In highly organized groups there grows up a keen feeling of unity and of identity from day to day, and there is a conviction that progress has been made and will be made in the future by the whole group, and that it stands for a certain set of ideals and purposes. These are probably the phenomena above all that prompt some students to postulate the social mind—however it may be phrased. To do so perhaps satisfies a desire for completeness and system when the term is used in the sense in which we employ it as applied to an individual. No objection can be made to the term when it implies only the facts, theories, ideas, purposes, `traditions, etc., that are held in common by the members of the group. On another hand it is described as a super-individual mind—one that is in addition to the minds of individuals but of the same stuff as they are, and that co-ordinates and unifies them. It is beyond the methods of science to arrive at such a mind.

Once more this social or group mind is described as a "super-

( 44) individual mind" which "consists of the same stuff as the individual minds; its threads and parts lie within these minds; but the parts in the several individual minds reciprocally imply and complement one another and together make up the system which consists wholly of them; and therefore they can `only be described in terms of mind.' " Neither, probably, is there any serious objection to this use of the term when it is interpreted as it appears to be meant—excepting as it implies an organization of the purposes of many individuals and so prompts the question where such an organization rests.

Why should we talk about the group or social mind at all? What is a mind of such description supposed to do for us? It is to furnish the groundwork for our sense of social unity among individuals of the same class, state or nation, the basis for the spirit and effort of cooperation and progress amongst them; and for the alleged fact that individuals are changed between isolation and association with others. But above all the strongest motive for developing such a conception is probably the felt need for a passage from the individual to the social. It seems to me that all the phenomena for which we seek an accounting or an explanation can be included under these heads, and that setting out, at any rate, as structuralists, we can be satisfied without recourse to the use of such a troublesome phrase as "social mind." To explain

No group possesses a stronger sense of unity than the family—not merely because its members have lived together for years, but because' while living together they have grown intimately acquainted with one another. Each member knows each other's temper, habits, outlook, capacities, ideals, background of experience, ambitions and all that. He knows the interpretation of each other's gesture and vocal inflection. He can be sure that his brother's feelings are like his own or different, and when he infers from certain signs that his brother's reaction to a given set of conditions is like his own an enlarged sense of unity with his brother ensues. The sane course is running between each and every other member of the family. Ultimately. the result of prolonged and intimate familiar association is a sense in any member's consciousness of the inevitableness of a certain reaction on the part of every other member to his own actual or projected behavior, and in every member is the matter of course feeling that the family, as a whole, stands for certain purposes and is bending its way toward realizing them. Each one in his mind's eye, so to speak, sees that reaction, even though not in detail; the more critical the

(45) juncture the more vivid the detail. The unity is felt and taken for granted quite as we, in altogether ordinary circumstances, foresee and take it for granted that we will breakfast and scan the morning paper before beginning a hard day's work on the morrow. Wherever one member may be, near or far away, he is in some terms or other imagines the reaction of other members of the family to his behavior at present or to his plans for prospective behavior. He knows whether their attitudes can be made to his own and if so by what means. He can direct himself to the end of winning their approval. It is precisely at critical moments as I have already intimated, when he is doubtful what course he should pursue, that this imagery and this sense of unity with a family are strongest in him. I believe all I have said is in entire accord with the experience of each of us. Rob him of this capacity to represent others of his group, as occurs in some pathological cases, and the sense of unity and the capacity and motive for cooperation go by the board.

In like manner one may speak of club and school and army life. Each one understands, interprets, and mentally represents each other. A is satisfied and courageous upon discovering that B and C and each of the others is of the same mind as he and reacting to him and to each other. But B and C and each of the others is doing fundamentally just as A is doing because all are responding to much the same situations, and have an approximately common background of experience. Hence there is unity and preparation and courage for co-operation. We need think here only of several individual minds whose objects or fields of attention considerably overlap, whose reaction therefore are analogous one to another and recognized or arising from personal contacts. It is unnecessary to use the ambiguous term "social mind" or "group mind" exception in the sense that all minds in the community happen to cherish approximately the same objects.

It seems to me that this way of putting the case offers, as I stated it above, the passage way from the individual to the social; a passage that lies wholly within the individual himself—so that there is no real dividing line between the individual and the social; a passage way that implies no,, organization excepting that within the individual himself. The development of a nation then is secured by all those means by which each citizen can be made to represent others. It is an enlarged case of the family.

When preparations for international war are on, and when the war is being fought we have an illustration in broad scope of what

( 46) I am trying to say. A national morale or sense of unity is developed by directing each citizen's attention to the same posters and catch phrases and ideals, and as a partial means to this end by getting hosts of them to doing the same thing. In season and out of season it is borne in upon him with emphasis through the press, platform and other means that every one of millions in the population is doing and thinking just as he is in response to the same stimuli and to one another. Each citizen feels and works, consequently, as if every other citizen were at his elbow and as if each one were responsive to each other.

These forms of consciousness that, according to the thesis, play their part as I have suggested, take the course of forms of consciousness in other connections; they lapse and unconscious mechanism is substituted for them. Just as we can hardly be said to have a conscious relation to our coats but nevertheless do the appropriate thing with them when we find them in the morning, so with these social relations; the consciousness of them lapses and we do the appropriate thing without at any rate definite consciousness that we are in a social relation of unity with others. Thus the unconscious comes into the ken of the social psychologist both in the form of instincts which precede conscious action and of acquired complexes which both precede it and arise from it. But conscious phenomena are the first empirical data in this connection.


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