Social Attitudes[1]

Robert E. Park 

" Consciousness," says Jacques Loeb, "is only a metaphysical term for phenomena which are determined by associative memory. By associative memory I mean that mechanism by which a stimulus brings about not only the effects which its nature and the specific structure of the irritable organ call for, but by which it brings about also the effects of other stimuli which formerly acted upon the organism almost or quite simultaneously with the stimulus in question. If an animal can be trained, if it can learn, it possesses associative memory." In short, because we have memories we are able to profit by exper-

(468) -iences. It is the memories that determine, on the whole, what objects shall mean to us, and how we shall behave toward them. We cannot say, however, that a perception or an object is ever wholly without meaning to us. The flame to which the child stretches out its hand means, even before he has any experience of it, "something to be reached for, something to be handled." After the first experience of touching it, however, it means "something naturally attractive but still to be avoided." Each new experience, so far as it is preserved in memory, adds new meanings to the objects with which it is associated.

Our perceptions and our ideas embody our experiences of objects and so serve as signs of what we may expect of them. They are the means by which we are enabled to control our behavior toward them. On the other hand, if we lose our memories, either temporarily or permanently, we lose at the same time our control over our actions and are still able to respond to objects, but only in accordance with our inborn tendencies. After all our memories are gone, we still have our original nature to fall back upon.

There is a remarkable case reported by Sidis and Goodhart which illustrates the rôle that memory plays in giving us control over our inherited tendencies. It is that of Rev. Thomas C. Hanna, who, while attempting to alight from a carriage, lost his footing, fell to the ground and was picked up unconscious. When he awoke it was found that he had not only lost the faculty of speech but he had lost all voluntary control of his limbs. He had forgotten how to walk. He had not lost his senses. He could feel and see, but he was not able to distinguish objects. He had no sense of distance. He was in a state of complete "mental blindness." At first he did not distinguish between his own movements and those of other objects. "He was as much interested in the movements of his own limbs as in that of external things." He had no conception of time. "Seconds, minutes, and hours were alike to him." He felt hunger but he did not know how to interpret the feeling and had no notion of how to satisfy it. When food was offered him he did not know what to do with it. In order to get him to swallow food it had to be placed far back in his throat, in order to provoke reflex swallowing movements. In their report of the case the authors say:

Like an infant, he did not know the meaning of the simplest words, nor did he understand the use of language. Imitation was the factor in

(469)     his first education. He learned the meaning of words by imitating definite articulate sounds made in connection with certain objects and activities. The pronunciation of words and their combination into whole phrases he acquired in the same imitative way. At first he simply repeated any word and sentence heard, thinking that this meant something to others. This manner of blind repetition and unintelligent imitation was, however, soon given up, and he began systematically to learn the meaning of words in connection with the objective content they signified. As in the case of children who, in their early developmental stage, use one word to indicate many objects different in their nature, but having some common point of superficial resemblance, so was it in the case of Mr. Hanna: the first word he acquired was used by him to indicate all the objects he wanted.

The first word he learned was "apple" and for a time apple was the only word he knew. At first he learned only the names of particular objects. He did not seem able to learn words with an abstract or general significance. But although he was reduced to a state of mental infancy, his "intelligence" remained, and he learned with astonishing rapidity. "His faculty of judgment, his power of reasoning, were as sound and vigorous as ever," continues the report. "The content of knowledge seemed to have been lost, but the form of knowledge remained as active as before the accident and was perhaps even more precise and definite."

One reason why man is superior to the brutes is probably that he has a better natural memory. Another reason is that there are more things that he can do, and so he has an opportunity to gain a wider and more varied experience. Consider what a man can do with his hands! To this he has added tools and machinery, which are an extension of the hand and have multiplied its powers enormously. It is now pretty well agreed, however, that the chief advantage which mankind has over the brutes is in the possession of speech by which he can communicate his ideas. In comparatively recent times he has supplemented this means of communication by the invention of the printing press, the telegraph, and the telephone. In this way he has been able not only to communicate his experiences but to fund and transmit them from one generation to another.

