An Outline of Social Psychology

Chapter 8: The Nature of Institutions of Cultural Stimuli

Jacob Robert Kantor

Table of Contents | Next | Previous


Any thing, condition, person, or situation endowed with stimulational qualities which serve as common stimuli, is an institution. A house, a church, a work of art, a king or citizen, an action, an event, a date (1492), a day (Fourth of July), or actual time periods (Middle Ages, Periclean Age) are all stimuli objects whose stimuli functions call out common reactions in the members of a particular group. These things therefore are institutions in a psychological sense because they have the property of stimulating the reactions of sets of persons. Strictly speaking, of course, it is the action-eliciting properties themselves rather than the things possessing such qualities which are the institutions. Accordingly, it is possible for a single object to comprise a number of different and varying institutions because in it inhere many stimulational properties.

In social psychology, therefore, the term institution[1] symbolizes the endowment of an object or condition with stimulational functions by virtue of the fact that individuals have acquired various cultural actions with respect to them. This endowment process is ordinarily a non-deliberative procedure, for the most part occurring in the general process of human

( 241) living. Nevertheless, in many instances objects and situations take on their cultural or institutional properties through definite design.

Social psychological institutions are purely events. They are, in effect, happenings constituting commutual occurrences with the responses they elicit. We call them properties and look upon them as perduring phenomena because we are able to predict their successive reoccurrences. Knowing how these stimulational properties (institutions) have been built up in reciprocal connection with common responses in members of particular collectivities, and observing them function periodically, we may predict their operation when such individuals again come into contact with the objects in which these institutional functions inhere. The stability and continuity of psychological institutions naturally are based upon their connection with objects. In other words, institutional functions are merely the way things work when in contact with members of particular collectivities.

The cultural stimulational properties of objects are no different as properties from their natural characteristics which they possess simply as objects in nature. The social functions of a thing, of course, have no different structural foundation than functions belonging to objects as natural things. For the most part, however, we have seen that the functional nature of institutions does not necessarily coincide with their natural properties; that is, some very harmless object in nature, for instance, may be responded to socially as very injurious. The most nourishing and succulent meats and vegetables may be tabooed as food objects. It is obvious that this distinction between natural and institutional functions of objects always parallels the differentiation between the organism as an original fact in nature and as performing specific social activities.

It might be of some benefit to enlarge somewhat upon the differences between institutional properties of objects and

( 242) their normal or ordinary qualities. Even in the individual's first contact with institutional objects they are fraught with definite human attributes. In other words, we are paying tribute once more to the fact that social psychological phenomena are set in a humanistic matrix. Thus, snow may or may not be material from which houses are built, or blue may not be the color utilized for men's dress shirts, or colored persons are or are not people with whom white folks go to school or work beside, and all because of human circumstances.

Such variations in our cultural institutions depend entirely upon numerous anthropic conditions which lie at the foundation of all social phenomena. Hence, objects develop their institutional stimulation properties through contact with individuals of given communities or aggregations. Institutional properties therefore are definitely human accretions to the general complement of natural properties which objects possess. Thus it is easy to see why institutions so frequently inhere in contrived objects. Whenever group circumstances make it necessary or desirable to reconstruct natural objects, they practically always take on institutional functions.


While cultural stimuli may inhere in natural objects and persons, most of them perhaps are resident in sociological things. But since institutional stimuli or psychological institutions are derived from the same intricate humanistic complex as sociological phenomena, we must sharply distinguish psychological from sociological institutions.

A University, for instance, as a sociological institution is describable as an object organized for a particular purpose—an intellectual center—in short, the peak of the state school system. In this light we think of it as an anthropic instrument for the training of persons in particular techniques or

(243) information. For example, it may be an instrument for the improvement of agriculture, technology or the commerce of the state. Now since a psychological institution is a stimulus function, a property of educing responses, our illustrative University may be the locus of a great variety of social psychological institutions. It may have innumerable properties of eliciting the responses of persons belonging to various social psychological groups. The members of some of these collectivities react to the University as a conservator of ideological traditions, others respond to it as a center of research, while still others react to it as a breeder of discontent, etc.

