An Outline of Social Psychology

Chapter 1: Social Psychology A Science of Cultural Conduct

Jacob Robert Kantor

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Psychology is the study of responses to stimuli. Naturally these reactions display outstanding differences. Hence, the isolation of diverse types of behavior by specializing students becomes the basis for dividing off from each other the various branches of psychology.

Some of the special studies are more easily delimited than are others. It is quite easy to distinguish human from animal psychology. The criteria here are behavior variations rooted in the gross morphological differences, the evolutionary development, and the reactional histories of the organisms concerned. Within the field of human psychology, distinctions are not so striking. For example, it is rather difficult to differentiate between normal and abnormal reactions. However, the discovery of a general defectiveness of personality development or some insufficiency of psychological performance ails us in characterizing a response as normal or abnormal.

In a similar way the specialist in genetic psychology marks off his domain from the general field of human behavior. He

(2) merely stresses the growth and development of personality, whereas the student of adult psychology emphasizes more or less completed behavior equipment.

Pertinent to our interest is the question how to distinguish cultural or social from non-cultural psychology. Here the task is to achieve a distinct line of cleavage between what we call a social response and a non-cultural reaction.

Cultural behavior is differentiated from non-cultural responses primarily upon the basis of the stimuli to which the reactions are performed. That is, cultural behavior consists of responses to institutions. The institutional stimuli elicit from various persons a distinct mode of common behavior. Cultural or social psychology, therefore, is the study of the individual as he develops cultural behavior equipment. This equipment is composed of responses to stimuli that are unlike those investigated in other branches of psychology. Such cultural reactions, along with their corresponding institutional stimuli, form the body of facts of our present study.

Social psychology, then, is a distinct field within the general psychological domain. Our first step must be to characterize as precisely as we can the nature of the cultural or social response and its distinctive stimulus. Perhaps we can best accomplish this purpose by comparing a number of diverse forms of psychological behavior, each of which displays a unique reaction picture and constitutes a different sort of psychological adaptation. From such a comparative treatment we expect to obtain useful descriptive data concerning the nature of cultural conduct. These reactional types which we differentiate on the basis of their time and mode of origin are named as follows: (1) universal, (2) basic, (3) suprabasic, (4) contingential, (5) idiosyncratic, and (6) social or cultural responses.

Universal Reactions.[1]—In the earliest stages of infancy

(3) before personality development has actually begun, the organism has practically no psychological equipment. It has had no contacts as yet with things around it. Accordingly in this elementary period we find only very simple types of responses stimulated primarily by conditions within the organism itself and by mechanical contacts with things touching its external surfaces. A somewhat later developmental stage is that in which more distant objects are reacted to through visual, auditory, and other distance stimulation. Universal reactions are typified by simple and elementary reflex responses. And to no small extent we may look upon such behavior phenomena as maintenance reactions. Namely, their performance brings about a better natural relationship between the organism and surrounding objects. These types of reactions are so simple as to be constant in their operation. With the increased contact of the organism with the same stimulational objects, however, its action changes slightly by becoming more definite and better coordinated.

While universal or reflex conduct is doubtless the earliest in the life history of the human individual, this type of action remains as a permanent part of the person's equipment. For the psychological organism, no matter how complex its reactions, is always at the same time a biological organism; besides occupying a place in an infinitely complex social environment, it at the same time lives among its natural surroundings. Thus some of its responses are always exceedingly simple, in correspondence with the simplicity of natural phenomena.

No matter at what age these universal responses are performed their reactional details are conditioned at the very minimum by the biographical history of the organism. Instead, the organism's biological characteristics, its general structural and functional organization and its specific ecological circumstances are responsible for the actual happenings. So far as the stimuli objects are concerned they

(4) perform their stimulational functions primarily because of the natural properties which they have. Obviously from the standpoint of the general development of the psychological personality we may regard the universal reactions as its genuine behavior foundation. That is, they precede the development of all other types of conduct.

Basic Reactions.—Because of the individual's rapid development in early infancy the universal responses are soon followed by the acquisition of another type of personality equipment, namely, basic reactions. They are organized just as soon as the organism begins to have moveable contacts with surrounding objects. Among these numerous reactions are listed protective, defensive, expressive, exhibitive, and other modes of adjustment.

As factors in the behavior life of the individual, basic reactions are in many ways more fundamental than universal responses. For it is the basic equipment which stamps the individual as a unique personality. This fact is already indicated in our suggestion of the fundamental acquisitional mechanism involved in the development of basic behavior. Namely, the number and variety of these reactions comprised in any person's equipment depend directly upon the number and kinds of objects with which the individual can have reactional contacts. Now it is because no two individuals, even in the same family, can have precisely the same reactional experiences with objects, that they perform different basic conduct. Since basic responses differ so appreciably in reactional character they constitute the foundation for individual differences of every variety. Indeed this characteristic points to their greatest differentiation from foundation or universal reactions. For the latter are performed by all individuals without any significant reactional differences, since all human animals are similar in their biological make-up.

Basic reactions derive their name from the fact that since they are acquired in the early life history of the individual

(5) they serve as the basis for future personality development. To be more explicit, once the individual through contacts with particular objects and situations has acquired a certain form of behavior equipment, this acquisition conditions the development of any further personality traits. In this sense basic behavior equipment constitutes the essential as well as the distinguishing core of the developing personality. Basic reactions are therefore not only products of the individual's earliest reactional biography, but are also in a genuine sense determiners of the person's subsequent behavior history.

It is apparent that the objects and conditions with which individuals interact in infancy are not exclusively natural things but comprise institutional or cultural phenomena as well. For this reason, basic behavior comprises both cultural and non-cultural reactions. Now it is these early non-cultural behavior acquisitions which constitute the unique responses and personal traits of individuals. We refer to the ways of speaking and walking, to the likes and dislikes, that the person acquires away from his distinctly cultural setting.

Basic reactions of the cultural type on the other hand, do not divide persons off as unique individuals. Rather they constitute the bases for the similarity of persons as members of psychological collectivities. The only type of individuation cultural reactions bring about is the differentiation of a person as a member of certain psychological groups and not others.

