An Outline of Social Psychology

Chapter 11: The Mechanism of Institutional Development

Jacob Robert Kantor

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Institutional mechanisms are the processes by which things are invested with institutional or stimuli functions. The study of these mechanisms is an essential feature of social psychology, since it informs us first of the origin and disappearance of one of the fundamental features of social psychological data, namely institutions. Secondly, the investigation of cultural mechanisms teaches us much concerning the development of cultural personality. For as our study of culturalization has disclosed, the person's contact with institutions determines the nature of his particular complement of behavior equipment.


Institutional mechanisms consist essentially of processes in which responses and stimuli are coordinated under specified conditions. When persons perform shared reactions to given objects these things take on definite cultural stimuli functions. It is the specific behavior contacts of the individual with objects which are developing cultural stimuli functions that constitute the institutional mechanisms. Similarly, every change in or disappearance of a cultural stimulus function of an object or situation can only occur through a mutual interaction between the object or situation in which the modify—

( 308) —ing institutional functions inhere, and the individuals who are responding to it.

Now after institutions have come into existence they may be regarded as autonomously existing. This means to say that when a child is born into a psychological collectivity, objects are already endowed with stimulating functions which the individual discovers and which induce him to build up corresponding traits of reaction. For example, in an English speaking collectivity an apple already has inhering in it the stimulus function of calling out the word apple as a reference response.

The study of institutional mechanisms then involves the process of abstracting and emphasizing one or the other of the two features of the inevitable stimulus and response couple. The reactional features are emphasized when persons through their behavior, originate institutions or introduce changes in them. For instance, it is through sharing the name that a power vehicle becomes an automobile or a Kraftwagen. Also by virtue of not responding to certain institutions they disappear, or by a modification of shared behavior, institutional functions change their form. Thus, while as cultural personalities we are the products of action institutions, these very institutions in turn depend upon us for their existence and development.

Observe too that the study of institutional mechanisms proceeds historically. While it is a fact that, on the whole, cultural stimuli exist before my particular advent into a group and later become elicitors of my responses in common with other people, these stimuli functions have themselves arisen through former behavior circumstances. Hence, institutions are in a sense the products of previous behavior conditions. Though such action is distantly removed from my own behavior, it is behavior nevertheless, and quite identical with the action I now perform to these institutions.

The process of institutional development could not of course

( 309) occur anywhere but within the restricted confines of particular anthropic groups. Institutions have no existence or meaning outside groups, and it is only through their agency that institutions possess any sort of durational character. Now it is quite plain that the viability and relative permanence of the psychological group find their support in the human conditions surrounding sets of persons. In the final analysis then the mechanisms for institutional development are founded upon the various political, economic, and social exigencies constituting the living conditions of groups of individuals. It is essentially in such complexes of human circumstances that we find the various stimulus—response interrelationships which form the background of institutional development.

A significant point to keep in mind is that while the phenomena of institutions and their changes are absolutely psychological and not anthropic or sociological happenings, they are at the same time most intimately tied up with the latter. We have here another specific illustration of the point frequently made before, that psychological phenomena of the social type merge more closely than other forms with their anthropic background.

In order to describe the phenomena of institutional mechanisms most effectively we will divide our study into three general divisions. First, we will consider the mechanism concerned in the origin of institutions. This phase of our study involves the question of how objects take on cultural stimulational functions in the first place.

Secondly, we will investigate the mechanisms through which things vary their stimuli functions. This is as much a mechanism of institutional deterioration and termination as the first type is one of institutional origin and development. That is, we are concerned here with the loss by objects of their institutional properties and the assumption of new stimulational qualities.

Our third and last type of institutional mechanism may be

( 310) regarded as a variation of the second. Here the objects take on new stimulational properties, but the new responses may be regarded as a continuation of the old action, while the stimuli eliciting them are interrelated with the displaced stimuli functions.


When the originating form of institutional mechanism operates, objects or situations are for the first time endowed with cultural properties. Originating mechanisms then are in a genuine sense institutionalizing. It is not surprising therefore, that of the several types of institutional mechanisms the present one taxes our knowledge resources most severely. Either the institutionalizing process operates with a subtlety and casualness which defy analytic and observational detection or else the instauration of cultural functions has occurred in the remote past without leaving records. The first beginnings of many institutions are imbedded in irrecoverable historical events. There are whole series of institutional phenomena, especially of the type that function in large ethnic and national groups, of whose origin we cannot possibly know anything. How and why certain objects like the planetary bodies or systems should have taken on their religious properties we simply do not know. Howsoever well we may be pleased with our anthropological guesses we are not actually able to determine why a river has become sacred. Similarly, when we consider the various stimulational characteristics of persons who function as institutions in political, social and domestic organizations, we are overwhelmed by our ignorance concerning these matters. Hypotheses, of course, we may draw up with a certain assurance of correctness because of various observable analogies, but actual mechanisms are irretrievably lost to us.