Possibly no one will confuse an institution as a cultural stimulus function with a sociological institution object. In actual practice of course there is no difficulty in keeping such sociological objects as monuments, hospitals, bridges, lodges, tools, and organizations of persons distinct from their psychological functions. But how lies the case with the social functions of anthropic objects? Here is where discrimination must be made. For the reactions of persons when in contact with sociological institutions may be very like the responses of those who react to such institutions as sources of cultural stimuli functions. Thus attending a University, in the sense of taking advantage of its educational possibilities, may be regarded as the same action as merely residing within its precincts. In the latter case, one's action consists simply in remaining a member of the University population just as he continues to live in a city or state.[2]

Generally speaking, a use of an object is a property it has of being passive in the sense of having something done to it or with it. A stimulus function on the other hand, is an active property of doing something, namely, calling out responses. These uses and functions need not be confused when we realize that stimulational functions inhere equally

( 244) in the uses of things as well as in their structures, forms, or textures.

Perhaps the differences between the uses or sociological operation of objects and their cultural stimuli functions may be best demonstrated when they call out contrary types of action. An army, as a sociological military institution, has the use or function of gathering.-together and drilling men for particular kinds of activities, killing enemies, seizing territory, etc. As a psychological institution, however, the army may call out in a particular group only responses of protest and derision, although the men of the group through fear and compulsion actually perform the required actions of soldiers.

Another consideration arises. May not both the above opposing reactions constitute conventional responses to an army? Most decidedly. But in that case we should say that in addition to its uses, the army as a sociological institution serves as several different psychological stimuli. For instance, the army group contains militant individuals who react to armies as necessary and useful elements of civilization, as well as members of pacifistic collectivities who respond to armies as remnants of barbarism and sheer engines of destruction.

On the whole it should not be difficult to distinguish the use of an object from its stimulating character. For even when the use of a thing arouses action, it may call out only non-social psychological conduct. This is never the case with institutional stimuli. Probably the most prominent non-social reactions called out by anthropic institutions or their uses are those of the idiosyncratic type. An illustration is the behavior of a student who studies such anthropic institutions as scientific data. His reactions in this instance may be wholly private intellectual or knowledge actions.

In any anthropic unit we invariably find a far greater number of cultural stimuli than anthropic institutions. Indeed the latter are comparatively limited in number. No matter how simple the civilization is, however, the number of cultural

( 245) stimuli is always an exceedingly large one. On the whole, too, sociological institutions belong to the relatively static features of human life, while cultural institutions constitute always most precarious functions. The former may exist for centuries, while the latter, even as cultural qualities of the same objects, succeed each other with greater or lesser frequency. Again sociological institutions may exist quite independently of some of the members of an anthropic unit, whereas social stimuli are functions absolutely dependent upon the behavior of every member of a psychological collectivity.

Finally, we can separate in still another way anthropic institutions and their uses from the cultural stimuli which inhere in them. Briefly, we may trace out chronological and even causal connections between psychological and anthropic institutions. For instance, first, capitalistic institutions come into existence and have their sociological uses and disuses. Then they acquire institutional psychological functions stimulating belief in their value. Later these same sociological institutions and their uses may take on the functions of inducing different and even opposite psychological responses. This is the case when socialistic and communistic groups arise with conventional condemnations of the harmful character of capitalistic institutions. Perhaps it is precisely in the changes in stimuli functions and perpetuation of the sociological institutions that the distinction between the two elements is best discovered.


Institutions vary in fixity and duration. First, we are concerned with the mere temporal continuation of a cultural stimulus. Naturally enough we find that an institution persists just as long as it educes common reactions from a set of individuals. Being a function commutual with a response it perseveres just as long as the correlated reactions are elicited. Next we inquire about the relative subsistence of in-

( 246) -stitutions, or the actual lastingness of some compared with others. This issue is clearly a more particularized inquiry than the former, and forces us to give heed to the specific rise and decline of given cultural stimuli.

Both of these phases of our investigation may be generalized in the question as to how long some object or condition continues to perform a particular stimulational function. The continuity of a cultural stimulus may of course be entirely independent of the continued existence of the object in which in inheres. To illustrate, up to a certain period, namely, November 11, 1918, the German army for various psychological collectivities in Germany and other nations was a powerful instrument and force. The individuals of these groups performed knowledge and belief as well as more definite manipulatory responses to the German army institution as a stimulus. After the date mentioned, however, the German army, retaining all its other properties, lost the particular institutional function mentioned. This change resulted from the cessation of certain cultural behavior.

