An Outline of Social Psychology

Chapter 12: The Characteristics of Behavior Groups

Jacob Robert Kantor

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So far in our investigation of social psychology we have been handling what may be called the more elementary facts of the subject. We have isolated the fundamental datum consisting of the Response and Stimulus. Furthermore, in our treatment of Culturalization we have described the method by which the individual acquires social forms of conduct. This led to the study of the Nature of Cultural Personality as a product of Culturalization. Finally, we attempted a minute description of the conditions under which are developed the stimuli functions or Institutions constituting the counterparts of the individual's behavior in social psychological events.

But this series of studies by no means exhaust the fundamental data of social psychology. There still remains the investigation of the psychological collectivity. In effect we are now shifting the focus of our attention from the responses of individuals to the sets of persons who share cultural reactions. This transfer of data serves to bring to the foreground a number of important considerations which have not yet received their due emphasis. It is only by studying sets of persons and units that we can obtain certain desirable information with respect to social psychological behavior. For the most part we may add that this information concerns the relation of the persons within the collectivity.

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Probably the most striking characteristics of psychological collectivities is their atomization. Great variability exists in the way particular instances of cultural behavior are performed in any specified behavior collectivity. Two persons perform the same belief reactions to the "value of democracy" as a stimulus. Both believe that only a democratic form of government can save the race, but what a difference there may be in .the reactions. Assume merely that one of the individuals is more highly educated than the other and the possibilities are glaring. Psychological groups therefore are so unstable as always to be fractionalized into moieties or levels of persons.

As we have so frequently found in the study of social psychology our best illustrative materials can be found in the field of language behavior. Let us choose any particular cultural group on the basis of sound, accent, pronunciation, vocabulary or any other language factor, and we observe at once that these "same" responses to a particular stimulus function vary in greater or lesser detail. So pronounced are these differences in the levels of a group that by means of them we may distinguish between different persons of a single psychological collectivity. But also the same person at different times may perform this varying behavior.

No type of cultural conduct escapes this net of variation. Whether we choose as our illustrative behavior some action of worship, belief, knowledge, or prejudice, we invariably find variations in the way persons perform their shared reactions.

This fractionalization of groups may be accounted for upon two general grounds. In the first place, persons perform the "same" behavior differently because of their varied behavior equipments. In spite of all similarities in the psychological nature of individuals every psychological act is performed by

( 339) a unique personality. To speak only of social behavior equipment, no two persons ever go through just the same culturalization processes. Thus every individual has a certain amount of behavior equipment not shared with others. Our present point is that the person's unshared or unique reactional biography influences his performance of shared behavior. When we consider that collectivities are composed of men and women, adults and children, literate and illiterate individuals we realize more forcibly that psychological group phenomena could not present other than an infinite web of variation.

A second basis for the atomization of psychological groups resides in the general conditions that effect changes in institutions. The various members of a psychological collectivity cannot all be in contact with the same anthropic circumstances accompanying institutional changes. Their responses are bound to be different owing to contacts with diverse geographic, economic, military, or other situations. Hence we find in such facts numerous possibilities for the splitting of groups into levels.

Granting that what we call the same cultural reaction to a given stimulus function may vary more or less when performed by different persons, one might ask whether there are any special forms that these variations assume. Generally speaking, it is impossible to enumerate types of levels or moieties among cultural behavior groups. Where all is so fluid and changing it is impossible to fix definite boundaries or even directions of change. Classification therefore is unthinkable.

If, however, we permit ourselves to be tempted by the perennial lure of perfection we may find it suggestive to single out two general directions in which groups may be fractionalized. We are able to distinguish horizontal or quantitative moieties from vertical or qualitative levels. Now the vertical levels may be regarded as progressively superior in an ascending scale. To illustrate with types of intelligence responses

( 340) may clarify somewhat this present distinction. For instance, when we can determine that certain cultural responses belong to a given intelligence group, it is frequently possible to isolate superior and inferior instances. Upon the basis of a fairly acceptable standard of conduct the responses become stratified as better or more effective. The conventionally intelligent or reasonable action may be more or less reasonable or intelligent. Similarly, the pitying or charitable responses performed by moieties of the same behavior group may be more pitying or more charitable, or fall below a compared member.

