An Outline of Social Psychology

Chapter 2: Critical Examination of Some Outstanding Conceptions of Social Psychology

Jacob Robert Kantor

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It is in no sense surprising that any branch of psychology appears unsettled or crudely defined. Especially is this condition to be expected in the case of social psychology. For not only is the subject matter entirely disagreed upon, but social psychology as a separate discipline was not even originally formulated by psychologists. Upon approaching the data of social psychology then, we find that a great number of competing viewpoints prevail with respect to the identity of the subject matter and the methods by which it should be studied. These differences of opinion may be traced primarily to two sources.

First, they may arise from the heterogeneous interests that have always contested for the mastery of the social psychological field. It is to the disadvantage of psychological science that the facts of social psychology have been primarily developed by sociologists, criminologists, jurists, philologists, philosophers, and other students of human phenomena. Historically it was these social scientists who stimulated an interest in cultural behavior, though not in its genuinely psychological aspects. It was also the interests and methods of these other scholars which shaped the materials of social psychology when psychologists first began to concern themselves with this subject. For example, the sociological regnancy over this domain has introduced the insalutary stress of that forlorn hope, the psychological (psychic) interpretation of society.

Secondly, the existence of so many varying conceptions is

( 37) probably owing more to the difficulties found in the domain of psychology itself. When psychologists cannot agree upon the character of the phenomena with which they deal, it is small wonder that they have not developed standardized conceptions concerning some of the most complex actions of the entire field. Accordingly, as psychologists have acquired an interest in social behavior, each has interpreted the data involved according to his particular school of thought and his dominant interest at the time.

It is our suggestion therefore that by analyzing the more prominent current conceptions of social psychology and bringing to light their unsatisfactory features, we may hope to secure a clearer attitude concerning the character of the data and principles of this science.

As we proceed in our inspection it will become increasingly evident that the various theories treated are not all mutually exclusive nor held by different writers. Indeed, several are phases of one general view. Our chief aim is to bring to the surface as many distinguishing aspects of social psychology as we can.


As we have seen in the brief statement of the development of our subject, it is the import of one of the earlier conceptions that social psychology is exclusively concerned with the behavior of mobs or other such peculiar phenomena. Thus social psychology in this light is supposed to deal only with the extraordinary behavior of persons when inflamed and incited to participate in unusual situations such as social outrages, or religious mania. By the more unscientific writers, it has been proposed that in such cases of behavior as mob action, the particular minds of the participating individuals become fused in a group consciousness, which is an entirely

( 38) different thing from the individual minds, and functions in a far different manner. The mob or crowd mind is described as irrational, hating, cruel, etc.

Such a conception may be summarily dismissed as having no connection with scientific psychology. It must be looked upon as a purely speculative attempt to find in "psychic" materials an explanation of a striking form of sociological phenomena.

A more recent, and from the standpoint of its temporal perspective, a more acceptable version of this conception, is that the conduct of groups or crowds is different from the conduct of the individuals comprising the aggregation. Crowds or mobs as such are said to be hating, cruel, intolerant, etc. No question exists, of course, that mobs and crowds appear to display such characteristics, especially when lynching bees, man hunting, or tar and feather enterprises are the phenomena investigated. Furthermore, to acknowledge this truth is to make place at once for other interesting group behavior with very different descriptive qualities. For instance, the activities of collectivities during picnics, political rallies, wedding celebrations and other mass action may be described as gay, generous, loving, conciliatory, etc.

It is undeniable that the study of mobs and crowds constitutes a very important feature of sociological science. It falls in line with the investigation of the behavior performed by armies, cities, clubs, churches, lodges, commercial and financial collectivities, boys' gangs, and other groups of people. Whether and when such phenomena are psychological, however, is another question. To study mobs and groups as such is only to study historical and statistical events and not psychological facts. We reiterate once more that the only psychological phenomenon we can investigate is the conduct of specific individuals.

Now it is possible of course to analyze the behavior of a mob into the activities of the component members. These

( 39) activities we may regard as actual psychological responses. But even here the problem arises whether or not such actions constitute social behavior. In effect we must divide off genuine social psychological conduct from equally authentic psychological behavior which does not fall into this classification. It is only by making this distinction that we can clarify our ideas concerning the subject matter of social psychology and the nature of cultural reactions.

We can quite readily convince ourselves that the psychological activities found in mob phenomena are not necessarily cultural reactions, but perhaps contingential or idiosyncratic responses. That is, each individual may be performing reactions to things and conditions having no institutional character. This much we may say of the persons in the mob who are acting as its positive components.