Suprabasic Reactions.—Suprabasic behavior we class among the earliest of the more intimate and personal types o f adult or maturing behavior equipment. These comparatively simple reactions are primarily characterized by the fact that they are developed on a direct foundation of basic behavior. What in the earlier stages of personality are mere expressive acts, now become expanded into definite communicative and referential responses. In this way, basic vocalization reactions develop into definite linguistic conduct. Again,

(6) elementary preferences and dislikes on the basis of particular adult stimuli, become elaborated into complex choice and discrimination traits. While these activities are developed in interaction with maturer stimulational circumstances, they are none the less conditioned by the early basic equipment attained in the infantile stages of personality acquisition.

Idiosyncratic Reactions.—Under this rubric we include activity developed on the basis of an elaborate personal reactional biography. Thus idiosyncratic behavior consists essentially of unique forms of behavior traits belonging peculiarly to one individual. In other words, the behavior equipments which operate when the person reacts idiosyncratically are not necessarily shared with any other individuals. In many cases no one else performs such action. Numbered among idiosyncratic responses are conceptions, tastes, attitudes and ways of thinking, which serve to distinguish the person from all others.

The present type of conduct differs from basic and suprabasic action because of the different role played by the stimuli objects involved in their acquisition. The individual acquires basic forms of action because during his reactional history he casually happens to come across certain kinds of things and situations. We regard him as more or less dependent upon his surroundings during this process. Not so, however, in the case of acquiring idiosyncratic action. Here the person has already developed many different forms of basic behavior and accordingly takes more active attitudes toward objects. Even his prejudices and beliefs are more independently acquired than those of the person who possesses such behavior merely because it exists in his psychological environment.

Probably the most characteristic of idiosyncratic responses are those independent and individualized reactions which are the result of comparison and discrimination. In acquiring and performing this activity, the person's total reactional experience comes into play as a factor in a more or less complex

(7) reflective and deliberative process. Thus the most typically idiosyncratic reactions constitute independent judgments, criticism, and reasoning behavior.

Again, idiosyncratic responses are unique in that the stimuli functions calling forth such actions may be regarded as independent of both the natural and cultural properties of things. Thus the essentially idiosyncratic stimuli functions of things must be accounted for by the unique character of the person who reacts to them and not by special properties found in objects. Things and conditions possess their properties of calling out idiosyncratic responses because a particular individual through his behavior endows them with those properties. Such properties may not exist for any other person. It is a common occurrence for one and the same object to elicit an idiosyncratic response from one individual and from another the most conventional cultural reaction.

Contingential Reactions.[2]—The primary descriptive feature of this type of complex adult conduct is its characteristic of immediacy in occurrence. In no sense are contingential responses definitely predictable, since they are not based upon particular elements of the individual's behavior equipment, but rather upon the total series of his behavior possibilities. Nor do contingential actions constitute responses to particular types of stimulational objects. Not depending upon specific reactional equipments, contingential responses differ sharply from suprabasic and idiosyncratic behavior, while the lack of definiteness in stimuli marks them off from cultural conduct.

Contingential action is acquired and performed [2] at particular moments under stress of contact with specific sorts of

(8) behavior conditions. Such behavior is illustrated by the problem solving activities of both the merely manipulative and complex ideational type. Accordingly these are activities of occasion, immediate behavior processes. Corresponding to their occasional character the arousing stimuli are impermanent and frequently momentarily utilitarian properties of things. Accordingly, what the individual does to objects depends upon his immediate circumstances and the settings of the objects to which he reacts.

Cultural Reactions.—Probably the most distinctive mark of cultural reactions is that they are shared by sets of persons. Such activities the individual acquires as a necessary result of his being in contact with particular objects which are already being reacted to in a specific way by various individuals. Because of the commonness of action we regard all these individuals as members of a particular group. Thus acquired, cultural conduct brands the person as a participant in some form of psychological organization; and. insofar indicates his lack of uniqueness and privacy of behavior with respect to the things comprised in his stimulational milieu. Typical examples are the common language reactions, beliefs, habits, thought, customs, and manners which stamp the individual as a member of some psychological branch of a national, professional or other type of human association.

The stimuli for cultural reactions are objects and conditions which have common and generalized functions. That is, the stimuli call out identical responses in several individuals. Thus swine or cows are inedible for every member of certain communities. These common stimuli we call institutions. By this term we refer to nothing else than the functions of an object or event that are capable of eliciting a shared response from a group of persons. The significance of the term institution is merely that a certain stimulus function has become established or instituted in a particular human community. Since we adopt the term institution as a dis-

(9) -tinctly psychological category it must not therefore be confused with a sociological use of the word.[4] It is scarcely necessary to remark that by institution we do not mean a charitable or fraternal organization of persons, a building or club. A psychological institution is quite a different thing from a bank, hospital, university, or monarchy.

Just as anything can serve as a general psychological stimulus, so institutions comprise the functions of all sorts of objects, conditions, circumstances, persons, actions, etc. Patent indeed are the cultural responses made to laws, customs, languages, elections, wars, opinions, attitudes, roads, streets, houses, etc. Perhaps a word of special mention may be acceded to actions as institutions. For it is the most common observation how individuals are stimulated by the way other persons act to acquire and perform certain modes of behavior. In this fashion we develop most of our manners, beliefs, customs, languages and cognate forms of cultural responses.


As a further preliminary characterization of the phenomena of cultural psychology we might show how cultural reactions and stimuli generally contrast with non-cultural stimuli and responses. Now since there is such a large number of different types of the latter it will be expedient to contrast cultural data only with such non-cultural phenomena as will throw into sharp relief the outstanding characteristics of cultural stimuli and responses.

Institutional and Non-cultural Stimuli.—In contrasting an institutional stimulus with a natural stimulus we may point out that the latter is some object or situation that never elicits customary or common reactions. In other words, a natural stimulus is one in which the individual responds only to the

(10) natural properties of the object. When a Hindu perceives a cow, or a Jew or Mohammedan perceives a pig, we may very definitely distinguish between their non-social perceptual responses to the natural properties of these objects (particular mammal) and their social reactions to such animals (unclean or sacred animal) based upon attributed properties. In the latter case the responses are entirely conventional modes of behavior to cultural or endowed properties of the objects.[5] Observe that in the two cases we are concerned with the very same natural object, but in the one instance its natural properties alone operate, and in the other, its institutional character functions in addition. For this reason the same thing (cow or pig) serves both as a natural and an institutional stimulus function. As a natural stimulus it calls out a distinctly non-social response; as an institutional stimulus it elicits a cultural reaction. A further example. A purely noncultural response (contingential) to a church is that of a thief hiuing in it. On the other hand, the social response to the same object is that of going to church on Sunday as one of a group of worshippers.

