An Outline of Social Psychology

Chapter 10: Cultural Personality As Human Nature

Jacob Robert Kantor

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Personality we have already learned is nothing but the sum total of the response equipment which the individual accumulates throughout his reactional experience.[1] The underlying fact of psychological personality is the coordination of specific acts and particular stimulational functions. Cultural personality we may call human nature in its cultural aspects. Human nature as a psychological fact consists of the entire behavior equipment of a given individual. From a psychological standpoint therefore human nature is synonymous with personality. But human nature is of course not only cultural, but idiosyncratic as well. As cultural, human nature comprises only the sum of the intellectual, aesthetic, custom and other reactions which the person has acquired through the various socialization processes of which he is a product. Cultural personality therefore is a single though the largest phase of human nature.

Whenever we use the term personality it is understoood of course that we refer to the behavior characteristics of an individual rather than to his momentary conduct. Cultural nature refers then to traits of action. Thus cultural personality is in a genuine sense a product of the culturalization process.

Let us suggest, too, that human nature can only be regarded as the particular traits of some specific person. There is no

( 291) such thing as human nature in general, unless indeed one means to symbolize by the term the general differences between human and infrahuman animals. To have any scientific significance the term human nature must refer to specific phenomena. In its cultural aspects, human nature or personality refers to the complete and exclusive cultural behavior equipment of some given individual.


Misconceptions concerning human nature and personality are so rife that it will repay us well to take cognizance of some of them.

First, we may glance at the notion that human nature consists of various innate powers, forces and capacities. This theory has been exploited in a great variety of ways. Human individuals are presumed to be natively equipped with different ultimate capacities of intelligence, with primordial likes and dislikes, or absolute desires. These are understood to make persons act in given ways and even to be the causes for the development of particular sorts of civilization.

Probably the most popular form of this notion is that concerned with instincts. Men are assumed to be endowed with an instinct to fight, a perennial spring of action which manifests itself in the pugnacity of children and in the military exploits of adult life. That we have children, live in cities, feel inferior or superior are all expressions of native forces in persons. Those who do not like the conception of native force have attempted to modify it by disguising it in terms of ultimate or prepotent reflexes. Thus it is asserted that the family is based upon sex reflexes. Again, a withdrawing reflex leads to learning and thought. In short, the whole drama of human behavior and social life is made the effect of a few potent reflexes.

Such a conception of personality and human existence re-

( 292) -quires only a brief inspection to dissipate it into the sheer abstraction that it is. These powers, instincts, and feelings are all variations of Fata Morgana invented to account quickly for all sorts of complex human phenomena. What is achieved by such explanatory means is merely the evasion of all the myriads of actual happenings which have a part in the shaping of psychological social phenomena.

In recent years the facts of personality or human nature have become involved with the notion of the unconscious. The proponents of this conception hit upon the fact that individuals perform activities of which they are themselves not cognizant and which frequently constitute imperious modes of behavior. These facts have been interpreted to mean that personality or human nature is therefore a large force or mental entity, manifesting itself in all the specific forms of action. From the other theory just discussed the present notion varies in positing a single general force instead of many specific ones. It is easily recognized as a version of the older doctrine of the will to live.

Both of these theories and many others of the absolutistic type make of human nature an absolute entity or series of forces. Such a human nature is not only presumed to be a permanent factor in human life but also the source of all the facts and conditions constituting human behavior and civilization. Simple theories these are in more ways than one.

What they overlook and even conceal is the absolute interaction of human nature with civilizational facts. To take cognizance of this interaction is to discover that human nature in its cultural aspects is for the most part a definite product of the facts and forces of civilization.

What these and similar theories refer to is the fact that persons insidiously acquire series of reaction equipment throughout their reactional biographies. True it is then that we may suddenly discover that we speak prose or have likes and dislikes that are conventional for the groups in which

( 293) we live. But to account for and describe these circumstances, we need only refer back to the intimate details of our reactional biography during the course of which we have acquired these personality traits. In considering the culturalization features of our behavior history we see why it is that a Christian cannot think beyond the Christian way of thinking, why an Englishman speaks English, or why a certain scientist cannot understand any other way of looking at particular phenomena than in terms of his own particular school. The force and unknown drive for particular sorts of action reduces to the fact of conventional socialization.


Aside from the universal forms of response our cultural behavior equipment is obviously the most enduring. But even these equipments do not prevent human nature from being a highly impermanent fact.[2] Indeed such a circumstance is only to be expected when we are concerned with any psychological phenomenon.