Since the mob is a sociological unit it is undoubtedly true that numbered among the individuals of the group are those who respond with non-cultural actions to the mob itself. For instance, they pass individual judgments upon the behavior of such collections of people.

Obviously, we do not in any way mean to deny that mass conduct cannot be comprised of cultural actions. Undoubtedly there are communities in which even lynching mob reactions are constituent features of the social behavior equipment of its members, although it is surely not true that all mob conduct consists of such cultural behavior. Mob phenomena as institutional objects certainly exist, though probably in small numbers. On the other hand, aggregational conduct of various milder forms than mob action is performed by all individuals. Crowd and other aggregational stimuli objects connected with baseball, football, gladiatorial contests and similar convocation phenomena constitute a large number of our normal institutions. It is a most common performance of cultural conduct periodically to join a congregation or throng and perform with it certain specified actions,

(40) as churchgoing and worshipping, for example. Such conduct it must be insisted, however, constitutes after all only a very special type of social psychological data. In no sense therefore can social psychology be regarded as the exclusive study of the behavior of the individuals found in mobs or crowds.

At this juncture we must be warned most effectively against identifying cultural conduct with sheer concerted conduct. It may have nothing to do with cultural conditions. Can we discover then an infallible criterion to differentiate between these two types of behavior? Yes. We find that cultural behavior is truly homogeneous because it is developed through contact with objects possessing institutional stimulational functions. That is to say, only when the stimuli possess attributed stimulational properties which bring about commonness of action do we find cultural behavior. On the other hand, merely concerted actions are similar and appear to be homogeneous for an entirely different reason. In this case the commonness of equipment is not developed through contact with institutional objects but merely with objects having similar non-cultural properties.[1] Thus we do not have social or cultural phenomena at all. In explaining the homogeneity of conduct on the part of several persons, do we require any other principle than that similar behavior circumstances exist for them at the moment? This synchronous performance of behavior by a number of individuals can be accounted for by definite stimuli and response conditions that do not at all touch social psychological processes.

Let us consider the stimulus side first. The performance of concordant action by many individuals is largely explained by the presence of an object or situation whose immediate properties are such as to call out the observed behavior. A murder, a railway accident, a conflagration, a childbirth, are naturally endowed with stimulational properties to elicit simi-

( 41) -lar responses in many different individuals providing only that they are near enough to be stimulated.

On the side of the persons we may account for their concerted action by the presence of their equipment of independent similar reaction systems. Why individuals get together and place themselves in the same situation can be explained by pointing out that each of these different individuals have equipments that permit it or at least do not prevent it. In other words, reactional conditions exist which make such behavior possible. It is no unusual situation that many persons may have enough similar response equipments to make possible a concert of action without having acquired them through the culturalization process which is the essential feature of social behavior. When we have striking forms of phenomena in a society, such as the various things around which crowd action centers, it is small wonder that a number of different individuals have similar reactions to them. Persons living where lynchings or land booms occur, where waterfalls, sand dunes, or caves are found, develop independently similar behavior equipments with respect to these stimuli objects.[2] It is these individuals who can and do act in concert. On the other hand, all those persons who have not acquired or built up appropriate responses will not be found in the mob or crowd. Only individuals inclined toward music or baseball are available for the performance of musical or baseball crowd behavior. Mob or crowd action, therefore, consists merely of the massing of the private behavior of persons constituting the crowd or group and not of genuine cultural conduct.

It is never to be overlooked either that no matter how

( 42) simply and uniformly the conduct of a collectivity is described, the behavior of each individual really consists of many specific stimulations and responses. Aside from their collocation in place and time there may not be any definite principle of grouping them in a class. Social responses, on the other hand, are decidedly similar even when performed by persons very distantly separated in time and place.

Another problem confronts us. Is it possible that after all we must conceive of the behavior of persons under mob auspices as social conduct on the ground that such reactions are exciting and stirring? Are we required to think of the peculiar intensity, freedom and exuberance of concerted action as the qualities marking the differentia between social and non-social action?[3] We think not. In our opinion these behavior differences may be easily and entirely accounted for when we give the behavior settings their proper consideration. In performing reactions in a group setting the person's conduct is conditioned in several ways. In a mob or boisterous crowd setting one's behavior is reinforced and facilitated by the anger, storming, gayety, or exuberance of the surrounding persons. This freedom of action may be conditioned by the mere fact that everybody else is doing much the same thing. Accordingly the actions of each specific individual may be described as intense and unconstrained. In the event that some of the individuals in the collectivity display their disapproval of the action or perform other kind of behavior they modify the effect of the setting and introduce a curbing and inhibiting influence. Other stimuli settings in the situation, in addition to those provided by the presence and conduct of the rest of the collectivity, are the person's own actions, such as realization of absence of restraint, of law,

( 43) or convention, temporary freedom from fear, etc. When the behavior of the crowd or collectivity, on the other hand, is subduing and depressing, for example when reacting to a mine explosion, shipwreck, or other calamity, the setting has a dulling and dejecting influence upon the reacting individuals. In all cases as a matter of course the setting effect is itself an extension of the stimulus function and of a piece with it.

