McDougall's Social Psychology
Mr. McDougall attempts to present psychology from such a point of view that it may
become a technique for the social sciences. The point of view which, in his opinion, will
give this value to psychology is that of the instincts. The instinct the author defines as
"an inherited or innate psycho-physical disposition which determines its possessor to
perceive, and to pay attention to, objects of a certain class, to experience an emotional
excitement of a particular quality upon perceiving such an object, and to act in regard to
it in a particular manner, or, at least to experience an impulse to such action " (p.
29). In this definition and in the discussion that leads up to it and follows it, there is
implied the movement of nervous discharge along the afferent paths to the central portion
of the nervous system from which the impulses go out to the vital organs and which are the
nervous correlates of the conscious emotional experiences. From this central portion of
the system also proceed the impulses to the motor tract that give rise to overt conduct or
at least to tendencies to such conduct. This description of the instinct has considerable
import for the theory of cognitive consciousness and for the theory of the emotion, and we
will return to it later.
The author undertakes the difficult task of determining the instincts and their derivatives in the human animal, using three criteria (Chap. 3). These are the identity of a type of activity with one that is to be found in lower forms, the appearance of the activity as a dominant process in pathological cases, and the presence of a specific emotion which he assumes must accompany each instinct as such. The instincts and their corresponding emotions are flight and fear, repulsion and disgust, curiosity and wonder, pugnacity and anger, self-abasement (or subjection) and the emotion of subjection, self-assertion (or self-display) and elation (these two emotions may be called negative and positive self-feeling), the parental instinct and the tender emotion. There follow three instincts which the author conceives have no pro-
(386)-nounced emotional accompaniments that of reproduction, the gregarious instinct, those of acquisition and construction.
The most important feature of this analysis of Mr. McDougall, in the mind of the reviewer, is that it makes the ultimate unit an act rather than a state of consciousness. All consciously formed habits are regarded as in a sense derivatives of these instincts and servants of them. All the motive power of conduct is found in them. All the complexities of thought and action are explained through the complications of the instincts and their stimuli and motor responses. The author recognizes two ways in which the instincts may be modified in themselves, apart from their combination with other instincts. The afferent processes with the accompanying sensuous experiences (the author conceives of these as necessarily perceptions) may be varied -- either they may be modified by experience or new stimuli may be actually substituted for old ones; or the efferent processes, the motor phases of the act, may be modified--in the human form almost indefinitely but slightly in the lower animal. The central part of the psycho-physical disposition, however, remains unchanged. Fear, anger, tenderness, as primitive characteristics of conscious experience are identical no matter what arouses them, or to what responses they give rise. The central phase of the act--the emotional--is subject to development only when a system of instincts or derivatives of instincts become organized about some object, when a sentiment arises. In so far as the sentiment is an affective experience it is a combination of different fundamental emotions. Its permanence and reference to certain objects, however, belong to the organization of these instinctive processes into highly complex and relatively permanent systems of conduct. In this treatment of sentiment and emotion Mr. McDougall follows with some innovations Shand, whose analysis of affective consciousness has been in large measure adopted by Stout as well.
The author's analysis of conduct into acts and of these acts into three
constituents--afferent-perceptual, central-emotional, and efferent-motor, gives a
convenient scheme for dealing with a number of psychological problems that are peculiarly
social. He ranges suggestion, sympathy, and imitation as parallel modifications of
perception, emotion and motor response, under social stimulation. Suggestion is the
immediate acceptance of a presentation, idea, or belief similar to that of another.
Sympathy is the induction of the emotion of another, while imitation implies the transfer
of the motor response of one form to another. The mechanism of suggestion is quite
inadequately discussed. The definition is as follows:
Suggestion is a process of
(387) communication resulting in the acceptance with
conviction of the communicated proposition, in the absence of logically adequate grounds
for its acceptance" (p. 97). This evidently is with difficulty applicable to animals,
among which suggestion is a recognized phenomenon, and the whole discussion is upon the
conditions and degrees of suggestibility rather than upon the nature of suggestion. One
feels that the author must be unacquainted with Wundt's classical brochure upon this
In dealing with primitive sympathy which is for him simply the induction of an emotion from one form to another, and is to be sharply distinguished from the higher social experience that is also called sympathy. Mr. McDougall suggests the possibility of the presence of other afferent paths to an instinctive process beside that which commonly excites it. In this way the motor phase of an instinct may excite the same emotion in another form. The one suffers with the other, because, e.g., the instinct of flight with the emotion of fear may be aroused directly not only by the perception of a dangerous object, but also by the flight, or tendency to flight of another form.
