The Laws of Social Psychology

Chapter 4: Changes of Social Reaction

Florian Znaniecki

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The reaction which a social action actually provokes in the individual or group constituting its object never seems exactly the same to an outside observer as the subject expected to provoke. But, as has been shown before, this difference is ignored up to certain limits by the subject, who considers his tendency satisfied if the reaction actually obtained can be made to fit into the social situation as defined in advance, if it solves the practical social problem which he put in choosing the purpose of his action. Particularly when the expected result of the action — the reaction of the social object — is being achieved gradually, as by slow persuasion, so many adjustments between this result and the other elements of the social action are possible that ever. a reaction objectively very different from the expected one may eventually satisfy the subject's tendency.

It is impossible to fix once and for ever the precise limits within which the actual reaction may diverge objectively from the expected reaction, and yet leave the subject satisfied with his achievement, and willing to treat the expected reaction and the actual reaction as essentially the same, though differing in secondary details. In fact, the possibilities vary widely from case to case. Nevertheless, there must be a limit beyond which adjustments can no longer be made between the unexpected result and the other elements of the social action. There are, indeed, two kinds of divergence of the real reaction from the expected reaction which cannot be ignored and lead necessarily to

(138) a change of the tendency. The first occurs when the real reaction of the social object appears to the subject as axiologically contrary to the expected one — negative, when he expected a positive reaction, or positive, when he expected a negative one. The second takes place when the action is interfered with by somebody else, when besides or instead of the object of the action some other individual or group, who was not intended to react, reacts to it.

The limit may be even drawn a little closer, since what matters here is not an absolutely .objective condition of things as they appear to an impartial observer, but the situation as viewed by the active subject himself., It is not always necessary that the social, object should really react in a way axiologically contrary to the subject's original expectation; nor that somebody else should really interfere with the action. It is enough if the subject is brought to believe, sometime before the action reaches a satisfactory conclusion, that the reaction of the social object will be contrary to the reaction he originally expected to obtain or that somebody else will certainly interfere if the action be continued as originally intended.

These changes in the social situation are respectively the starting-points of four typical socio-psychological processes, the particular manifestations of which have been often described in popular and scientific literature, but which, as far as we know, have never yet been subjected to a general and exact causal formulation.


Perhaps the most striking among these typical processes is the one which occurs if the social object unexpectedly reacts in a way which appears to the subject as intrinsically negative, whereas he expected a reaction which he could consider intrinsically positive.


A few concrete instances may help us to realize the nature of this process. It frequently happens that a man finds his desire for sympathetic response, for reciprocal confidence, or for cooperation baffled by the unexpectedly antipathetic, crafty, or hostile behavior of his friend of relative. As everybody knows, the usual effect is to inspire in the subject mistrust, aversion or active antagonism, which takes the place of the original tendency.[1] Even if this effect does not manifest itself clearly at once, repeated reactions of the same kind to similar acts inevitably provoke it, unless the subject, under the influence of other factors, interprets these reactions in a way which deprives them of their negative character in his eyes.

Other examples — though not as simple as they seem are found where sexual love is concerned. Love implies expectation of continued positive responses to the subject's activities; whereas, when a girl is deserted by her lover for another, a direct negative response in the form of indifference or even aversion is experienced, and when one spouse learns of the unfaithfulness of the other, present or past responses viewed in the light of the unexpected discovery assume a negative character in the subject's eyes, as "false, 'hypocritical", etc. The result in both cases is usually a desire to inflict suffering, leading sometimes as far as active cruelty, or even murder.[2] It is not always so; but the probable explanation of exceptions lies in the variety and complexity of sexual love. The biological sexual impulse is combined with numerous social tendencies, and the combination may be different in different persons, and at different periods of their lives.


Simpler is the example of the individual who wishes and expects to obtain social recognition for himself, but provokes instead ridicule or contempt. The effect of this unexpected reaction, if no outside factors intervene, is the desire to become square with the object of the action by humiliating him in comparison with one's self. Whoever has followed the relations between less exalted representatives of the genus irritabile vatum and their critics, readers or listeners, cannot doubt the truth of this statement. Sometimes, indeed, instead of such an actively hostile tendency with regard to the .social object from whom the humiliation came, the subject simply withdraws into physical or moral solitude; but this is also from the social point of view a manifestation of social antagonism in its less expansive, but nevertheless very definite form of desire for isolation. If the desire for recognition combines with a desire for subordination, for self-effacement in contact with a superior personality or a large public, the effect of the reaction is more complex, and cannot be adequately covered by the present generalization.

