Round Table I. Psychology and Political Science
at the First National Conference on the Science of Politics

Charles Merriam

The proceedings of the round table on Psychology and Politics may be summarized as follows:

The first meeting was devoted to a general discussion and definition of the problem of the round table, namely, the possibility of more intimate relationship between the study of politics and the study of psychology. Attention was first directed to the earlier development of psychology in the thinking of the classic political theorists, and then to later reasons for recent interest in the psychological basis of political action. Immediate incentives to closer study of the psychological bearings of polities were found in the desire for a closer understanding of political behavior, as seen in recent surveys and analyses of political activity, and in recent developments of mental tests from which broad social and political implications have been drawn. In the first session there was also a general discussion as to the most suitable method to be pursued by the round table in the prosecution of its inquiries.

In the second session, Professor Hull of the department of psychology of the University of Wisconsin discussed the transition of psychology from the period of speculation to that of experiment. In this connection he dwelt upon the work of Darwin and Galton in biological research, the epoch-making advances of Wundt and Ebbinghaus, especially the latter's study of memory, the use of statistical presentation, the work of Binet in devising tests for school children, the speculations of Jung and Freud in the field of psychoanalysis, and the development of the behavioristic psychology in recent years.

Professor Hull continued in the third session his discussion of the development of psychology, and the material presented by him was analysed by the group. The significant point developed was the difficulty experienced by psychologists in finding the mechanism for measure-

( 123) -ment of mental traits and processes that defy accurate or experimental analysis. The analogy between psychological philosophy and political philosophy was sharply accentuated and the possibility of the development of experimental politics was considered at length. In the same session Dr. Harold F. Gosnell of the University of Chicago gave a report on the political applications of psychology to government, particularly with reference to the use of psychology in army tests, in the courts and in certain institutions. The purpose of this report was to present for discussion specific instances of the use of psychology in connection with the political process.

The fourth session was held jointly with the round table on Civil Service. Mr. E. M. Martin of the National Institute of Public Administration presented for discussion the mental tests for the selection of policemen in Newark, N. J. This process consisted, briefly stated, in a differential rating by their superior officers of some thirty police-men, in the analysis of the quality or traits of efficient policemen, the application of these tests to the policemen rated, and in the correlation of the results reached with the original differential rating. This report, which will appear in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, was made the subject of discussion and analysis by the joint round tables.

ln the fifth session, Dr. O. G. Jones of Toledo University led a discussion centering around the Lippman-Terman controversy over the significance of mental tests in appraising some of the qualities of modern democracy. Dr. Jones questioned some of the social, political and cultural implications frequently drawn from these tests, and also considered the limitations of their application. The significance of mental tests in connection with the general theory of democracy was discussed at some length. The necessity of caution and restraint in drawing political conclusions from mental tests in their present stage of development was emphasized by the consensus of opinion among the members of the round table.

A further discussion of this topic was carried on in the sixth session when Dr. Jones concluded his report. Professor John M. Gaus of the University of Minnesota then led a consideration of the relation of social psychology to the study of government. He emphasized the dangers involved in speculative social psychology, in the confusion arising from the muddled doctrine of instincts, and in the difficulties common to armchair social philosophy disconnected from an ample body of statistical material. Special attention was directed to the

( 124) utility of the settlement studies made by Woods, Addams, Simkohvitch, Wald and others. For the present the student of politics, Professor Gaus believes, should preserve a critical attitude toward attempts to establish any social psychology that diverts attention from careful observation of habits, cultures and institutions. A discussion then followed of the tendencies in the recent development of social psychology, and of the relation of this movement to the study of political phenomena. Dr. Gosnell and Professor Merriam next outlined the study of non-voting now being conducted at the University of Chicago, as a somewhat extended observation of political behavior with an attempt at statistical interpretation. Briefly stated, the method of inquiry developed was to secure the judgment of several hundred political experts and of several thousand non-voters, to examine the registration books for significant data as to voters and non-voters, and to study numerous individual cases. From this information an effort will be made to ascertain typical situations in which non-voting occurs.

At the seventh session Professor Stratton's outline of the "Psychology of International Relations," presented by Professor Saby of Cornell, was discussed. This outline was examined as an interesting illustration of the rich possibilities in the field on the border between psychology and politics, notwithstanding the inadequacy of the technique thus far available. Mr. Theodore A. Johnson of Youngstown, Ohio, read a paper on "The Ro1e of the Emotions in Creating and Interpreting Law," pointing out that the successful lawyer was a psychologist by rule of thumb at least. A general discussion followed on law as a field of study for psychologists.

The eighth and ninth sessions were occupied with specific discussion of plans for further investigation. Professor Merriam suggested that the following seemed to be basic and fruitful lines of advance:

A. Intensive studies of the political conduct of individuals or groups by means of biographies, personal observations, introspective analyses, and correlations with diverse social factors.

B. Development of mental measurement to include other qualities of temperament, particularly political qualities and characteristics.

C. Study of attitudes so as to develop patterns of political disposition or tendency, and to show the correlation of these patterns with physical or social environment and political training.

D. Detailed analysis of political interests with reference to their genetics and measurement as to strength and direction; also with reference to their correlation with environmental factors.

( 125)

E. Large-scale statistical studies and correlations of political conduct of individual or group with social facts such as age, sex, race, economic status, mobility.

These lines of inquiry were discussed and various types of tests, such as those of Pressey, Hart, Moore, Achilles, Cobs, Downey and others, were examined with reference to their applicability to proposed types of political inquiry. Tentative outlines of several specific investigations were constructed for trial purposes to determine a definite method of approach to an admittedly difficult situation. The round table agreed to recommend to the Conference the value of detailed studies of

1. Citizenship, with reference to analysis and measurement of specific traits of citizens.

2. Electoral phenomena generally, and specifically non-voting.

3. Analyses of referendum votes considered in connection with social, economic and political environment.

4. Studies of public opinion.

5. Political autobiographies and biographies.

Experiments in these fields, it was agreed, would be made as far as possible by members of the round table during the current year, and methods and results interchanged. The possibility of making citizenship tests of various types was particularly emphasized.

The chief value of these sessions was the unusual opportunity for considering possibilities in scientific study of the political side of human nature. Opportunity was afforded for canvassing a number of experiments of this type, and also for outlining other tentative inquiries on the border line between politics and psychology. It is believed that significant advances were made toward more scientific study of traits of human nature underlying political action, and of the processes that in reality constitute government. From a continuation of such efforts genuine progress in the study of politics is likely to be made.



No notes

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2