As a final suggestion of the lack of identity of cultural and crowd behavior we add that while the majority of a person's actions are cultural in character, comparatively few responses are performed as a member of a crowd or mob. That is, the person rarely acts under crowd auspices. He may never find himself in an angry mob or in a panic-stricken theatre audience. Certainly it is in no sense a descriptive requirement of social conduct that it be performed in concert or in a group. Hence there is absolutely no warrant for confining the science of social psychology to the study of mass conduct.


A conception of recent origin implies that social psychology has as its subject matter an individual's reactions to other persons as stimuli. This theory we immediately grant has the merit of being founded upon the behavior of individuals. But unfortunately at the basis of this idea there is also the influence of sociological thinking which transforms it into a misconception. From the standpoint of the sociologist it may appear important to divide off the reactions of persons to each other from their reactions to impersonal or non-personal stimuli. For this distinction may fit in with a discipline which is to a great extent concerned with the interactions of individuals. But it has no validity whatsoever either in segregating social psychology from general psychology or defining the field of the former. There is no principle of psychological science warranting the distinction between reactions on the

( 44) basis of the kinds of objects to which organisms respond. The reductio ad absurdum of this view is to have an animal, stone, and a water psychology each to cover responses to such objects. Naturally there are cultural reactions to persons, but so are there social responses to non-personal objects as well.

A more positive defect of this theory is the confusion of cultural conduct with a type of non-cultural action, namely interpersonal behavior.[4] There are very definite activities of persons which involve mutual give and take processes in the form of interstimulational responses. A good example is found in the activities of a fighting couple. Every movement of one individual constitutes a stimulus for the other, whose changing postures and movements in turn stimulate the first person. Many of our complex actions are of this type. For example, take the behavior of a group of opposing diplomats or attorneys in a conference, in which each watches the reactions of his opponent for a stimulational cue to his own conduct. An excellent example in a more private situation is the behavior of a pair of lovers whose mutual interstimulation results in a progressive enrichment of action. Now in these cases and all similar ones there may be cultural facts, but the activities are overwhelmingly contingential and idiosyncratic. At any rate, to identify such behavior with cultural conduct is to miss the fundamental characteristics of social action.

One more objection to this theory may be mentioned. Granted that all genuine cultural conduct in the final analysis is dependent upon a set of individuals [5] is it true that the actual process of acquiring cultural conduct necessarily operates through the medium of personal interstimulation? Decidedly not. To acquire cultural responses it is only necessary for the person to be stimulated by an object through its culturally attributed properties. Such impersonal contacts are

( 45) in many cases sufficient for acquiring the cultural responses connected with that object. An example in point is any case in which the person responds to some present object in an analogous manner to that in which he has responded to a similar object through more direct group influence. This situation is well illustrated in the acquisition of responses to printed words by analogy with other words. The conditions of social psychology are satisfied if the reaction when acquired constitutes a shared response to the institutional properties of things.


Similar to the theory just examined is the sociologically founded conception implying that social psychology is the study of behavior dependent upon group auspices. While this theory is based upon facts than which none are less contestable, it provides no basis upon which to establish a science. Since no human individual can ever exist outside of groups, whether family, tribe, or nation, his conduct is practically all affected by this circumstance. But to make gregariously conditioned conduct the subject matter of social psychology is to identify all psychology with social psychology. A fatal consequence is that we would then have no distinctive criterion for any kind of human behavior. Unless we discover actual characteristic effects which specific groups have upon the behavior of particular individuals we are not doing justice to the data of our science.

Our point is that the mere presence of a group or sheer human environment is of no significance for the study of social psychology, or any branch of the social sciences for that matter. The all-important fact about the group surroundings of an individual is that they comprise the loci of specific institutional stimuli. What the social psychologist is inter-

( 46) -ested in, therefore, are the differences in reactions to these institutional stimuli as they are developed in and performed under the unique psychological circumstances of particular aggregations of individuals.