Those who believe in the permanence of human nature appear to overlook the detailed responses of individuals. They look upon human behavior only in its statistical aspects. It is true that persons summed up as particular social groups always perform typical actions. Thus Russians always live in Russia, are orthodox, and speak Russian, but such generalization informs us at once that we are not on psychological ground. Here there is on the surface a permanence of action and circumstance. But no such diuturnity of psychological phenomena is admissible when we are concerned with actual psychological adjustments. In such phenomena we observe numerous and constant changes. The cultural equipment of

( 294) persons is forever varying commutually with changes in their correlated stimuli functions.

Of course one cannot deny that some individuals change comparatively little. In such cases we almost always find that these persons live in isolation and do not come into contact with situations capable of changing their reactional equipments. But even the most enduring personalities leave no room for the belief in immutable entities or qualities.

When we study actual behavior conditions we accomplish two things. In the first place, we learn just what the conditions and circumstances are, under which human nature develops in both its cultural and non-cultural phases. We learn further that the less intricate the personality the less likelihood there is of changing. Those individuals who live in simpler ethnic and national collectivities and who are accordingly in contact with fewer institutions do not have as many opportunities to alter their psychological natures as those living in more complex civilizations.

Probably the doctrine of permanent human nature is also kept alive by the confusion of psychological facts with anatomical characteristics. For the most part the anatomical makeup of individuals remains relatively fixed, especially when we compare members of different racial or national communities. Even here, however, careful study indicates the great variability in general appearance, size and shape of head and other biological characteristics. On the whole, too, such changes are traceable to the altered behavior life of such persons although the detailed correlations are not available for enumeration.

Now it is not to be denied that there is a factor of human nature which is subject to very little alteration. These are of course the reflex elements of the universal behavior equipment. Clearly such reactions, being based upon the biological characteristics of individuals and the natural properties of objects, always remain much as they are in the beginning.

( 295) But of course these are such simple actions that they are hardly representative of the individual's total personality. If those who believe in the permanence of human nature base their attitude upon the constancy of reflex action we must be somewhat sympathetic with their view. The indiscrimination involved, however, does nothing to mitigate the ineptness of the interpretation when applied to the whole of human nature.

Were human nature invariable it would be impossible for individuals to move from one group and be reculturalized in another. We must appeal to the myriads of cases in which persons not only take on new and enlarged personality equipments but discard the old. What psychologically active individual has not been frequently reborn intellectually? What we may ask is the meaning of religious conversion if not a fundamental change in cultural personality? Is it an infrequent phenomenon for an individual to lose the language of his youth and to be inured as a member of another ethnic or national linguistic community? What can higher education genuinely signify but a transformation of the cognitive personality? We cannot allow the argument that because these are only partial metamorphoses they do not signify that human nature is changed. For in the first place, these types of equipment are of the very essence of psychological nature and the question whether more or less alteration occurs does not gainsay the genuineness of the personality transformation. In the second place, there is no type of personality change that does not occur, nor is there any limit to the amount of the person's nature that can be transformed.

It has already been suggested that the alteration of social personality is a function of the modifications in the institutional surroundings of the individual. In general we may point out two main conditions underlying the changes in human nature. In the first place, there is the modification of the institutions themselves among which the individual lives. By whatever means the institutions surrounding the

( 296) individual become different through that method the cultural personality of the person will take on marked differences. On the other hand, the individual may move from one institutional location to another so that his change of personality character will consist primarily of substituting newer for older behavior equipment.


Cultural personalities as products of socialization may be segregated into types. These types consist of classes of persons who share a given form of social nature. Each member of such a class possesses certain behavior equipment characterizing him as a psychological derivative of some specific psychological collectivity. Types of cultural personality then constitute series of persons with similar outstanding behavior traits. Their particular kinds of religious attitudes or intellectual responses plainly show the influence upon them of certain psychological institutions.

None other than the fact of cultural personality constitutes the psychological basis for any valid conception of race and national psychology. Thus one may select certain ethnic or national groups and enumerate various behavior traits which characterize the individual members. Such observations are made only on a comparative basis. For instance, one compares the feelings, attitudes, and practices of certain communities as over against the corresponding behavior of others. We may find that members of certain collectivities believe that the earth is flat and not elliptical or entertain the idea that there is a personal maker or ruler of the universe which others do not accept. Such differences in psychological nature must all refer to specific activities whether intellectual, artistic, or manual practices. Naturally such differences in action may be more or less general. For instance, members of mystical groups will perform many mystical actions not shared

( 297) by persons of non-mystical collectivities. Beliefs in mystic powers coordinate with mystic practices, etc.