Such observations plainly reveal the precarious character of all types of institutions. For instance, when individuals cease thinking of the British Empire as an existing fact or even as a beneficent influence in the political world, that Empire as a cultural institution will immediately cease to function. Similarly, when the persons constituting the Indian group no longer accept British dominance as an established condition, the institution of British rule in India will no longer persist.[3] It is because of this very instability of institutions as cultural phenomena and the influence that their change in status has upon other social characteristics, that

( 247) the leaders of governments are so eager to prevent alterations of cultural attitudes and practice on the part of political groups. For this reason, too, political and other human collectivities through their constituted authorities carry on elaborate programs of education and propaganda in order to control the cultural conduct of the members of such associations.

Despite their inevitable transiency most social institutions continue their existence with marked persistency. Even though our behavior life is full of instances of social stimuli that are established at a particular time and soon thereafter pass away, there is, on the other hand, so much conventional conduct which appears more or less permanent that we cannot but conclude that the majority of institutions enjoy a long life.

Nevertheless, since institutional stimuli are after all phases of very particular events they are constantly subject to alteration in specified particulars. If it were possible to place ourselves outside of our own behavior circumstances we would readily observe the incessant modifications that go on in our cultural stimuli and our correlated behavior.

While it is exceedingly difficult to compare institutions with respect to their stability it is probably true that of fairly tangible things, humanistic objects do not maintain their stimulational functions as long as do natural objects. Nor do the latter persist in performing cultural stimulational functions with the same tenacity that is true of circumstances and conditions. It is quite apparent that the cultural stimuli inhering in customs and conventions are more rigid and stable than those resident in other types of things.

How persistent are the so-called moral and religious values because of their indefiniteness and value quality. Hence the more nebulous the organization of a tradition the mote tenacious its institutional character. Without interruption, innumerable intangible ideals and values hover like a mist over

( 248) particular communities. To such institutions group members respond in blind conformity, without knowledge or understanding. Among the most stable institutions are those connected with the commands of gods,[4] the honors of nations, the requirements of decency and the good life, the opinions of the public, or of one's neighbors, etc.


It is no haphazard suggestion that in general the conditions of institutional stability are to be sought in the anthropic background of social psychological phenomena. Among the more specific conditions we may suggest the fact of institutional establishment. When persons perform responses to an institutional stimulus the new members of a group find it a fixed feature of that collectivity. While this is not the exclusive circumstance governing the stability of institutions it is probably the most dominant one. The established institution persists to a great extent because there is no other alternative. One simply acquires correlated responses and continues to act that way.

How institutions maintain their anchorage through the fact of mere establishment is exceedingly well illustrated by the behavior of individuals who can see no merit nor necessity for novelties in any department of human conduct. The old religion is good enough. Customs become hallowed by establishment. In general, one's fixed prejudices and beliefs effectively resist the acquisition of new ways of looking at things.

Doubtless the most striking forms of the stabilization of an

( 249) institution are exemplified in the fields of scientific behavior. In this domain where the primary motive is the discovery of truth and the validation of knowledge and interpretations, we find that once an institution becomes established it thereby attains perpetuation entirely out of proportion to its actual merit.

In consequence, we frequently observe the fight for scientific fact and reason. In many cases, this merely amounts to a contention in favor or disfavor of fixed institutions. All too frequently it happens that new knowledge and advanced scientific work have no chance of becoming features of a particular scientific collectivity, because of their divergence from established competitors. Fresh suggestions and ideas appear merely as subjective opinion when compared with recognized knowledge, which because of its establishment, has an immutable value. The free development of living ideas as a general rule has no power as a combatant with the concepts already solidly ensconced as the cultural equipment of a group.

Objectivity, we add as another condition of institutional stability. When the things in which institutions inhere are objective or appear to have an existence independent of persons who react to them they are more stable. For instance, moral and conventional institutions seem to exist quite aside from individuals, and in an overwhelming manner dominate their conduct. To such a degree are conventions and laws given and fixed features of the life of the community that individuals appear hopeless with respect to modifying them. This situation is very clear in the case of industrial and technical institutions. Processes and techniques of various sorts are simply accepted factors of the work life of people. Thus it is not easy for accidents to demonstrate the superiority of new institutions or to indicate comparisons which invite modifications tending to reduce the stability of the older ones.

