An Outline of Social Psychology

Chapter 6: Cultural Behavior As Psychological Phenomena

Jacob Robert Kantor

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For the study of social conduct no perspective is more important than the psychological background. It is exceedingly essential, therefore, to have a correct notion as to the nature of psychological facts.

In placing cultural activities in their proper psychological setting we need to observe at the outset that the science of psychology at the present time is undergoing a series of transformations. These changes amount to no less than a revolution in our conceptions concerning the nature of mental life. Psychology is attempting at last to free itself from many of the traditional theories that have served in an exceedingly unfortunate way to obscure our understanding of psychological happenings. Briefly, psychology has for some time been receding from commerce with "psychic" states and has developed an objective method of interpretation of its data.

Since we have already found it necessary to refer to some of the characteristics of psychological phenomena our present aim is merely to stress the points which have not yet been emphasized. We turn then to a brief statement of the general character of objective psychology.


Objective[1] psychology has for its data nothing but the con-

( 174) -crete interaction of psychological organisms with the actual objects with which they are in contact. These objects interact with organisms by stimulating them to action. Here we have a type of interaction that in every sense parallels the interaction of objects as they are studied in any natural science. As a matter of fact, in specific instances psychological data are merely types of facts built upon and developed from observations of exactly the same events which provide data for some of the other natural sciences. To illustrate, we observe a person kicking a ball. This event may be studied (1) as a physical fact, the interaction of objects, namely the person and the ball, (2) as a biological fact, or the operation of irritable and conductive tissues (person) when mechanically stimulated by something (ball) and (3) as the psychological fact of a person responding to (by placing where it belongs) some object which has the property of stimulating certain action.

The physical scientist handles the event on the basis of a formula of equivalence of forces. He considers the two interacting objects each as composed of definite physico-chemical organizations having various effects upon each other when they come into contact. All of this is in terms of masses and velocities.

The biologist, on the other hand, studies the same event in a different way. He takes account of the diverse and peculiar organization of one of the two interacting things. He observes that the event happens differently than when the two objects are both of the type of organization studied by the physical scientist. For example, because the reacting organism is capable of growing and storing up energy, it performs a type of activity which may be described as irritability; that is to say, its responses are entirely out of proportion to the influence upon it of the other object. Instead of this event constituting an instance of the equivalent operation of forces it may be described as the response of one object to the other.

( 175) A further investigation of the reacting object from the biological standpoint elicits the fact that its irritability constitutes a specific series of movements depending upon its structural organization. In plain terms, what the reacting object does, is contingent upon its anatomical and physiological organization. Thus its activities are constant in their operation. The function of the stimulating object is merely to call out in each instance a specific biological (anatomical and physiological) response based upon definite mechanisms. In short, the stimulus object puts the mechanisms or reactions into play.

Turning now to the observation of the event from the psychological standpoint we find that the activity is always especially adapted to the particular stimulating situation. In other words, the action is decidedly differential. Not only does the organism very definitely discriminate between objects on the basis of their natural properties, but the form of its reaction is also determined by the fact that the object which elicits the response does so because of the organism's previous experience with it. In other words, the psychological response depends upon the individual's historical and biographical relationship with objects. In detail this means that the reacting organism has built up what we may call behavior or reactional equipment; so that what the individual has previously acquired as types of action are now performed.

The historical nature of psychological phenomena is clearly revealed in considering the case of language. Notice, that my ability to speak the kind of language I use, and to refer linguistically to things, events, and persons, depends upon my previous historical relationship with such things. All the facts of language as psychological phenomena are the result of my acquiring psychological responses to specific stimuli objects and conditions.

On the side of the stimuli we have explained several times that in the historical interaction of the individual with objects, the latter take on what we call stimulational functions.

( 176) Correlative with the individual's development of behavior equipment the object is endowed with stimulational capacities. The ball is kickable (may now be kicked), rollable, throwable,[2] etc. These functions operate to arouse the correlated behavior equipment of kicking, etc. It is possible now for the reacting organism to perform a large number of particular activities with respect to objects corresponding with the exact historical experience that the person has had with them.

The question as to what type of response or which of the individual's numerous reaction equipments will operate at any particular time, depends upon a number of circumstances. It is contingent to a great extent upon the surroundings in which the object is found. To take a language example again, what I say out of all the things that I might say, depends upon the regard I have for social proprieties and upon the consideration of my advantages and disadvantages, etc. Further, whether I say anything or not is possibly the result of being at the same time in contact with other objects to which I might perform preferential responses. Instead of speaking, I may do any one of a number of different acts. The particular reactions I have acquired and perform at any time are further conditioned by my biological and hygienic conditions at the moment.