Social and Non-social Reactions.—Probably we can best compare social and non-social reactions by means of a concrete illustration. For instance consider a spoken word, which may be regarded as a typical social response. Why is this a social reaction? Because it is a response of a specified group of persons. Bread and not Brot must be the linguistic reaction of an individual living in an English speaking group instead of a German one. The person acts as he does because he has been culturalized to do so. His behavior is conditioned by the group in which he has been domesticated.


Now let us consider the non-social response. A lighted match applied to a person's skin elicits the reflex act of jerking away from the hot object. This act is the same for Hindu, German, and Englishman alike, the lawyer, the laborer, the parson or business man, the man or the woman. As we have already pointed out, we all act in the same way with respect to a hot object because of our organic make-up. We draw our hand away, not because of any culturally common character of the stimulus. There is nothing cultural about the action. Noncultural behavior is thus unconditioned by any social or group influence.

It will add to our comparison to point out that the morphological character of cultural and non-cultural responses may be precisely the same. To illustrate, the cultural response of taking off one's hat upon entering a house may be exactly like the contingential action of removing one's head piece when a sudden gust of wind threatens to blow it away.


Since social psychology is the science of conventional reactions to institutional stimuli, and since these phenomena are inevitably connected with aggregates of individuals, the data of social psychology are ipso facto connected with groups. Unfortunately there are few facts in the whole field of psychology that have been as badly misinterpreted as this one. Let us therefore specify what the exact significance of the group is for the student of cultural conduct.

Nothing is more certain than that the social psychologist has no interest in mere aggregations of individuals as has the sociologist or other social scientist. This is true even if we do not regard groups as static phenomena, that is, as mere numerical organizations of persons. While social scientists have quite legitimate interests in the behavior of aggregations and congregations such as mobs, throngs, herds, crowds, races,

(12) committees, boards, armies, etc., such data form no part of the psychological domain. Surely such behavior cannot be regarded as psychological conduct and in consequence must be absolutely distinguished from cultural behavior.

Any type of sociological group, however, may be the auspices for the acquisition and performance of cultural conduct. A sociological group we must insist therefore is nothing more than the locus of cultural responses. It is the place where we find the data of social psychology; in other words, a situation where institutions can arise and be maintained, and where we find the auspices under which cultural responses are acquired.

For the social psychologist, groups must be conceived of as having a particular function not found in the mere sociological organization of individuals such as civic, national, or commercial aggregations of persons. The individuals of a social psychological group must have a definite psychological characteristic in common. That is, they must have acquired a common or shared mode of reacting to some particular object. They call objects by the same name; they fear things and persons the same way, etc. But notice, the existence of this common characteristic does not constitute merely a collocation but a genuine behavior interrelationship. For the psychologist it is of no importance that such and such a number of persons buy or sell, scoff or pray. He is interested, rather, in such actions as signify that objects have a certain identical stimulational function for specific sets of individuals. The grouping of persons in this way bespeaks a thorough behavior commutuality between them. It follows that the accidental performance of similar behavior by various individuals is of no special significance for the social psychologist.

Groups with such a specific behavior function as we have outlined, we call a psychological collectivity. Doubtless a great many types of sociological organizations of persons have this sort of psychological function, in addition to their soci-

(13) -ological properties. The same persons, moreover, as statistical units of an occupational group may at the same time be members of a psychological collectivity when they share cultural conduct. Similarly, the individuals of religious, national, or other communities simultaneously constitute psychological collectivities as well as sociological groups.

So far as number of persons is concerned a psychological collectivity may be as large as the collectivity of individuals who think alike politically in an extensive national unit, or it may be as diminutive as to comprise only a small family or even two persons. The sole requirement is that the individuals share certain behavior.

To differentiate further between psychological collectivities and sociological groups we might point out that a single social unit may contain many psychological collectivities. Such is the case when a national group consists of several dialectal language units, or when the dialectal units divide off into series of persons who vary in their colloquial language behavior.

On the whole the functioning of a person as a member of a sociological group requires the presence of many other individuals. In the case of psychological collectivities, on the contrary, the component members may perform their characteristic function without any great collection of persons existing in the same place. So far as cultural conduct is concerned, contact with a single person is often quite sufficient to constitute a complete relation with a psychological collectivity. For instance much of the process of becoming culturalized occurs while the infant is in contact with a single person. Indeed the mother in the ordinary family serves as the sole point of contact of the infant with various psychological collectivities.

Again after acquiring some particular cultural reaction a single person may respond culturally with respect to some institutional object without regard to the presence of other

(14) individuals who might react similarly. Such a situation prevails when a person moves away from a locality in which he originally acquired common behavior to an institutional stimulus and continues to respond as do the persons of his former group. Objects which functioned for him as institutional stimuli in the old situation persist in doing so despite all the differences in his circumstances. Such solitary cultural conduct is illustrated by the behavior of the pioneer who brings his conventional customs, beliefs, and other cultural conduct to his new home. As he leaves his group and moves to his own secluded life he naturally carries with him his cultural reactional equipment. In case the institutions and the corresponding behavior should cease to exist in the original place we are only exaggerating when we conceive of the individual as constituting a group of one with respect to the particular behavior under discussion. No question exists but that a large number of our cultural reactions are privately performed.

An effective mark of distinction between sociological groups and psychological collectivities is found in the fact that the latter frequently originate in the activities of single persons. This is never true for sociological units. When a number of persons begin to share the action originated by one individual the result is the development of a psychological collectivity. The collectivity as such has had nothing to do with the engendering of the response and the investiture of the object with its institutional function. Rather, the collectivity exists only by virtue of a subsequent sharing of the action. Examples of the private origin and subsequent diffusion of responses, and stimuli functions are found whenever ideas, inventions, customs, words, etc., are innovated and later become conventional.

Since the same individuals may comprise both a sociological and psychological organization it is quite true that when a collectivity originates in the action of a single person, it may later become a sociological group. For example, some person

(15) develops an heretical conception of religion. This doctrine is later shared by other persons, and finally results in a church schism. But it is clear here that the sociological group does not come into existence until the original psychological collectivity has taken on many functions beyond the sheer sharing of a psychological reaction. The individuals must be organized to meet together, plan to maintain and spread the doctrine, acquire property, etc.