In contrast to such vertical levels the moieties of intelligent actions may be distributed horizontally. In this case the differences in behavior have to do with quantitative features or with intensity, with more or less intelligence, pity, or charity. We may regard the comparable responses as having a greater or lesser amount of the quality in question.

It is quite apparent that we can only look for criteria for inferior and superior actions in such fields of behavior as intelligent or rational conduct, moral or affective reactions. In these cases certain facts in the stimuli objects may enable us to formulate a fairly workable standard of comparison. But when we come to such activities as religious responses or linguistic behavior we are at a total loss to discover satisfactory vertical levels. It is well nigh impossible to say what stress, accent or pronunciation should be considered as superior or inferior. Religious conduct, again, as belief or prayer behavior, offers no suitable criteria for ranking in a vertical scale. When religious conduct consists of sacrifices whether of animals, persons, or property, in other words, when it involves human welfare, we may then find a standard of comparison. Generally speaking, cultural reactions consisting of manipulative conduct, are more subject to order in a scale of superiority than the less overt reactions of thinking, feeling, or some form of speaking.

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The entire phenomenon of group fractionalization is well illuminated when we turn from actual cultural responses to the cumulative results which they bring about in the character of individuals. Observe a specific group of scientists. Whether their behavior consists of perceiving, comparing, judging, or inferring, they perform conventionally similar reactions to particular things. Under these general headings the members of the scientific collectivity share specific responses to their correlated stimuli objects. But with what a difference. In some cases the scientist's investigation constitutes an absolute form of behavior. He is concerned with fixed methods and techniques, and is thus constantly moving toward a prescribed form of interpretation. Of another type of scientist, however, the study reactions are of a very different sort. The whole series of acts are free investigations and not stilted routines. That is, he aims to orient himself intellectually. He constantly faces the possibility of working out new methods and reaching fresh interpretations. Such variations in the groups concerned may tend toward a decided stratification and the final development of new groups. One unit may stand for a series of genuine science activities, expert investigations of phenomena, while the other tends toward a mere worshipful ascertainment of elementary facts.

In our scientific illustration the upper levels constitute the action of persons who have more and superior equipment which influences any particular response, while the opposite is true for the individuals belonging to the lower levels or strata. Because the individuals of the upper levels are intellectually better equipped they are persons of understanding and wider cultural perspective. In contrast, the lower levels number among their personnel, mere workers, those who carry out the plans and hypotheses which others have formulated. By no means a wayward illustration is discovered in the scientific stratification of teacher and pupil. The latter, while learning performs the same scientific work as the master

( 342) minus the understanding and initiative which characterizes the comparable actions of the teacher.

A more humble form of collectivity also illustrates the atomization of psychological groups. View the spectacle of a backwoods parent-teachers' association in action. A school principal, teachers, and parents all of low grade mentality enter vigorously upon the discussion of weighty educational problems. Because of the similarity between the conceptual and linguistic responses performed, these actions are grouped with the behavior of scholars, highgrade educators and philosophic parents, but how ineffaceable are the lines of cleavage between them.

The issue of the whole phenomenon of group atomization is, that in any psychological collectivity there is an incessant movement away from the mass or average toward personalistic action. Or rather, we should say there is an invariable pull and tension between numbers of persons at one end and single individuals at the other. It is to be expected accordingly that the larger and more complex the group the greater the opportunity for fractionalization. A family psychological group is naturally limited in its variations because of the few persons altogether concerned.