The absolutely essential point here is that we have an uncompromising naturalistic description of psychological facts. In psychology as in the physical and biological divisions of study, we merely describe what occurs. Just as in the physical sciences we say that the equivalent interaction of bodies is owing to physico-chemical properties, and, as in the biological field we call the metabolic, contractile and irritable actions, biological properties, so in the case of psychological

( 177) facts we designate what happens as events attributable to the psychological properties of organisms. The properties here too are really generalizations concerning the actual differential conduct of organisms with respect to stimuli objects.[3] Each of these orders of facts are genuine and autonomous. So far as the objects are concerned that perform the actions they may be considered as placed upon a single line made up of points, each representing elements in an ascending series of complexities. The inorganic object constitutes, of course, the simplest in the series, and the complicated psychological organism the most complex, with protoplasmic structures fitting into a middle position between the two.

The studies of organismic psychology begin and end with the actual observable interactions between organisms and the objects stimulating them to act. Speculation as to how or why such phenomena should exist is hardly in order but it may be suggested that the general origin of psychological phenomena be looked for in the complicated evolution of animals. Certainly one cannot explain the existence of psychological activity by merely pointing to the presence of a brain or even the total complex nervous apparatus. A basis for psychological phenomena must be sought in nothing less than the complete evolution of the entire organism and its historical contact with environmental circumstances.


One of the first conclusions derived from an objective and naturalistic description of psychological events is that no mind-body problem is involved at any point. This is, however, not a mere neglect to consider the issue. In reality there never has been any necessity to look upon a psychological organism as a body or a biological mechanism to which is

( 178) somehow attached psychic or spiritual powers controlling or accompanying its activities. This entire mind-body problem, with its ostensible supports in physiological or neurological data, was never based upon actual observations, but represents a sheer traditional interpretation fostered by cultural attitudes.

We are convinced of this when we devote our attention to the general development of psychological science. For at every point we find that its scientific conceptions are influenced by cultural phenomena. A study of scientific history warrants the assumption that if psychology had continued the development forecasted in the psychological interpretations of the Greeks, it would have entirely avoided that phase of its historical evolution which is bound up with the mentalistic viewpoint, namely, that the psychologist deals with intangible elements or processes, somehow connected with the tangible elements of the biological organism. This conception owes its origin to the fact that psychology was developed under the auspices of the occult attitudes of the Orient rather than the rationalistic ideas of the Greeks. Organismic psychology accordingly stands for the complete extrusion of all conceptions of parallelism and interactionism. The only factual basis that has ever existed for these conceptions reduces to the circumstance that every act of a psychological individual is at the same time the behavior of a biological organism, namely the functioning of certain structures.

From the standpoint of a strictly objective psychology the two features of an event demanded by science as the interacting constituents of a fact, are the actual psychological individual, an animal or human being on the one hand, and the stimulus object, whether a physical thing, an animal or person, on the other. Essentially, this objective position is founded upon the notion that whenever any form of psychological action occurs, whether it be crude or subtle, there is a complete and total operation of the animal organism. The differences in responses are due in particular to the functions of

( 179) the stimulus situations and in general to the adaptation predicament. Naturally in some cases the organism's responses are more clearly in evidence but this merely constitutes an accidental fact of ease of observation. The investigation of psychological phenomena, therefore, is limited to the observation and inferential study of the details of the reciprocal actions of organisms and stimuli objects, and in addition the history of such interactions.

In the interest of scientific orientation we urge that even within the field of psychological studies it is sometimes necessary for practical purposes to regard the biological components of a response as operating by themselves. Especially is this the case if the need arises to work out correlations of events when abnormalities and malfunctioning of responses are being investigated. Such an isolation of factors from a total situation is entirely comparable with the detaching of detailed physcao-chemical reactions from the inclusive digestive process. We must never lose sight of the fact that such descriptions of events are merely distinctions in description which involve what is frequently an entirely logical separation and neglect of other indispensable features of the total happening. To keep this fact alive means that we will never inject into our psychological interpretations any sort of animatistic forces or powers. In detail we will not regard ideas, intelligence, or memory as psychic forces correlated with the operation of neurons or any other feature of the anatomical organism. It is such reifications of subtle behavior which have led to the unscientific doctrines of psychic causes and determiners presumed to operate in human conduct.

For the benefit of those who may find an objective science of psychology a difficult creed we must insist that our naturalistic attitude toward psychological phenomena in no sense leads us to exclude from the field any actual facts or events that actually occur therein. We are not overlooking a single phenomenon, no matter how subtle its operation or how in-

( 180) -discernible its performance. The naturalistic viewpoint of psychology does not exclude the most refined desires, the heights of passion or anguish, the most intricate inventive processes nor the deepest speculations in which persons indulge. On the contrary, it is only such an objective and naturalistic psychology that can give such phenomena the descriptive and interpretative handling they require.