In studying human nature we must guard against falling into the erroneous belief that the human mind is a substance or an entity of some sort and that such different entities manifest themselves by causing persons to act differently. Popular thought is replete with such inept attitudes. On such a basis it is asserted that the British mentality is inherently imperial and maritime, while the Greek is constitutionally a trader, and the black man intrinsically a subject of political and economic exploitation.

Some of the most striking personality types that have been exploited are those contrasting so-called primitive and civilized persons. This comparison is the source of a whole branch of psychology devoted to the explanation of the differences between primitive and civilized minds. It is obviously possible to show that great differences exist between the behavior of persons from primitive and from more complex human groups. Such observations have led to various theories of mentality. Some assert that while fundamental differences in mental qualities exist between the so-called primitive and other more complex people, that the differences are not established. Others more bold in their pronouncements point out absolute differences in the mental qualities of primitive and non-primitive groups. Thus the most striking recent theory declares that the primitive mind is illogical. Whereas civilized men think according to cause and effect, primitive man has no conception of contradiction and explains everything in an occult or mystic manner.[3] As it happens in this case, the conception of an ultimate difference in mental qualities is not borne out by the facts. Primitive men are not illogical[4] as is made out nor are civilized men universally as logical as this sharp contrast would seem to indicate.

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From an objective psychological standpoint it is evident that whatever differences one may sum up as characteristic of certain peoples are only differences in actual behavior and equipment, built up through contact with particular institutions. Genuine typifying variations exist of course in different individuals, but these are not absolute differences. Now is it likely that any given form of behavior is totally absent from any collectivity? We must remind ourselves once more that the psychological type differences we are describing are activities which characterize a certain collectivity, but the same responses may be performed by persons of other groups as idiosyncratic or contingential behavior.

National types of personality constitute the next most striking form. Accordingly one might draw up large lists of behavior traits characterizing the persons of certain national groups. The taciturnity of Englishmen, the vivacity of Frenchmen, the melancholy of the Persian, are cases in point. As we have already seen, the collectivities of the national type all harbor institutions which stimulate persons to build up distinctive behavior traits. The members of these groups accordingly perform characteristic actions ranging from distinctive ways of walking and talking to reasoning and producing art objects. In each national group there are psychological collectivities whose socialization produces varying personalities. Hence we have all sorts of superstitious, illiterate, irresponsible, quick-witted, cruel, humble, mercenary, arrogant, and sly personalities.

Consonant with the entire trend of our study is the observation that it is a mistake to limit cultural personality types to those exhibiting what is usually regarded as national or ethnic traits. Persons stressing even one form of behavior of the groups we have enumerated in the chapter on cultural reactions, must be regarded as exhibiting distinct social personality patterns. We need only refer to that series of behavior groups for a large number of personality types. It is

( 299) only necessary to remember that while in chapter seven we were interested in reactions, at the present time we are stressing the persons who perform the behavior.

We submit therefore that among the prominent personality types are the masculine and feminine forms. Clearly, the variations in behavior between such individuals are genuinely socially acquired responses to institutional stimuli. Doubtless there are great numbers of intermediate types between these two. The latter as well as the extreme forms can be isolated on the basis of such traits as shyness, boldness, emotionality, refinement, etc.

Then there are the intellectual, artistic, and intelligent personalities. These traits may be decidedly cultural in character. What we must do here is to think of particular human circumstances. One may or may not be conventionally artistic. Within the artistic field one may be socialized as an impressionist, realist, or post-impressionist.

Intellectual personalities are just as definitely the results of socialization. Here again the question whether one is intellectual or not may be decidedly determined by one's contacts with institutional stimuli. Examples of specialized intellectual personalities are the various forms of idealists, realists, the prejudiced, the bigoted, the mediaevalists, and modernists, the pessimists and optimists.

Ordinarily, intelligence is not regarded as a cultural trait, but a study of the socialization processes leaves no question that it is. As in every other case, intelligence is not exclusively cultural. But it is undoubtedly true that one may or may not be intelligent because of contacts or lack of contacts with intelligent institutions. Who can deny that much school work and many school systems constitute agencies for bringing or keeping persons to a fairly low stage of intelligence. It is deplorable that all too frequently school critics make out a good case to the effect that the school deadens spontaneity and mechanizes the mentality of its victims. We may complete

( 300) our illustrative list of personality types with those individuals who are products of custom and moral socialization. The stoical, egotistic, the cruel and self-sacrificing personalities spring forth from the pages of human life as glaring examples. Both large and small aggregations of human individuals may be regarded as the sources of such types.


