Source Book For Social Psychology
PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL CONDITIONING
We have been examining in cross-section the basic mechanisms of the individual. In the present section we shall be concerned with the growth of the personality in relation to its social setting. The personality is acquired upon the basis of hereditary patterns and the social conditionings of its experience. It consists very largely of the various social rôles which the individual is called upon to play. At its basis lie physical make-up, intellectual powers, instinctive tendencies, emotions, feelings, and the will. But the personality is more than this; it is the particular organization of these into a totality with reference to the social groups to which it belongs. This explains James' remark that a man has as many selves as there are persons who recognize him and who carry an image of him in their minds, or Cooley's statement that the individual is not human at birth but acquires humanness, or Burgess' point that the person is an individual with status. In short, to conceive personality we must think of the organism in its more or less unified nature of attitudes, ideas, and habits directed in reference to the social environment, i. e., to other persons and the cultural patterns.
The selection from Burnham shows how the personal growth of the individual depends on the social conditioning to which he is subjected. To acquire "human nature," to become a "personality" one must learn, one must be educated. Personality does not grow up in a vacuum ; it depends on training. Moreover, the environmental pressures are of a dynamic character. As Child has shown above, the direction of the growth of the organism depends upon the environment, and not so much upon specific units of character which mature independently of this environment.
Hall's paper reveals the interplay of adult and child, especially
( 300) the place of the mother in the child's early life. So, too, White gives us a picture of the place of the parents in reference to child development, of the place of authority, and of the conditions which impose an inferiority feeling upon many children.
In infancy, as a part of the child-adult relationship, the process of identification begins. In fact, the infant apparently does not consider himself as a being apart from the social world in which he lives. Later as language and consciousness begin to develop, the identification and its accompanying dramatization expand to take in a larger world of social personages. We condition and recondition ourselves in hundreds of social connections by playing the role first of one and then of another person whom we have experienced. "Butcher and baker and candle stick maker" all come in for their share of attention. Or to change the figure to modern times : grocer, chauffeur, postman, engineer, teacher, and doctor become objects of attention and furnish a frame through which personality may be expressed. Hall's paper gives a brief statement of this process.
Closely associated with this identification and dramatization, and with the whole expansion of the growing personality, is the play life. Whatever we may say about the theories of play, it is true that the play life is highly important for the rise of the personality. The earlier attempts to explain play ignored the full importance of the socialization aspects. Schiller and Spencer maintained that play arose from an excess of nervous energy which found its outlet in this manner. Gross thought play a preparation for the serious business of later' life. Play, he held, furnishes the essential practice of activities needed in adulthood. Hall connected play with his recapitulation theory. He says :
I regard play as the motor habits and spirit of the past of the race, persisting in the present, as rudimentary functions sometimes of and always akin to rudimentary organs. The best index and guide to the stated activities of adults in past ages is found in the instinctive, untaught and non-imitative plays of children which are the most spontaneous and the exact expressions of their motor needs....Thus we rehearse the activities of our ancestors, back we know not how far, and repeat their life work in summative and adumbrated ways.
None of these theories is thought complete today, and the notion of Hall that play is atavistic or recapitulatory has been more or less
( 301) abandoned. Play is preparatory to life in a sense, and yet it is life both for child and for adult. Much misinterpretation is made of children's play in the assumption of adults that children are not serious in their play life. The playful attitudes of children are most serious and all-absorbing for them. For adults play is a somewhat dissociated, often a consciously assumed, attitude. It is a pattern in which we indulge in sharp contrast with. the more serious struggle for economic livelihood. With children play is all of life. It is actually highly important as a preparation for life, but more than that it is child life. It is preparation only in the sense in which the growth of the first year of life is preparation for the growth of the second year, and so on.
As for the excess energy thesis, this, too, cannot be accepted in its simple statement. Children do seem marked by superabundance of energy, but we also see children playing when tired. We see them, also, in a wide variety of play which is not explained by this theory. McDougall suggests that rivalry and emulation are most important causes of play. But this again, like all other theories, is too narrow. Nowhere, in short, do we see the limitations of simple one-dimensional explanation of social behavior better illustrated than in these traditional discussions of play. To explain or describe play in terms of instincts as with McDougall, or in terms of nervous energy as with Schiller and Spencer, or in terms of a vagary called "recapitulation," is to indulge in the particularistic fallacy which Thomas has done so much to expose.