Psychological collectivities set in anthropic groups in which human life is comparatively uncomplicated generally have fewer moieties and levels. In a simple primitive community, the life circumstances of individuals are such that there are few possibilities for an individual to vary his conduct from his fellows. In such situations cultural conduct is relatively more permanent.


Psychological groups persist. Despite the omnipresence and great effect of fractionalization, some behavior collectivities endure. Never forgetting that we are speaking of events,

( 343) we may say that thoughts, feelings, desires, and more overt actions remain in existence throughout long periods of time. The same ways of thinking, believing, speaking, and eating persist throughout generations and centuries. Hence arises the expression of popular wisdom which declares that man's nature is always and everywhere the same.

This fact we have of course already observed in our study of institutional stability. At present, however, we are concerned with the continuation of behavior groups as conditioned by the relations of the individuals who share the reactions in question. Durability of behavior collectivities is essentially a problem of the cohesion of persons. Now our problem is, what are the conditions that sustain the sharing of certain responses by various individuals?

Foremost among the cohering influences is the effect of culturalization. Through this process persons simply become alike. Henceforth, they believe identically because they partake of the same types of human nature. This sameness is the cohering element.

Another exceedingly important factor is that so much of cultural conduct is at the same time stimulus and response. To speak, pray, walk, think or feel in a certain way not only constitute the reactions of persons but simulate others to act in the same way. Here we have a very potent mutual influence of individuals upon each other. Such mutual interaction cannot but serve to continue particular behavior groups.

So far we have spoken only of cultural interaction as a factor in the maintenance of psychological collectivities. Note also that idiosyncratic actions operate to prolong the life of behavior units. The latter may perhaps be best illustrated by the actions of those who presume to control the culturalization of others. For instance, politicians influence groups to vote in a certain way. Similarly, merchants sway the members of groups to value jewels or spend money conspicuously. Governors induce collectivities to preserve and exercise their

( 344) patriotism, while preachers control the beliefs of worshippers. Not to be ignored is the role of general life conditions of members of particular activities in the continuation of behavior groups.[1] To suggest only a few of these influences we first mention the domestic and family contribution to the sustenance of moral units. It is the exigencies of family life that demand innumerable loyalties and obediences. Then there is the effect of the economic status of persons upon religious conduct. Is there not an undeniable relation between the impotence of poverty, and the self-debasing conduct of formal religious practices? Again, economic rivalry and conflicts perpetuate those collectivities performing professional, national, and racial prejudices.

From the life conditions of individuals we turn to the effect of general anthropic circumstances upon cultural groups. These anthropic conditions, of course, are organized sociological situations. Social organization itself operates to maintain an aggregation of individuals. Various simple human associations provide occasion for the performance of conventional responses. In the same way, longevity of psychological collectivities is secured by certain persisting objects and techniques found in every human society. We need only suggest the effects that such sociological phenomena have upon every variety of linguistic, psychological collectivity from colloquial through dialectal to ethnic language associations.

To be added to the other maintaining influences of cultural behavior, though not as unimportant coordinate circumstances, are many natural and historical factors. Though these are more indirect conditions from a psychological standpoint, they still are responsible in no small way for the con

( 345) -servation of psychological groups. To begin with, we may mention the conserving influences of natural barriers of various sorts. Just as zoologists find in the isolating circumstances of topography the basis for species formation and maintenance, and similarly sociologists the condition for different social organization and language, so may the psychologist regard natural barriers as prominent features in the continuation of cultural behavior. A convincing example often quoted is the conservation of the Basque speech as a linguistic island surrounded by other unsimilar tongues.

The sheer geographic distribution of psychological groups is a further factor in their maintenance. For when the members of a collectivity are widely distributed, the disintegrating factors cannot operate simultaneously and with equal force upon all of them. Thus the behavior in question persists.

