American Social Psychology

2. L. L. Bernard (1884)

Fay Berger Karpf

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In view of what has already been said regarding Allport's and Bernard's common starting point, the foregoing consideration of Allport's social-psychological approach can in a measure serve also as an introduction to the consideration of Bernard's organizing viewpoint. For Ber-

( 408) -nard's conception of social psychology is different from Allport's, not so much because it is different in its psychological position, as because it is supplementary on the social side. This, as we shall see, appears not only from Bernard's direct references to Allport's social-psychological theory but also from his description of his own particular outlook and approach.

It is notable in this connection that Bernard came to the more general treatment of social psychology through his important special study of instinct (Instinct: A Study in Social Psychology, 1924) and that it is in the consideration of this special subject that he defines, as did Allport, his basic approach to social psychology. Referring specifically to Allport's Social Psychology in respect to this subject, Bernard says: "It is not necessary to call attention in detail to the striking similarity of viewpoint regarding instinct and emotion in his book and mine."[1]

In particular, it is because of his basic physiological attack of the problem of instinct and because of his leaning toward the conditioned response theory as an improvement upon the instinct theory in social psychology[2] that Bernard meets Allport on common ground in this way. Bernard has, however, taken much sharper issue with the instinct approach to social psychology than Allport (Bernard has been conspicuous in the recent attack upon the instinct theory of human behavior, especially as represented by McDougall's Introduction to Social Psychology), and coming to the subject chiefly from the sociological rather than the psychological standpoint, he has naturally sought to lead out beyond Allport's individualistic considerations to an analysis of the social side of the behavior process. In the practical working out of his approach, this has meant also, as might be expected, that he has emphasized a more decided social attack in the treatment of personality integration than Allport, though, setting forth a synthetic conception of social psychology, he did not follow this emphasis out to the extreme of an essentially one-sided treatment of the subject, as did Allport.

He did, however, maintain on the basis of his study of instinct and his consideration of the nature of man's hereditary equipment for social life on the one hand and of the dynamic character of his social environment on the other, that it is not instinct but habit, in the broad sense in which Dewey has popularized this term, which provides the chief key to an understanding of human conduct and social life.[3] And habit, as it enters into human conduct, being always bipolar in its reference to both the social environment and the factor of biological heredity, this position in respect to the subject of instinct carries over directly into the synthetic

( 409) approach which he outlines in his Introduction to Social Psychology, his own major emphasis, for reasons which he develops in detail,[4] falling naturally upon the study of the psycho-social environment.

Stating this position from the standpoint of his detailed study of instinct, Bernard says:

The real task before the social and educational psychologists with respect to instincts is to discover the mechanisms by means of which the child and the citizen build up their habits upon the basis of the instincts, directly or indirectly, and by means of which one habit or set of habits is transformed into another. Hitherto they have approached this problem from essentially the wrong angle, that of the analysis of instinct, on the assumption that instinct dominates the development of habit. Both the approach and the assumption are erroneous. The sociologist is demonstrating that the environment increasingly dominates both the content and the direction or functioning of habit formation. It is, therefore, from the standpoint of the content and the organization of the psycho-social environment that the control of the growth of human character should be approached, the instincts being regarded primarily as the original—not necessarily the immediate or the only—starting points in the process.[5]

By way of suggesting more concretely the basis for this position and for the viewpoint which he develops further in his Introduction to Social Psychology, Bernard outlines the following rather striking analogy:

Modern civilization is like a city of . . . skyscrapers. Organized into blocks and sections of this city, facing along certain streets which we may liken to the avenues of custom and tradition, of public opinion and convention, and the like, they collectively constitute the tremendous social environment divided functionally, if not geographically, into institutions. As each new individual comes into the world he has much the same foundation as others have of native soil upon which to build, varied to be sure here and there by excavations, marsh land, hill, or stone; but whether this individual grows into a towering skyscraper, a dingy tenement house . . . or is arrested in his development as a shanty in the slums, depends not so much upon the character of the soil, as defined above, upon which the superstructure is reared, as upon the environment in which it grows.[6]

While this description, he points out, is in the nature of an analogy rather than of an analysis of the concrete activity processes connected with the development of character, "I believe," he says, "the description is essentially true to the facts."

