Psychology, General and Applied

Chapter 20: Achievement

Hugo Münsterberg

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The Biological Aspect.—The social organization itself is never the end of the social process. The groups are formed intentionally to produce a definite result, or unintentionally with the objective effect that something is achieved by coöperation. Two children may sit down for a game of checkers ; ten thousand workingmen and superintendents may be organized in a factory for the production of electric lamps; fifty million men may be organized politically in a state for the creation of laws. Every time the processes which simply establish the group as such and hold the group together and organize it for a unified action can be distinguished from the functions by which the organization achieves its results.

Only through these productive functions does the group gain its biological usefulness. We explained the sensory functions of the individual biologically by their being connected with actions. This sensory-motor process as a whole is useful, while any part of it would be without value for the adjustment of the organism; and only what is useful admits of biological explanation. The same principles can be applied here for the social organization. The group survives in the struggle for existence on account of the useful adaptation of its achievement to the conditions under which it is organized. Not surviving does not mean here that the individual members are destroyed, but that the group as such is lost. A social group or a political party or a business corporation may go out of existence and lose its organization on account of its ill-adjusted achievement

( 276) without the biological destruction, the death, of the individuals.

From such a biological standpoint it appears evident that the social achievement of human groups has a long preparation behind it. The herds of animals, the flocks of birds, the swarms of bees, are united by elementary impulses and reactions, and these impulses are bred by nature on account of the useful achievement of the groups. Above all, the feeding and rearing of the newborn animals must be considered as a mental function of the mating group. Moreover, as the comparative psychologist contrasts not only the mental life of the human individual with that of the animal, but also contrasts the various stages from infancy to maturity, the social psychologist too may compare not only the aggregations of men with those of beasts, but the various stages in the development of mankind from savagery to mature civilization.

The biological aspect, finally, also suggests the comparison between the normal and the abnormal groups. We recognized that a mental disturbance in the individual may result from the destruction of the psychophysical elements or from their faulty functioning in relation to one another or from external disturbances such as poisons produced by the glands of the body. All these three forms may interfere too with the functions of the social aggregate. A tribe, a race, a nation, may decay because its smallest parts, the individuals or the families, have become worthless or are dominated by destructive habits—do not raise children or are ruined by vicious mental impulses like overindulgence in alcohol. But it may also be unable to survive because the members interfere with one another, exhaust themselves in revolutions and massacres, or injure one another by graft and corruption, lack of public spirit and recklessness. And, thirdly, a community may be destroyed by an external influence, an enemy or an imported social poison, customs and beliefs which do not fit the

( 277) people and which undermine their vigorous energies. The psychopathology of the social functions from a quarrel of Flaying children and the breaking of a marriage tie in divorce to the disruption of churches or wars between large nations, is the necessary counterpart of social psychology. And here too the organic disturbances in which the elements are destroyed and become unfit for a renewing of the social organization, must be separated from the functional disorders in which the removal of the irritation can lead to a reestablishment of the original unity.

Material and Methods.—Exact material will be most available in the form of industrial statistics, moral statistics, political statistics and so on. The social psychologist, however, may also gather material from selfobservational analysis by the individuals who enter into a social group. It is even not impossible to create such groups artificially and to examine these questions by experimental laboratory methods. Miniature models of social groups are used in order to observe the development of the social psychological function. Experiments on suggestion or imitation appear almost like experiments in individual psychology, and yet belong strictly to social psychology.

The social character is more prominent in experiments on intentional deception, on the 'unveiling of hidden thought, or on the coincidence of associations in several individuals. More complicated experiments lead to the study of the thought processes in question and answer or in artificially simplified conversations. Other experiments have been carried on with reference to votes and the mental effects of discussions before the voting, or with regard to I he growth of rumors and the changes of narratives which spread from one individual to another. Into the same group fall experiments on the school work of children who work in classes as compared with their home work, or on the efficiency of workingmen in contact with one another ;i, compared with their achievement when they are

( 278) isolated. The laboratory study of social psychological phenomena is certainly still at its very beginning, but the various efforts made so far suggest that it may be no less successful than the experimental psychology of the individual. Beside the experiment the questionnaire method has been successful in securing valuable material for the analysis of group processes.

Finally we may reconstruct the functioning of the social group from the completed and detached products of its life. The development of the languages and of the legends which are witnesses of past civilizations, can well be understood as the outcome of mental functions which depend upon personal contact. But even where individual personalities must have originated the creations by independent thought, as in politics or art, in law or technic, the final products are reflections of a social functioning. The laws and the literature, the churches and the cities, tell the story of the working of social groups.