The same conditions prevail with respect to the institutional properties of things which are humanly contrived as over

( 311) against naturally existing objects. The actual origin of particular linguistic institutions defies our most insistent curiosity to discover their genesis. The development of certain languages with their specific stimulational functions we may be sure has definite psychological events at its basis, at least in part. But precisely because we are dealing with past events we cannot say exactly what these were like. To a certain extent we get some suggestions from the connection of the institutional mechanism with anthropological and philological data, but this cannot help us to recover the actual psychological processes involved. The difficulties here are patent when we recall that what we require to know is how a particular vocabulary (sound, intonation, and stress), word order, gender system and other grammatical processes become established as a distinctive language system.

When we turn to institutions of smaller groups, especially those having a limited period of existence, we can very definitely observe the mechanisms whereby objects are institutionalized. Indeed they are copiously illustrated in every domain of cultural behavior. Let us examine a few examples of the stimulational investiture of both naturally existing and contrived objects with commercial institutional functions. Within the boundaries of commercial life we observe daily how some natural object, such as land in a particular place, is endowed with all types of economic cultural functions which induce actions in a large number of individuals. Through a systematic culturalization process, lands take on the properties of desirability, value, saleability, etc. Similarly, bits of stone such as jewelry are institutionalized to call out reactions of personal adornment, or are cherished and appreciated. Especially numerous are such institutionalizing activities when certain raw materials are transformed into contrived objects of all sorts. It is a decided feature of the commerical life of our civilization for persons and firms to be constantly on the qui vive for the possibilities of populariz—

( 312) —ing certain manufactured things (clothing, furniture, soap), as the basis for fads and fashions. The whole complicated story may be told in a sentence when reference is made to the institutionalizing mechanisms involved with advertising.

The scientific field affords us a plethora of exemplars showing how various natural objects and processes become institutionalized and stimulate common responses in individuals belonging not only to restricted scientific groups but also to larger intellectual organizations. Such objects even become national and ethnic institutions. Recent examples are the institutionalizing of vitamines, internal secretions, and the sex functions and conduct of individuals (Freudianism). Persons in the scientific domain take on all types of institutional functions as wizards and gnostic authorities, through either the casual or deliberative reactions of others to them. Such institutionalization of individuals is paralleled in many human situations. For instance, many persons become distinguished by success in industry, invention, war, sport, aviation, or art, and in consequence acquire the definite institutional functions of stimulating shared responses of appreciation, approval, emulation, envy, and even worship. Those who share this behavior with respect to such famous personages constitute a definite psychological collectivity.

We cannot proceed far without mentioning those institutional mechanisms which result in the transformation of objects of natural beauty or grandeur into very definite types of institutional things. When attractive falls, canyons, and mountain peaks are discovered or made available, interested persons immediately proceed to endow them with institutional properties. The latter lead to the conventional conduct of pilgrimages and the sacred conservation of such objects and their surroundings in the form of shrines and parks.[1]

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Something must be said for the distinctly contrived objects which are accoutered with the functions of arousing common responses in persons of specific associations. We will only pause long enough to mention the more striking illustrations of contrived myths and legends concerning persons, happenings, and conversation. These soon become wide—spread enough to call out specific conformity responses in sets of persons. Most instructive are such institutionalizing mechanisms when they become stimuli for several groups, for instance, an accepting and cherishing group (Lincoln or Napoleon lovers) and a rejecting, denying, or deriding group (Lincoln or Napoleon traducers).

Turning from the institutionalizing of objects we may consider the investiture of situations, events and conditions with cultural stimuli functions. First, there are the cases of nonhuman phenomena such as earthquakes, tornadoes, and other terrestrial events. The conventional behavior elicited by such stimuli is naturally quite varied. Possibly it is the intellectual conduct of scientific groups, or common fear and apprehension behavior in individuals who live close to the scene of these happenings. In the latter case, the stimuli may educe conduct in the form of practices of protection and prevention of all sorts. In our own type of complex civilization it is not surprising that happenings and situations of a distinctly human type are more frequently invested with institutional stimuli than are such non—human events.


The very intricacy of the institutionalizing process suggests that it must operate in diverse ways. Many institutions are culturally endowed without the knowledge of individuals that such a process is operating. On the other hand, the investiture of stimulating functions may transpire as a decidedly intentional form of action.

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Casual Origin of Institutions.—It is almost obvious that most institutions are casually engendered. Indeed this process is ordinarily too subtle to be controlled by individuals. It even detects observation. In addition, there are so many contributing factors involved in the rise of institutions that any form of rigid control is frequently inconceivable.

