Psychology, General and Applied

Chapter 17: Union

Hugo Münsterberg

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The Conditions of Organization.—When we traced the elementary processes in the individual mind, we naturally began with the simplest contents, the sensations, and then asked how they are connected with one another by association and irradiation and how they suppress one another by inhibition, and how they become organized in complex groups. In studying the social mind we must follow the same course. Now we know the elements: the personalities with the whole manifoldness of their mental differences. Our next problem must be their association and interrelation, their mutual reenforcement and inhibition and their organization in groups. We may class the elementary processes involved under three headings: union, submission and selfassertion. The elements in social groups must first enter into more mutual relation; they must come nearer together and overcome their isolation. All the processes which work toward this end may be classed under the general heading: union.

But the social groups are not simply the aggregates by firmer or looser attraction. The organization of the group depends upon subordination and superordination, as well as mutual approach. In the individual consciousness the attended idea asserts itself, becomes emphasized, and becomes the center of new associations, while the other mental states are inhibited, suppressed and deprived of their vividness: the individuals in the social consciousness may also be dominant or suppressed, may be aggressive or submissive. These inner relations toward other individuals

( 247) may take any number of forms and the result is an endless shading of the social groups. If the fundamental tendency of the relation is the suppression of the personality in the interest of others, we may call it submission : the opposite tendency which leads to the suppression of others may be called selfassertion. In each of these three groups, union, submission , and selfassertion, we have reactions from person to person which are combined in the complex processes of actual civilization. It was an abstraction when we spoke of any one of the elementary processes in the individual minds as if it existed by itself. In reality they all are intimately intertwined. In the social mind too the processes of union, submission and selfassertion can be separated only by artificial demarcation lines, and even those are by no means rigid. The grouping is only an effort to bring order into these interpersonal relations. Nothing but the barest outlines of the field can be drawn here.

In turning to the social reactions, we are certainly not disloyal to the biological theory which controlled our explanation of the individual functions. If the psychophysical apparatus produces a biologically useful result in approaching the helpful and escaping the injurious parts of outer nature, it certainly serves no less significant interests when it brings man into organization and coöperation with his fellows. The individual secures advantages which he cannot gain in isolation, and in addition to these biological interests of the individual, the interests of the race as such are served by the creation and training of the progeny. Civilization certainly means something very different from a mere biological development of the race, but there is nothing in it which cannot be completely brought under the biological point of view. Historical society finds its deepest interpretation only through purposive psychology, but no element in it is inaccessible to the explanation of social, causal psychology. We may consistently treat the

( 248) individual who enters into the social group as a psychophysical mechanism dependent upon biological conditions, and yet explain the most complex processes of social life.

Voluntary and Involuntary Communication.—Our first survey is to select those functions by which the individuals are bound to one another. The starting point is the child's recognition of personalities as different from the lifeless things in the surroundings. We emphasized, when we spoke of the development of the self, that the child builds up the idea, of him own personality in steady correlation to the idea of those around him. The I and the you grow up together. The things of the surroundings are moved, while the parents and the nurse move themselves. The thing" can be handled and do not change, while the persons resist or yield in an active way; and this makes to the infant the greatest difference in his little world. It remains the greatest difference throughout life. Even this mutual influence of the idea of self and of neighbor doom not disappear when infancy turns to childhood, to adolescence and to maturity. It only becomes more ample and differentiated. The idea of our self remains a reflection of those with whom we are in contact.

Almost at the threshold of life selfexpression becomes a means of communication. The infant not only cries to discharge his discomfort, but very soon also to call his mother. When the motor reaction of crying brings the adult to the cradle, it means of communication has been established, from which a steady development leads to the oration with which thirty years later the man may appeal to the mass meeting of voters. Yet this first budding intention of the infant to attract others is not the beginning of the mental social contact into which he enters. Before the child becomes aware of the effect of his expressions on others, his movements have been observed by his elders and have been understood by them as symptoms of inner feelings. The rhythm of his breathing, the tensions of

( 249) his face, have established a relation from mind to mind.

We must discriminate, accordingly, two starting points for the social process, the involuntary muscular, vascular and glandular discharge of inner states, which can be noticed by others and understood as an expression of feelings, and on the other side the intentional movements produced for the purpose of drawing the attention of others and communicating to them something of the inner experience. From both beginnings a steady development goes through the individual's life and while the two elements of social behavior are more and more intertwined, they can still be traced as two independent factors on the highest level of maturity. At every stage child and man express involuntarily their feelings and emotions. In crying and laughing, in blushing and growing pale, in trembling and fainting, in movements of attention and disregard, of approach and escape, the inner excitements are shown to the social group. Even where the intention is the opposite, where the criminal tries to hide his guilty emotion, he may betray it by the unintentional expression of his fears.

Largely beyond the control of intention, these expressive movements are preëstablished by the inborn nervous connections; not a few of them may result from a biologically useless overflow of energy or may be only survivals of reactions which were helpful to the race at lower stages of animal development, or to man in more primitive periods. But while they have lost their immediate biological usefulness, they have not lost their significance for social contact. The social group would be deprived of an essential tie, if men were only expressing what they intend to express. Even when the stage of intentional language expression is reached the rhythm and choice of words says more than the speaker plans. Often the strongest sympathies and antipathies are stirred up by the involuntary expressions in speech and action.