One of the most fundamental conceptions of objective psychology is that of reactional biography. We recall that this conception refers to the individual's actual development of behavior. Since only responses are psychological facts every element of psychological science is developed in the person's progressive contacts with objects and situations. These interactions constitute his reactional history or biography. When reactions are simple the development occurs in a momentary fashion without much effort or expenditure of time. The more complicated responses on the other hand, develop under very different conditions. That an action can occur at any particular moment means that it has a reactional background in the previous contacts of the individual with the present stimulational circumstances.

The conception of reactional biography likewise serves as an excellent tool for the study of individual differences. It is precisely in different reactional biographies that we discover the basis for the psychological uniqueness of every person no matter how similar he may be to other individuals biologically. In the same way we learn what are the actual psychological circumstances involved in a person becoming a part of various human groups.

When we ask how it happens that this person can make things while another cannot, or why that individual reads when such action is impossible for someone else, there is no other

( 181) explanation than that found in the different circumstances of the reactional biographies of the respective individuals. That one individual performs reading activities is so because he developed a system of responses including the mere perceptual discrimination of letters or words, and the acquisition of the referential responses involved in connecting the words with the objects to which they refer. Our reading illustration carries over to all psychological phenomena. For every specific psychological fact goes back to a similar origin. We may further assert that the perfectibility or expertness of reactions are likewise contingent upon the reactional biography of the acting organism. In this case the question is not so much sheer contact with things, but rather the number and success of the contacts.

Since one's reactional biography is clearly a matter of development psychological phenomena are therefore in no sense absolute or predestined. Each specific element has its own naturalistic origin and evolution. Every fact of psychology is dependent for its existence upon the multitude of actual circumstances through which it has come into existence. These circumstances go back to the very earliest developments of the acting organism, and continue to the particular time and place circumstances in which the responses eventuate. Thus, we may consider the reactional biography in its totality as a series of levels each superimposed upon the preceding one.

A good illustration is the planning of a structure by an architect. Present abilities and performances go back to proximate preceding situations in which similar plans were drawn for comparable buildings, a level which is itself based upon the apprentice period in which only partial plans were worked upon. The latter may be traced farther down to the training period of the architectural school level, which is in turn founded upon the stage of elementary drawing and appreciation of various objects. These suggestions serve merely to remind us of the infinite series of circumstances which

( 182) have had a part in the inception and evolution of every particular psychological fact. While it is always easier to assume intangible states and processes rather than to attempt to recover the multiplexity of details which have preceded the existence of some psychological happening, it is only the latter method which gives us the sort of information which is considered acceptable in any other science.

Our discussion has emphasized primarily those features of the reactional biography of organisms which have been most favorable to the development of psychological behavior, but we must not fail to take account also of unfavorable circumstances which hinder or prevent an individual's performance of psychological conduct. Lack of necessary or desirable abilities with the consequent failure of the person to perform appropriate actions, have their causal conditions likewise located in the circumstances of the individual's reactional history.


Whenever the organism performs particular reactions to things these responses not only constitute immediate events but they may reoccur in the future contacts with these things. Every organism accordingly develops during the course of its reactional history a complement of specific reaction systems which we call the personality equipment. This behavior equipment, as potential responses capable of being actualized into movements, postures, attitudes, speech, or thought, constitutes the psychological personality.

Since the individual never ceases to have contacts with objects and conditions, his personality equipment is in neverceasing process of development. Hence he is constantly acquiring new ways of responding to surrounding things. Those activities which are not repeated and which do not comprise constant performances do not become part of the person's equipment. Without doubt, this personality develop-

( 183) -ment begins as early as the later stages of the intrauterine life of the individual. In that period the organism acquires some of the simpler modes of differential sensitivity to things, which we have indicated under the heading of universal responses. Immediately after birth the organism's contact with his surroundings are simple enough to continue the development of these universal forms of responses which are characterized mainly by the biological nature of the individual and the natural properties of objects.

As soon, however, as the organism becomes more mature and biologically mobile enough to enter into and change its relations with respect to objects, it develops behavior equipment of the type we have called basic. Such reactional acquisitions are in part cultural and non-cultural. With the continuation of the individual's maturation, the more specifically idiosyncratic and contingential activities are performed, and thus he adds to his behavior equipment more complex and personal types of action.