Deliberate Origin of Institutions.—Probably the best illustrations of the deliberate form of institutional endowment of objects are found in various commercial enterprises. Many stimuli operating to call out responses for wearing certain kinds of clothes or using certain kinds of cosmetics, etc., are deliberately contrived. Slighter stimuli to arouse belief and thought actions in the political domain may be attributed to the plotting of persons.

Naturally each deliberate attempt to endow objects with institutional functions must go on with very strict regard to surrounding human circumstances. What objects can be endowed with the stimulation to purchase and wear them is conditioned by various other institutions, as well as by nonpsychological circumstances in the group concerned. In many cases, too, we find that objects deliberately contrived as the mere development of an individual's caprice or interest may become a center for many institutional stimuli without the foresight of the originator. This may be the case with the inventor of some legend, or one who coins some particular word or phrase. When such objects become invested with stimulational functions for a group of individuals they might be considered to have been in part deliberately invested with their functions and partially not.

Individual and Collective Origin of Institutions.—The deliberative instauration of institutions supplies an easy transition to another problem. Here the question arises whether institutions are originated by single individuals or by aggregations of persons. Now while the institution—engendering activities of a single individual can best be observed, in many

(315) cases institutions are definitely originated through the joint and combined action of series of individuals. Common instances are represented by the establishment of stimuli functions through various forms of common consent. New forms of shared action are performed by agreement, as in voting upon a constitutional amendment, or in partaking in some form of voluntary enlistment.

We can never escape the fact, however, that no matter how large a place we ascribe to a collectivity in engendering institutions, the fundamental activity is that of single persons. Possibly it is wise then merely to indicate that in the origin of institutions we always find a relatively greater or lesser participation of many persons. Perhaps the situation here may be best summed up by saying that while institutions cannot originate without the behavior of single persons they cannot exist except through the activities of series of individuals.

The Migrational Origin of Institutions.—Institutions also originate through migration. This means that in a given psychological collectivity new cultural stimuli are introduced by the migrators. Such new institutions may inhere in natural objects, tools, weapons, and art materials, or in more subtle things such as ideals, beliefs, etc. Let us note that the present type of origination differs from the others merely in that it does not involve an absolutely new form of stimulation connected with entirely novel modes of conduct. From a psychological standpoint, however, the mechanism is the same as in the other case; namely, institutions are newly engendered that did not exist before in a specific psychological collectivity. No different is the institutionalizing process when the objects coming in to the new group call out the same reactions as in the collectivities from which they are imported. When things have the same stimulating function in the new and older group it is, of course, because the cultural properties of the objects in question are closely related to their

(316) anthropic and natural qualities. When the rifle was introduced into the Indian civilization, even though it stimulated similar cultural reactions, we might, from the standpoint of the Indian group, regard it as the origination of a new stimulus function.

For the most part, however, objects and actions introduced into the new group are invested with entirely new functions which represent an attempt at the domestication of the objects by making them conform to the general civilizational system of the new collectivity. The introduction of military organization and objects into another national group must mean a greater or lesser variation in the institutional functions of such objects depending upon the likenesses and differences between the groups from and to which the objects have been transferred.

It is important to note that the introductory type of institutional development operates between specific psychological collectivities within a single ethnic community as well as between behavior collectivities in different national units. As an instance of the former situation, objects or ideas, are constantly passing from one to another professional, religious, and intellectual group of a single national unit. An exceedingly good example is the institutional mechanism by which the Bible becomes literature. That is, the Bible passes from a group in which it is a religious object and symbol into one in which the religious motives are less compelling. As a result, while the book is still cherished and valued, it also possesses functions of calling out literary reactions by having attributed to it the additional qualities of fine secular literature. In other cases, the mere shift of ideas or objects from one type of psychological group to another may result in the endowment of the object with entirely new stimulational functions with corresponding differences in the behavior of individuals toward such objects. An example here is the translation of worship from a religious to a business group. The stimuli

( 317) functions change from calling out religious reverence and awe to the arousal of materially profitable responses.

Revival Origin of Institutions.—The resumption and restoration of stimuli functions is a distinct form of begetting institutions. A certain object previously invested with particular institutional functions loses them through the failure of individuals to perform corresponding behavior. Later these institutional functions are reinstated by the renewed performance of the older type of social response. From a strict psychological standpoint this is a definite example of institutional origination. Such instauration may be the result of deliberate or casual circumstances, but in either case we need not hesitate to consider the new psychological happening as a unique and distinct illustration of the originative type of institutional mechanism.


Transforming institutional mechanisms consist of stimulusresponse interconnections which result in changes in the way objects stimulate shared behavior. The process is one of reinvestiture. Objects or conditions which formerly have been endowed with stimulational qualities that have operated up to a certain time, now change their institutional character. As we have already pointed out, this type of institutional mechanism is not merely the origination of a new stimulus property, as in the first mechanism studied, but a process of replacing one which inhered in the object before.