The instincts are very early overlaid by acquired habits in the process of adapting the individual to his environment, and these habits are in turn overlaid by other tiers or stories of habit in which the native character of instinct ever constantly diminishes in proportion and intensity, until the child who has reached a rational age is reacting in nine-tenths or ninety-nine one-hundredths of his

(410)     character directly to environment, and only in the slight residual fraction of his nature directly to instinct. The influence of environment is cumulative in our lives and the decline of the influence of instinct is progressive.[7]

It is clear, therefore, why Bernard presents a synthetic view of social psychology and why, in developing this view, he places a predominant emphasis on the study of the psycho-social environment. In describing his treatment of the subject in his Introduction to Social Psychology, he says:

The present Introduction to Social Psychology represents an attempt at a more synthetic type of treatment of the field than has ordinarily been given . . . The text-books which have so far appeared, although for the most part excellent from their several viewpoints, are nevertheless but partial treatments. So notably true is this that there exists a marked controversy as to what properly constitutes social psychology.[8]

Bernard explains further that his Introduction to Social Psychology deals with the subject "from the standpoint of the more objective factors which integrate the personality and its responses in a social environment" and is only the first half of his synthetic treatment as planned, "the more extended treatment of the subjective aspects of personality development" having been reserved by him for a second volume. The full significance of his conception of the subject does not, therefore, as yet appear, though the synthetic character of the part presented is sufficiently suggestive of the effect.

By way of general orientation and introduction to his view of social psychology as it enters into his treatment of the subject, Bernard takes up the question as to what properly constitutes social psychology for consideration, and he views this question first from the standpoint of the general field of science and then from the standpoint of the specific conceptions which are current in the field of social psychology. After examining a number of these conceptions, he formulates his own definition of the subject in the following terms:

Social psychology studies the behavior of individuals in a psycho-social situation. This behavior is valid subject matter for social psychology whether it conditions or is conditioned by other social behavior or responses. It is also concerned with all collective responses, that is, responses of individuals which mutually and reciprocally condition each other and those which are uniform throughout the group, regardless of what environment they arise from. Of course the chief source of stimuli of which social psychology takes cognizance is the psycho-social environment, and the chief type of behavior in which it is interested is collective behavior.[9]

( 411)

He also says in another connection:

Social psychology is interested directly and primarily in human behavior in asocial situation. It may concern itself with the inner mechanisms of responses to social stimuli, or it may focus its attention upon collective response to similar or identical or to mutual or supplementary stimuli. In the one case it leans toward psychology and in the other it rests upon sociology. Both interests are legitimate to the field of social psychology and in both cases its theme is human behavior. [10]

Commenting on the inclusiveness of this view and the possible criticisms that might be offered of it on the ground that social psychology as thus conceived extends over a large part of the related fields of both psychology and sociology, he says:

Our viewpoint is that social psychology is an outgrowth of both psychology and sociology and overlaps both fields.[11]

Nevertheless the problem of social psychology is as distinct as that of any other social science, according to him. He explains:

It is to find out how men behave in groups, or, in other words, to study the reactions of individuals to the psycho-social environment and the consequent building up of collective adjustment behavior patterns in the individuals in response to social stimuli. In order to answer these questions it is necessary, on the one hand, for the science of social psychology to have an analysis of the psycho-social environment in terms of the processes operating to provide stimuli to the responding individual, and, on the other hand, to understand the organization of behavior patterns in the individual himself. With these two backgrounds it is possible to give an account of the further integration of behavior patterns of individuals responding individually or collectively to psycho-social stimuli.[12]

At another point, he says again in respect to the problem of social psychology:

The very fact that it is a psychological as well as a social science indicates that its task is the study of the responses of the individual to his social environment. Its task is exactly this of connecting the environment (stimulus-giving objects) with the organism (response mechanisms) . . . This involves both an organized presentation of stimulus controls (environment organization) and of response mechanisms (the organization of the personality). The neglect of the former aspect leaves us psychology; of the latter, sociology. In either case of neglect we have no social psychology.[13]

With this general view of social psychology as a background, Bernard follows out his treatment of the subject in its more objective aspects,

( 412) as noted above. The synthetic character of his treatment appears immediately from his introductory discussion of such topics as "The Organic Bases of Behavior," "The Environmental Bases of Behavior," "The Inherited and Acquired Equipment of Man" as well as from the organization of his work as a whole and especially his consideration of such subject matter as "Habit Mechanisms and the Adjustment Process," "The Functional Organization of Consciousness," "The Integration of Personality in the Social Environment," etc. Perhaps as suggestive a passage as any in characterizing his treatment of this subject matter is the following statement of its objective in behavioristic terms, since Bernard definitely identified himself as a behaviorist at this time.[14] He suggests:

Watson, in his behavioristic program, states that the ultimate purpose of the science of behavior is to make it possible to predict what will be the probable response when a given stimulus is applied. Such a program involves the ascertainment of two things: the nature of the response mechanisms (the organization of the organism), and the nature of the stimuli (the organization of the environment). Psychology has already gone far in the investigation of the former. The time is more than ripe for the sociologists or others to undertake the systematic study of the latter. Hence the emphasis in this volume upon the organization of the environment ... [15]

With this emphasis upon the environmental aspect of behavior as a point of departure, Bernard combines what he has, as it would seem, rather unfortunately termed the "environmentalist"[16] type of social psychology of Cooley, Mead, Dewey, and Thomas with the physiological type of Allport. He thus arrived at a broadly inclusive view of the content material of social psychology not unlike that of Bogardus in his earlier formulation, though his approach, as indicated above, is basically orientated in the habit conception of Dewey and the conditioned response theory of Allport and others of the behavioristic school rather than in the "instinctivist" position of the McDougall school of thought.