The different movements, postures, and attitudes of the organism can be organized into a series of types of psychological conduct. These may be named maintenance responses, skills, knowledge, abilities, tastes, intelligence, manners, thinking, and so on. To complete such a catalogue of reactional equipments or behavior traits means to mention every type of response which we may expect any given person to perform.

Since the personality equipment of an individual depends so rigidly upon his reactional biography the similarity or dissimilarity of psychological personalities is a result of the commonness or uncommonness of their behavior experiences. Thus, through the homogeneity of certain features of the lives of all human organisms, all personalities have some personality elements in common. But for the most part each personality is decidedly different from every other one. For not only are different individuals in contact with different things and diverse features of the same things, but they interact with these

( 184) stimuli objects and conditions at different times. These circumstances make possible many variations in personality development, even with a fairly similar set of general surroundings.

Similarities of surroundings comprise not merely the environs consisting of natural objects but cultural objects and social situations as well. Aside from the commonness in natural surroundings of persons the basis for most of the human similarities of traits are attributable to the inevitable organization of individuals into specific groups. Here of course we have a different type of homogeneity of personality. In the non-cultural situation personality similarities comprise only very simple activities and there are no barriers between individuals from the most remote places on earth. With respect to the cultural situation, however, the commonness has a limited extent, marked by the boundaries of a specific collectivity.


An objective psychological study makes plain that personality does not include any factor ordinarily referred to as original nature. If we can only accept as observable facts the acquisition and later performance of responses to stimuli there is no place left for predetermined personality traits. We must quite frankly assert that this original nature is an occult conception. It goes back to the attitude that at the basis of human mind or action there is some sort of metaphysical substance or process. Whether one means by original nature a transcendental self or spirit or a unified consciousness there is always a reference to something totally dissociated from any observable fact. At least one may be referring to a verbal metaphor in the fashion of the "spirit of the time" or a "gift of the gods." When we confine our studies to actual responses to stimuli there is no room at all for such a notion.

It must be admitted of course that many of those who are

( 185) inclined toward the conception of original nature mean only potentialities resident in the biological organization of individuals. Such a suggestion is not unreasonable, but as we have shown in the chapter on biological implications, such potentialities are exceedingly limited. So meagre indeed are the biological possibilities here that they cannot even suggest an original endowment of definite ways of acting culturally. We have no recourse but to agree that traits and characteristics of any particular personality are a function in a mathematical sense of the particular events and situations connected with a person's reactional history.

Besides biological potentiality we may add another suggestion for the meaning of original nature. By this term one might refer to the successively preceding stages of a person's personality equipment. Since at any given moment a person's equipment may be traced back to a previous reactional status, we may from the standpoint of his present development refer to this previous behavior equipment as his original nature. As we have already pointed out from the time that the individual emerges from his status of a sheer biological organism in his earliest infancy, his personality consists of cumulatively developing levels of psychological activities. We may say if we like that these cumulative developments take place as a hierarchal series of natures.


Personality is inevitably a matter of behavior. We may well expect, therefore, that even personalities which in the final analysis are entirely unlike each other, may have so much equipment in common that they incline toward types.

Generally speaking, the personalities that develop in particular anthropic collectivities become typical of those groups. For instance, the individuals from some given community in their linguistic equipment, intellectual attitudes and beliefs,

( 186) resemble each other much more than they do individuals from other collectivities. Out of the innumerable personality types we mention as examples the primarily professional, occupational, logical or illogical, affective or non-affective, reserved and unreserved forms. Since the basis for the classification lies in the predominance of some particular form of reactional equipment, it is possible to have personality types of every variety.

Because we are dealing here with actual facts of behavior it is evident that these classes are not absolute forms but may shift and change according to the restricting and expanding experiences of the individuals concerned. How long, as a matter of fact, these typifications of personality perdure depends definitely upon the number of reaction systems involved and the length of time they have constituted a part of the individual's equipment. In other words, an individual who has many feminine traits and by force of social circumstances is constantly required to perform them will always be that type of person. An individual on the other hand, who has hardly become initiated in the legal profession when he leaves it, will not have strongly enough engrained in him the attitudes and language that mark the legal personality. On the whole, the idea of personality types must not be regarded as anything but a practical classifying procedure for very restricted purposes. Otherwise we are very liable to turn away from actual behavior phenomena to metaphysical abstractions.