Here as everywhere in the study of cultural conduct, linguistic situations spring to our aid as valuable illustrations. In the sudden or gradual change of the connotational or referential function of words we find this transforming mechanism operating. For instance, the word "king" in some specific political collectivity loses its old social reference character and takes on new stimulational functions. In our own political circumstances the same thing has happened in the varia-

( 318) -tions in the functions of the words "republican" and "democrat." Think of the differences in these terms in the American political landscape from the time of Jefferson down to the present day.[2]

Numerous illustrations of stimulus substitution may be gleaned from the field of natural objects. Vegetables and fruits that are first institutionalized as non-edible objects or even invested with the cultural properties of being poisonous or harmful, are reinstitutionalized as palatable and even delicious articles of diet. Similarly, wood, stone, mud and other potential building materials are made into elements of sheltering structures. On the other hand, they may be reinstitutionalized to lose this property. The same type of transforming mechanism is responsible for the reaction to women as soldiers, students, and business people, whereas previously women were not invested with such cultural characteristics. The hair length of men and women in similar fashion has become endowed with cultural properties different from what they previously had in the same psychological collectivity. Our reactions to short hair on women especially signifies a change in institutional function.

Turning to the domain of contrived objects we find an equally striking situation. Articles of dress, textiles, and all the decorative schemes connected with clothing, are constantly undergoing the endowment of fresh stimulational qualities. The observation of styles and their changes over a given period of time alone suffices to indicate the reinvesting of institutions which call out new and different types of responses.

Art, in all of its institutional phases, is a field of unceasing transformation. At once we may refer to the infinity of changes in the coordinating stimuli and responses involved with the perpetually revised standards of artistic production and appreciation. In music, dissonant and unmelodious com-

( 319) positions become liked, approved of, and valued as the particular elements concerned alter their cultural functions. In painting, the stimulational properties of technique, material, and subject matter change until the objects are transformed and retransformed, finally becoming quite different as psychological phenomena.

The world of technology and the industrial crafts offers us a liberal series of instances of the cessation of institutional stimuli and the substitutions of others. What materials are used for certain purposes and their displacement by new ones, as well as the tools and methods by which they are handled, supply the sources for many alterations in institutional function.

It is axiomatic that the stimulating properties inhering in sociological institutions are constantly undergoing revision. Whether we are dealing with a political party or some other organization of persons, with objects like a hospital, newspaper, or college, or some action, they are constantly losing older stimulating functions for new ones. Although some building may endure from a material standpoint over an extended period of time or some organization retain its anthropic form, both nevertheless are subject without interruption to a series of changes in their psychological properties.

Psychological institutions are altered when a group of individuals no longer regard war as the inevitable and inviolable right of nations, or when war no longer is considered to be a profitable or an honorable national occupation. When a law is no longer respected but rather despised and violated, its institutional position is considerably altered. Let us add to our examples the supplanting stimulational properties in family institutions. Changes in the stimulating character of the family are correlated with new modes of behavior. These altered stimuli and responses are symbolized by the family's loss of influence upon the marriage and occupation of the younger members, and further by the general shift of the

( 320) character of the family as a clan or dynastical unit to a mere social organization and protectorate of the very young. Institutional changes in churches demonstrate the same point. No longer in certain groups is a church reacted to as the source of a mystically spiritual life but as a locus of social contacts or the patron of social regeneration. That the church has discontinued to call out obedient and dependent responses signifies its fertility as the ground for the cessation of old and the development of new incitements to social psychological responses.

While it is much easier to illustrate the phenomena of institutional alteration by changes in large sociological objects, this should not becloud the fact that the same thing occurs with respect to more subtle institutions as well. The cultural properties of ideas and beliefs are equally subject to transformation. Particular psychological collectivities may no longer find in their national, professional, or ethnic ideas, and beliefs, the stimulation to respect or abide by them. Perhaps most people only accept and cherish the slogan of "fighting for democracy" during a war, for afterwards this sociological belief-institution becomes invested with quite different stimulational qualities.


Our third institutional mechanism differs considerably from the other two. It would seem that the processes of engendering and replacing stimuli functions exhaust the possibilities of institutional mechanisms. Indeed the term modifying mechanism is misleading, for it is quite plain that a stimulus function cannot undergo modification; it either exists or it does not. Such institutional modification therefore is in fact not a change in older function, for that function disappears. And yet it is necessary to account for a process by which institutions, though undergoing change, still retain a continuity between their past and present influences upon persons. Now the question arises as to how it is possible for this

( 321) continuity to exist and in what way it can be accounted for by the modifying institutional mechanisms. First, let us make clear that the modifying mechanisms only occur when the object in which the stimulus function inheres is a sociological institution. That is, it only operates in those cases where the institution itself undergoes change and therefore demands a corresponding modification of its stimulus function. A modifying institutional mechanism, then, is a phenomenon involving collateral variation in the stimuli functions and in the sociological institutions in which they inhere.