More adequate explanations must take into account the interplay of organism and environment, and on the latter side we must ever recognize both the presence of other persons (the social stimuli) and the presence of culture patterns.
Play we should say is a generalized term with which we have described the more or less natural unhampered life of children. It is connected throughout with membership in primary groups : family, playground, and school. It is a term often used to cover the process of extension of identification, the process of dramatization, of learn-
( 302) -ing much mechanical habit, and so on. Rather than try to categorize this complex phenomena in a few phrases, it is more important to observe the stages or types of dominant interest which mark the play life of the child from infancy to adolescence. This is given to us in the selection by Whitley.
Robinson's paper discusses the compensatory aspects of play life. It should not be imagined that all play is compensatory, since that would be to ignore identification and other aspects. But certainly there is a deal of substitutive mechanism found in play.
In the second section of the chapter the relationship of language to personality development is discussed. The importance of language and communication for social life cannot be overemphasized. Cooley's paper shows the place of gesture, of imaginary companions, of the interplay of person and person in the growth of personality. The development of language goes pari passu with the rise of personality. The very conception of the self or personality is founded upon the language concepts of others which we accept for ourselves. Furthermore, communication is the essential social mechanism through which personality is developed. The world in which the individual lives is largely delimited and defined for him in language terms. The universe of discourse is largely a verbal one. All the higher mental functions are closely correlated with the language development. It is no superficial correlation which Terman has insisted on in his contention for the close relation of language development and that of the higher mental functions. What Terman ignores, however, is the social factor in the rise of language and thought. Finally, language has become the most significant carrier of culture patterns. The "psycho-social environment" as Bernard calls it, that is, the culture of the more complex societies, is continued from generation to generation largely through the medium of written language. All the concepts of science, art, religion, and philosophy, man's four chief cultural accumulations, rest on language, and without it they would soon disintegrate.
Language is acquired through the conditioned response mechanism. The name and the object are associated as any artificial stimulus-response arrangement is connected with biological or native stimulus-response mechanism. Niemeyer, while she does not employ the terminology of conditioning, describes the process of early lan-
( 303) -guage development. Cooley's second paper is important in indicating the early conditioning of the child to words of self-reference, thus giving a clue to the method by which the ego concept is built up through language. The somewhat amusing collection of baby names from Hall shows the effect of the older persons upon the child in defining the personal name and thus fixing a rôle for the child to play. To call a child a "black sheep," "cry-baby," "crank," "chatterbox" is a very different thing for the child's development than to call him "buttercup" or "sweetie" or "mamma's life." It would be worthwhile to know more specifically what effect personal names play in determining the part which the child takes in the various groups to which he belongs, that is, in delimiting the direction of the child's conception of himself.
Mead's paper is a more technical discussion of the intimate relation of
thought, symbol, and language. Mead's contribution to the understanding to the
relation of thought, language, and personality is highly important for social
psychology. The interested person may consult the bibliography for other papers
by this scholar.
- W. H. Burnham. The Normal Mind. New York: Appleton (1924)
- G. Stanley Hall. “Some Aspects of the Early Sense of Self.” American Journal of Psychology. 9 (1897-1898)
- M. T. Whitley. “Chapter III.” in M. V. O’Shea The Child: His Nature and His Needs Valparaiso: Children’s Foundation (1924).
- E. S. Robinson. “The Compensatory Function of Make-Believe Play.” Psychological Review 27 (1920)
- C. H. Cooley. Human Nature and the Social Order. New York: Scribner’s (1902)
- N. Niemeyer Children and Childhood. Oxford: Clarendon (1921)
- C. H. Cooley. “A Study of the Early Use of Self-Words by a Child.” Psychological Review 15 (1908).
- G. H. Mead. “The Behavioristic Account of the Significant Symbol.” Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Method 19 (1922)