Probably the central feature of psychology as the study of natural and historical events is the behavior segment. A behavior segment constitutes the smallest descriptive unit of an organism's, responses to a stimulus. It consists of two reciprocal actions. On the one hand, we have some sort of movement, posture, attitude, or secretion of the person or

( 187) organism, while on the other, appears the action of the stimulus object in eliciting the response. These two features of the behavior event are reciprocal in two senses. In the first place, the response and the stimulus-function are absolutely correlated. While as a rule the individual may be able to perform a large number of responses with respect to some particular object, every specific reaction consists of a very definite adjustment. Each response elicited by an object is absolutely commutual with one of its many stimuli functions. In the second place, the reciprocal character of the two events is a result of a previous historical connection between the organism and the object. This historical situation as we have seen accounts for the fact that the object can call out a specific response in an individual and at the same time explains why he performs a particular type of reaction to it. These two functions, namely, the individual's action and the function of the stimulus object are therefore reciprocal both in origin and actual operation.

As we may well expect, behavior segments are of all varieties. Individuals in their reactional biographies acquire innumerable types of responses to objects, while the objects in turn take on all sorts of stimulational functions. A decidedly useful distinction marks off behavior segments as simple and complex. This division is made on the basis of how little or how much action may be included in one unit of psychological description. In some behavior segments the movements or postures of the individual are exceedingly simple; that is the individual does not perform much action to his stimulus object. A typical example is the reflex behavior segment which may consist of a single jerk of the hand away from some hot object. In other behavior segments the individual performs considerable action as a single adjustment. Whenever this occurs we can regard the reaction as itself composed of a number of units, though indivisibly interrelated in one single pattern of adjustment. In such cases the person

( 188) distinctly attends to some object, perceives it, and then performs a definitive response to it. The definitive act may be regarded as the final phase of the response pattern, while the preceding movements constitute the precurrent phases.

Besides the descriptive distinction of simple and complex behavior segments we may otherwise differentiate between such action units on the basis of the type of relationship between the individual and the objects to which they react. Some responses constitute immediate adaptation to objects, as in our reflex example; or the reactions may be delayed in their final operation as in the case of memory. Still other distinctions may be made on the basis of whether the response is an informational, knowledge, or a performative reaction, or whether the behavior segments are intelligent and rational adjustments or unwitting and unintelligent adaptations to things.

Correlated with these various modes of action are the differences in the way stimuli objects operate. Sometimes they function directly, such as when one is pricked by a pin which calls out an immediate reaction on the basis of this simple stimulational contact. Or objects operate by substitution; for instance, this hat reminds me of some other one with which I have had some sort of previous experience. A more complicated example of this type of substitutional function is the stimulating effect of objects that elicit imaginative and inventive activities. Indeed the stimuli functions residing in our own organisms and their functions are probably among the most direct that we find.

While obviously we cannot assume that all the details of even the simplest psychological act are known or can be described, we may still confidently assert that the behavior segment exhausts the entire series of features of a psychological happening. In other words, we cannot admit into our psychological descriptions any mysterious processes which might be added to the responses of the organism or to the stimulus

( 189) object. Organismic psychology stands squarely against any conception of an unknowable mental or spiritual process which is manifested either in the general behavior of organisms, or through the workings of the nervous system.


In furtherance of our exposition of an objective psychological science we may describe in a little more detail the nature of a psychological action. Our procedure here constitutes merely an attempt to single out the factors of the simplest unit of behavior which we call a reaction system.

For practical purposes we may analyze every response into a series of components such as muscle action, gland action, bone action, neural functioning, discriminating, attending, and the excitedness or pleasingness of the organisms' contact with a stimulus, and so on.[4]

Because of the differences in the character of reaction systems some of their factors are more emphasized than others. In crude movements glandular and muscular elements seem to play the more prominent role. When we remember, think, or reflect, however, such gross features are on the surface not so obvious. In these cases the attending and discriminating components are easily observed either in one's own or some other person's action. The more subtle components on the other hand, one can observe better in oneself than in others. No question, however, exists but that each component of the reaction system is in operation whenever the organism meets with any kind of object which elicits a response from him.

Serviceable distinctions between reaction systems may be made upon the basis of their time of origin, their duration as components of the personality equipment, and their observability while being performed. Reaction systems which occur

( 190) very early in the lifetime of organisms we refer to as primary. Some of the most simple systems, such as the reflex reaction systems, are based to a large extent upon the individual's biological organization. Accordingly when simple contacts with objects first occur reflex reaction systems are organized early and without any elaborate development. These types of activities are also persistent. On the other hand, there are many types of reaction systems which the individual acquires under specific stimulational circumstances and which he may perform frequently over a period of time, but which finally disappear, never again to be part of the individual's reactional equipment.

As we have already implied in the discussion of stimuli objects some reaction systems function while the individual is in overt connection with objects, while others operate implicitly, that is, are performed in the absence of the original objects to which they have been developed. In this case they are elicited through substitute stimuli. Many of these implicit responses are inapparent to the observer, and hence may be looked upon as hidden movements or actions. It is also possible that the individual who performs the reactions may not himself know that he is performing them. This is obviously true of course for overt reaction systems as well as implicit ones.