Since culturalization traits constitute so large and powerful a feature of personality we cannot but expect culturalization to have a tremendous effect upon individuals. Among the most striking of these results is the interference with one's idiosyncratic behavior. Especially does culturalization obstruct an individual's thinking. Because of the experiences of persons we should expect them to be independent in their intellectual attitudes and in general adapt themselves intellectually to their surroundings on the basis of their surrounding circumstances. But no, culturalization in certain forms prevents such adaptation. To illustrate, a scientist has been in contact with certain phenomena. Instead of describing them on an objective basis the influence of his culturalization in a certain ethnic or professional group imposes upon him a biased description and interpretation. This condition may go so far as to make him entirely illogical. In many instances although the individual may know the objection to his attitude he still cannot help clinging to it because of his socialization. A psychologist, though thoroughly imbued with the spirit of objective observation cannot forsake the idea that he is dealing with occult things. Here is the basis for fashions and traditions in science.

But not only do professional and ethnic groups influence a scientist but his religious culturalization likewise colors his intellectual conduct. So, also do aesthetic, and other types of socialization sway his thinking and other intellectual con-

( 301) -duct. In fact, all the behavior of persons is so influenced. Even our elementary no less than our complex perceptual conduct is very profoundly conditioned by our socialization. Perceptual responses accordingly, are reactions to both cultural and natural properties of things.

In the same way our aesthetic responses are notoriously affected by the particular way we have been socialized. Persons do not therefore react purely to aesthetic objects but to the qualities with which they have been invested by members of certain groups. Aesthetic judgments and appreciation are universally warped by the trend of culturalization. It is for this reason as much as the differences in training and experience, that persons from different groups cannot agree upon the beauty of things.

Nor does our moral behavior escape the extreme limitations put upon it by the way we have been socialized. How impossible it is for persons to appreciate the viewpoint and the practices of those who have been differently culturalized. Logic in such cases has neither standing nor authority.

As a final illustration of the great limitations placed upon personality adjustments we mention the effect of our linguistic socialization. Long after circumstances change, the same linguistic references persist. The names of our sciences and their materials continue though the things referred to are no longer present. For instance, psychology is not a descriptive name for the reactions that we actually study. And we continue to say the sun rises and sets though we know it does neither of these things.


The cornerstone of all psychological science is the fundamental law of individual differences. Every individual is a unique personality with respect to cultural behavior as well as every other kind. Even though cultural behavior consti-

( 302) -tutes shared conduct it does not interfere with this law. Even those individuals who are practically entirely products of culturalization and who have the smallest amount of noncultural equipment are individually different. For each specific individual is the unique product of his own series of socialization processes. Thus every individual is really constituted of a variety of cultural personalities. Among each person's behavior equipments there are many kinds of reaction systems acquired through contact with many different types of institutional stimuli. Hence it is an absolute impossibility for any person to share every detail of his equipment with any other individual.

In consequence each instance of human nature represents a unique organization of cultural traits. Compare several individuals among whose behavior equipment certain traits are exceedingly prominent. As alike as two scientists may be in their scientific behavior, they are very unlike in other behavior respects. One individual may have musical or other artistic tastes and capacities, whereas others have no appreciation of such things. A still better illustration is the differentiation between two scientists both of whom have practically identical attitudes and technical responses, but one of whom is a logician whereas the other has no equipment for spontaneous criticism and thinking. Instructive examples of the individual differences in cultural conduct are afforded by those scientific individuals who are split personalities. They are culturalized as scientists on the one hand, but are the products of the most backward religious socialization on the other.

An artist may be culturalized very effectively in some general or special aesthetic collectivity so far as technique is concerned, but he may not have had the advantage of contact with a school or group so as to have acquired talent, spontaneity, or originality. Similarly, some artistic personality equipments include considerable intellectual or general in

( 303) formational characteristics, whereas others lack any large complement of such reactional traits.