Conduct is cultural then, not because it is performed within a group, but because it belongs to individuals who are in contact with and affected by specialized behavior conditions involving particular sets of persons. For example, the psychological activity of speaking as a universal performance of gregarious human animals is not cultural. Such linguistic conduct is purely individual, although it is decidedly conditioned by other persons. Accordingly we must not confuse sheer non-social vocal reactions with genuine cultural speech. The former are simply adjustments of pointing, or of calling attention to something. The latter are very specific reference responses involving words or gestures which the individual acquires through culturalization in a particular group.[7] To be cultural, actions, whether manners, morals, industrial or aesthetic practices, must be performed by persons as joint participants in unique contacts with institutions.


The fundamental departure of the socialization conception of social psychology is its preoccupation with the development of the individual mind. While the popularity which this conception has always enjoyed has been based upon a number of shrewd observations, the latter have not always been correctly interpreted.

As one of the oldest of the theories of social psychology the socialization doctrine has changed its emphasis to meet the requirements of modified circumstances in the psychologi-

( 47) -cal field. In consequence we must distinguish between an earlier and a later form.

The adherents of the older phase looked upon the mind as a series of complex mental contents which were engendered in persons through a socialization process. Social psychology as dealing with ideas, beliefs, and speech was contrasted with individual psychology which studied the simpler mentalities represented by sensations and feelings connected with reflex responses and other physiological processes.

In its early form the socializing doctrine implies the existence of a group soul or a social consciousness which is presumed to become focalized when the individual mind is being engendered. The socializing process is thus spoken of as the development of an individual consciousness, mind or self, although it is usually implied that there is an ultimate unity between the social consciousness and the individual consciousness or mind.[8] It is this implied unity which is the source of the potencies in the socializing process.

Because this doctrine implies that psychology deals with states of consciousness detached from, though somewhat connected with, biological mechanisms we might merely say that it falls completely out of the purview of an objective psychology.

The more recent version of the socialization theory, however, is decidedly more naturalistic. Its sponsors either entirely dispense with psychic materials or else do not stress them. The main emphasis is that the ideas, beliefs and attitudes constituting the individual mind are produced in persons either by the direct activities of a group upon them, or through the behavior of particular individuals representing the group. The various interactions between a group and its component individuals or between persons in the group

( 48) are supposed to result in the attainment by all of the group's peculiar mentality.

In examining this newer formulation we may pass over the criticism that after all it is only a variant of the doctrine that social psychology deals with reactions performed under group auspices. For the emphasis upon development gives the present theory an entirely different complexion.

The socialization theory in its present version disarms another criticism. Instead of the generation of pure mentality which was the doctrine in the older form, the new version is emended in such a way that social psychology becomes the study of the development of actual responses to stimuli.

And yet with this improvement the socialization doctrine is not entirely free from exceedingly serious defects. It clearly overemphasizes the development of traits of a universal human, racial, or national type. As a consequence it neglects many other activities of persons. It does not allow for the existence of professional, fraternal, and other voluntary societies, dialectal language, and sectarian religious organizations of which the individual is a member and through contacts with which he acquires cultural equipments.

What we miss especially in the socialization description of human behavior is any provision for accidental and individual development. According to this doctrine we have no place for the development of ideas, meanings, and beliefs, which depend upon specific accidental situations in the lifetime of the individual. Where in such a theory is there any room for the infinite variety of non-cultural equipments and performances of persons, in short all those actions peculiar to private individuals and developed by them independent of community conditions?

By overstressing the dependence of the person's behavior equipment upon a. group it precludes the occurrence of reasoning, voluntary, inventional and other types of contingential and idiosyncratic behavior which operate as unique adapta-

( 49) -tions to stimuli, Is it not true that the development of meanings, beliefs, thoughts, and inventions involve behavior which runs counter to the conventional responses of one's neighbors? These complicated types of psychological phenomena must be developed in private contacts of persons with things.[9] Interaction with other people, whether direct or through writings or products, is not necessary to develop meanings, beliefs, ideas, and conceptions of the idiosyncratic types. We must count it as a serious defect in the socialization theory that it fails to handle effectively the very types of phenomena with which it is designed to deal.

Another objection to the theory is its constant emphasis upon an individual as over against a group. As though an individual were in contact with only a single collectivity. It is entirely foreign to the socialization conception that a person is inevitably a member of a multitude of collectivities. When we take cognizance of this fact and the possibilities it affords for the person changing particular groups, we cannot regard social psychology as the study of how a person's mentality is thrust upon him by a set of individuals.

Now as we have already suggested, the socializing conception is not without its factual basis. It is undoubtedly true that there is such a process as an individual becoming socialized. But this means merely that the newcomer in a community is brought into contact with its linguistic, religious and other institutions, and as a result acquires common modes of conduct. Whether the entrant into a community be an infant or an immigrant he acquires some cultural equipment from the new group. It is only in this sense that social mentality is created or developed.