Strangely enough, ignorance concerning an institution's establishment is a powerful stabilizing condition. The less

( 250) the individuals of a group know about the institution's origin the more solidly ensconced it appears. Consider the extreme opposition to the early daylight savings legislation. Such interferences with "God's time" were beyond understanding.

The size of the group in which the institution functions also influences its fixation. The larger the number of persons who react to a certain stimulus function the more certain it is to continue. Hence ethnic institutions are more permanent than those connected with smaller collectivities.

What we might call the intimacy of institutions also counts in their preservation. Most persistent are the stimuli calling out ideas of the superiorities of one's race, or belief in the perfection of the moral attitudes of one's group. Indeed, the institutions to which race, religious and other group prejudices are the responses are almost immutable. Or at least it may be said that these institutions are as persistent as it is possible for any to be.

We must not fail to mention the many cases in which the permanence of institutions depends upon embodiments. We have already stated that vague and intangible institutions are the most persistent, but it frequently happens that institutional stability is the result of some kind of symbol. Attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge responses of a cultural sort continue to exist longer if the stimulating institutions are connected with a building, a song, a written or printed document, or represented by a monument, a medal, or some other material form. To the conventional person a college education without tangible certification by diploma does not seem so worthwhile, nor a marriage relation so holy as when permanently attested by a printed document.

And finally, we point to those institutions that cling because of their relations to other institutions. As we have already indicated, many cultural stimuli may inhere in a single object or situation. Now if for any reason one or more of these institutions should be firmly established, the possibilities are

( 251) that others in the cluster, or all perhaps, will perdure through the accident of conjunction. Thus when a scientific idea stimulates us to accept it as correct, we likewise tend to believe in its exclusiveness and inevitability. Quite obviously these stimulating functions achieve their longevity because of the reinforcing effect of the other qualities.


That institutions are psychological functions has been the constantly recurring theme of the present chapter. We have also sufficiently differentiated cultural stimuli from the sociological institutions in which they frequently inhere. Nor have we neglected to take account of the connections that exist between these institutions and the natural or cultural objects and conditions in which they reside.

An important task still remains. Namely, we must indicate the relation of institutions to environment. This is necessary in order to straighten out a very confused problem. We must first be sure that institutions are not environment. Secondly, we must determine what are the actual relations between the two.

Contentions concerning environmental influences upon human phenomena have always been heatedly discussed. On the one hand, environment has been made the absolute source of the character of a civilization, while on the other, it has been regarded as of no moment whatsoever. Certainly, this is an instance in which great simplification has hindered our humanistic studies. Accordingly, our goal in the present section is to indicate how institutions are related to the various surroundings of individuals.

At the outset we must submit that persons live in at least three kinds of environments, each consisting of a great series of things and situations. It is possible to regard these environments as stratified layers. The lowest or biological tier

( 252) is composed of the extensive array of circumstances which form the essential conditions of the animal existence of the personnel of the human species.

The next or middle level of surrounding things comprises the anthropic elements of civilization. These are the objects and circumstances with which man as a distinctly human type of animal interacts. In short, this is the field of civilization or culture. The objects and actions included here are of course, rooted in biological soil, but these biological circumstances do not interfere with the freedom of development of human phenomena. Such events, therefore, are distinctly human and very different from basic biological facts.

Thirdly, there is the psychological level of phenomena. The present series of objects and situations are both biological and cultural, but they are endowed with distinct properties through the behavior of persons. Natural and human phenomena thus take on psychological characteristics which diverge very widely from their original qualities.

We assume that it is well known that the term environment originally belonged to biology and still refers mainly to biological facts. In general, environment constitutes the physical surroundings to which the organism (plant or animal) has to adapt itself. In brief, it comprises such things as water, wind, air, other animals and plants, trees, earth, etc. In more restricted biological terms environment stands for food and shelter objects, as composing the inevitable correlates of the biological structures and functions (cells, tissues, organs, and physiological processes) of the organism. No datum of a living organism can be conceived of unless it somehow includes both of these interacting aspects of biological events. For the explanation of certain biological happenings, however, we may look into the relative influence of these factors. For instance, when a crop falls short of our expectations we may ask whether the difficulty is located primarily in the structure-function factor, namely in the seed, or in the environ-

( 253) -mental features, the soil, moisture or sunshine. In all such situations the two factors are operating but perhaps in unequal degrees.