As soon as man began to point out objects and associate them with vocal sounds, he had obtained possession of a symbol by which he was able to deliberately communicate his desires and his intentions

(470) to other men in a more precise and definite way than he had been able to do through the medium of spontaneous emotional expression.

The first words, we may suppose, were onomatopoetic, that is to say, vocal imitations of the objects to which they referred. At any rate they arose spontaneously in connection with the situation that inspired them. They were then imitated by others and thus became the common and permanent possession of the group. Language thus assumed for the group the rôle of perception in the individual. It became the sign and symbol of those meanings which were the common possession of the group.

As the number of such symbols was relatively small in comparison to the number of ideas, words inevitably came to have different meanings in dill rent contexts. In the long run the effect of this was to detach the words from the particular contexts in which they arose and loosen their connections with the particular sentiments and attitudes with which they were associated. They came to have thus a more distinctively symbolic and formal character. It was thus possible to give them more precise definitions, to make of them abstractions and mental toys, which the individual could play with freely and disinterestedly, Like the child who builds houses with blocks, he was able to arrange them in orders and systems, create ideal structures, like the constructions of mathematics, which he was then able to employ as means of ordering and systematizing his more concrete experiences.

All this served to give the individual a more complete control over his own experience and that of the group. It made it possible to analyze and classify his own experiences and compare them with those of his fellows and so, eventually, to erect the vast structure of formal and scientific knowledge on the basis of which men are able to live and work together in co-operation upon the structure of a common civilization.

The point is that the breadth of the experience over which man has control and the disinterestedness with which he is able to view it is the basis of the intellectual attainment of the individual, as of the race.

If human beings were thoroughly rational creatures, we may presume that they would act, at every instant, on the basis of all their experience and all the knowledge that they were able to obtain

(471) from the experience of others. The truth is, however, that we are never able, at any one time, to mobilize, control, and use all the experience and all the knowledge that we now possess and which, if we were less human than we are, might serve to guide and control our actions. It is precisely the function of science to collect, organize, and make available for our practical uses the fund of experience and of knowledge we do possess.

Not only do we already have more knowledge than we can use, but much of our personal and individual experience drops out and is lost in the course of a lifetime. Meanwhile, later experiences are constantly adding themselves to the earlier ones. In this way the meaning of the world is constantly changing for us, much as the surface of the earth is constantly under the influence of the weather.

The actual constellation of our memories and ideas is determined at any given moment not merely by processes of association but also by processes of dissociation. Practical interests, sentiments, and emotional outbursts—love, fear, and anger—are constantly interrupting the logical and constructive processes of the mind. These forces tend to dissolve established connections between ideas and disintegrate our memories so that they rarely function as a whole or as a unit, but rather as more or less dissociated systems.

The mere act of attention, for example, so far as it focuses the activities upon a single object, tends to narrow the range of associations, check deliberation, and, by isolating one idea or system of ideas, prepares us to act in accordance with them without regard to the demands of other ideas in the wider but now suppressed context of our experience. The isolation of one group of ideas implies the suppression of other groups which are inconsistent with them or hinder the indicated action.

When the fundamental instinct-emotions are aroused, they invariably have the effect of isolating the ideas with which they are associated and of inhibiting the contrary emotions. This is the explanation of war. When the fighting instincts are stirred, men lose the fear of death and the horror of killing.

When an idea, particularly one that is associated with some original tendency of human nature, is thus isolated in consciousness, the tendency is to respond to it automatically, just as one would respond to a simple reflex. This explains the phenomena of

(472) suggestion. A state of suggestibility is always a pre-condition of suggestion, and suggestibility means just such an isolation and dissociation of the suggested idea as has been described. Hypnotic trance may be defined as a condition of abnormal suggestibility, in which the subject tends to carry out automatically the commands of the experimenter, "as if," as the familiar phrase puts it, "he had no will of his own," or rather, as if the will of the experimenter had been substituted for that of the subject. In fact the phenomena of auto-suggestion, in which one obeys his own suggestion, seems to differ from other forms of the same phenomena only in the fact that the subject obeys his own commands instead of those of the experimenter. Not only suggestion and auto-suggestion, but imitation, which is nothing more than another form of suggestion, are made possible by the existence of mental mechanisms created by dissociation.