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On the whole, from the standpoint of a satisfactory psychology, we find in the socializing view a very insufficient emphasis upon stimuli conditions. It is primarily because the proponents of this theory overlook the individual's contact with his stimuli surroundings that they find it necessary to make groups (ethnic) into the sole sources of psychological behavior. Failing to stress the role of stimuli in developing conduct, the upholders of the socialization view are forced to locate cultural conduct in some sort of collectivistic power. Here the group instead of being a mere locus for cultural stimuli assumes a very definite entitative character. In consequence, the socializing process becomes so absolute and fixed that the group is loaded with potentialities for the development of the minds and actions of its members.

Why the sponsors of the socializing conception do not accord stimuli situations their proper sphere in the psychological scheme is clear because they are exclusively interested in the development of the mind and not in concrete modes of individual actions to correlated stimuli. Accordingly, they require only a generalized mechanism with which to develop such a mind. Also, in its final development it is presumed to operate whenever some cue (not stimulus in our sense) is present. Thug stimuli are in both instances quite superfluous. When social psychology, however, is concerned with reactions to specific objects and conditions it is plain that behavior cannot be otherwise acquired than by various interactions of persons with stimuli objects. Also at any later period the operations of such conduct depend upon the same types of connections of the person (reactions) with the identical stimuli.

Probably the stress which the sponsors of the socializing conception put upon the functions of persons in the socializing process signifies after all an unwitting tribute paid to the importance of stimuli. It is apparent here that an interstimulational mechanism is substituted for the actual role of stimuli

( 51) in the development of both cultural and non-cultural behavior.[10] Such a substitution, however, is not a satisfactory procedure. There is very little if anything in common between (1) the building up of actions or a mind by the inevitable operation of a group (through persons) upon an individual, and (2) the building up of cultural responses through a more or less fortuitous connection of persons with particular institutional stimuli.[11] And so while it is undoubtedly true that persons constitute a large share of our stimuli, and also that they are potent as stimulating occasions, this is no more than an accidental fact from the standpoint of the person's actual psychological development. It is not unlikely that by far the largest number of actual psychological stimuli functioning to make the individual build up reactions in common with members of his particular groups, are not persons, but physical things, natural objects, buildings, writings, laws, customs, etc. Moreover, the processes involved in the building up and continuation of such social stimuli need not be exclusively psychological in character, but may also be historical, political,[12] social, etc.

It is almost inevitable that the socializing conception always comes dangerously near being a metaphysics. In the first instance, it is a means of accounting for the ultimate character of the general human mind. In the second place, the result is a very definite overemphasis of the group as a source of ideas and beliefs. Accordingly, the individual is made into an absolute product of some group. Even when there is a discussion of the interaction of persons with each other, the conclusion is that these individuals are really working out the

( 52) sorts of language, meanings, etc., which are the group's inherent qualities.


The present theory resembles the socialization doctrine in attempting to account for the development of psychological phenomena. It is concerned, however, with the growth of the human mind at large, or at least the human mind in its ethnic proportions. As a theory concerning the human mind in general it is designed to explain the existence of religion, language, mythology, etc. These phenomena are regarded as general forms of human mentality, or products evolved through such mentality. Thus the present theory may be regarded as one form of the now generally execrated doctrine of the group mind.

In its baldest form the group mind conception is concerned with a psychic entity of universal dimensions. In detail, such a social psychology is supposed to study the effects of the collective soul or consciousness upon human phenomena. This conception is a fairly logical outgrowth of the general tradition that psychology is concerned with intangible processes which are causes of action. And so just as individual psychology studies the consciousness which results in the actions of persons, so social psychology studies the collective consciousness which is responsible for those things which antedate and are independent of individual minds such as language and laws.

Since this view has been so severely criticized, we need not comment upon it beyond characterizing it as an abortive conception. It not only does not provide us with information concerning the data of social psychology but it is not concerned with facts at all. Soul or consciousness as a substance or cause of things does not belong in the realm of natural

( 53) science but can only be properly employed in a poetic or metaphysical sense.

But even if we overlook the objectionable psychic implications of this view and only think of it as a theory to account for general human phenomena, such as language, myth, custom, law, etc., it cannot be said to be a genuine scientific conception. For we have absolutely no data concerning the origin of such large human reactions as language, myth, etc. Any attempt at making judgments with respect to the genesis of these universal human activities always results of course in extravagant speculations concerning the nature of the human mind.