When we turn to less specialized forms of cultural traits we find every possible variety of equipmental organization. This is only to be expected with all the myriads of cultural collectivities existing which constitute loci for the socialization of persons. Personality patterns are an intricate web of varying customs, ideas, habits, beliefs and other traits that could only be shared by persons if it were possible for them to belong to precisely the same behavior groups. Surely an impossible circumstance. Among the differences to which we are now referring are such as mark persons as stoical, epicurean, considerate, selfish, "cultural," critical, uncritical, complex or simple, effective or ineffective, "magnetic," etc. In general, these individual differences make for variation in what is ordinarily called human character. And the variations are without limit.

An interesting phenomenon of cultural individual differences is that certain traits for some individuals are cultural that for others are not so at all. Thus for some persons technological activities are predominantly social, while for others they are not. Still other individuals perform predominantly cultural reactions in domestic circumstances in contrast to those who react non-culturally to such situations. The most striking individual differences in the performance of cultural conduct are illustrated by those persons who even in matters of ordinary custom and usage contrive to be individual and independent of their associated collectivities. In all of these circumstances, of course, the kind of reactions performed are limited by definite conditions. Thus linguistic actions must be overwhelmingly cultural for everyone.

A distinct feature of individual differences of cultural personality is the question as to the homogeneity and harmony of the various traits of the personality pattern. As a member of so many collectivities it is almost inevitable that some of

( 304) the individual's traits will not harmonize well, at least from the standpoint of an outside observer. Some of these conflicting types we have already referred to in pointing to the uncritical scientist or the unaesthetic artist. Other examples in restricted situations are the mechanical biologist, one namely who reduces his biological facts to some sort of simple formula, or the spiritualistic psychologist, that is to say, one who misinterprets the reactions he studies because of some traditional attitude. Disharmonies in cultural personality pattern are inevitably fostered by stepping out of one's immediately surrounding collectivities and taking on cultural equipment from neighboring groups. It appears quite clear on the whole then that cultural behavior makes for individual differentiation rather than preventing such a condition.


Wherever differences are found the spirit of comparison thrives. And so the question arises as to the relative qualities of cultural personalities.

As we everywhere expect in the field of psychology, the criterion for comparison lies close to the question of adaptation or adjustment. Now since cultural responses are conventional activities it is obvious that we are not concerned here with specific social responses. Clearly all cultural conduct adjusts the person superlatively to the specific groups in which they belong, for cultural responses are reactions of participation. Their very acquisition means that the person fits into the psychological group. What our problem really refers to is the question whether some given individual is aided or hindered by his cultural equipment in his adjustment to particular situations.

A person may be unable to adapt himself to some situation because his equipment was built up under very different circumstances. In consequence his behavior will be different and

( 305) thus inadequate. War arises. Those persons whose culturalization has been pacifistic cannot think of war as justifiable. They also naturally do not share the enthusiasm of those militaristically socialized. Now when such thinking and enthusiasm is regarded as requisite for the war situation, some personalities are unable to adapt themselves as efficiently as some others.

Rather than merely possessing different requisite equipment, persons may simply lack responses necessary for some special circumstance. Of two persons whose business capacities equally recommend them for promotion, one is simply impossible because he lacks the conventional manners, deference, obeisance, which are regarded as necessary for the situation. One might just as well lack the language necessary for speaking to certain people.

Relative adaptational qualities of individuals are likewise illustrated by the person who has acquired cultural equipment which totally unfits him for some circumstance. Referring again to our promotional illustration, one individual may be entirely unable to adapt himself because he has acquired positively wrong manners. That person who speaks "ungrammatically" or who has assumed undesirable gestures cannot compete at all with other individuals.

So far we have differentiated the relative qualities of cultural personalities on the basis of adjusting to some existing condition. In these instances the question of superiority or inferiority lies in the effectiveness of adaptation.

There is another basis for judging. Is or is not the individual's cultural personality such as to interfere with his general advancement? Probably with most people culturalization equipment brings with it perfect adaptation and an utter satisfaction. The best adapted individual inav be one whose culturalization prevents him from doing more and becoming more, as judged by some idealistic standard. One factor in such a situation may be the complete submergence of

( 306) the idiosyncratic individual by his cultural personality. Now in view of the fact that whatever human progress there is must have its origin in particular individuals, those who are best adapted culturally may be counted as the most inferior from a general human standpoint.


  1. Cf. Chapter VI.
  2. How quickly human nature can change is excellently illustrated by the rapidity with which pacifistic people become violent warriors in the events of a national crisis even when the crisis exists only in propaganda.
  3. Cf. Levy-Bruhl, Primitive Mentality, 1923; How Natives Think, 1926.
  4. Cf. Radin, Primitive Man as Philosopher, 1927.

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