Hypnotism represents an extreme but temporary form of dissociation of the memories, artificially produced. Fascination and abstraction (absent-mindness) are milder forms of the same phenomena with this difference, that they occur "in nature" and without artificial stimulation.

A more permanent dissociation is represented in moods. The memories which connect themselves with moods are invariably such as will support the dominant emotion. At the same time memories which tend in any way to modify the prevailing tone of the mood are spontaneously suppressed.

It is a familiar fact that persons whose occupations or whose mode of life brings them habitually into different worlds, so that the experiences in one have little or nothing in common with those of the other, inevitably develop something akin to a dual personality. The business man, for example, is one person in the city and another at his home in the suburbs.

The most striking and instructive instances of dissociation, however, are the cases of dual or multiple personality in which the same individual lives successively or simultaneously two separate lives, each of which is wholly oblivious of the other. The classic instance of this kind is the case of the Rev. Ansel Bourne reported by William James in his Principles of Psychology. Ansel Bourne was an itinerant preacher living at Greene, Rhode Island. On January 19, 1887, he drew $551.00 from a bank in Providence and entered a Pawtucket

(473) horse car and disappeared. He was advertised as missing, foul play being suspected.

On the morning of March 24, at Norristown, Pennsylvania, a man calling himself A. J. Brown awoke in a fright and called on the people of the house to tell him who he was. Later he said he was Ansel Bourne. Nothing was known of him in Norristown except that six weeks before he had rented a small shop, stocked it with stationery, confectionery, and other small articles, and was carrying on a quiet trade "without seeming to anyone unnatural or eccentric." At first it was thought he was insane, but his story was confirmed and he was returned to his home. It was then deemed that he had lost all memory of the period which had elapsed since he boarded the Pawtucket car. What he had done or where he had been between the time he left Providence and arrived in Norristown, no one had the slightest information.

In 1890 he was induced by William James to submit to hypnotism in order to see whether in his trance state his "Brown" memories would come back. The experiment was so successful that, as James remarks, "it proved quite impossible to make him, while in hypnosis, remember any of the facts of his normal life." The report continues:

He had heard of Ansel Bourne, but "didn't know as he had ever met the man." When confronted with Mrs. Bourne he said that he had "never seen the woman before," etc. On the other hand, he told of his peregrinations during the lost fortnight, and gave all sorts of details about the Norristown episode. The whole thing was prosaic enough; and the Brown-personality seems to be nothing but a rather shrunken, dejected, and amnesic extract of Mr. Bourne himself. He gave no motive for the wandering except that there was "trouble back there" and he "wanted rest." During the trance he looks old, the corners of his mouth are drawn down, his voice is slow and weak, and he sits screening his eyes and trying vainly to remember what lay before and after the two months of the Brown experience. "I'm all hedged in," he says, "I can't get out at either end. I don't know what set me down in that Pawtucket horse-car, and I don't know how I ever left that store or what became of it." His eyes are practically normal, and all his sensibilities (save for tardier response) about the same in hypnosis as in waking. I had hoped by suggestion to run the two personalities into one, and make the memories continuous, but no artifice would avail to accomplish this, and Mr. Bourse's skull today still covers two distinct personal selves.


An interesting circumstance with respect to this case and others is that the different personalities, although they inhabit the same body and divide between them the experiences of a single individual, not only regard themselves as distinct and independent persons but they exhibit marked differences in character, temperament, and tastes, and frequently profess for one another a decided antipathy. The contrasts in temperament and character displayed by these split-off personalities are illustrated in the case of Miss Beauchamp, to whose strange and fantastic history Morton Prince has devoted a volume of nearly six hundred pages.

