Source Book For Social Psychology


Kimball Young

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Among the mechanisms mentioned in the earlier social psychology the most important are imitation and suggestion. Sympathy. also, has long been recognized as a fundamental factor making for sociability. Latterly we have come to recognize compensation as another important mechanism in the field of social behavior. The present chapter deals with these four mechanisms.

The earlier writers on social psychology used the term imitation to cover any sort of action wherein one person did some act identical with or similar to another. This ran the gamut from reflexes like yawning to complex social features, as where one class aped another in social custom or fashion. It was Thorndike, followed by Watson, who began to indicate the limitations upon the wide and loose use of the term imitation. While Thorndike, as we shall see by the first selection, still holds to some types of activity as coming under this term, he limits it to very specific acts. Peterson, on the other hand, has shown in his article quoted below the widespread misuse of the term and suggests distinct limitations. More significant, perhaps, is the paper by Humphrey showing that much that is called imitation is not due to any instinctive patterns, but fits nice' into the category of the conditioned response. While it may be legitimate to employ the term "imitation"in social psychology, it should be carefully circumscribed by definition and brought in line with the general principles of conditioning and integration which are essential to a sound psychology of learning. And social conditioning is merely a phase of the learning process.[1]

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Suggestion likewise should be defined rather more closely. Some writers include in suggestion the stimulus factor, while others deal only with the determining tendencies, or apperceptive mass or patterns of previous experience that are set off by this stimulus. The present writer believes that both factors must be recognized. The stimulus incidentally may arise from oneself as well as from another person. It is, moreover, usually a verbal stimulus. The papers by McDougall, Scott, and Morgan stress important points in the understanding of this mechanism. Suggestion plays perhaps the leading rôle in the social drama. Everywhere stimuli impinge on us in the form of direct and, more particularly indirect, suggestion, which, in turn, influences our attitudes and actions in every social situation.

Sympathy is often said to be an instinct, but possibly its roots lie not so much in instinct as in the emotion of love. Furthermore, it has both an emotional-feeling quality and an intellectual aspect. One must usually image the object of his sympathy as well as feel, or sense, vicariously his emotions and feelings. The building up and the extension of sympathy is described by Humphrey in terms of the established principle of conditioning. This again is much more satisfactory than the earlier concept of sympathy as some vague innate pattern which came into being by mere maturity of growth. The highest form of sympathy arises with the development of what is sometimes called the ejective consciousness. That is the time when the child learns that other people's bodies have experiences in them like his own. As Baldwin says, it is then that the "social self is born."

The compensatory mechanism is largely a substitutive one. Compensation refers really to the objects of the conditioning in reference to the total personality, or organism-as-a-whole, rather than to the mechanism proper. Compensation takes place at different levels, just as any substitution may. Here it is usually thought of as a replacement of one function for another in which the individual is deficient. In contrast with sublimation it consists in the fact that the latter is a replacement for a loss of, or failure of, opportunity to function

( 244) normally when one might while compensation is rather substitutive for a function which one can not fulfil for organic reasons. In popular parlance the two terms are often synonymous.

The paper by Hall points out that much compensation is quite unconscious. He also shows that this procedure is perfectly normal for the individual; in fact where it does not take place a disintegration of the personality may result. The citations from literature merely serve to indicate how widespread has been the recognition of this principle among all cultures that possessed even the rudiments of mythology and cosmic philosophy, that is, wherever the beginnings of imagination and thought touched social life.

Excerpted Works


  1. Bernard in his recent book, An introduction to Social Psychology (1926), ,uses the term "imitation" extensively, but defines the mechanism largely in terms of conditioned responses. Imitation might also be used in reference to group-to-group' interaction. The difficulty, however, is like the difficulty with the word "instinct," it covers too much or else too little.

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