We may accept as a general criterion for distinguishing psychological collectivities from sociological groups the fact that while so tenuous a connection between persons as the sharing of a single response makes them into a psychological collectivity, no sociological group ever exists with such thin mortar to hold the individuals of the structure together.


From its earliest beginnings social psychology was quite naturally presumed to be very intimately related to the social sciences. More than this it has been presumed that social psychology is the foundation of other human disciplines. Even in very recent times numerous attempts have been made to reduce sociological, economic, and other human phenomena to psychological facts. This situation arose as follows.

At various times in the history of the social sciences students of complex human phenomena became convinced that the solution of their problems lay in the secrets of human nature. Why men live in groups, why some govern others, why there is property and why it is distributed so that some are poor while others are rich, why men dominate over women, etc., are problems ultimately presumed to have mental forces at their base. In this connection the work of the social scientist has on the whole centered around the investigation of the precise way in which psychic forces in the form of human nature become responsible for political or economic occur-

(16) -rences. Psychologists accordingly were called upon to produce the hidden springs of action. Now while the conceptions concerning the essence of human nature varied widely, in general, however, it was not doubted that psychologists could explain the causes of social happenings. For it was supposed that human nature constituted a series of definite social forces.

Generally speaking, neither the social psychologist nor the student of general social facts, has yet recognized that human nature and conduct are only parts of the data of social phenomena. Moreover, it is not conceded that psychological facts are themselves just as much dependent upon other human phenomena as the latter upon the former. Neglecting these points, the students of both types of human facts fail to interpret and evaluate properly psychological phenomena as over against sociological, economic, and historical data. In short, this very failure to appreciate the character of human nature and its significance for social phenomena, is responsible for the inadequate placing of psychology with respect to the human sciences. In the face of such indiscrimination it is necessary to segregate social psychology from the other human sciences and in this way indicate their relations.[6]

Social Psychology and Sociology.[7]—From sociology, as well as from all other human sciences, social psychology may be separated on the ground that the latter is concerned exclusively with concrete responses of persons to particular stimuli. By contrast, when sociology is concerned with behavior at all, it is regarded as mass action or the statistical description of the behavior of persons comprising groups, such

(17) as armies, economic and charitable organizations, professions, nations, etc. Sociological behavior is very different, then, from the specific psychological reactions of particular individuals. It is not denied, of course, that actions of members of sociological groups may be looked upon as psychological responses taken en masse, but as such they are statistical descriptive materials quite independent of psychological criteria. Statistical behavior clearly cannot be anything but actions reduced to a common denominator.[8] But in such a case with one full sweep is obliterated all of the personal and intimate behavior features characterizing psychological conduct. Furthermore it is certain that the intimate character of psychological phenomena can only be described in terms of the one-to-one correspondence of each individual reaction with its reciprocal stimulus. Thus, while sociological conduct is properly termed behavior, it is no more psychological than the behavior of chemical substances in reaction, or the behavior of ions or electrons.

Now while a sharp distinction may be made between psychological and sociological behavior, there is nothing to prevent economic, and social data from being psychological phenomena. Such data are sometimes decidedly psychological but only when they function as stimuli for specific psychological responses. For instance, historical behavior may serve as a stimulus either for non-social psychological action such as when I criticize my nation for entering a war, or for my cultural response, when I conform to the custom of enlisting in the army. Now is it not obvious that when social psychology and sociology are most closely connected, the former is concerned with responses to institutional stimuli, while sociology is interested in the stimuli themselves? Surely, group

(18) actions, modes of communication, ways of living, can be nothing but the stimuli for the psychological actions of persons living in given social groups.

This whole matter is well illustrated by taking the case of language. In one sense language is a body of materials and things that we may well call institutions. Such is the condition when written, printed and spoken language materials constitute the stimuli for learning to read, write, and speak, in brief, to perform these actions as members of a sociolinguistic group. But from the psychological standpoint, language must be studied as the intimate acts of persons; as such it constitutes dynamic reactional processes. On the other hand, when language is taken in the institutional sense, it is of no consequence whether it is spoken or written (reactional events) or merely exists as things (records, etc.). So far as the development of language goes, the psychological and sociological differentiation holds equally well, for language may be studied either as evolving sociological institutions, as exemplified by Elizabethan and American book English, or as the actual psychological performances of Queen Elizabeth and President Coolidge, when we regard them as speaking.

So much for the relationship between these two disciplines when they are most closely connected, that is to say, when the facts of sociology are the stimuli for psychological phenomena. In another respect a very wide gulf separates these two types of study; for instance when sociology is concerned with phenomena not immediately connected with actions of individuals. To be explicit, when sociology deals with human organizations, with mechanisms of transportation or means of communication, or when sociology studies such facts as increase and decrease of populations, birth and death ratios, status and improvements in labor and living conditions, etc., then this science is very far removed from psychological phenomena. When the sociologist handles strikes, business cycles, recurring good and bad times, types of money, tech-

(19) -niques of economic production and distribution, it is decidedly easy to keep such a discipline distinct from social psychology.

Social Psychology and Anthropology.—In much the same way we can separate social psychology from anthropology. The latter science to a certain extent may be considered to deal with the same sorts of phenomena as sociology, with the exception perhaps that anthropology is concerned more with the comparison of various groups with respect to their cultural elements.[9] In contrast to the sociologist, the anthropologist in addition investigates older and more primitive units of individuals as a special field of study and does not confine himself to the complicated contemporary units of human life. It follows from this that the anthropologist may also be more interested in the origins of cultural phenomena and behavior than he is in the existence of local developments of human facts in particular groups. Howsoever we differentiate between sociological and anthropological interests this much is certain; namely, there is a wide gap between the analysis of concrete individualized psychological actions and the study of mass or statistical ethnological phenomena. In other words, the ethnologist like the sociologist handles objects, things, and conditions as human facts independent of psychological behavior. When he is concerned with distinctly psychological phenomena, as in tracing out historical developments of individual behavior, his study is then entirely coincident with social psychology.

Social Psychology and History.—The historical sciences present us with no new facts bearing upon the relation of social psychology and the human sciences. When history

(20) deals with human conduct it is always mass or statistical behavior and not particular reactions of individuals.