In what sense is it true that anthropic phenomena such as language, myth, and customs are exclusively products of psychological phenomena? Even if we take psychological happenings to be the most rigidly naturalistic events they can in no way be cited as the exclusive causes or conditions of social phenomena. We shall later have occasion [13] to see that anthropic phenomena are just as much conditioned by cultural, historical, environmental, and other conditions as by psychological ones. Language, custom, and myth, whether actions of persons or social products, are in no sense solely the fruits of psychological happenings.

At the basis of the mental origins theory lies a very serious process of mistranslation. Ethnic objects and behavior facts are confused with psychic processes or products.

In the first place, in order to demonstrate the operation of the psychic generating process in developing language and myths, the actual human activities involved in the origin and changes of speech phenomena are generalized and made into a superindividual mentality.

Again, in order to show that language myth and other societal phenomena are really products of psychic causes they

( 54) are also translated into psychic materials. Here we have the glaring conception that since recorded languages or laws are only expressions of speech and customary actions, that all languages and laws are in some sense psychic phenomena.

A striking illustration of this type of translation is the transformation of traditions and institutions into psychic stuff. Here we have the numerous variants of the group or superindividual mind such as the so-called Oxford, or Harvard "mind," the European, the female, or the workingman's mentality.


Dating among the older social psychological conceptions is the theory that there is a branch or departmental discipline of psychology which investigates the psychological phenomena of particular ethnic or national groups. This is a view which plainly shows an ethnological influence. For it is based upon the assumption that the social psychologist is interested in the investigation of the differences between the social action or civilization products of particular social or national units. Thus social psychology is considered to deal with the kind of language, myth, and custom existing in some particular society.

The primary criticism of this conception is the severe limitation of the field to facts occurring under social or national auspices. What becomes of the great mass of religious, custom, linguistic, and other activities which are genuine forms of social responses, but which are neither ethnic nor national?

To appreciate the lacunae here we need only point out that as a matter of fact social behavior is never limited to such large type forms as are suggested by national or racial modes of human organization. For example it is obvious that dialects are inevitable developments in every group language. In

( 55) exactly the same way, religious, moral, and other group behavior differs very markedly from the standard forms of such conduct among some specified ethnographic moiety. We must insist therefore that the individuals who speak a dialect within a larger linguistic unit constitute a group no less than the former. Similarly, the individuals who perform a specific kind of religious activity within a larger religious group constitute a unit just as do the members of the more inclusive group. It is quite clear that the linguistic dialect and religious sect reactions may differ just as much from standard ethnic actions as any individual legal, artistic, religious, or other response varies from the general human behavior of the same name. Who speaks the language of the grammar books? Variations in the activities of sub-groups may be well illustrated by the behavior observed in a military enterprise in which the action (record) of a squad, company, or regiment may be very different from the action or record of a state, nation, or alliance as a larger unit.

Furthermore, it is no mean defect of this theory that it excludes from social psychology all the technological, professional, artistic, and other responses which individuals perform as members of collectivities which are in no sense ethnic in character. Much of our cultural conduct runs across all ethnic or national boundaries. We might go further and say that without doubt it is the smaller forms of human organization that are the main sources for the development of the phenomena of social psychology.

Social psychology, then, cannot be limited to the activities of persons characterized by a certain ethnic organization. The present conception clearly obliterates the fact that by a group the psychologist cannot mean exclusively an ethnological or national unit, but rather any series of individuals who have developed common reactions to specific kinds of stimuli.

( 56)


According to the collectivistic conception of social psychology that discipline deals with the mind of a distinct set of people. In its more restricted form a collectivity is presumed to be an ethnic or national unit, but the more inclusive aspect of this conception makes the mentality of any group the subject matter of social psychology.

The present theory undoubtedly is much more fostered by sociologists and anthropologists than by psychologists. Accordingly, in its more restricted form it is very closely related to the mental origins doctrine. Like it, the collectivistic mentality theory involves the assumption that different groups have different minds. An immediately added assumption is that these mentalities differ in quality; so that, for example, only certain groups are capable of developing a high type of civilization. It is also supposed that only the particular type of civilization found in a certain group could possibly be developed by that group because of the inherent quality of its mentality.

Insofar as the more restricted aspect of the collectivistic doctrine resembles the mental origins conception it is of course subject to the same criticisms. It is no more satisfactory, however, when it is free from the taint of a group mind or soul. For it still rests upon the questionable assumption that mentality is such a thing that it can be an inherent quality either of collectivistis or persons.

