The Social Psychology of Man and the Lower Animals

Margaret Floy Washburn
Vassar College

Social psychology has for the most part been written in terms of behavior. It is the purpose of this paper to point out that the profound and striking differences which exist between the social psychology of man and that of the lower animals as a class are due to the presence in man of a factor which can be most concisely described in introspective terms. This factor I have called, for brevity of reference, ejective consciousness: it is the awareness of thoughts and feelings as belonging to other minds than our own, the awareness of the contents of other people's minds. I shall not here attempt an introspective analysis of ejective consciousness. In a paper[1] published fourteen years ago I discussed the possibility of such an analysis, but the contents of that paper need not be resurrected now either for reaffirmation or for repudiation. Ejective consciousness has doubtless like all consciousness a motor or behavioristic basis. When we think of a thought as belonging to another person, we have probably present a motor attitude unlike that which exists when we think of the same thought as belonging to ourselves. But the difference between the two states of mind, " I think or feel so and so," and " He thinks or feels so and so," is discoverable by introspection; and by noting its presence and absence, its more and less developed forms as a conscious experience, we can get much light on the modifications of social behavior.

First of all, it is clear that social behavior precedes elective consciousness in the course of evolution. Animals are capable of acting socially, that is, of making specialized responses to other animals as stimuli, at a much lower stage of development than sees the dawn of the ability to realize consciously an-

( 12) other's state of mind. We often observe parental behavior in the lower animals which we cannot interpret as being accompanied by any conscious realization of the feelings of the offspring. Ejective consciousness in its developed form demands the power of imagination : it involves reference to stimuli that are' not capable of present action on the sense-organs. Granting then, that the capacity for social behavior exists before ejective consciousness is developed, and that the lower animals have a social psychology which can be describedin terms of behavior without introducing this factor which is most immediately known through introspection, let us proceed to the discussion of the three questions with which this paper will immediately concern itself. First, which forms of social behavior have contributed most to the rise of ejective consciousness? Secondly, what has been the effect of ejective consciousness on social behavior? Thirdly, what, features have marked the development of ejective consciousness itself ? These are large questions, and our answers will be as briefly stated as possible.

First, since it is only on the basis of our own inner experience that we can interpret the inner experience of others, it becomes clear that the greatest contribution to the development of ejective consciousness will come from those forms of social behavior where individuals perform like functions. We shall not expect that either sex behavior or parental behavior will contribute greatly to the development of the power to interpret other minds. They may, especially the latter, con-tribute greatly to altruism, but altruism, as life teaches us to our cost, is not sympathy. No type of conduct in which we act towards our fellows as they are not expected to act towards us will develop understanding of their minds. In parenthood and in sex relations the individuals concerned have different functions, and cannot be expected to understand each other. Such types of social behavior as involve equality and similarity of conduct among the individuals of a group are obviously the types in which sympathetic understanding, ejective consciousness, will earliest develop. Thus the gregarious instinct and the instinct (for I would still so term it despite McDougall and Thorndike) of imitation are the forms of

( 13) social behavior which probably contribute most to the rise of ejective consciousness.

Secondly, what is the effect of ejective consciousness, as it develops, upon the social behavior which formed the pre-existent soil for its growth? The effect may be summed up, I think, in one sentence: , ejective consciousness substitutes mental for physical causes of social behavior. Let us consider various types of social behavior and test the truth of this statement. The gregarious instinct has in the lower animal forms various external stimuli. In Protozoa apparently the carbon dioxide which the animals excrete is responsible for their gathering into aggregations ; Small,[2] observing the instinct of baby rats to pile themselves into heaps, suggested that the desire for warmth may be the root of the social instinct; the comfortable smell of one's fellow-beings, the safe and accustomed sights and sounds due to their presence, incite the grouping of higher animals. Man, on the other hand, with better developed ejective consciousness, can find little comfort in the society of persons whose mental processes he interprets as wholly unlike his own. The society of an imbecile would be worse than solitude. The self-exhibiting instinct is stimulated in man rather by what he imagines other people are thinking of him than by any external stimuli. It becomes a strong ally of the gregarious instinct : whether the individual concerned is a woman going to an afternoon reception or a man seeking conversation at a corner grocery, the desire to see oneself favorably reflected in the minds of others, whether on account of one's clothes or one's arguments, is a powerful incentive. The imitative instinct becomes so altered by ejective consciousness that its chief stimulus is not the outward actions of others, but what we conceive to be their mental states, their "beliefs and desires,"as Tarde put it. The instincts of sex and parenthood, as befits those which have done least for the development of ejective consciousness, are least modified by it, External stimuli are still powerful in both of them : the influence of the physical contact of the child in one's arms is evident in those women who, like the lower animals,

( 14) love their children best while they are very small. But even in sex and parenthood the mental stimuli assert their claim in the case of human beings : the lover persuades himself that his attitude is at least partly due to the mental and moral qualities which his ejective consciousness ascribes to the object of his affections, and the mother supplies herself with a mental stimulus for her instinct by thinking her child a model in intellect and character.