No student of history could overlook, of course, the great mass of psychological phenomena found in his domain. How much of the internal and external policies and accomplishments of nations depend upon capable rulers, clever diplomats, wise legislators, and intelligent civil and military officers l Surely the role of great men, whether industrial leaders or administrators, cannot be underestimated. That intriguing private men and women in particular nations also influence their nations for weal and woe is sufficiently accepted as historical fact. But most certainly these psychological phenomena from the historian's side are not unique data. They are merely incidental facts of record along with economic, geographical, or earlier historical data in a given nation, or parallel historical conditions in contemporary states. Such psychologico-historical phenomena, whether cultural or noncultural, are therefore mere incidents in a nation's total history, just as the poverty of a nation or its prosperity may be an incident in its development of art, scientific knowledge, or geographical discoveries.

Social Psychology as a Cooperative Science.—Social psychology then we confidently assert is distinct from the other human sciences. Not only are its data unique but its methods and results are quite disparate. Certain it is too that social psychology is not basic to the other social sciences, since it cannot by itself account for the phenomena of the other humanistic disciplines.

What then is the relationship between social psychology and the remaining human sciences? Briefly, social psychology is a cooperative study. In many cases indeed we find indispensable points of contact with sociology, anthropology, and other human studies. For this reason, in order to understand human phenomena in all of their implications, the social psychologist must cooperate with the jurist, the politician, his-

(21) -torian, ethicist, economist, etc. Possibly the interrelationship of social psychology and the other human sciences is seen to greater advantage in the consideration of institutions. Social stimuli or institutions are existing things precisely as natural objects are; they likewise have histories and developments. In order therefore to understand a human fact of any degree of complexity it is necessary to study it both from the standpoint of its existence and development and its functional character as a stimulus for some specific psychological activity. For instance, when we investigate some complex human phenomenon such as a lynching situation, a religious ceremony, or a war, we cannot analyze it unless we make an investigation not only of its various historical, sociological, and economic aspects, but its psychological conditions also. All these may not only be related features but even necessary concomitants. A war phenomenon, for example, is not only a psychological fact, but a political, military, economic, historical, geographical, and technological event as well.

The same thing is true when we turn to the field of politics or economics. Workers in these social sciences can have no justifiable interest in psychological phenomena as underlying and causing the existence of political and economic institutions. Rather, these particular social sciences can stress the psychological aspects of political and economic situations only as phenomena existing in correlation with a great mass of other types of facts. True it is that when an individual purchases an automobile he is performing a psychological reaction. But for the economist this fact is of no more significance than the fact that the person is a biological organism. Surely the person's preferences and state of knowledge are factors in the purchase of an automobile, but are they more fundamental than the economic status of his family?

Again, is a nation's history any more a result of anybody's behavior than the behavior is a result of the nation's history? In general, the attitude that psychology is somehow a basis

(22) for the other human sciences bespeaks an attempt to discover single causal relations between the elements of complex happenings. In criticism of this attitude it is no exaggeration to say that complex human phenomena of any sort are entirely too intricate to be thrown into a simple cause and effect relationship. Are not all the factors of any human situation equal products of an investigative analysis of human circumstances localized in a particular event? The importance of social psychology lies then in the study of one of the important general components of all complex human circumstances.


From the nature of its data social psychology is preeminently a field study. Since the ordinary acquisition of cultural equipment and the operation of cultural personality traits are exceedingly complex phenomena, it is in the natural world of human ecology that we must observe them. Furthermore, the contacts of the individual with institutional stimuli occur as unique events and are thus very difficult to observe under rigid and controlled conditions. Social psychology in this respect differs from general psychology, for in the latter field a number of simple activities may be studied under the most stringently conditioned circumstances.

Without doubt the primary source of social psychological information is contained in the observations made upon the person's general behavior acquisition, and later reactional performances. In studying this behavior development, one learns much concerning the contacts of the individual with the institutional stimuli of his ethnic or national group,. and the resulting acquisition of specific types of cultural traits. Closely related sources are the comparative observations of individuals in different communities. Here we may observe the behavior of some one person who is in contact with institutional stimuli belonging to different ethnic groups, or we can study

(23) the cultural conduct of different persons developing in parallel ethnic communities.

Quite a distinct source of social psychological data is the observation of individuals as members of varying groups within the same national or ethnic unit. For example, we are able to study the development and operation of a person's cultural reactions under specific professional, sexual, intellectual, industrial and other group auspices. These observations may be made in the comparative manner already indicated, as well as combined with the study of the effect of one type of intraethnic influence upon the contacts of the individual with the institutions and behavior of other subethnic collectivities.[10]

We turn now to another source of data for social psychology which differs from those enumerated chiefly in its emphasis upon institutions rather than upon traits of behavior. In the field of history, philology, anthropology, and other human sciences we discover numerous possibilities for the origin and performance of cultural behavior, by observing the rise, development and diffusion of institutions. Here we do not study directly the individual in his cultural reactional biography, but we trace the origins and changes of his behavior through a study of the products of art, science, and technology. For instance, when we investigate the subjects treated in the literature of various communities or periods we gain considerable insight into the conventional beliefs, thoughts, and practices of the participating persons. From recent developments in the handling of sex in our own literature we learn a great deal concerning the change in the human nature of our own psychological collectivity.

Living as we do in a scientific group in which experimental

(24) institutions are prevalent, we must consider the methodological question whether social psychology can be an experimental science.[11] Can we have in the field of social behavior experimental techniques in the same manner as in the study of nonsocial reactions? What one is to reply to this question is not at all clear. There are two reasons for this. First, there is the fact that cultural behavior is at once so complicated and intimate that serious difficulties are inevitable. Secondly, the experimentation with social phenomena interferes too much with our prejudices and human values. Cultural phenomena in their usual occurrence transpire for the most part in a matrix of multiple conditions. Thus they operate without the regularity which suggests definite isolation and control of the variables, and subsequent formulation of general laws. Moreover, to force cultural data into an experimental mould means that the facts elicited become different than they really are because of the introduction of rigid conditions.