The Types of Social Achievements.—While the aim of every social group is the production of new achievements, this creative function may be preceded and supplemented by assimilative functions. The group must acquire knowledge and abilities and be aroused to certain interests in order to proceed to its progressive activity. It must absorb the traditions which secure the continuity of its organization; it must become versed in the customs; it must be imbued with the belief in its own significance and mission. This finds its fullest expression in the most fundamental group, the state, in which the submission to the laws and the customs of the country, the acquiring of its language, the understanding of its history and of its traditions, and the patriotic belief in its honor and its mission in the world blend to secure effectiveness. Yet the smaller groups, the essential ones like the family, and the most superficial ones like a club, depend upon assimilation to become productive. Of course in the midst of a large

( 279) group, which demands division of labor, this assimilative function may be detached and isolated: the schools and the nurseries and the patriotic festivities are small groups within the large group of the state, which serve this preparatory function. In the same way a trade has its apprentice courses and a church its Sunday schools. Even the play of children trains them early for the social interplay of the adults.

Everyone of these social functions can be resolved into mental processes in the individual; and yet the coöperation, the subordination and the superordination which are involved in the assimilative process, make the group function even in the simplest case something entirely different from a mere summation of the individual activities. The teaching of the adult and the learning of the child are dependent upon the consciousness of mutual reaction. The selfassertion of the teacher and the intellectual submission of the pupil must intertwine not only as two objective causes for the resulting effect, but the teacher must feel the attitude of the pupil, and the pupil that of the teacher. Yet to a certain degree this reaction may become onesided. The assimilation process may start from the lifeless product, the printed book, the painting, the building. The spirit of a personality speaks to the reader or spectator; and yet the reaction may no longer reach the author or artist. Today we may still enter into a mental group with Plato and assimilate the idealism of his dialogues, as we cannot absorb his thoughts without associating with them the idea of his personality and feeling the attitude of submission to the suggestive power of his expressions.

As every sensory combination in the mind leads to characteristic motor settings and actions, every social organization of minds leads to new social influences and productions. A little chance group may amuse itself with a game, or may settle a discussion. The enjoyment gained and the intellectual agreement secured are actual products

( 280) of the organized mental intercourse. Workingmen helping one another to lift a load too heavy for one produce a momentary external effect. The significance of the product grows with the lasting character of the group. The lifework of parents who mold and shape the morals and intellect of their children stands before us as the highest type of achievement of the lasting small group. On the other hand the importance of the product may grow with the enlargement of the group, even if the result is fugitive. The caprice of a few is insignificant, but if wide circles organized as classes turn their common interest in one or another direction, we see the powerful products of public opinion, of fashion, of mass movements. But above these passing fancies of the crowd we see the true common achievement of the communities organized in political, economic, religious, scientific, artistic and professional groups. The organization of the state secures defense against its outer enemies by its armies, and prosecution of its inner enemies by its criminal courts. The economic organizations supply and distribute food, shelter and clothing; cultural groups produce new scientific and artistic, moral and religious thoughts which crystallize in lasting works. An unceasing creation through the medium of social organization necessarily results, and builds up the civilization of mankind.

The higher the level of development, the more we see personalities taking the leadership. Their individual imagination, their constructive power and inventiveness, their bold reasoning and their productive talent, aim toward new goals and strive for unheard-of values. Behind every great movement in modern statecraft or in engineering, in hygiene or in art, stands a great political mind or a masterbuilder, a scientific genius or a great esthetic seer, even when millions are following his lead. Yet the social psychologist has no right to put the emphasis on this independence and originality of the in-

( 281) -ventor. Psychologically he is above all the product of his time, and therefore part of the social group. His most daring innovation is only slightly removed from the consciousness of the community, if compared with the mental products of other cultural levels. Even the greatest inventor is, first of all, a great selective imitator, and his achievement is dependent upon the means of expression and the objective treasures of civilization in which the mental life of the surrounding and of preceding generations have discharged their psychical activity. Men of the genius of Kant and Goethe and Beethoven may have been born among the old German tribes two thousand years ago as well as among their descendants of a later century, but the Beethoven of that time would simply have beaten the drum better than his neighbors. The musical genius needed a development of the acoustical technic through twenty centuries of musical production before the boldness of his tone imagination could revolutionize the esthetic world.

But the full process of civilization does not end with the production. The achievement itself becomes a starting point for new stimulation of the social organism. Whatever intellect or temperament or character have created is assimilated by learning and tradition, by enjoyment and belief. It enters into the customs and standards, into the educational equipment and the national spirit. The parents learn from the children, the teachers from their pupils, the nation from its servants. A continuous action and reaction leads to incessant progress. Every new stimulus irradiates over the social group, and through the cooperation of all its members new settings, new actions, new implements of civilization, new institutions, are created ; and everyone of these in its turn works as a stimulus. The school, the court, the church, the market, the library, the city, are changed and renewed by the millionfold efforts of the community, and every change lifts or lowers the

( 282) community itself and influences its new striving. Hence the effect of every psychological enrichment of the social group and of every psychological deficiency rapidly grows through this circular process. With the change in strength or in weakness the group shifts its place in the larger groups to which it belongs, becomes submissive where it was selfasserting, or superior where it was subordinated. This ceaseless forming of new organizations in the plastic psychophysical structure of social mankind is the endless progress of civilization.


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