Corresponding changes in behavior, howsoever large they may be, may still be considered as directly continuous activities throughout the whole development of the sociological and psychological institution. Our present mechanism, then, we might call one of development. Our best illustration here probably is the mechanism by which linguistic objects and actions as sociological phenomena become modified in their stimulational functions and consequently call out reactions somewhat different than those previously performed. Quite easily can the mechanism of institutional development be followed throughout the whole course of human phenomena during which a language becomes different from what it originally was. Thus it is possible inferentially to trace through a continuous course of stimulus-response modification from the time of King Alfred's English down to our present day English language situation. The same sort of development is evident in the changing situations in the field of customs, laws, and other distinctly social phenomena, as they go on from generation to generation. These observations are, of course, much easier to make when the development takes place through shorter intervals of time, for example, in the domain of fads and styles. The mechanisms of institutional development, it may be added, operate to modify subtle and intangible institutions, such as ideas, beliefs, and other refined actions as well as to change objects or situations.

The developmental type of institutional mechanism is very

( 322) closely interrelated with the culturalization process. Accordingly at the same time, that institutions operate in domesticating an individual, the person in turn modifies the stimulating institution. There can be no question but that this institutional modifying process is a vital element in bringing about changes in conduct between succeeding generations of human individuals. Such psychological processes, along with others, are responsible for the divergent levels of behavior phenomena over periods of time.

Because of this mutually conditioning process, culturalization in a given community, say a national or linguistic one, proceeds throughout a series of generations as a definite stratification of behavior levels. By a behavior level, therefore, we mean a particular stage of interaction between a stimulus (institution) and a culturalizing response. Thus while a person is being culturalized to a particular institution some change may be expected to occur in the stimulus function of the object, for the next set of persons who react to it. In the culturalization process then we have a horizontal time level which has an influence upon later horizontal levels. In short, while a person is being culturalized, he at the same time influences the future culturalization of others in a definite way. A diagram may serve to relieve the abstruseness of this description.


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The horizontal lines R1-S1, R2-S2, R3-S3, represent the culturalization process upon succeeding levels as indicated by the vertical arrows. The horizontal arrows indicate that the individual comes into contact with existing institutions and is affected by them. Now in the culturalization process not only does the person become different in acquiring a new mode of behavior but the objects become different by being endowed with a slightly dissimilar stimulus function. The latter is true because the behavior the person acquires will not be absolutely identical with that previously performed by individuals in the same connection. Accordingly, the oblique line R1-S2 symbolizes a mutual change or development in responses and stimuli when involving a time procession. The same conditions are found in the R2-S2 and following levels in an infinite progression.

Perhaps an hypothetical illustration representing great institutional changes may still further illuminate these institutional mechanisms. Assume that Luther in his culturization acquired his religious responses from contact with stimuli inherent in distinctly Catholic institutions (sociological). Through various historical circumstances Luther's Catholic institutional stimuli, according to anthropic records, had evolved from previous levels in parallel changes with the sociological institutions, going far back to Hebrew, Egyptian, Greek, and other levels. Similar parallel changes in anthropic and psychological circumstances have been going on since Luther's time, until now we have in different religious groups numerous psychological institutions developed through the mutual process of culturalization and institutional development.

Lest our discussion of the mechanisms of institutional development be thought of as limited exclusively to large temporally successive periods, we hasten to indicate that various successive levels may take place within the same generation and within the limit of small time intervals. Such are the

( 324) events transpiring in a single family. For instance, in a German family group in America the children are socialized with respect to the English language in the course of their play and in school. In turn, the children culturalize the family group at home. Thus a hierarchy of English culturalization processes results, and as a consequence new institutions are constantly being formed for the family as a whole. Through such an institutionalizing mechanism different levels of culturalization are produced and with each level institutions are developed and modified. Specific illustrations of institutional development are found in every particular domain of cultural conduct.

An especially striking example may be observed in religious groups. Ideas, beliefs, and practices, although they maintain their general identity as sociological institutions, gradually become modified in their sociological character and at the same time change by degrees their institutional functions. Just how this process operates is clearly revealed in the various phenomena of religious liberalization. Any specific religious group consists of a great number of individuals of various intellectual levels. Obviously, religious sociological institutions are invested with slightly different institutional functions for individuals of respective levels. The graduates of so-called liberal divinity schools accept posts as religious leaders of certain congregations. They then face the problem of how they can adjust and reconcile their own liberal attitude toward religious forms, ceremonies, and doctrines, with the entirely different reactions of the community members. Heresy trials exemplify in a similar way the stratification of cultural stimuli and responses among the various members of a particular anthropic group.