Now since a collectivity is only a sociological organization, of which mobs or crowds are specific types, the collectivistic mentality theory of social psychology is vitiated by the same defects. We suggest then that the collectivity mentality theory is based upon the false presupposition that social psychology is the study of something that is really not a psychological datum. Collectivistic conduct is not a psycho-

( 57) -logical fact. Rather, it is historical, legal, or political. Whenever we deal with social groups we are really dealing with some sort of human complex. This complex includes events of all sorts and human relations. Among the events are economic processes, the securing of raw material and their transformation. The activity of a collectivity is typified by the statement of how much gold the Australians produced in a given year or how much the Americans expend per annum for tobacco, schools, or for the upkeep of the navy. Or collectivistic behavior may be merely the operation of some human institution, a legal one for example, as when we say the

English hanged a woman recently. Similarly, we might speak of the illegal behavior of an army, the political behavior of a party, as well as the moral conduct of the Irish or other people, but no one can be misled into regarding these as psychological phenomena.

Again when we refer to the behavior of a group we frequently mean to indicate a status or relation. A diplomatic relation illustrates such a situation, as when we say that the Turks have defied or are at war with the Germans. As a matter of historical interest we may describe the activities of the Americans during the Great War, but such action can never be considered as psychological except in a metaphorical sense. It must be obvious that the transformation of statistical, military, or historical phenomena into psychological action must result in the development of peculiar mystical entities or processes.

We submit once more that there is no such fact as the psychology of a group. From a psychological standpoint the use of such an expression always conceals some illegitimate assumption. No matter how small the collectivistic unit, or how large the range of activities performed by a group, we find all the differences in the world between the actual responses tO stimuli which persons perform and whatever description we can give of any group conduct. Almost always group conduct

(58) is a descriptive average of certain actions, such as a grammarian's report of a nation's speech or the historian's account of a typical form of behavior. Much of the difficulty in the conception of group conduct, no doubt, may be traced to the word "behavior," although it is obvious that behavior is not always a psychological term.

That the conception of a collectivistic psychology can persist may probably be accounted for by the fact that after all the behavior of persons is involved. Whenever human beings are concerned, the conduct element of sociological facts can be reduced to the behavior of particular members of the group. For example, we can reduce the behavior of an army to the specific (millions) reactions of particular persons to specific stimuli. This fact, however, merely enables us to organize a series of statistical tables; it provides no basis for a distinctly psychological science such as social psychology must be.

The point still remains that the collectivistic conception refers to the theory that social psychology constitutes an enumerative study of the traits of members of different ethnic or national communities. In this emended form the psychology of a group may justly be regarded as summarizing the facts of individual differences as found in persons living in different human communities. Now while this emended form of the theory does not merit the objection of lying outside the field of psychology it is still not a satisfactory doctrine. For it does not distinguish between general psychological activity and the more specialized types of cultural conduct. It does not, in other words, isolate the individual's traits which are acquired through contact with institutional stimuli from those developed through the stimulations of non-social stimuli objects. Should the theory then be further emended to deal with reactions acquired by persons through contact with institutional stimuli it would then be like the doctrine which makes

( 59) social psychology the study of ethnic phenomena, and thus subject to the same objections.


Jurists, sociologists, economists, and other social scientists are responsible for the development of the social psychological theory of the psychical determinants of social phenomena. Social or human occurrences are thought to be determined or conditioned by psychic forces or powers of various sorts. These are sometimes thought of as general patterns or specific instincts. Social psychology is thus looked to for basic interpretations or explanatory schemes to account for historical, economic, political, and social phenomena. No factual basis, of course, for this theory of social psychology is at hand, unless it be the observation that persons sometimes are able to control human conditions. But obviously in such cases no mysterious psychic forces are operating. Whenever individuals control and determine human circumstances, these happenings are conditioned by specific activities of persons in restricted situations, legislators enacting a law, diplomats bartering concessions, etc. Moreover, these activities are themselves conditioned by numerous human facts, the pliability of electoral constituencies, economic and military resources, etc. Whenever we have a theory, therefore, founded upon the abstraction of human action and its conversion into psychic forces, it should be placed under the heading of psychicsociology instead of social psychology.

Another and later version of this conception operates with actual psychological processes. The latter, however, are elevated to potencies generally capable of making and marring human phenomena. For example, a mnssive literature exists in which all the complex humanistic phenomena of population-growth, origin and existence of institutions, inventions, production and distribution of goods, fashions, art develop-

( 59) -ment, industrial crises, commercial combinations, social progress and regress, etc., in short the whole structure of humanistic phenomena, are explained upon the basis of the operation of one or more types of psychological processes, such as imitation, convention, sympathy, suggestion, fear, or conflict. Even when these processes are actual psychological phenomena, on the most consistently objective basis it must appear preposterous to believe for a single moment that such infinitely complex and involved phenomena can be attributed to the working of such comparatively elementary processes.