The chief effect upon social behavior of this substitution of internal or mental stimuli in place of external or physical stimuli is to render it steadier and more constant. This effect is produced in two ways. In the first place, the operation of social instincts is rendered independent of outside conditions, so that a human being may act socially in the absence of the person to whom his action relates. Animals can form only physical crowds, and must as a rule have directly before them the animals they imitate. Human beings, affected by their ejective reading of the contents of other minds, can form crowds with persons far removed from their sight and hearing, and imitate them steadily and consistently whether they are present or absent. The self-exhibiting instinct, originally called forth only in the actual presence of the female or a hostile male, when its stimulus becomes the thought of what other people may think of us, is transformed into a steady, guiding incentive that in persons with highly developed ejective consciousness may be relied upon to keep behavior social even through long periods of solitude. The fighting instinct, when its stimulus is not the presence of the enemy but one's imagination of his thoughts and feelings, gives rise to attitudes of steady and unremitting hostility instead of to sharp and brief conflicts with no "bad blood" left behind. The parental attitude in animals does not long continue after the offspring are removed; in human beings it lasts through years of absence. The faithfulness of an animal to its mate is probably due to the fact that other animals, by reason of their slight physical differences from the mate, fail to supply an adequate physical stimulus for the mating instinct, which has become so modified and specialized that not the generic physical marks of all females, but these plus the special physical marks of a par-

( 16) -ticular female, are its proper stimulus. The faithfulness of a human being to his mate rests on the permanence not of physical traits but of the features of character and mind which he ascribes to her, and may continue long after the physical traits have altered.

In the second place, the operation of social instincts is set free, comparatively speaking, from the dominance of changing physiological states. An animal's instinctive behavior has al-ways two sources, the physical force or stimulus, and the inner condition of the animal. Unless the physiological condition is favorable, as at the mating season, the presence of an individual of the opposite sex fails entirely to call forth the mating reaction. When a certain time has elapsed since the birth of offspring, the protecting attitude of the mother turns to hostility: her physiological cycle has passed on to a new phase. Herrick has pointed out how in birds the instincts of mating, nest building, incubation, and feeding the young follow each other in an order which depends not on the succession of outside stimuli, but on the succession of inner physiological states. In human beings, the freeing of the social emotions and of social behavior from the dominance of physiological states is the greatest practical problem of the emotional life. It is only imperfectly accomplished. We human beings have constantly, in order to avoid wounding the feelings of those we care for or seeming disloyal to the causes we have adopted, the task of feigning in times of unfavorable physiological state the emotions that we feel in full strength only when the physiological state is favorable. But it is precisely because we do thus call to mind the feelings and opinions of others, because we have ejective consciousness, that we are able to feign steadiness and continuity of emotion, and in feigning the emotion, to feel it in some degree at least. And occasionally we meet the truly " spiritual " personality whose enthusiasm for humanity seems always burning with a steady flame unaffected by the rise and fall of physiological states.

It may be said that these effects upon social behavior which we have ascribed to ejective consciousness, to the imagination of what other people are thinking and feeling, can equally well be ascribed to the imagination of other people's behavior;

( 16) that it is our power to represent in thought what other people will do, rather than our power to represent what they will think or feel, that is responsible for the greater steadiness and continuity in the social behavior of man, as compared with that of the lower animals. I am perfectly willing to admit that the physiological basis of ejective consciousness may be a kind of inner imitation of the behavior of others, but the inevitable accompaniment of such inner imitation is the consciousness of other people's states of mind, and this consciousness may be directly observed by introspection, whereas the movements of inner imitation cannot be directly observed in any complete degree, and have rather to be inferred on theoretical grounds.

Our last question concerns the changes through which ejective consciousness itself passes in the course of its development, both in the race and in the individual. These changes may be summed up under three heads.

First, the evolution of ejective consciousness has involved a continuous broadening of its spatial and temporal reference. The individual or the race with little developed ejective consciousness is capable of interpreting the minds only of those close at hand in space. The person thus limited has little sympathy with persons whom he does not often see; the race thus limited regards all other races as enemy aliens. The undeveloped ejective consciousness is equally limited in its time reference; it cares nothing for history and believes in letting posterity look after itself. Savage peoples and unenlightened individuals sympathize with their contemporaries only.

Secondly, as ejective consciousness evolves it becomes less emotional and more intellectual. Emotions, in our fellow-beings, produce of course more striking physical manifestations than ideas do. When ejective consciousness is but slightly developed, it is still subject to the influence of the external stimulation. The cry of anguish actually heard, the grimaces of the moving picture actor, `registering' emotion, bring realization of the state of mind they imply home to minds which would be incapable of grasping the thoughts of another person when those thoughts differed from their own. More-

( 17) -over, emotional ejective consciousness is more primitive than intellectual ejective consciousness not only because it has stronger physical stimuli, but because there are only a few emotions, and there is an infinite number of ideas.

Thirdly, the development of ejective consciousness has passed from the ability to interpret processes in other minds as like those in our own mind, to the ability to conceive states in other minds as different from those in our own mind. The person of rudimentary ejective consciousness easily conceives that other people feel and think with him : he cannot bring himself to the point of realizing that they sincerely differ from him. We must of course put limits to the power even of the most enlightened in this direction. No one can imagine in another mind a state wholly unlike any that he has ever experienced. But the person of highly evolved ejective consciousness can, at a given time, set side by side in his mind and contrast his own ideas and those which he realizes exist in the mind of a fellow-being. He can say, " I think and feel thus and so, but my neighbor thinks and sincerely feels in this other quite different manner." For the individual whose ejective consciousness is little developed, if his neighbor's mind is interpreted at all, it is only as an extension of his own mind at that moment.


  1. American Journal of Psychology, XIV, 1903, 337-342.
  2. Willard S. Small, Notes on the Psychic Development of the Young White Rat. American Journal of Psychology, XI, 1899, 80ff.

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