The complexity of cultural conduct, however, does not make experimental conditions completely impossible. Especially when we are interested in the individual's acquisition of cultural equipment, experimental methods may be employed. For instance we can devise a scheme of having an individual acquire the use of some new language. This situation might be taken to simulate the actual culturalization process. The question arises, however, whether the conditions can be controlled sufficiently to duplicate the normal method of acquiring language reactions. Perhaps this experiment reduces itself merely to a study of the individual's manner and rate of learning. And this is not especially a problem of social psychology. Again we might control the individual's ordinary institutional stimuli by moving him to a different linguistic group, and in this way determine the particular kind of cultural equipment he will acquire. This, however, would give

(25) us only the results ordinarily observed when the person is culturalized in his own group. As such it hardly satisfies the experimental requirements of manipulating the personal and historical process of acquiring cultural conduct.[12]

Probably the most typical and best experiments in social psychology would meet with the greatest practical difficulties. For such experimenting would run counter to our social prejudices. For instance, a very interesting experiment could be designed to demonstrate that the particular psychological make-up of an individual is entirely owing to his institutional stimuli. For example, a male and female infant respectively might be so stimulated as to develop behavior equipment culturally belonging to the opposite sex. Or an infant from an intelligent collectivity and one from a non-intelligent level [13] might be exchanged with the prospect of observing the development of a different human nature or personality. Still another type of experiment could be carried out as a double source of information. If a white woman who has just given birth to a child would adopt a colored infant to bring up as a twin of her own child, we would not only learn a great deal about the process of mental development but also the value of the psychologist's prejudice concerning innate negro inferiority. In all these cases no doubt the practical difficulties would prove more or less insurmountable,[14] although there is

((26) nothing theoretically impossible in any of the cases mentioned.

Is it not a redundancy to add that experimental difficulties in the field of social psychology do not imply that it is not a genuine science? Certain it is that we cannot require all sciences to operate in exactly the same way. In fact it is detrimental to the whole conception of science to entertain preconceived notions concerning how the work of observing and recording should proceed. Just what method and sources a science has depends upon the particular kinds of facts included within its sphere. Moreover not all sciences subsume their facts under the same sorts of laws. It is an unfortunate convention to think of all scientific principles in terms of the laws of physics. So far as the laws of social psychology are concerned, they are formulae which may be construed as statements concerning how our actions are governed, but these principles are certainly not the uniformity laws of physics. Quite the opposite, they allow for and take account of particularities and idiosyncrasies of human action.

Social psychology, as is true of general psychology, is concerned with the discovery of the uniqueness of an organism, while physics aims to find the uniformity of its objects. In contrast to physical things, which we may simplify and reduce to statistical uniformities, psychological organisms and their behavior are complex and varied. Differences of description and prediction are inevitable when we are dealing with human science as compared with the mechanical branch of physics for instance.

The validity of a science we assume must be decided on the basis of whether it critically studies some type of phenomenon. Now because psychological facts are complex we must expect our studies to be difficult and our laws intricate. Furthermore, though cultural reactions are complicated they must not for that reason be regarded as fortuitous happenings. They

(27) can all be accounted for on the basis of specific circumstances, if only we can discover them.


What may be called the origin of social psychology as a technical discipline dates back to the middle of the nineteenth century. At that period the romantic attitude which pervaded Europe led scholars to develop an intensive interest in human facts. From this time may be dated the first modern scientific studies of language, beginning with Sanskrit. This interest, stimulated by the Romantic philosophy, resulted in a search for the nature of the inner spiritual power which manifests itself in various types of ethnic and national phenomena. Thus arose the conception that language, myth, and custom were facts which could be studied and described from a psychological standpoint.[16]

It is hardly necessary to add that this early psychological attitude toward social phenomena signalized merely a preoccupation with psychic or mentalistic forces as means of interpreting social data. This is, of course, the only kind of

(28) psychology that could be conceived of at this time. Moreover, since these psychic forces were presumed to account for data primarily of an ethnic sort, this is the period of the group soul. The group soul was really a poetic conception designed to explain the unique characteristics of the languages, myths, and customs of different ethnic units. As a technical psychological conception the group soul doctrine may be traced back to Wilhelm von Humboldt and other followers of the romantic Naturphilosophie, whose interests centered more particularly in the languages of different social communities. To a brother of Wilhelm von Humboldt, the equally famous Alexander, credit has been given for the development of the name Folk Psychology (Vö1kerpsychologie) a term which well symbolizes the character of social psychology at that period.

A great impetus was given to the development of social psychology by Lazarus and Steinthal. In the year 1860 they began the publication of a journal called the Zeitschrift fiir Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft, devoted to folk psychology and especially the social psychology of language. It was these writers, notably the former, who first brought to the study of complex human behavior phenomena a technical equipment of psychological ideas. For their technical psychological conception they went to Herbart. Now it was Herbart's doctrine that the human mind consisted of mental states compounded of simpler elements or ideas brought together through mechanistic forces. In the process of tension between simple mental elements, the assimilation of congenial elements resulted in apperception or knowledge, while the clash of elements constituted feeling and will. Since it was common doctrine in their period that such phenomena as language, myth, and custom could not be the products of single minds, they merely elaborated the Herbartian Psychology. They assumed that the superindividual mind necessary here was created by an interaction between particular individual minds. Language, myth, and custom were considered the products of

(29) such superindividual minds, just as tools and other objects could be created as individual mental products.

According to these writers, social psychology in general could be divided into two divisions. On the one hand, there was the comparative study of racial or national achievements resulting from the operation of particular group minds. For instance, the art, mythology, and language of an ethnic unit were regarded as the manifestations of that group's mind. On the other, they proposed to study language, myth, and religion in general as the universally human psychic products of mentality.

One of the most elaborate developments of social psychology in this general tradition may be attributed to Wundt, whose studies, starting with language, cover in ten volumes the field of myth, art, religion, law, politics, etc.[17] Wundt takes as his starting point the criticism of the group mind of Steinthal and Lazarus. Since these writers conceived of the group mind as that which is responsible for the development of social phenomena, Wundt regarded it as smacking much of a metaphysical substance. From Wundt's standpoint these writers separated the minds too much from the actual facts of language and myth. Because for Wundt psychology is a science of spiritual aspects or processes, and not of integral substances, he denied that the social mind is merely the cause of social facts which exist outside of minds. Wundt himself thought of the group mind as simply a larger form of conscious process than an individual mind. The latter he conceived of as a creative synthesis in the sense that a complex idea is compounded of or synthesized from simpler mentalistic components. Thus social or group mind was for him a synthesis of individual minds, in other words, the process of individual mentalities fusing into a social mentality. The social

(30) mind is the psychic material of which art, language, etc., are the expressions.