Dialectal and colloquial hierarchies in linguistic groups display great numbers of very definite institutional changes. Here the sociological (philological) institutions continue to operate indefinitely as general features of the human circum-

( 325) -stances but slight changes are constantly going on. Modifications are made possible by virtue of the continuity of the language institutions.

Academic titles as sociological phenomena provide us with an equally obvious institutional history. At one time the title Doctor of Philosophy symbolized a particular status of scholastic training and achievement. In consequence the title stimulated members of certain psychological collectivities to respect and covet it. Through various circumstances,[3] however, the Ph.D. title takes on various anthropic modifications. Assume only that its decreasing rarity makes it lose its social value. As a result the title gradually assumes the stimulating functions of inducing shared reactions in the form of overt conduct and intellectual attitudes somewhat different from those previously found in the group in question.

In the same way slight changes are constantly taking place in practically every sociological institution located in particular associations of individuals. Consider the minute variations in labor institutions, in the family, in women's rights, in public morals, which parallel various changes in the human conditions surrounding such institutions. Each of these anthropic facts display numerous modifications in their sociological character, which have correlated with them psychological institutional changes and reciprocal cultural behavior modifications. Legal institutions in the form of ideas and conceptions, as well as practices, do not escape the operation of developmental mechanisms. No less striking as examples of institutional growth are the changes in the conception of slavery in the American milieu depending upon the various surrounding economic, political, military, and other human phenomena. Commercial and financial life is equally subject

( 326) to institutional change. One of the most interesting of these developments is connected with the phenomena of usury or interest. From a despised and prohibited feudal institution, usury shifts to the most valued backbone of a capitalistic society. The change in name from usury to interest represents only one of the striking variations of the responses to the same institution.


Our discussion of the mechanisms of institutional development has of necessity partially taken the form of a recital of the changes occurring in the institutions themselves. Now we may turn to a consideration of the characteristics of these changes. Are the variations to be regarded as improvements or deteriorations in the stimulating properties?

Such an inquiry obviously must be pursued in terms of reactions. It is only in this way that we can have any concrete basis for observation. Moreover, this is our sole means of hitting upon a standard or criterion for judging institutions.

Now as to the standard of stimulation changes, it clearly must be if possible a matter of idiosyncratic determination. Since cultural conduct is arbitrary and artificial we must base our standards upon such facts as the actual advantages to the individuals concerned, or the development or maintenance of valuable things. To a great extent we may regard changes in stimuli functions as improvements when the objects in which these functions inhere show an upward progression from a state of nature to a place in intelligent and rational human environments.

Whatever standard we adopt we find that not only do institutional changes result in either better or poorer conduct but also there are sheer changes of direction without discernible movement toward a more or less approved goal. Now since the same institutions belong to different psychological

( 327) collectivities in the same sociological community any specific change may be regarded as partaking of all three qualities. The standard here is a comparative one and the decision is made by reference to other psychological groups.

Our complex civilized collectivities display abundant examples of improvements when institutions change. When the family has the stimulating property of calling out an ideational response to itself as a rational association of human individuals instead of as an instance of a particular form of animal existence, the institution has not only altered its direction but has undergone a qualitative improvement. This improved character may be thought of as a refinement of the institution, even though we have no fixed standards nor assurance that such an institutional change will result in any permanent human gain in the form of better living.

An especially important related example is the phenomenon of sex behavior which in our own day is changing in some groups from an unmentionable necessity of nature to an important factor in human life. Correlated with the unmistakable variations in the cultural function of sex phenomena are better thought and practice with respect to sex behavior.

Labor phenomena, as actual work, as the development of methods and regulations, and the place of the workers in society, have taken on different and better stimulational functions. Today, labor stimulates ideas concerning its worth and dignity which sometime before was impossible. The same thing may be said of war phenomena in all its phases. When war stimulates a group not to admire and applaud destruction we may well speak of an improvement in its stimulative character.

Nor does the field of commerce fail to exhibit numerous possibilities for more advanced cultural stimulation. When the processes and functions of business are thought of as organizations of wants and supplies on the basis of genuine economic circumstances rather than on the studied intention

( 328) to deceive and profit, then the institutional properties are considerably better. When railroads are mechanisms for the gathering together and distribution of goods according to the needs of people only, rather than the tools of financial profits and competitive conquests, we have similarly superior situations.

Especially in voluntary cultural groups we find unlimited possibilities for the improvement of the qualities of cultural institutions. For instance, certain stimuli are purposely instituted to meet the desires and needs of the individuals concerned. Objects and situations are endowed with those sorts of stimulational properties that will further the interests and improve the conditions of the particular association of persons in question. In the absence of fixed standards we cannot mean here some absolute improvement. It is sufficient that the members of the group which harbor the institutions or some outside collectivity consider the change a progressive one.

