Source Book For Social Psychology
THE ACQUIRED NATURE OF MAN: GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS
In the past ten or fifteen years it has been somewhat customary among psychologists to separate rather sharply the factors of heredity from those of environment. Much work in educational psychology, especially that directed toward mental measurement, took this direction. At the present time the standpoint of careful scholars in the field of psychology does not so sharply divide the forces of heredity from those of environment. While we may grant the place of physical heredity, the study of the actual individual organisms shows that the forces of heredity and of environment become so intermingled, so interdependent, in fact, that the earlier distinctions do not hold at least in describing the adult. The inherited mechanisms of the individual do not grow up in a vacuum but are constantly under the limitations of the environmental pressures. So too, instinctive tendencies, as we have already mentioned in a brief manner, are modified in the direction of their development. Likewise the emotions may be greatly modified by training. The present chapter gives a series of papers on the fundamental features of man's acquired nature, built, as it must be, upon the foundations of heredity and learning.
The work of Child in the field of physiology has been of the greatest importance for social psychology. The opening paper is a summary of his contribution to the whole matter of the relation of heredity to environment and of his very novel concept of the gradient. He indicates that environment determines the direction of growth, the specialization of function, the graded differences in rate of living. All this. is of importance in showing that the environment is no passive matter, but dynamically important in fashioning the organism. If this is applied to man, it gives additional proof to the important place which the conditioning of the individual to his group occupies in the making of his personality, of the tremendous place
( 194) which culture patterns play in stamping a set of attitudes, ideas and habits upon him.
The quotation from Miss Follett is offered as an additional caution on the need of studying the individual in his environmental setting. To segregate the person from his social milieu and to attempt to study his social behavior as if it existed in him aside from this social Gestalt or pattern is the notable error of academic psychology. Against this tendency we must be on our guard at all times. The short selection from a paper by the writer indicates briefly the principle of integration so important in describing the organism as a whole.
Peterson's paper on intelligence and learning indicates very well the dynamic
nature of the learning process. The passivity of the older association
psychology must give way to a view which recognizes the active driving force of
innate trends in the organism. Until we realize the vital, living interplay of
the individual and his environment, our description and interpretation of social
behavior will be faulty and incomplete. The limitation of the mechanical
principle applied to life phenomena is nowhere more apparent than just here. The
analogy to solid bodies moving about under definite external forces has given us
a false view of the more dynamic life process. The instability and sensitivity
of living organisms are so pitched that the mere mechanics of falling bodies or
of mere quantitative changes under heat, light, or pressure seen in physical
objects is insufficient for the description of their behavior. For living forms
we .need additional concepts in treating the phenomena. And these concepts must
take into account both the bodily changes which incite reaction and the
fundamental fact of interaction between the organisms themselves.
- C. M. Child. “The Individual and Environment from a Physiological Viewpoint.” in The Child, the Clinic, and the Court. New York: New Republic Company (1925)
- M. P. Follett, Creative Experience New York: Longmans Green & Co. (1924)
- K. Young. “The Integration of the Personality.” Pedagogical Seminaries 30 (1923)
- J. Peterson. “Intelligence and Learning.” Psychological Review 29 (1922)