Our study of the reactional biography and personality has made it sufficiently plain that the existence of psychological facts is dependent upon very specific influencing circumstances. We may reiterate once more that these influences are found only to a very slight extent in the biological make-up of persons. Considerably more importance must be accorded to stimuli circumstances. But by far the most significant in-

( 191) -fluences upon psychological behavior are found in the anthropic conditions of persons. Let us consider a few of the general effects of such conditioning factors.

(1) In the first place, these conditions result in the origination of all types and qualities of psychological personality. Human individuals living under different circumstances develop different types of mentality. Thus we find individuals responding to many things in a mystical and supernatural way as compared with persons of other groups. Other variations occur in belief, knowledge, inventiveness, speech, and so on. Now despite the difficulties encountered in choosing standards for human conduct we may regard some behavior as superior to others. Aesthetic conduct may be more or less artistic, and logical action more or less rational.

The role of anthropic circumstances in conditioning types of action may be illustrated by a concrete example. Certain tribes of Eskimos possess a superior skill in sewing absolutely water tight boots out of skins. Can we look to any other source of this intelligence than the stimulation found in the life conditions and cultural traditions of the Eskimos? The existence of inventive capacities and practices of all sorts may be attributed exclusively to just such circumstances. In fact, it is such skills, capacities, among other actions that constitute psychological phenomena. Were such conditions as we have been indicating lacking for the development of these behavior traits, they would not occur.

(2) Next we may examine the loss or disappearance of psychological capacities and traits through changes of human circumstances. When arts disappear and conventions are destroyed the mentality connected with such human factors drops out also. An illuminating example is the loss of the general intelligence of artisanship which resulted from the introduction of machine processes. Formerly, the necessities which prompted the personal production of an article, with attendant knowledge of requisite material, and skill in crafts-

( 193) -manship, gave origin to and supported much psychological behavior which today has vanished.

Concomitant with the origin, existence, and disappearance of psychological actions and traits are series of modifications in type of personality. For example, the anthropic complex which we may label the machine age, affords numerous possibilities and limitations of the kind discussed. Equipments are acquired which transform persons into self-reliant and selfconfident individuals rather than the opposite. Again it is a machine age which inevitably produces increased inventive capacities.

In concluding this section we may be reminded that in the chapters on anthropic phenomena we have had occasion to indicate the influence of psychological processes upon anthropic processes. Here we take account of the counterbalancing influences of anthropic happenings on the development and disappearance of psychological events. It is apparent that human circumstances and psychological phenomena are mutually occurring and mutually influencing facts.


Mental tests have for some time ceased to be the focal point of psychological interest. And yet it is most fitting that we should conclude our psychological perspective with a brief inquiry into this subject, since the problems of mental tests are very closely connected with the issues of social psychology. Generally speaking, mental tests are associated with social psychological issues through the various uses made of the conception of innate mental capacity. For example, it is because of tests that social psychologists and other students of social phenomena retain their belief in the uniqueness of group mentality. There are psychologists and sociologists who still believe that mental tests demonstrate the absolute

( 193) inferiority of certain groups to others. So-called Alpines are presumed to be lower in native mental capacity than the soi-disant Nordics. Even those who abjure this belief still cling to the notion that mental tests show the absolute superiority of white to negro mentality.

Again, those anthropologists who reject the notions of superiority just mentioned still think that by means of mental tests they can study the problems of racial (really cultural) mentality, especially by way of discovering whether or not there are pure races.

Into our present purview mental tests enter because certain sociologists believe that they comprise the tools by means of which scientists have finally established the truth of Aristotle's political theory that some men are born to rule others.

Now while these various assumptions concerning tests are couched in sociological and ethnic terms, it is obvious that they are readily translatable into the question whether members of psychological collectivities are endowed with certain types of innate mental qualities. The question is, do mental tests really measure innate mentality? For the psychologist the problem cuts still deeper. It reaches down to whether mentality is something in the nature of an internal force or whether it comprises responses to stimuli. In a sense the inquiry into mental testing constitutes a crucial test of objective psychology. Let us determine then what are mental tests and what they measure.

Possibly we can best pursue our inquiry by glancing briefly at the origin of the test movement. For the beginnings of the present tradition we must go back to the work of Galton. He it was who, living very close to the sources and developments of the species-evolution movement, became interested in applying those conceptions to the human organism. Galton, a supreme philanthropist, and at the same time a rational religionist who believed that man should look upon himself as possessing a power to shape the course of humanity, de-

( 194) -sired to improve the human race. Accordingly, he attempted to isolate specific characteristics of individuals in order to control their lines of descent. From his work may be dated the most serious attempt toward what has become universally known as eugenics.