Finally, imitation is discussed under three heads. Under the first, it is referred to
the situation just described. The induction of emotion is frequently conceived of as
imitation. In the second case the author simply falls back upon motor ideas:
these cases the imitative movement seems to be due to the fact that the visual
presentation of the movement of another is apt to evoke the representation of a similar
movement of one's own body, which, like all motor representations, tends to realize itself
immediately in movement" (p. 105). Finally the author refers to self-conscious
imitation and its relation to admiration. In this same connection the author suggests a
solution for the problem of 'playful fighting.' After criticizing other solutions, he
assumes a modification of the instinct of fighting which has arisen and been preserved
because of its value to the species. The most important phase of this conception of the
author's is the derivation of rivalry as a phase of conduct from this modified instinct.
it not be, then, that the impulse of rivalry is essentially this impulse to playful
fighting, the impulse of an instinct differentiated from the combative instinct in the
first instance in the animal world to secure practice in the movements of combat?"
Of considerable interest is the author's account of what he terms active sympathy-- that state in which one desires that another shall share his emotion, and feels a certain satisfaction in this sharing, which enhances his pleasure and his joy. The explanation of this
(388) arises in part from the primitive sympathy already
discussed--the bare induction of the emotions. This however arouses disagreeable emotions
as well as the agreeable, and leads to the avoidance of the source of these experiences
while active sympathy finds satisfaction even in sharing the sorrow of another. The author
finds his explanation for this paradox in the instinct of gregariousness.
gregarious instinct supplements, as it wore, each of the special instincts rendering
complete satisfaction of their impulses impossible, until each animal is surrounded by
others of the same species in a similar state of excitement.... The blind impulse of the
gregarious animal to seek the company of his fellows, whenever one of his other instincts
is excited, becomes in us the desire of seeing ourselves surrounded by others who share
our emotions" (pp 170, 171). It would be interesting to follow out the admirable
analysis of complex sentiments into their constituent emotional parts, and the discussion
of temperament and character. Enough has been given however to indicate that the author
has an effective tool of analysis, which is peculiarly valuable in dealing with the
phenomena of social consciousness.
In the discussion of the growth of self-consciousness (Chap. 7) the author undertakes
to show in what manner individuals endowed with the instincts he has discussed attain the
consciousness of self and become thereby moralized or socialized. The modification of the
primitive impulses takes place (1) by pains and pleasures incidentally experienced; (2) by
rewards and punishments more or less systematically administered by the social
environment; (3) by experiences in which conduct is controlled by anticipations of social
praise or blame; (4) by experiences
"in which conduct is regulated by an ideal of
conduct that enables a man to act in a way that seems to him right regardless of the
praise or blame of his immediate social environment" (p. 181). The description of the
earlier stage of development of self-consciousness does not differ materially from that of
Baldwin and Royce. The further stages follow naturally from the previous discussion of the
instincts, but what renders the account peculiar to the author is the gathering of the
whole development about the self-regarding sentiment, which is built upon the instinct of
self assertion. The different levels of social and moral consciousness are determined by
the degree to which the other instincts with the social consciousness they involve can be
organized under the self-regarding sentiment. The problem as stated by the author at the
outset is that of developing an altruist out of an individual with egoistic impulses. In
the last and much less considerable portion of the book the author makes use
(389) of the different instincts as means of analysis and interpretation of social phenomena--especially in opposition to the analysis of a purely associational and hedonistic psychology. He offers, however, instances rather than a sociological doctrine.