Civilizational facts all fit inside such biological situations and are somewhat conditioned by them. Nevertheless, they are quite distinct. What precisely are the relations then between these different orders of facts?

We need only refer to the abundant illustrations which we have already offered of the slight influence of natural environment upon anthropic systems. Let us add, however, one more example in which total biological structures are connected with anthropic circumstances. This illustration we find in the biological facts of sex.

Anthropic phenomena are inevitably conditioned by biological sex differences and functions. But how? Surely the presence of such facts does not determine what the sexual aspect of civilization shall be like in any detail. Thus anthropic systems in which sexual phenomena participate differ most extremely. The same biological conditions constitute phases of entirely different kinds of anthropic situations. All human collectivities are composed of men and women, but what effect has this on the division of labor, on marriage customs and regulations, on family or other social organizations, on customs such as clothes wearing, style of ornamentation, or on sex morality or sex convention? Who can fail to agree that because there are many possible cultural variations connected with these absolute biological sex factors that cultural phenomena are very different facts from natural circumstances?

The biological and anthropic features of any complex sociological fact we must regard, therefore, as very different aspects of the same situation. Furthermore, on the whole, biological happenings and civilizational phenomena merely coincide and influence each other. Never do they efface each other. If biological sex factors influence cultural phenomena,

( 254) so do cultural events condition biological facts. We refer to the effects of civilization upon the differences in the structural and functional properties of men and women.

No amount of asseveration can make these propositions more plausible. Let us turn next to a consideration of the light these facts throw upon the great distance which removes psychological phenomena from the biological environment in which they are inevitably set. For observe that social psychological events usually have anthropic phenomena between them and the biological surroundings.

Lest we overlook any significant fact we must indicate that biological surroundings do exert some influence upon psychological phenomena. In the chapter on biological implications for psychological conduct we have already discovered that structure-function factors of organisms have merely a limiting influence upon their behavior. We may accordingly expect a similar connection to exist between the environmental factors and psychological phenomena. Surely the surrounding circumstances, objects, and conditions constituting the natural environment of persons, can influence behavior no further than the availability and number of stimuli functions. To illustrate, in parts of the world where no snow or ice exists it is impossible to have institutions connected with ice or snow. In other words, there can be no behavior having as its stimulus any snow institution. Psychological phenomena of the tropics, insofar as they are conditioned by natural circumstances, cannot be like the behavior of the Arctic regions of the earth. From the standpoint of sheer environment it is absolutely impossible that an individual in the torrid zone should believe that water can be solidified. So far do natural surroundings limit the existence of institutional functions.

We call attention now to a somewhat different type of environing influence. Whenever an object is involved in a psychological activity, either as a stimulus or as a product of action, the behavior is conditioned by the object's natural

( 255) constitution as an environmental fact. For example, the anthropic and social psychological responses to food are necessarily governed by its perishability or non-perishability. Or, to take another example, whether we use knives or forks in handling our food, is a fact entirely independent of our environment. But obviously we cannot use a fork when we partake of liquid food. Again, whether a certain collectivity shall or shall not use aluminum is entirely independent of its presence in their environment, but when they do utilize aluminum they can only handle it according to its natural properties.

Psychological conduct then is certainly limited by environmental facts. Nevertheless, this does not preclude. a great independence of psychological phenomena of the environment. Now, how stands the case between psychological institutional functions and anthropic facts? Here we must conclude again that the former are quite independent of the latter. While psychological institutions always exist in an anthropic milieu and are very frequently founded upon anthropic material still they are never absolutely determined by humanistic environment.

We propose two considerations. In the first place, take any complex anthropic system. Within it we find uniform ethnic and national objects. But how varied are the responses to them as performed by the members of different psychological collectivities within the large group unit. Thus, sociological facts show enormous variations in their stimulational functions.