Galton, of course, lived in a mentalistic age. It is obvious, then, that he could not but believe that mentality, or what we call the reactional character of persons, consists of qualities of the individual. By qualities he understood traits of organisms analogous to their biological qualities, namely species characteristics. In consequence, he accepted as hereditary such qualities as moral awareness, gregariousness, coyness and caprice, criminal traits, madness, etc.

The psychological implications here are extremely clear. Because Galton, as well as other psychologists of the time, was heavily laboring under the weight of the dualistic tradition, he attempted to place in parallel columns what was regarded on the one hand as hereditary intellectual and moral faculties, and on the other, physical or bodily traits.

The Galtonian science of psychometrics did not develop very far. And the reason possibly was that it failed to show expected results. According to the prevalent evolutionary conception at that time it was assumed that persons of socalled civilized and uncivilized groups possessed different grades of mentality. Galton's tests, which consisted of such determinations as visual and auditory acuity, failed, however, to differentiate between persons from these two groups. Mental tests seemed to promise nothing concerning differences in mentality.

A new beginning of the test movement arose with Binet who was interested in the learning problem of school children. Binet devised a series of tests to discover the character of dative intelligence. These tests ranged from merely pointing to the nose, mouth and other organs, to definition and the discovery of absurdities in statements. It was these alleged

( 195) measures of native mentality in the form of intelligence which took the psychological world by storm.

Now obviously the testing in both phases of the test movement consists of having persons perform responses to various questions or other stimuli. Mentality expressed as intelligence, capacity, capabilities or abilities are however presumed to be some force aside from the performances. Clearly, these forces are gratuitous assumptions. Words such as qualities and traits help out here to propagate the conception of manifested powers. Performances are confused with abilities or powers which are thought to be shown in the performance but yet are not the performances.

As we have already intimated psychologists have shifted their ground considerably under the stress of critical bombardment, but the changes in position are mostly verbal. For example, testers do not like to admit that they test pure intelligence, but insist rather that through statistical methods they are able to infer native capacity. But such thinking still retains occult faculties, considering that what is tested is still presumed not to be acquired. For otherwise how can one preserve the distinction between capacity or abilities, and achievement, which is practically always done?

Again, testers have retreated from the statement that the tests measure native intelligence, toward the position that intelligence means merely what the tests test. Were this a sincere move all would be well. For then tests would merely be supposed to measure responses or performances which obviously must be developed. No taint of occult mentality would be involved in this conception, but, unfortunately, those who make this statement still believe in general intelligence or capacities undetermined by specific things or tasks. Along with such native capacities they may or may not harbor in their thinking about testing systems, specific innate abilities. The occult character of unacquired special abilities is of course on a par with that of the more general capacities.

( 196) Genuinely to give up these mystic powers means that one eschews commerce with native genius, and with innate mental deficiency, or normality. Too many psychologists are convinced. that tests have shown ultimate mental inferiority of negroes to enable us to regard mental testers as having actually renounced innate mental powers.

The various shifts and dodges with which the test literature is replete testify eloquently to the general recognition of the conceptual difficulties involved. We may refer then to the most favorite of these subterfuges, namely that those who wish to avoid the stigma of occultism turn to biological structures of the organism. In no sense is it permissible, however, to reduce intelligence, ability, or capacity to simple physiological functions. The disguise here is too thin. Whenever we speak of any actual fact and use the term capacity, ability or intelligence, we are referring to a complex action that varies absolutely with the things to which we react. Moreover, in our discussion of the biological bases or causes for psychological phenomena, we have sufficiently seen that to conceive of mentality in this fashion is a wholly gratuitous enterprise. Psychological phenomena even of the simplest and crudest sort, say reflexes, are not functions of biological structures; rather, they are acts of the organism.

May we repeat once more that the term mentality properly employed is nothing but a name for action, an action which is a very specific historical response developed in the reactional biography of the individual. The same conclusion we must come to, with respect to the terms ability, capacity, intelligence, etc.

Tests, therefore, as tools employed in objective psychology can be nothing more than stimuli to elicit responses or performances which the organism has acquired throughout his reactional biography. It is these acts of the organism as summing up its behavior equipment that exhaust all that one may properly speak of as mentality. Only through tests conceived

( 197) in this way can we deal with the factual materials that comprise all that we may legitimately regard as the person's behavior status, his intelligence, or his capabilities. To discover through tests the intricate behavior facts of a person it would seem that one would need to design them differently for each individual. Only in this way can the results be significant. One might, of course, be interested only in comparing persons so far as some given routine task is concerned. Group tests of this type may be easily contrived, and employed with satisfactory results.