To cosmic happenings may be attributed the persistence of many psychological collectivities. Much influence is exerted upon thought and belief by earthquakes and volcanoes, or by favorable or unfavorable weather conditions. Superstitions among sailors and farmers, as well as so-called primitive men, also the happy-go-lucky psychological nature of those who live close to the natural elements undauntedly continue because of cosmic events. Since the topographical and telluric factors spoken of here cannot very well be differentiated, possibly there is some truth in the theories of geographic and climatic influences upon mental life. There is no question that, despite the overemphasis of Taine, certain cosmic and topographic circumstances have aided in determining the character of the art behavior of the men of various nations.

The extent to which historical facts conserve psychological groups need hardly be pointed out. Nothing is more familiar than the way land discoveries, wars, conquests, and military expeditions spread and maintain psychological collectivities along with sociological institutions and other elements of complex anthropic systems.

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Our inquiry must now be directed toward the question of what happens in the relation of persons when behavior groups are inaugurated and pass out of existence. In other words, we turn to the internal history of psychological collectivities. For purposes of expediency we shall assume that there are two general ways in which groups arise. The first, which we call primary, is that in which groups originate de novo, or as near this description as possible. The secondary origin has to do more with modification or changes in older groups. What we call the primary origin of a psychological collectivity may be illustrated as follows. Some scientist develops a new idea or belief concerning an event that he has been the first to observe. This he publishes, or informs others about it. Thus a new mode of shared conduct may be recorded as existing. Similarly, an artist achieves a new technique or conception which others may later become aware of or about which they are convinced. The new mode of action becomes the common behavior of a new psychological collectivity.

Generally speaking, the most fertile source for the origin` of new groups is found in fields where the most originality is possible.[2] The detailed mechanism here is the engendering of a cohesion between persons on the basis of some response to an institutional object. Thus a behavior affinity between persons is established by the rise of a new linguistic collectivity whose members share a certain referential response to a new object.

Just what conditions determine the coherence of persons may be detected in specific instances. Sometimes the authority of the person who originates the new belief is an in-

( 347) -fluential factor. For example, the psychological expert of a government developing a policy of colonial expansion may acquire the notion of the absolute inferiority of primitive to civilized mentality. The weight of his official position may be the cause of others sharing the belief. The official himself may have no desire or intention to bring such a condition about. On the other hand, literary stylists, academists, who must improve speech, thought, and manners are more deliberate agents for the formation of behavior collectivities.

So much for the group origin in which the dominant influence is that of one individual upon one or many others. Another primary group genesis in which there is a simultaneous influence of various individuals upon each other occurs when persons observe that they are all frequently or constantly performing a certain kind of behavior. Hence that action gradually takes on characteristics of traditional and conventional behavior. This sort of situation is referred to as the "consciousness of kind" and is presumed to be a prominent factor in cementing sociological groups.

Secondary behavior groups arise either successively or collaterally. In the first case, the new group springs out of another which is totally superseded and consequently disappears. Here we have a definite evolution of one collectivity from another.[3] On the other hand, as the term collateral origin intimates, persons acquire speech, belief, or thought reactions by collectively varying their behavior from others thus breaking away from the association which continues the previously shared action in the old manner.

Among the best illustrations of the successive origin of groups are linguistic examples. Every language situation discloses a distinct record of succeeding collectivities. Sets of persons continually modify the linguistic forms and mean-

( 348) -ings which they employ in their referertial behavior.[4] The way groups use words varies in an apparently inevitable and constant manner. We must confess forthwith that while there is no mistake about the psychological phenomena here, the actual circumstances conditioning the changes are sufficiently subtle to defy observational detection. Successive origins of fashion and belief reactions, however, are more amenable to investigative attack. For instance, the events occurring just before the United States entered the War showed us a number of sequences in the shared belief and practice responses of groups of persons.