The deterioration and corruption of the institutional stimulation of objects need not detain us. For we may easily pass from those functions inciting advantageous behavior to those eliciting the opposite form of action. A few examples will suffice. Students of social phenomena are constantly pointing out the increasing waste and economic disadvantage in the behavior concerned with advertising. It is said that in this field we have been moving from the comparatively simple processes of making announcements to a complex mechanism of exploitative propaganda. If then it is true that advertising stimulates us to act so that a great deal of labor and money is lost along with the means of making announcements, then we must agree that advertising institutions have deteriorated. The same judgment must be passed if advertising has developed new functions resulting in untruthfully describing and praising certain goods, in the general increase of price, and decrease of economic advantage.

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Similar deterioration of institutions occur in the changed functioning of political processes; so that they are no longer reacted to as genuine administrative agencies but rather as exploitative activities of office-holding and maladministration of public funds.

Changes in mere duration of institutional stimuli require no further elaboration. Here there is only a variation of stimulus function and the corresponding behavior. Examples of such institutional changes are probably best shown by the various phenomena of modes and fashions.


Stimuli are factors of reactional events. Now it is only to be expected that their rise and development are intimately connected with all sorts of mutually influencing conditions. Indeed, we have already intimated what some of these are, but the importance of these data warrants a resume and elaboration.

Obviously the number and type of such conditions are exceedingly large. We shall find it expedient therefore to classify them on the basis of definite criteria. Among the latter we select first the question of the directness or indirectness of the influence.

Direct conditions intimately concern the stimulus and response factors of the institutional mechanism. Indirect conditions affect first the general life conditions of the group in which the institutional development takes place and then in a somewhat more remote way operate upon the involved stimuli and responses.

A second criterion for organizing the influences upon institutional mechanisms is the question whether or not these direct and indirect conditions are psychological.

On the one hand, we will group together the distinctly psychological happenings inducing institutional development,

( 330) while on the other, we will organize the conditions which are distinctly non-psychological in character.

Direct Institutional Conditions: Psychological.—Let us start first with direct psychological conditions which affect the stimulus side of the mechanism. First there is the question of whether any interferences of stimuli conditions exist. For instance, in a rigid scientific collectivity one does not expect to find inhering in events a stimulus calling out at the same time belief and disbelief in their causal character. Again, in a religious collectivity one does not ordinarily discover some object with two conflicting stimuli, of which one is correlated with the power and the other with the helplessness of God to produce such an object. In these cases the institutional qualities are in harmony, or they reinforce each other.

On the other hand, somewhat unrelated stimuli functions may tend either to reinforce or inhibit each other. To a certain extent a number of institutions may comprise a more or less homogeneous system. The institutions may adapt themselves to each other through the medium of the behavior of the individuals of the group. In an industrial society we find that scientific institutions change and develop to fit in with the prevailing types of industrial situations. Owing to the particular industrial slant, for instance, beliefs and opinions are stimulated that scientific work is pragmatic in character, and that the main if not the sole function of science is to further the welfare of group members. In such a collectivity the line between applied and theoretical science is very distinctly drawn. Indeed every group situation presents an interrelated mass of mutually influencing factors. Commercial institutions give color to intellectual ones, political to scientific, scientific to religious, and vice versa throughout a list of institutions.

On the response side of institutional mechanisms we find also these reinforcing and inhibiting influencing factors. As

( 331) we have seen when the person is undergoing culturalization, the older responses may interfere with or aid in behavior acquisition. Both through primarily individual responses which spread over large behavior areas, and the concerted action of individuals, very striking influences may thus be brought to bear upon institutional mechanisms. These modifying conditions of institutions are probably the most constantly operating and certainly the most inevitable.

Now even in discussing these most intrinsic factors of institutional mechanisms we must be warned that we are not concerned here with general principles. We must regard ourselves as dealing with specific instances of stimuli development. In view of the purely conventional character of social behavior we should not expect any thoroughgoing interference of contrary action. In fact the opposite is quite as often the case.

Non-psychological.—Among the non-psychological conditions influencing the institutional mechanisms may be mentioned the steady rise and decline of sociological institutions. The constant modifications in usages, customs, and fashions in ethnic groups and the variations in conventional knowledge and information in professional organizations are the direct concomitants of modifications in sociological institutions. The greater rapidity in behavior changes in smaller occupational and other kinds of associations as over against national or ethnic groups corresponds likewise to relatively greater changes in social institutions in the two situations.