In the second place, our study has already quite clearly indicated that the characteristics of cultural phenomena are very definitely determined by psychological factors, among others. Surely this does not indicate that anthropic phenomena constitute an inevitably determining environment for psychological happenings. A conclusive illustration we find in the case of language. No cultural influence upon persons can be so determining as the linguistic one, and yet while all

( 256) members of a particular anthropic unit speak the same language they invariably divide themselves off into smaller and smaller dialectal and colloquial groups. While this effect is surely not an exclusively psychological one, it cannot but demonstrate the independence of psychological phenomena.

If we are to understand rightly social psychological facts we must always take account of the intimate details of the person's behavior to his stimulating objects. It is only in this way that we can appreciate the infinite possibilities for the particular endowment of objects with stimulational functions. Things may operate in psychological situations in ways that have no manner of similitude to that in which they function in nature or in civilization.


As in the case of cultural reactions the attempt to classify institutions proves to be instructive with respect to their characteristics. Generally speaking we may isolate four features as the bases of our classification.

Institutions Classified by Reactions.—Because the great majority of our activities are cultural we must expect that institutions as cultural stimuli elicit behavior of every possible variety. Institutions may then be differentiated from each other on the basis of the specific types of reactions they actually educe. Do they elicit intellectual, custom, religious, economic, sexual, or some other form of conventional reaction system? It follows then that an organization of institutions on this basis consists of the enumeration of practically every form of action that individuals perform. So numerous in fact are the types of institutions that it is not necessary further to specify them. We might add, however, that such behavior may take the form of very private acts such as opinions, beliefs, judgments, likes and dislikes, or it is performed in a more obvious way and in visible concert with other individuals,

(257) as in the case of worshipping together, performing customary greeting responses, etc.

Institutions Classified by Groups.—A second criterion for differentiating between institutions is the question as to the kind of groups in which they are found. For instance, do they belong to human associations of a simple or complex type? Some institutions are found only in primitive or simple groups. Either the institutions possess a character which enables them to fit in only with a particular kind of civilizational complex or the objects in which they inhere are absent from the simpler collectivity. For example, among simpler civilizations we find institutions stimulating conduct of frankness and openness which are not ordinarily found in more complex civilizations. Again, in simpler cultural systems institutions call out reactions to property, its accumulation and use, which differ markedly from the institutions of other groups. For classificatory purposes such institutions may be called simple or complex on the basis of whether they arouse simple or complex behavior.

Cultural stimuli of other sorts of groups may also be isolated. Ethnic institutions separate themselves from social stimuli of a national character. Each of these types in turn is divided off from administrative and religious institutions. Still other classifactory diremptions are made in isolating the cultural stimuli of smaller intellectual, professional, sex, or occupational groups. Such an organization of institutions suggests the distribution of intimate stimuli functions among all the various psychological collectivities, whether they exist under ethnic and national auspices or whether they are found in smaller group environments (professions, occupations) located within larger human associations.

Institutions as features of certain anthropic collectivities may be further segregated on the basis of whether they are indigenous to any given group or whether they have been borrowed. In some cases an institution is assumed by a certain

( 258) group as a new psychological function for an object already possessed, or the institution is taken over along with an object entirely novel to the borrowing group.

The distribution of institutions among different groups is well illustrated by the variety of name responses called out by the same objects in different collectivities. Note how the various human anatomical parts stimulate diverse responses in the members of the medical as over against the non-medical group.

Classification of Institutions According to Inherence.—Another distinct criterion for organizing institutions is the kind of objects in which they inhere. Is the stimulus function a property of a person, thing, or condition?

Object and Thing Institutions.—Objects may elicit cultural responses according to their intrinsic characteristics. That is, individuals are stimulated to perform common responses to objects which are definite adaptations to these things. For example, stones are used for building materials but the specific cultural functions which inhere in stones call out in individuals of different groups particular ways of handling them in the process of building. On the other hand, another group may not endow stones with such stimulational functions at all. Thus all varieties of behavior possibilities are found in various cultural groups.

In some collectivities, objects call out cultural conduct which is entirely independent of any kind of adaptation situation, such as when stones are worshipped or stimulate conduct of a religious or intellectual nature. We need only add that every possible variety of object or thing, whether found readymade in the surroundings of individuals or whether contrived, constructed, or transformed from some other type of object, has inhering in it stimulational functions eliciting a wide range of cultural conduct. Thus rain stimulates some people to pray and others merely to measure it, or to move from a lower to a higher country.