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Language.—Speech itself develops essentially from the intentional expressions. They may take a manifold form before the movements of lips and vocal cords are assisting. The finger which points to the desired object secures a voluntary social contact. The complex sign language of the deaf mutes indicates how such expressive gestures may become the carriers of communication concerning a rich, mature life, rim pointing gestures are supplemented by descriptive movements, and finally by symbolic movements. Among the southern peoples with their more vivid temperament thin communication through gestures remains important by the side of the fullfledged language. But it is, after till, the production of the spoken language which binds the human individual most firmly to the social group and allows him to share the civilization of his place and time.

The language of man is preceded in the animal world by the cries and calls, the tones and noises of the amphibians, the birds and the mammals. Their social effects of attracting the mates, of warning and deterring are prominent, although much of the beast's hunger cry or of the bird's song may be only an overflow of the inner affection without social aim. In the child the mere crying is from the middle of the second month supplemented by meaningless articulated sounds, which in the second year of life yield more and more to articulations with definite communicative intentions. The sounds which the expiration, the contraction of the vocal cords and the tongue movements produce, become the signs for objects, based on the child's dawning understanding of words spoken to him and on the imitations, and at first meaningless repetitions of what he hears. The child does not invent words; he simply makes use of the involuntary sound expressions of inner states and proceeds by imitations.

We should no longer be dealing with the elementary functions, if we were to consider the further complex de-

( 251) -velopment of language in the individual; and we should move the discussion into the field of historical psychology, if we were to consider the psychological changes in the languages of the past. Here we need only point to this half involuntary, half voluntary system of reactions by which the psychophysical individuals are linked together. The production of sounds in the speaker corresponds to the understanding in the hearer. This understanding of the meaning is a process of association with which we are familiar from the analysis of the individual mind. We recognized that its chief part consists not in the awaking of conscious memory images, but in the setting of the physiological interconnections. 'By this the sound of the word opens certain channels of discharge and closes others, facilitates the irradiation of excitement to certain associations and inhibits other antagonists; in short, creates a setting by which the further psychophysical process is determined.

The substitution of visible signs in written or printed form does not alter the fundamental character of the relation between mind and mind. It is a problem of individual psychology to trace the steps by which we learn to connect visible signs with the spoken word and to link the meaning directly with the perception of the written or printed letters, or by which we acquire the ability to write under the immediate impulse of the idea of meaning. But the problem of social psychology, the intercommunication of minds by linking ideas with signs which can be perceived and understood is not changed through the substitution of writing or printing for mere speaking. On the other hand, the social group itself is by this process enlarged in space and time. Only the visible word can bind individuals separated by centuries and divided by oceans.

Associations.—Gestures and speech create the formal conditions for the social connection, but other desires and impulses must draw men together. The mere ability to un-

( 252) -derstand one another does not involve the desire to form a group. Yet this longing for firmer contact is a deep-rooted instinct in every human mind. Man shares this gregarious desire with the higher animals. In its higher forms it finds a background in a consciousness of kinship which involves elements of thought, but instinctive behavior in the higher animals makes them also seek the contact only with members of the same species. The desire for solitude is the artificial product of a refined society, a reaction against the animal impulse of the masses. Isolation is punishment not only because of the resulting ineffectiveness but through the lack of satisfaction of the craving for social contact. The complex technic of interchange emancipates civilized individuals from the herd-like personal contact. It secures the same satisfaction by an intellectual and emotional association of men with the help of the written or the printed word, the scientific or the artistic production, the social or the political achievement.

This clannishness which makes man long for men is concentrated in the individualized desires for friends and reaches its highest tension in the focused love between man and woman. Friendship demands a more complete mutual understanding and agreement than the chance relation between any members of the tribe, while love, of course, intensifies the social instinct by the entirely different element of the sexual desire. Yet this, too, is a craving for contact in which the strongest imaginable union of the personalities is passionately sought. The sensation of bodily contact directly felt or longingly anticipated becomes the center of consciousness, controls the complete psychophysical setting, secures by its emotional resounding the dilation of blood-vessels and the activity of glands, and forces mind and body toward the contact with the loved individual. The immediate wish for contact between men may thus vary from the most superficial preference

( 253) for a mere being together with some one to a lifelong loyalty and an overwhelming desire for one individual. Loose and firm, large and small social groups must arise from this emotional, mutual attraction.

But all these emotional and instinctive desires for social contact must be supported by the results of intellectual insight into the practical needs. The individual recognizes that he can protect himself best by combining with others. The aim may be defense or attack against common enemies, or the provision of food or clothes or shelter : at every stage the practical achievement is dependent upon the cumulation and division of labor. From the primitive hut life to the modern factory, technic demands many minds working to one end ; and the masses of the party or of the army or of the whole nation require a conscious coöperation, firmer than any mere desire could secure. But it is not work alone which makes comrades: play succeeds in it no less. The desire for play is in itself not necessarily social. The child may play indefatigably with some noisy toy. It is nature's scheme to train the individual and to prepare him for the tasks of life by making him exert his psychophysical powers with joy. But the opportunities to make use of his intellect and of his emotions in a playful way cannot be realized more fully than in the game with equals. Hence the playing instinct also helps to attract individuals to one another in social groups, from the play of the nursery to the outdoor game and the dance of adolescence and maturity.

Yet the manifoldness of social groups can never be obtained by a mere firm coördination of the individuals. An organization is needed which involves superordination and subordination. We must ask what mental states lead to this shading of the members of society.


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