Social phenomena, then, such as language, myth, and custom constitute, according to Wundt, conscious material or psychic content, in the way that colors, sounds, and their combinations comprise the psychic materials of individual minds and individual psychology. In this psychological doctrine, no more than in the foregoing, is there any intimation that psychology is fundamentally concerned with the conduct of persons.

Wundt thought of social psychology as an auxiliary science to physiological or experimental psychology. The latter, dealing with individuals, employed the functions of the neural tissues as an explanatory basis for their operation. For the explanation of the more complex mental syntheses he used the idea of the interactions of individual mentality. Between Lazarus and Steinthal, and Wundt, the enormous development of biological studies intervened. Accordingly, for Wundt and others who followed in this train, social psychology adds the more complex facts of human behavior to the simple data of reflexes and elementary discrimination responses.

The unity to the whole psychological structure, Wundt thought, was supplied by the conception that social psychological phenomena are developed upon a basis of animal activities. Language, for example, he thought, has its ultimate origin in the cries of animals. These cries, merely expressing the psychophysiological character of animals, take on meanings and become abstract and symbolic, finally culminating in complex ideational expressions. The development conception according to Wundt's view has the merit of obviating the difficulties of Herbart's intellectualistic mechanism. For one thing this developmental doctrine allows for the evolution of social products, while Herbart's psychology was obliged to attribute the origin of every feature of myth and language to a separate invention. Furthermore, according to Wundt, the unity

(31) running through from individual to social mentality makes room for a genuine affective and volitional life which he thought was lacking in the Herbartian psychology.

Up to this point the subject-matter of social psychology definitely comprised phenomena of an ethnic type. A second distinct, though not entirely unrelated development, is that in which the psychic or mental forces are presumed to account not for the phenomena of ethnic groups, but for the operation of groups of persons within ethnic units, for example, crowds, mobs, and publics. Writers on this theme, of whom Sighele and Le Bon may be taken to be very good representatives, were impressed with the differences in behavior between individuals acting alone and the same individuals when constituting groups. This interest led to the formulation of a conception of an over-mind or crowd mind, thought to consist of the unification of individual minds. As such it was reputed to possess characteristics quite different from the mind of the individual. While this crowd mind was presume, to be a real phenomenon, it could not of course be thought of as continuous and prolonged in its existence as the national or racial group mind. A common factor in this type of social psychology and those already examined is that the crowd or mob mind is presumed to account for the phenomena of a group of individuals in their collectivity.[18]

As a third distinct variant of social psychology we shall consider the viewpoint which departs from the collective mentality or consciousness conception. Chiefly it is concerned with the discovery of mental powers or forces which account for such human phenomena as social organization, economic processes, etc. Obviously this type of sociai psychology is a distinctly sociological phase. An early outgrowth along this line is illustrated by the suggestion of Bagehot concerning

(32) the role of imitation in human affairs, and by the work of Tarde, who independently of the former writer, attempted in an elaborate manner to account for sociological phenomena on the basis of imitation. The present form of social psychology reached its peak with the proposal that various deepseated mental forces operate in individuals to condition the character of social phenomena.

Without doubt the most familiar of these conceptions is that which revives the ideas of Hobbes, Shaftsbury, Hutcheson, and other English and Scottish individualistic thinkers,[19] concerning human nature and the instincts. Into contemporary social psychology this conception has been introduced by McDougall. Instincts are regarded by him as "those most fundamental elements of our constitution, the innate tendencies to thought and action that constitute the native basis of the mind.” [20]

In the case of McDougall there is no question concerning his intention to find distinct psychic elements to explain the character and events of society. But other writers dealing with instincts merely stipulate the role of individual psychological phenomena in social life. Indeed some of the latter merely wish to indicate the place in social behavior of natural human and animal characteristics. For instance, they want to show the influence of anatomical differences and reflex action upon social conduct.

A fourth unique phase of social psychology may be characterized by its preoccupation with the problem of the social

(33) self. briefly it is concerned with the interactions of persons and the groups in which they live. To sociologists and psychologists it appeared necessary to explain upon a psychological basis how it was possible for such discrete factors as individuals to compose a society and act in concert. The question here is how we can find in any given aggregation of persons a synchronous autonomy and separateness of selves, with a homogeneity and identity of minds. The social self is presumed to explain the unity of society and the cooperative action of its component individuals.

The study of the social self may be said to have two phases. On the one hand, the center of interest :s the problem whether society or the individual is the dominant factor in human associations or whether there is perfect mutuality. On the other, is the question of the process whereby society makes the mind of an individual on the basis of elementary innate processes referred to as original nature. The first phase reaches back to some metaphysical conception of the world and the individual translated into biological and psychological terms. The latter emphasizes the genetic development of the individual mind under group auspices. The interest is chiefly in the individual's acquisition of his particular type of mind in the form of habits, attitudes, and intelligence as a result of his contact with the other individuals of a particular social group.[21]

Clearly the present type of social psychology represents a divergence from the others which are chiefly concerned with

(34) psychic powers or mental contents. Although this new phase is in no sense a complete departure from the mentalistic trend so far as psychological implications are concerned, still the mentalistic feature is not the center of interest.

The recent introduction of a more definitely psychological viewpoint into social psychology we may regard as a fifth stage in its development. A new emphasis is found here with respect to the kind of data to be dealt with by the social psychologist. Instead of dealing with essentially group mentality or the relations of individuals and groups, the problem here is the interaction of persons. This type of psychology pushes to the background the sociological implications, by stressing behavior of persons. Moreover, the more objective proponents of this conception look upon persons as organisms rather than as minds.[22] When, however, the interactional behavior is described, it is presumed to be accompanied by mind activity. Another characteristic of this type of social psychology is that an attempt is made to translate forces and mental powers into elementary biological forms of action. When native powers are made use of they are handled in terms of "prepotent reflexes." Also some writers stress the difference in the behavior of individuals when reacting to other persons and when reacting to non-personal objects.