In this case, the source of whose morbidity was investigated by means of hypnotism, not less than three distinct personalities in addition to that of the original and real Miss Beauchamp were evolved. Each one of these was distinctly different and decidedly antipathetic to the others.

Pierre Janet's patient, Madam B, however, is the classic illustration of this dissociated personality. From the time she was sixteen years of age, Léonie, as she was called, had been so frequently hypnotized and subjected to so much clinical experimentation that a well-organized secondary personality was elaborated, which was designated as Léontine. Léonie was a poor peasant woman, serious, timid, and melancholy. Léontine was gay, noisy, restless, and ironical. Léontine did not recognize that she had any relationship with Leone, whom she referred to as "that good woman," "the other," who "is not I, she is too stupid." Eventually a third personality, known as Léonore, appeared who did not wish to be mistaken for either that "good but stupid woman" Léonie, nor for the "foolish babbler" Léontine.

Of these personalities Léonie possessed only her own memories, Léontine possessed the memories of Léonie and her own, while the memories of Léonore, who was superior to them both, included Madam B's whole life.

What is particularly interesting in connection with this phenomenon of multiple personality is the fact that it reveals in a striking way the relation of the subconscious to the conscious. The term subconscious, as it occurs in the literature of psychology, is a word of various meanings. In general, however, we mean by subconscious a region of consciousness in which the dissociated memories, the

(475) "suppressed complexes," as they are called, maintain some sort of conscious existence and exercise an indirect though very positive influence upon the ideas in the focus of consciousness, and so upon the behavior of the individual. The subconscious, in short, is the region of the suppressed memories. They are suppressed because they have come into conflict with the dominant complex in consciousness which represents the personality of the individual.

"Emotional conflicts" have long been the theme of literary analysis and discussion. In recent years they have become the subject of scientific investigation. In fact a new school of medical psychology with a vast literature has grown up around and out of the investigations of the effects of the suppression of a single instinct—the sexual impulse. A whole class of nervous disorders, what are known as psychoneuroses, are directly attributed by Dr. Sigmund Freud and the psychoanalytic school, as it is called, to these suppressions, many of which consist of memories that go back to the period of early childhood before the sexual instinct had attained the form that it has in adults.

The theory of Freud, stated briefly, amounts to this: As a result of emotional conflicts considerable portions of the memories of certain individuals, with the motor impulses connected with them, are thrust into the background of the mind, that is to say, the subconscious. Such suppressed memories, with the connected motor dispositions, he first named "suppressed complexes." Now it is found that these suppressed complexes, which no longer respond to stimulations as they would under normal conditions, may still exercise an indirect influence upon the ideas which are in the focus of consciousness. Under certain conditions they may not get into consciousness at all but manifest themselves, for example, in the form of hysterical tics, twitchings, and muscular convulsions.

Under other circumstances the ideas associated with the suppressed complexes tend to have a dominating and controlling place in the life of the individual. All our ideas that have a sentimental setting are of this character. We are all of us a little wild and insane upon certain subjects or in regard to certain persons or objects. In such cases a very trivial remark or even a gesture will fire one of these loaded ideas. The result is an emotional explosion, a sudden burst of weeping, a gust of violent, angry, and irrelevant emotion, or, in

(476) case the feelings are more under control, merely a bitter remark or a chilling and ironical laugh. It is an interesting fact that a jest may serve as well to give expression to the "feelings" as an expletive or any other emotional expression. All forms of fanaticism, fixed ideas, phobias, ideals, and cherished illusions may be explained as the effects of mental mechanisms created by the suppressed complexes.

From what has been said we are not to assume that there is any necessary and inevitable conflict among ideas. In our dreams and day-dreams, as in fairyland, our memories come and go in the most disorderly and fantastic way, so that we may seem to be in two places at the same time, or we may even be two persons, ourselves and someone else. Everything trips lightly along, in a fantastic pageant without rhyme or reason. We discover something of the same freedom when we sit down to speculate about any subject. All sorts of ideas present themselves; we entertain them for a moment, then dismiss them and turn our attention to some other mental picture which suits our purpose better. At such times we do not observe any particular conflict between one set of ideas and another. The lion and the lamb lie down peacefully together, and even if the lamb happens to be inside we are not particularly disturbed.