A decidedly unique type of successive group origin consists of the reappearance of modes of thinking, speaking, believing, or other types of cultural response after they have passed through a period of non-operation. The revival of sets of people performing particular behavior is in a sense a mode of group origin which may be regarded as a disjunctive form of the successive type. Very fine examples of the reappearance of behavior groups we find in the restoration of attitudes, beliefs, and other more performative actions with respect to foreign nations and their peoples before, during, and after a war. Again, we have waves of democratic feeling and action succeeding each other in political behavior, or trends of romanticism and rationalism in the general life currents of psychological and sociological collectivities.

The correlational development of new groups constitutes primarily an effective shading off in the way certain individuals in a collectivity react as compared with the other members. Such variations in behavior create moieties and levels in a collectivity which become crystallized and established to form new groups, while the original collectivity persists. Especially good examples may be cited in the religious do-

( 349) -main. The coexistence of every variety of believer in any form of religious unit exemplifies the correlated origin of psychological associations.

The disappearance of behavior groups may occur through the same process as we have been indicating. Let us suggest only that a person develops a disbelief concerning some fact and then communicates his response to others. As a result we may have a number of individuals agreeing and the former belief group disappears.

We have already suggested that the intercommunication of persons, which we regard as an effective instrument for the development or disappearance of behavior collectivities, need not be as direct as face to face contacts, but may take place through printed publication. We may add, too, that it is not necessary that persons deliberately appreciate these differences or the relative merits of the varying actions, although some time a cultural group is decidedly the result of the appreciation by several persons of the value or advantage accruing to them in the performance of a certain kind of behavior, or of sharing it with other persons.


In several places throughout this volume we have already touched, by implication at least, upon a number of facts concerning the distribution of behavior groups. We have had numerous occasions to observe that sets of persons widely distributed in both place and time harbor the same institutions, and in consequence perform similar types of action. In brief, certain elements of civilization are common to all human individuals.[5] Accordingly, human circumstances farthest removed from each other make possible the development of common types of activity.

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Whether persons belong to so-called primitive or highly civilized communities or whether they have lived in the remotest antiquity or in the immediate present, they may be regarded as sharing reactions. For example, the ideas, beliefs, and practices of prehistoric men may be performed in common with members of present day groups. Much of our behavior we share with the Greeks and Romans, with the ancient Persians and Chinese.

Such widely distributed groups must, of course, be regarded as duplications of each other, since it is impossible to assume that all the individuals concerned belong to the same collectivity. For the latter to be true, it is necessary that they should have been culturalized in the same group. In other words, individuals can only be regarded as sharing conduct with those with whom they are or have been in actual contact. Now unless we regard all of the instances of similar conduct as originating in some particular place and being distributed, we have no option but to consider this distributed conduct as duplicated and not all belonging to an original single group.

Despite the great differences in the other behavior of the persons concerned we have no choice but to look upon this distributed conduct as the same in quality. For example, the faith reactions or the frankly occult beliefs of scientists are qualitatively no better because they are performed by scientists than by the most primitive individuals. Conversely, the reflections of a so-called primitive person as specific responses, are just as valid as those of some other advanced personality. No other condition could exist with respect to conventional modes of response.

Duplication in a sense is the converse of fractionalization. Whereas the former phenomenon represents a tendency on the part of persons to be similar and cohere, fractionalization as we have seen, is an index of deviation of behavior.


  1. Since responses are the reciprocals of stimuli functions, the conditions involved in influencing the origin and continuation of groups must correlate with and overlap the conditions affecting the origin and maintenance of institutions. This fact is the extenuation for some possible reiteration of points.
  2. In this connection it is interesting to note that frequently persons from widely distant fields make contributions to other domains by suggesting ideas transported from their own. Thus Malthusian sociological ideas enriched Darwinian biological conceptions. Physiological ideas have likewise produced revolutionary effects upon psychology.
  3. It should not, of course, be necessary to add that simple differentiation is here in question. There is not the slightest suggestion of qualitative improvement in the successive groups.
  4. Since the first origins of groups and their institutions may be initiated by individuals, so changes in these phenomena may likewise be introduced by single persons.
  5. Chap. IV, p. 102 ff.

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