The viewpoint of the present volume constitutes the sixth and last type in our series of social psychology developments. The claim made for the diversity of the present conception is that it is based upon a completely objective psychological system. The social psychology represented here may be called institutional, objective, or organsmc. It dispenses completely with all types of mentalities or conscious processes presumed to accompany conduct. It is proposed that as students of social psychology, we are merely interested in a particular type of reaction, namely, responses to institutional stimuli.


Summing up the development of social psychology we find that the two earliest views are both concerned with superindividual minds. The former[23] attempted to show how such ethnic facts as the common behavior of language, customs and myths originated, the latter, to explain the activity of mobs or other aggregations of persons. Our third type of social psychology aims to account for social phenomena in terms of psychological forces or powers resident in individuals. The fourth phase mentioned deals with the interactions of persons and groups in the course of which the mental life of the individual is built up. Following this development, a fifth type of social psychology stresses interactions between persons. We have indicated how this type emphasizes the study of responses to other persons as stimuli.

Finally, we come to the viewpoint of the present book, that social psychology is the study of responses to any kind of object or person functioning as an institution. In our next chapter we attempt a critical examination of various social psychological conceptions as a means of throwing into relief the favorable points of our institutional view of social psychology.


  1. For a more extensive treatment of all these types of reaction, cf. Kantor, Principles of Psychology, 1924, Vol. I.
  2. Similar action found in the infantile stage of psychological development we call momentarily acquired behavior; cf. Kantor, Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1, Chap. 5 (1924).
  3. Since the development of contingential reactions is coincident with their performance we may regard as the essential acquisitional factor the later profiting by the experience.
  4. See p. 242.
  5. Since in even comparatively simple behavior such as perceptual reactions the process of property attribution exists we mean to emphasize here the relatively greater amount of attribution. In perceptual behavior, for example, the stimulation properties are after all closely connected with the natural properties of objects. This is in no sense necessarily the case in cultural conduct.
  6. It is readily understood that much of the difficulty in separating the disciplines arises from the fact that their data are inextricably interrelated in actual human situations.
  7. In the following discussion the writer has not strictly regarded traditional academic or accepted professional demarcations between the social sciences. On the contrary he has deemed it more important to make his division on the basis of the most expedient way of exhibiting the relations between social psychology and the other social sciences.
  8. Strict psychological phenomena may of course also be handled as statistical data. In this case the statistical processes are primarily the addition or enumeration of such simple responses to stimuli which may be regarded as similar.
  9. Our term, "anthropology," must of course refer to cultural anthropology or ethnology. It is hardly necessary to point out the differences between social psychology and physical anthropology, although it is impossible to overlook the value to the social psychologist of knowing something about the origin and development of the variations of the anatomical and biological traits of man.
  10. It is undoubtedly an unfortunate fact that some of our social psychological information must be gleaned through the questionnaire (verbal and written) method, for frequently the persons interrogated have no useful knowledge either of the questions or of their own behavior.
  11. It is understood that experimental studies may be both of the field and laboratory type.
  12. We might refer here to various interesting attempts to devise experiments in social psychology. (a) Differences in the performance of multiplication, crossing out letters, words, or numerals, and other reactions are observed both when the reactors are alone or with other individuals. (b) Observations are made when several individuals are engaged in a game or other competitive enterprise. In both types of experiments interesting facts may be elicited, but no cultural or social behavior is directly observed. In (a) we have merely the influence of a group stimulus or group setting upon the reactions made, while in (b) we may have in addition some interpersonal conduct.
  13. This means of course merely less intelligent.
  14. What parents would allow such experimentation? Especially if they knew that the personality once formed can only with difficulty if at all be reformed. This latter point indicates the intrinsic difficulties involved in such experimentation aside from the social complications.
  15. In this brief exposition no attempt is made to give an accurate chronological record of development, although we have attempted to indicate the early temporally distinct origins. In the later development this temporal distinction is not obvious. Particular writers may embrace a number of different conceptions. Neither do we propose to give anything like a complete account of the development of what is already so vast a subject that its ramifications are almost coterminous with the limits of the whole set of social sciences. Materials for the study of the history of social psychology may be found in the following works. The History and Prospects of the Social Sciences, essays by Goldenweiser, Young and Hankins, 1925; Davis, Psychological Interpretation of Society, 1909, Chapter 2; Bogardus, A History of Social Thought, 1922, chaps. 22, 23.
  16. The records of thought at this period indicate that the psychological formulation of how social phenomena operate was enormously abetted by the Herbartian doctrine of action and interaction in the apperceptive field. While the history of this phase of human thought remains to be written, the student interested in this intellectual development may glean much information from a consideration of the Herbartian influence upon the development of social psychology, especially as reflected in the writings of Steinthal and Lazarus.
  17. Published with editoral variations from 1900 to 1922 under the title Volkerpsychologie.
  18. An interesting variant of the crowd type of social psychology is that in which collectivistic behavior is interpreted in terms of Freudian processes in the component individuals. Cf., Martin, The Behavior of Crowds, 1920.
  19. To a considerable extent we might consider that the social psychological conception of forces resident in the individual mind and constituting the foundations of human phenomena, represent the British individualistic reaction against the Continental emphasis of the group as the predominant factor in human affairs. But there may be other interpretations of this type of development also.
  20. Cf. Social Psychology, 1910, and "The Use and Abuse of Instinct in Social Psychology," Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology, 1922.
  21. Various types of writers including philosophers and sociologists represent this view. For example, Baldwin, Mental Development of the Child and the Race, 1895, Social and Ethical Interpretations in Mental Development, 1902, etc.; Dewey, "The Need for Social Psychology," Psychol. Rev., 1917, Human Nature and Conduct, 1922, etc.; Mead, "The Relation of Psychology and Philology," Psychol. Bull., 1904, "Social Consciousness and the Consciousness of Meaning," ibid., 1910, "The Mechanism of Social Consciousness," ibid., 1912; Royce, Psychology, 1903, etc.; Thomas, "The Province of Social Psychology," Amer. Jour. of Sociology, 1904, etc.; and Cooley, Human Nature and the Social Order, 1902, Social Organization, 1909, Social Process, 1918.
  22. Cf. Allport, Social Psychology, 1924; Smith and Guthrie, Chapters in General Psychology, 1921, Chap. 7.
  23. An exception is Wundt's type of social psychology which in one phase is like our fifth or sixth types which are concerned with a type of action distinct from individual psychology.

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