In specific circumstances stimuli develop corresponding to natural or non-social objects. The origin and maintenance of certain institutions may depend upon the specific properties of the conditioning objects. For instance, groups to which certain natural resources are unavailable, cannot have certain types of building, clothing, and household utensils. Consequently, for these groups cultural institutions do not exist which inhere in such contrived objects. In the same way,

( 332) modifications in institutions are determined by the properties of objects. The various styles of wearing apparel can only be modified insofar as the materials out of which they are fashioned lend themselves to the desired patterns.

The dependence of institutional mechanisms upon certain specific conditions is excellently illustrated when these conditions are actions. Since behavior is constantly modifiable the institutions inhering in them must perforce undergo many changes. Take the case in which the rise and fall of the intensity of hatred toward the enemy stimulates various common responses, with a total subsidence of such stimulation and response after peace has been declared.

Indirect Institutional Conditions: Psychological.—The indirect psychological factors conditioning institutions center wholly around action. First the personal activities of individuals, and secondly their cultural conduct as members of psychological groups, exert telling effects upon institutional development. Here we need only refer to the points already examined in our study of anthropic phenomena, namely, that individuals have a large place in the origin, maintenance, and transformation of all features of civilization.[4] Among the personal activities we number the sheer inclination of individuals to perform certain kinds of action. Common instances are the disinclinations of particular individuals to go to the polls to vote. Such lack of interest, or purely private conflicts of interests, may in the end have a decided influence upon the stimulational functions of the voting process.

Such personal behavior with its potency to alter institutions may in turn have its basis in some other conditions, for example, health, fatigue, or preoccupation. Persons may simply not find it convenient to vote because of business or play engagements.

Activities and achievements of inventors or thinkers constitute more important personal psychological conduct affect-

( 333) -ing institutions. The invention by some person of some particular technique may precipitate a complete shift in the institutions of a psychological collectivity. Personal likes and reflections of individuals as potent factors here are observed when the attitudes of a judge affect common lay institutions.

Such names as Darwin, Napoleon, Marx, Alexander, and Lenin superbly represent the influences of personal psychological conduct upon intellectual, political, and social institutions.

Persons likewise set their mark upon institutions as carriers of culture. Individuals who move from group to group transfer institutions or objects with their cultural functions. Thus from one collectivity to another are carried over such civilizational features as works of art, ideas, techniques, and particular objects in the form of weapons and manufactured things. This type of institutional transmission through the activities of individuals is well illustrated by the frequently given example of De Ponta bringing Italian intellectual civilization to America or Voltaire carrying English scientific ideas to France, and Raleigh introducing tobacco smoking institutions into England.

Among the indirect collectivistic psychological influences upon institutions may be mentioned the fears, hopes, aspirations and beliefs of sets of particular individuals. These types of cultural conduct whether related to some particular situation, as in the case of wars, or commercial competition may prevent the inception of institutions or result in their elimination. Similarly, cultural pride prevents linguistic institutions from being established or maintained, as illustrated by the German resistance to Roman type in printing, and the similar Irish and English insistence upon the abolition of Gaelic type. When the hopes of new politically self-determining groups t0 establish their own social organization, political system, and language, materialize they exemplify the same point.

( 334)

Non-psychological.—Humanistic events and happenings which promote changes in the general life conditions of an anthropic group constitute some of the non-psychological indirect conditions influencing institutions. War, military and commercial conquests, and exploration have considerable effect upon ethnic or national institutions. Through such happenings new objects are brought to the group; fresh resources are made available. In general, there is an interchange, and modification of sociological and psychological institutions.

Natural events, whether of the favorable sort making for large crops and abundant food supplies, or destructive and disadvantageous conditions, such as famines, crop failures, earthquakes and droughts, or crises of various sorts, the exhaustion of natural resources for instance, do not fail to determine collective conduct and its stimulational functions. All of these conditions and events operate directly to originate cultural institutions or indirectly through the rise and development of anthropological institutions.

In concluding, we must be warned against assuming that it is possible in even a comparatively simple situation to discover a single type of condition which counts for the origin or change of even a single stimulational function. In every case no doubt a large number of factors go to influence any institutional mechanism. 'Only one method therefore presents itself, namely, to select some single instance of operation and . to analyze the components involved.



  1. It is to be hoped that the coincidence of these objects simultaneously becoming sociological and psychological institutions will not obscure the distinction between these different kinds of humanistic facts.
  2. Consult Greenough and Kittredge, Words and Their Ways in English Speech, as a rich treasury of stimuli transformations in words.
  3. For instance, the multiplication of bodies granting the degree, the increase in the number of possessors of the title, through competition among university departments (because of the need to have a record of Ph. D.s turned out), and the demand for Ph. Ds occasioned by the fashion that all faculty members shall be equipped with such ornaments.
  4. Chap. V, p. 164 ff.

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