Notable in particular here in conjunction with the above statement of objective and as indicative of the manner in which Bernard's treat-

( 413) -ment of the subject supplements Allport's is his attempt to analyze and classify the "environments," especially the "social environments," including the very important subdivision of "psycho-social environments."[17] Defining the environment as "that set of objective factors which cooperate with the inheritance factors in the integration of behavior patterns through its determination of axes in the organism," Bernard recalls the view that "the social psychologist can . . . no more disregard the environment than he can ignore the heredity of the organism, if he expects to have an adequate understanding of the origins and controls of human behavior."[18] As a matter of fact, however, he points out, "environment has been largely neglected by social scientists generally and particularly by the social psychologists." He says:

In the textbooks of this science the concept scarcely appears with any degree of definiteness. Where the term is used it is employed with a vague and some-what general reference which is not at all comparable with the concreteness and highly organized character of the treatment of the concept of inheritance; although this concept also is at times handled all too vaguely. There is great need for rendering the concept of environment definite and for analyzing it into its constituent parts, in order that the social psychologist may have a clear notion of the objective as well as of the subjective factors which integrate for individual organisms their patterns of behavior.[18]

It is in the detailed elaboration of this thesis through the consideration of material made familiar by modern sociology and cultural anthropology that Bernard carries his analysis beyond Allport's psychological considerations to a sociological treatment of the subject, similar in its essential import if not in its detailed discussion, to some of the other sociological conceptions of the subject which have been examined here. His attempt at analysis of the environmental factor in social behavior through his treatment of the concrete social environment represents a distinct contribution in the direction of the development of this aspect of social-psychological theory.


  1. Instinct, p. vii. Quotations from this work are reprinted by permission of Henry Holt & Company, publishers.
  2. See An Introduction to Social Psychology, pp. 29-30, 117-122.
  3. See Instinct, Chap. I; An Introduction to Social Psychology, pp. 36-37, 122.
  4. Ibid., Chap. IV.
  5. Instinct, pp. 533-534.
  6. Ibid., pp. 523-524.
  7. Ibid., p. 524; see also An Introduction to Social Psychology, pp. 38, 46.
  8. Ibid., p v. Quotations from this work are reprinted by permission of Henry Holt & Company, publishers.
  9. Ibid., p. 18.
  10. Ibid., p. 107.
  11. Ibid., p. 585.
  12. Ibid., p. 589.
  13. Ibid., p. 45.
  14. Ibid., p. 42.
  15. Ibid., p. 44.
  16. Ibid., pp. 29-30. Surely most of the social psychologists whom he classifies as "environmentalists" would object to this label. For the point, as Cooley has so frequently stated, is not to emphasize "environment" as against "heredity" but to recognize that concrete human behavior is always a combination of both. To pit "environment" against "heredity" is no better than to pit "heredity" against "environment." Of course, Bernard did not actually mean to do this, as both his synthetic approach and his analysis of the "environmentalist" and the "instinctivist" positions show, but the suggestion of his terminology is definitely in this direction, and so are many specific passages dealing with the subject. See in this connection FARlS, review of Bernard's Introduction to Social Psychology, Amer. Jour. Sociol., vol. 32, p. 484, 1926; also review of Instinct, ibid., vol. 30, pp. 601-602, 1925.
  17. An Introduction to Social Psychology, Chap. VI, also pp. 21, 45, 65.
  18. Ibid., pp 69-70. A some similar view of social psychology developed from the psychological standpoint has been outlined by Kantor in his Outline of Social Psychology (1929); see also “An Essay Toward an Institutional Conception of Social Psychology,” Amer. Jour. Sociol, vol. 27, pp. 611-627, 758-779, 1921-1922; “How Is a Science of Social Psychology Possible? Jour. Abn. Psychol. Soc. Psychol., vol. 17, pp. 62-78, 1922; “The Institutional Foundation of a Scientific Social Psychology,” Amer. Jour. Sociol. vol. 674-685, 1924.

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