Innumerable institutional functions reside in, various linguis-

( 259) -tic objects. First we think of the actual printed page in the form of vocabulary symbols as in dictionaries, stories, verses, or other verbal material. Then we note the linguistic rules or standards stimulating spelling, pronunciation, and other phases of social linguistic conduct. Among the most complex and important functions of vocabulary objects are those which substitute for non-existing things.

Very striking cultural behavior is that performed to religious, political, legendary, and other objects which have no existence save in the form of a representing word (democracy, liberty, national honor, brotherhood of man). That is, such objects may never have had any actual existence other than being substituted for by spoken or printed words. Reactions to such things we may well expect to be subtle on the whole, such as belief and other intellectual responses. However, they may also constitute gross apparent conduct of the most effective sort.

To complete our suggestion for thing and object institutions we may add the cultural stimulational function of churches, schools, newspapers, cities, and other complex contrived objects. To these may be appended all the objects pertaining to artistic (concordance in music, harmony in color), industrial, commercial, and military activities. Social phenomena of all sorts are also things which perform cultural functions. For example, social organizations, political associations, professional societies, and other collectivities or groups of people call out cultural responses of loyalty, adherence, approval, faith, and other types of common interrelated behavior. Similarly the customs, traditions, holidays, ideals, values, and legends of groups stimulate cultural conduct just as much as do organizations and associations of persons.

Institutional Action.—From the standpoint of number, actions as institutions stand very close to things. An enormous amount of cultural conduct is stimulated by the behavior of persons. This great mass of action institutions we may

(260) divide into two large types, on the one hand, institutional actions of individuals, and on the other, institutional actions of groups. As examples of the former we refer to the grosser activities of custom and manner behavior as well as the more subtle activities of thinking and believing. To a certain extent the correlated conduct of the grosser kinds of action institutions are similar gross responses, while the reactions to the more subtle type are correspondingly subtle intellectual conduct. However, this is not an invariable rule.

Of the grosser type of individual institutional actions we suggest the apparent responses of worshipping, speaking, ways of purchasing, manner of teaching, etc. Individuals are members of particular groups by virtue of the fact that they are stimulated by these actions to build up corresponding behavior. Typical of the more subtle action institutions are the prejudices, taste and superstitions which stimulate the dislike and detestation of individuals of one group for those of another. Race prejudice is an example. Attitudes of patriotism, social and moral evaluations of acts and objects, are none the less potent institutional phenomena of the behavior type.

Concepts, ideas, and thoughts, although among the least apparent activities of individuals, stimulate other persons to perform cultural responses no less than the grossest conduct. We instance here the ideas and beliefs concerning social, moral, and religious life. The belief of members of particular groups in the superiority of their customs and conventions, constitutes a definite institution functioning in the life of that community. Equally strong is the operation of subtle intellectual activities in the form of conceptions and beliefs found in particular scientific and intellectual groups of individuals. The belief in the inheritance of mental and social traits constitutes just such an institution in the eugenics group.

We must insist that subtle action institutions inhere in the actual responses of persons. That is to say, we must not con-

( 261) -fuse here the stimulus function of an intellectual response for example, with stimuli resident in statistical organizations of acts. Members of a psychological collectivity respond to the actual ideas and concepts of a statesman, priest, or soldier. The members of these communities react to individual responses as institutional objects. This is a different kind of stimulus object from a series of accumulated actions taken en bloc. Not to discriminate between these different phenomena is like confounding a concrete particular act of modesty with modesty as a characteristic of a social community. The latter, of course, constitutes instances of prescribed behavior.

Cumulative actions, it must be granted are also institutions. In other words, the actions of anthropic groups in speaking English, dressing and walking in specific ways, eating particular things, believing, hoping, and performing other intellectual activities, considered as organized or statistical behavior phenomena also stimulate shared conduct. But there should be no difficulty in distinguishing between the two kinds of facts. As behavior these activities may be regarded as identical happenings, but looked at from different angles. On the psychological side we deal with individual responses of persons to specific stimuli, whereas in the sociological case we have merely a record of the activity of numbers of individuals without special regard to the stimuli objects to which they are responding. In the latter instance we think of the group action stimuli as consisting of ideal systems, doctrines, conventional behavior, legal enactments, and acquiescence to rules and regulations.