Conflict arises between memories when our personal interests are affected, when our sentiments are touched, when some favorite opinion is challenged. Conflict arises between our memories when they are connected with some of our motor dispositions, that is to say, when we begin to act. Memories which are suppressed as a result of emotional conflicts, memories associated with established motor dispositions, inevitably tend to find some sort of direct or symbolic expression. In this way they give rise to the symptoms which we meet in hysteria and psychasthenia—fears, phobias, obsessions, and tics, like stammering.

The suppressed complexes do not manifest themselves in the pathological forms only, but neither do the activities of the normal complexes give any clear and unequivocal evidence of themselves in ordinary consciousness. We are invariably moved to act by motives of which we are only partially conscious or wholly unaware. Not only is this true, but the accounts we give to ourselves and others of the motives upon which we acted are often wholly fictitious, although they may be given in perfect good faith.


A simple illustration will serve, however, to indicate how this can be effected. In what is called post-hypnotic suggestion we have an illustration of the manner in which the waking mind may be influenced by impulses of whose origin and significance the subject is wholly unaware. In a state of hypnotic slumber the suggestion is given that after awaking the subject will, upon a certain signal, rise and open the window or turn out the light. He is accordingly awakened and, at the signal agreed upon while he was in the hypnotic slumber but of which he is now wholly unconscious, he will immediately carry out the command as previously given. If the subject is then asked why he opened the window or turned out the light, he will, in evident good faith, make some ordinary explanation, as that "it seemed too hot in the room," or that he "thought the light in the room was disagreeable." In some cases, when the command given seems too absurd, the subject may not carry it out, but he will then show signs of restlessness and discomfort, just for instance as one feels when he is conscious that he has left something undone which he intended to do, although he can no longer recall what it was. Sometimes when the subject is not disposed to carry out the command actually given, he will perform some other related act as a substitute, just as persons who have an uneasy conscience, while still unwilling to make restitution or right the wrong which they have committed, will perform some other act by way of expiation.

Our moral sentiments and social attitudes are very largely fixed and determined by our past experiences of which we are only vaguely conscious.

"This same principle," as Morton Prince suggests, "underlies what is called the `social conscience,' the `civic' and `national conscience,' `patriotism,' `public opinion,' what the Germans call Sittlichkeit,' the war attitude of mind, etc. All these mental attitudes may be reduced to common habits of thought and conduct derived from mental experiences common to a given community and conserved as complexes in the unconscious of the several individuals of the community."

Sentiments were first defined and distinguished from the emotions by Shand, who conceived of them as organizations of the emotions about some particular object or type of object. Maternal love, for example, includes the emotions of fear, anger, joy, or sorrow, all

(478) organized about the child. This maternal love is made up of innate tendencies but is not itself a part of original nature. It is the mother's fostering care of the child which develops her sentiments toward it, and the sentiment attaches to any object that is bound up with the life of the child. The cradle is dear to the mother because it is connected with her occupation in caring for the child. The material fears for its welfare, her joy in its achievements, her anger with those who injure or even disparage it, are all part of the maternal sentiment.

The mother's sentiment determines her attitude toward her child, toward other children, and toward children in general. Just as back of every sensation, perception, or idea there is some sort of motor disposition, so our attitudes are supported by our sentiments. Back of every political opinion there is a political sentiment and it is the sentiment which gives force and meaning to the opinion.

Thus we may think of 'opinions merely as representative of a psycho-physical mechanism, which we may call the sentiment-attitude. These sentiment-attitudes are to be regarded in turn as organizations of the original tendencies, the instinct-emotions, about some memory, idea, or object which is, or once was, the focus and the end for which the original tendencies thus organized exist. In this way opinions turn out, in the long run, to rest on original nature, albeit original nature modified by experience and tradition.


  1. From Robert E. Park, Principles of Human Behavior, pp. 18-34. (The Zalas Corporation, 1915.)

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