Now just as in the case of non-cultural reactions we discover through tests the types of individual histories the person has had, so we may employ tests to reveal the kind of cultural conduct a person has acquired in the loci in which he has lived. By drawing up a series of test stimuli we may elicit to our complete satisfaction the nature of the cultural equipments the individual possesses and the sources from which they have been derived. This assumes that we can connect his responses with various collectivities. In every case of course we may expect that all the qualities or traits of mentality of the individual, in the sense of reactional equipments, are inextricably connected.

Before asking what applications can be made of tests for the solution of problems beyond the domain of cultural psychology, we must remind ourselves of some results obtained from our biological perspective. When we ask if tests can be devised to discover the inherent mental qualities or races we recall that anthropologists are unable to discover any such entity as distinct types of men to which the name race can be properly applied. Either because there is no such fact as race in the sense of a biological distinction between men, in other words, there is only one species of individuals however they may differ in their color and size, or because there is no such thing as an unmixed race, it is impossible for us to conceive of racial tests. It is futile to seek for distinct

( 198) types of original or ultimate mentality even if there were such things.

In view of the fact that psychological phenomena are all reactions developed by individuals in their reactional histories it is idle to design tests of ethnic mentality. Valid psychological tests can only be used to elicit responses developed by persons under cultural psychological circumstances, and not as members of national or ethnic groups as such. Moreover, all tests to test individuals from different psychological groups must be designed from the standpoint of their respective groups, for it has become transparent how fallacious it is to attempt to test an individual with tests constituting stimuli belonging to another cultural collectivity.

The participants in test controversies definitely reflect the influences upon their thinking of various cultural circumstances. In other words, the culturalization of the contenders definitely determine their arguments and mental test theories. We mention but one instance.

In brief, mental test controversies are thoroughly permeated with political preconceptions. On the one hand, test opponents accuse the testers of involving themselves with theological problems of predestination and infant damnation. This charge is entirely beside the point when applied to those workers who regard tests as stimuli tasks to elicit performances of some definite sort. But for those testers who harbor conceptions of occult powers and abilities the charge remains to be disproved.

On the other hand, testers accuse those who object to the doctrine of innate intelligence or ability, of confusing the political doctrine of equality with the psychological doctrine of equality. As a basis for this statement the testers point to the fact that persons actually are different. In this case the accusation against the anti-testers is beside the point, since no evidence is forthcoming that any inevitable psychological differences can be found in normal human individuals. No

( 199) one denies that individuals are different. The question is whether these variations represent differences in personality equipment developed through varying reactional biographies or are accounted for by ultimate differences in mental constitution, whatever that term may mean. Furthermore, the truth sometimes quoted by testers that an individual's psychological status cannot be changed after it is developed cannot be hurled against the test objector as a proof of inherent psychological inequality. For in the traditional doctrine of psychological habit formation it has always been recognized that it is very difficult and sometimes impossible to get rid of habits once formed.


General Treatises

JAMES, Principles of Psychology, 1890.

WOODWORTH, Dynamic Psychology, 1918.

WATSON, Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist, 1919.

KANTOR, Principles of Psychology, 1924-1926.

WEISS, A Theoretical Basis of Human Behavior, 1925.

Testing Materials

TERMAN, The Measurement of Intelligence, 1916.

BURT, Mental and Scholastic Tests, 1921.

LIPPMAN, Six Articles on Intelligence Tests, New Republic, 1922.

TERMAN, "The Great Conspiracy," New Republic, 1922.

PINTNER, Intelligence Testing, 1923.

BAGLEY, Determinism in Education, 1925.

PETERSON, Early Conceptions and Tests of Intelligence, 1925.

PORTEUS and BABCOCK, Temperament and Race, 1926.

FREEMAN, Mental Tests, 1926.

SPEARMAN, The Abilities of Man, 1927.

THORNDIKE, The Measurement of Intelligence, 1927.


  1. The term objective as used here refers to organismic psychology as developed in Kantor, Principles of Psychology, 1924-26.
  2. These objects as natural (non-humanistic) objects have of course always had these properties, or as humanistic objects are produced in such a way as to have them, but not from the standpoint of a newly acting organism.
  3. For a comprehensive discussion of the psychological properties, called differentiation, variability, modifiability, cf. Kantor, Principles of Psychology, ch. I.
  4. For a comprehensive analysis of a response cf. Kantor, Principles of Psychology, Vol. I, Ch. 2.

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