Institutional Situations.—Situation institutions, while not offering us as many examples, are none the less effective in arousing cultural conduct. Probably the most striking types in this class are various social phenomena. The status of human relations and achievements of different sorts operate to call out specific types of shared reactions. Let us observe the conventional responses made to the economic situation in

(262) which usury is not permitted. These reactions are both of the practical and intellectual sort. For instance, such a situation stimulates the economic practice of avoiding the law as well as beliefs and arguments in its condemnation.

In a similar way social situations of all sorts, whether connected with economic, political, religious, or intellectual circumstances, stimulate corresponding forms of behavior. The fact that teachers are compensated at much smaller rates than plumbers or other types of tradesmen is an occurrence which assumes a definite stimulational function for the groups of individuals involved. Other situations operating as cultural stimuli are all sorts of relations between groups, such as war and peace, as well as the lack or plenitude of necessities and comforts. All these have inhering in them stimuli for conventional human behavior.

Institutional Events.—Happenings and events of both natural and human types likewise provoke conventional conduct. Such occurrences as fires, floods, storms of all sorts, abundance or failure of crops, etc., are potent sources of stimulation for many kinds of cultural behavior among localized sets of individuals. Wars, revolutions, games, and other human proceedings perform corresponding stimulational functions and have human phenomena as the basis of the inherence of their stimulational properties. We may also include here such human facts as social and political customs. The tradition of going away at certain periods of the year, for instance, stimulates many sorts of cultural action.

Institutional Persons.—Prominent among cultural stimulational functions are those lodged in persons. In the first place individuals stimulate cultural conduct exactly as do other kinds of objects, by calling out conventional responses of contact and aversion. But persons are institutionalized in a still more elaborate manner. In this instance individuals may be regarded as objects directly endowed with many complicated

(263) properties. For example, they possess certain rights and are liable to distinct obligations. Individuals as centers of political and scientific authority or as beings endowed with knowledge, occult and natural powers represent special types of human existence. Accordingly persons are endowed with a tremendously large number of complex institutional functions which elicit correspondingly complicated responses.

Institutions Classified by Quality.—Our final criterion for the organization of institutions refers to their qualities, or the way in which they call out correlated reactions.

For example, institutions may operate subtly or crudely. Naturally this quality of a stimulus is correlated with the type of object in which the stimulus function inheres. Ordinarily institutions implanted in tangible objects such as tools, weapons, etc., stimulate the individual in a bald and gross manner, whereas stimulation by intangible objects takes place in a more subtle fashion. Such is the effect upon individuals in cultural groups of insidious whisperings and undefined rumors. During the war, observers frequently noted the tremendous influence of such intangible phenomena. Quite striking also is the effect produced by an awarding jury upon one's reactions of expectancy and uncertainty or other subtle intellectual attitudes. Competing candidates for some prize, or brokers awaiting a government report suggest typical psychological situations in which such evanescent institutions function.

In this same category we place also those vague social ideas and beliefs which are well described as "being in the air." No better illustration need be sought than the notion of evolution as expressed by Tennyson for example, and which stimulated cultural responses prior to its crystallization by the work of Darwin and Wallace.

Whether or not an institution is avowed, known, or recognized, may also be regarded as one of its qualities. While a

( 264) stimulus is not affected in its mere character as a psychological element by being known, that fact often conditions the specific way it operates. We have already indicated that ignorance of an institution may increase the intensity of its functioning. We may now add that sometimes its effect is reduced.


  1. The significance of using the term institution lies in the occasions it affords us to stress the humanistic basis and origin of social psychological stimuli functions.
  2. For the distinction between psychological action and non-psychological mass action, ct. Chap. II, p. 37 ff.
  3. A nice question may be raised here as to how much or how little power the members of various collectivities have, to change either their own overt or implicit cultural conduct. To alter an anthropic situation, requires more than mere psychological conditions. We must never forget that social psychological phenomena always exist in and are conditioned by the anthropic and historical circumstances which constitute their matrix.
  4. Thus, the daily papers report that a preacher was listened to with disdain when he declared that since in New York City every third man was unmistakably a Jew and possibly every other third man a Catholic, the Protestant Christian has no right to force Sunday observance laws upon the whole people. All others present declared that it was "not a matter of man's viewpoint but of God's word."

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2