Such a theory represents a flagrant error of simplification. Clearly the upholders of this view are entirely misrepresenting the nature and power of psychological actions in making them serve as the causes of extremely complex phenomena. Genuine psychological activities are here violently transformed into explanations. Not only are the psychological facts misinterpreted but also the phenomena to be explained cannot be (entirely) accounted for on a psychological basis. It is quite incorrect to presume that there are not other kinds of conditions and situations besides psychological ones which condition sociological or historical group phenomena.

We might further animadvert upon this theory by suggesting that imitation, suggestion, conflict and similar processes in their own psychological sphere as genuine psychological phenomena are individual reactions and need not be at all materials for social psychology.


This conception that social psychology is the study of the physiological basis of complex human behavior has its roots in a number of different circumstances. In the first place, it has developed under stress of the traditional attitude of physiologizing psychological phenomena. Secondly, this theory

( 61) represents a correction of the tradition that only the simpler psychological phenomena can be connected with physiological processes. As we have already pointed out, those who originally established social psychology, were influenced by the notion that this science was to investigate the more complex actions that could not be studied by the methods of physiological psychology. The adherents of the present view, therefore assert that there is a physiological basis for laughter, language, sympathy, etc. Another aspect of the present conception is the attempt to make acceptable various psychological mentalistic determinants of social phenomena, such as complexes and desires, which are accordingly translated into physiological terms.

In its details this theory involves the assumption that there are various prepotent biological processes that result in the development of social behavior and institutions. For instance, the family is supposedly rooted in the sexual reflexes, language in laryngeal reflexes, etc. A variant of this doctrine is the assertion that all complex human phenomena can be traced back to a limited series of desires, constituting the functions of particular tissues.

Aside from pointing out the transparent fallacy of indiscriminately making social psychological phenomena cover all forms of complex action, it is probably a sufficient commentary upon the present conception to suggest that it attempts to transform physiological facts into potencies of various sorts. But we might add that even if the potencies were not objectionable, there is no possible way of tracing complex human conduct of the cultural type back to single or simple causes. What this view overlooks is the whole historical development of social phenomena of which cultural behavior is only a part. It ignores, too, the fact that the psychological components of these human situations can only be handled in terms of much mutual interaction between persons and institutional objects. Only a general obtuseness to the genuine conditioning circum-

( 62) -stances in all behavior makes possible the assumption that physiological processes are the sources of any kinds of psychological behavior. Even reflex actions, which may be regarded as the simplest types of behavior can not be described exclusively in terms of biological occurrences, but depend upon the contacts of persons with stimulational circumstances.


  1. It is on this basis that Smith and Guthrie (op.cit.) characterize conduct as social.
  2. The independence of the equipments is not so clear when we deal with human objects and situations as it is when natural objects are in question, since in the former case it is possible for cultural and non-cultural behavior equipments to overlap and coincide. The coincidence of behavior traits connected with natural objects is not of course entirely excluded. The best illustration of the independent acquisition of similar responses to particular types of objects are offered us when the different behavior situations are geographically far removed from each other.
  3. At this point we may submit that we Have no objection to anyone segregating the behavior phenomena involved with collectivities, even though we can find in them no unique psychological principle. Furthermore, we are entirely willing in such a case to yield the name social psychology which would then be entirely different from the term cultural psychology.
  4. For a description of this type of behavior consult the writer's Principles of Psychology, Chapter 24.
  5. We mean of course a psychological collectivity not a sociological group.
  6. See our discussion of the significance of groups for social psychology, Chapter I, p. 11 ff.
  7. For an elaborate analysis of the different aspects of linguistic conduct, cf. the writer's Principles of Psychology, Vol. 2, Chapter 23.
  8. In support of this view various well-sounding generalizing metaphors are employed, to wit, the assertion that the individual and the group are different aspects of the same thing, etc.
  9. Here we must distinguish between true beliefs, ideas and meanings as individual responses and the objects referred to by these names which are really factors of what the sociologist calls cultural heritage. Learning to react as others do in the sense of using their language, or, to use the terms of the proponents of the socializing theory, developing the meanings of things, is obviously merely acquiring conventional reactions.
  10. To the proponents of the socializing doctrine this substitution theory merely means that cultural phenomena can only develop among human beings, but this fact, true as it is, possesses slight significance.
  11. Fortuitous, that is, so far as any particular type of behavior acquisition is concerned. There is no chance involved in the matter of whether reactions will be acquired when the appropriate stimuli are present.
  12. This point we discuss in various chapters in Part II.
  13. Chapter VI.

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