Source Book For Social Psychology
THE MENTAL PROCESSES AND SOCIAL BEHAVIOR
While the instinctive-emotional trends furnish the foundation of the social behavior, the intellectual functions play a very important part in determining the direction which this behavior takes. In the present chapter we are concerned largely with the mechanisms of the so-called higher mental processes.
The opening paper discusses the matter briefly from the standpoint of attention and behavior, indicating that attention is a valid concept with which to describe the relation of the organism, as a totality, to the situations in which it finds itself. Attention, in turn, is dependent upon a variety of internal and external factors. These explicit and implicit determiners are seen in operation quite as much in the field of social conduct as in the relation of the individual to his physical world.
Peterson's discussion of the place of ideas in social groups offers a modified behavioristic account of the idea and its place in social interrelations. Moreover, he indicates the essential conservatism of ideas which are social in their implication. (It is this continuity of ideas which is basic to what we have previously discussed under the general term "culture.") He has also shown again the place of crisis and of common groups of stimuli in reference to certain uniformity of responses. Thus, the universality of feeling, idea, attitude, and habit depends first on a commonality of animal mechanism, second on a certain uniformity of social and cultural stimuli, resulting in a general and more or less common response system.
The quotation from Thomas indicates the importance of considering the psychological development of races and culture groups in terms of opportunity, culture background, and innate mental capacity. Often that which we take to be original nature turns out, upon investigation, to be due to social and cultural conditioning of a different order than our own. Thus, in a mental test of an African
( 269) child, to ask the time if one reverses the hands of clock from any stated position is nonsense since the African child does not have clocks in his culture; similarly to inquire "What is the thing to do if you are going somewhere and miss your car"? when cars are unknown to him. Analogously one would scarcely expect our first-rate philosopher, thrown into an arctic environment, to understand at once the nice trick of making fire by a bow drill, or to manage a dog team, or to make a pair of watertight boots. We have been too prone to attribute to innate racial mentality factors dependent upon culture training.
. The paper by Lund reveals the fundamental aspects of belief. He shows the large emotional content in belief, the tendency to rationalize it, the persistence of beliefs once formed, and the highly important fact that knowledge and belief are merely matters of degree. We shall see in subsequent papers on crowd behavior and public opinion, particularly, how these principles work themselves out.
Not only is the conscious control of behavior to be reckoned with in social life, but outside this field there lies the function of the unconscious or subconscious processes. It is hardly necessary to declare one's allegiance to any particular theory of the subconscious or unconscious. Only a pedantic myopia would lead one to deny that much of our behavior is not consciously determined. Only an ignorance of facts would deny that impressions reach us and later affect our behavior, which have never been in the focus of attention.
The selection from Bleuler gives a statement of the place of the unconscious in behavior. Somewhat different interpretations may be had from Prince, Freud, Jung, and others. (Consult bibliography).
The thought processes are related distinctly to the self or ego. What we attend to, what we form judgments on, what we reason about, the foundations of our concepts—all these have their center in our self or ego organization. And basic to the self or ego lie the instinctive trends and the emotions. It is the recognition of this fact which led Adler to his theory of the ego drive as the most powerful of all, this in contrast with the thesis of Freud that the core of the self lay in the sex drive.
The direction of attention, the organization of associative think-
( 270) -ing, the development of rationalization, all reveal this egocentric center of mental life, just as thoroughly as attitudes and habits reveal the same thing in overt action. The papers by Wells and Bleuler on autistic or dereistic as contrasted with objective thinking show the nature of the associative processes as projected on the field of experience.
Dereistic thought has hitherto been considered only in relation to extreme life organizations such as dementia praecox where one may invent a new language, a novel interpretation of the universe, and a distinctly egocentric life organization often unknown to any one but the patient. Today, however, we recognize that dereistic thinking is universal. Its extremes we have noted, but upon careful examination we see it functioning in religion, in art, and in verbalisms essential to social control. Many of our stereotypes, described in a subsequent chapter, are dereistic in nature. Certainly such phrases not long ago popular as King Kleagle, Klanton, Hydra of Realms, and the like, partake of this nature. So, too, dereistic thinking is evident in wit, particularly in the pun. There is much of it in metaphor; and it is evident in a good deal of loose subjective philosophy which speaks of "spiritual essences," "affluent liquids," and so on.
One further caution is necessary. Objective or realistic thought is very rare except in the most advanced sciences. The bulk of our associative thinking really takes place somewhere between the extremes of dereistic thinking, which we have just mentioned, and the objective standards of the natural sciences. And it would be ignorance indeed if we failed to see that even in the latter the fictions of the mind did not play an enormous rôle.
Man has everywhere tended to explain his behavior. His explanation, moreover, conforms to culture standards and to the generalized assumptions about conduct accepted by one's group. Rationalization is the term now usually applied to this tendency to give "good"and "acceptable"reasons for conduct rather than the "real"reasons or motives. Of course, much of our rationalization is only in part consciously formulated. Much of it springs out of the unconscious where rest the social codes. The two papers by Wells and Robinson give somewhat different aspects of this important mechanism. It must be borne in mind that rationalization as used in these selections is not synonymous with this word as used in the older
( 271) philosophy to describe the rational mental functions, that is, reason and judgment. Gates has suggested that the word "irrationalization" would better describe the process.
Another point. Some current writers imply that rationalization is at once a
sin and an indication of abnormality. These are usually persons who look for man
to be a deliberate, well-reasoned creature and hence consider rationalization,
as here defined, a mark of incompetence and infantilism. If we accept the facts
already referred to that man is motivated by his deeper impulses and trends,
that man is not a reasoning animal, the logic books to the contrary
not-withstanding, we shall see that rationalization has a distinct social
function. It keeps the person within the limits of socially accepted motives. It
offers a socially-determined defense mechanism for conduct. It protects the
person, in short, from the severe strain of reasoning and the solution of
problems in a more objective but less pleasant way. So long as man is moved by
emotions and feelings, so long as the "logic of feeling" controls us,
rationalization will serve a very valuable purpose in maintaining some balance
in the personality, even though the integration be not of the most satisfactory
- J. Peterson. “The Functioning of Ideas in Social Groups.” Psychological Review 25 (1918)
- W.I. Thomas “The Province of Social Psychology.” American Journal of Sociology 10 ( 1904-1905).
- F. H. Lund. “The Psychology of Belief.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychaology 20 (1925-1926)
- E. Bleuler. Textbook of Psychiatry. New York: Macmillan (1924)
- F.L Wells. Mental Adjustments. New York: Appleton (1917)
- J.H. Robinson. The Mind in the Making. New York: Harper & Brothers (1921)