The most disappointing chapter in the book to the reviewer has been that on development of self-consciousness. Though Mr. McDougall comes back specifically to the 'empirical me' and recognizes that the self can arise in consciousness only over against other selves, still the content of consciousness is generally treated as if these other selves existed as representations in the consciousness of the 'me.' There is no consistent psychological treatment of the development of the social consciousness as a whole within which the 'me' appears with no greater reality or immediacy than the alteri. The result is that the author places at the summit of his moral ladder the man who finally is able to retire into a noble but isolated self. The social character of morality is shabbily treated in the house of its friends.
Upon the psychological side there are two criticisms, in the opinion of the reviewer, which need especially to be made. One has to do with the relation of the cognitive, and the other with that of the emotional phase of the act to the instinct as a whole. The root of the difficulty is in both cases the same. Mr. McDougall assumes that the peculiar character of human reflective consciousness is due simply to the complication that arises through the freeing of ideas, the association and assimilation of these to each other and to our perceptions and their organization into thought systems. In the same manner he finds in our emotional consciousness nothing but the combination of emotionaI elements into the systems of sentiments and the creating of dispositions that answer to this organization. The author endows the lowest form, in which instincts appear, with both perception and emotion. His justification for making the stimulation of every instinct perceptual is that the form must 'select' the sensation among competing elements, and that this selective attention implies perception. There is no discussion of this point, but there is also no adequate evidence either in ourselves or in the study of animal behavior for the proposition that susceptibility to one stimulus to the elimination of others implies perception. In fact the decisive ground seems to have been that we may assume that the same tracts of the brain are excited which we regard as necessary to cognition. In a word, for the author, selective stimulation which sets free an instinctive act must be perceptual, and the problem of the function of cognitive consciousness in the evolution of animal life is pushed quite to one side. If we assume, with
(390) the functional psychologists, among whom Mr. McDougall classes himself, that the function of cognitive consciousness has been the solution of difficulties with which the lower animal cannot cope at all, or only by means of the gradual process of natural selection of accidentally successful reactions, this tying up of cognition to the afferent part of the act, simply as a necessary accompaniment, is an abandonment of the whole attempted explanation. Consciousness of a cognitive character must arise within the act to further its success, and not be a mere correlate of an afferent disturbance if it is to have a place in an evolutionary doctrine. In fact all the currents in the instinct run in one direction from the afferent tract to the central; from this along two paths, to the vital organs, thus giving the nervous correlate of the emotions, and into the afferent tracts leading to motor discharge There is no indication of the reflection of these different excitements back into each other, and yet the play back and forth of the response and stimulus processes is the whole nature of control; and it is from every point of view probable that the reflective type of consciousness arises in this process of interaction between the different phases of the act. Cognitive consciousness is not a mere characteristic of the sensuous phase of the act, but a derivative of the process by which the act develops through readjustment, in the presence of difficulties. It belongs to the act as a whole. Into sensation enters the motor character of the response, otherwise sense perception could never control reaction. When this control becomes conscious the sensing may well become perception. Without attempting to dogmatize upon the question, one may rest assured that the point at which perception appears must be determined by a doctrine of development that recognizes the functional value of consciousness in the entire act. The same situation obtains in regard to the emotions. The peculiar nature of the emotion lies in the fact that it belongs to the whole state of consciousness, that it reflects into the process of stimulation and furnishes the value content of the object that arises in the situation, that it is related to ongoing activity, but appears only when the activities have been checked. If cognitive consciousness is one phase of the readjustment tendencies to act, emotion is another--the other phase. If this statement is correct, there is no emotion that belongs to an instinct, any more than there is a perception which belongs to its afferent phase. The emotion as such appears only when the activity has been inhibited and a conscious presentation of the whole situation arises.
Again, whether this statement be accepted or not, the emotions must from the point of view of evolution be regarded as having a
(391) function in the development of conscious intelligence. They must be related to that situation which furnishes the raison d'Ítre for higher consciousness, the situation of inhibition, to which the conscious readjustment of the form responds, making by its conscious nature a short cut through the tedious and bungling processes of natural selection. This function seems to be twofold, the one that of evaluation, the other that of communication.
This attack upon the problem of social psychology is very encouraging. It demonstrates at once that the act as a starting point is not only fortunate for this branch of psychology, but must be equally valuable for individual psychology, when the mechanics of the act and the mutual interrelations of its different phases have been more completely worked out.
George H. Mead.
University of Chicago.