The change of a friendly, sportive emulation into a desire to overcome the opponent by all means including deceit and even to destroy him has been repeatedly mentioned by Williams.[3] Its cause is to be sought in some reaction of the social object which is interpreted by the subject either as showing a tendency to overcome him by unfair methods, or else as manifesting a conscious superiority over him so marked that he feels humiliated in his desire for recognition, or finally, as threatening some of his vital interests. In any case, the socio-psychological change within the given system of emulative action has its source in some negatively appreciated reaction of the social object which is unexpectedly forced upon the subject.


The behavior of social groups is for the most part easier to analyze than the behavior of individuals, for the various intervening secondary factors usually neutralize one another, and the main collective process stands out very clearly. Take two clans or villages in peaceful or even friendly intercourse. If one of them by some individual or collective act does a wrong to the other collectivity or to one of its members, this act is immediately interpreted as a negative social reaction to the friendly tendencies of the wronged group, and these friendly tendencies change into collective antagonism. The change is particular marked if the wrong was actually committed in the course of some action performed by the wronged group with the purpose of obtaining a positive reaction — an economic exchange, cooperation in some peaceful occupation, or assistance in time of war. A very striking historical example of a negative group reaction to positive tendencies of another group is found in the invasion of Mexico under Cortez; it is well known how the group of adventurers reacted to the admiring hospitality of the local population, and what hatred their reaction provoked in the latter.

Religious antagonism is most violent between a church and a dissenting sect which has broken away from it. The members of the old church view the act of dissention as a negative reaction toward their tendency to maintain the values hallowed by tradition and to keep up the solidarity of the group, whereas the dissenters regard all attempts of the old church to impose upon them the .traditional set of beliefs as a negative reaction toward their tendency to reform the group and to raise the standards of worship. The more unexpected the act of dissention or the attempt to repress the reformatory tendencies, the more definite the change from the desire for community, unity and solidarity, which characterizes every coherent social group, to the collective antagonism prevailing between strange groups.


Another interesting example was offered during the Great War in the effect produced upon public opinion in Germany by England's declaration of war. The German people confiding in , their official publications expected a friendly neutrality, and the outburst of hostility which followed the actual reaction of England to the violation of Belgian territory was tremendous. This case is also of interest for the problem of negative outside interference, which we shall investigate presently.

Class antagonism has often its source in real or supposed negative reactions of one class to the friendly advances made by the other. A group of workmen who believe that their economic situation will be impartially considered by their employers and their wages increased proportionally to the increased cost of living pass from confidence to mistrust and hostility, if they meet with egotistic hardness or an overbearing determination to dominate; while an employer who starts with the best intention to help his workmen and to raise their economic and cultural standards becomes embittered and averse to further reforms, if his action unexpectedly provokes manifestations of mistrust, envy, or hostile prejudice.

From these and other such instances, which any one can find in his own experience, it is possible to induce a law which may be called the socio-psychological law of negative change and formulated as follows:

LAW 3. If a social action including a positive social tendency and the expectation of an intrinsically positive reaction of the social object meets with an unexpected, intrinsically . negative reaction of the latter, the positive tendency changes into a negative one.

This formula requires some explanation. A positive social tendency has been already defined as a tendency involving a positive appreciation of the social object, treating him as a positive value; vice versa, a negative tendency involves a negative

(142) appreciation of the object, treats him as a negative value. In our examples, the desire for sympathetic response, the desire for cooperation, sexual attraction, the desire for recognition, friendly emulation, admiration, confidence, the desire for community with one's group, are positive tendencies; active antipathy (tending to inflict pain or to spoil pleasure), the fighting impulse, sexual aversion, the desire for domination (including humiliation of the object), hostile rivalry, mistrust, antagonism to a strange group and to its members, are negative tendencies.

The question of positive and negative reactions must be considered more closely. The expected and the real results in every action have the significance of relatively positive or negative values by the very reason that they are parts of the action. The expected result is valued positively simply because the action tends to achieve it. The real result is valued positively or negatively with reference to the expected result and to the whole situation, into which it fits or does not fit: it is relatively positive if it is like the expected result or capable of filling its place in solving the practical problem; relatively negative if it is unlike the expected result and does not solve the problem. A social reaction may be also relatively positive or negative in this sense, that is, with reference to the expected reaction and to the whole social situation, as being or not being similar (respectively equivalent) to what the action purposed to attain. For instance, instead of sympathetic response a man may obtain indifferent advice because the person to whom he makes his advances does not share his feelings; a group may find its request for assistance refused because the other group has troubles of its own: in both cases the result is negative with reference to the purpose.

But the negative axiological character with which the law of negative change is concerned is something different,

(143) since mere failure to reach the expected result is not yet sufficient to change a positive appreciation of the social object into a negative one. The result of an action like the other elements of a situation has not only the axiological features due to its present connection with other components of the same active system, but usually is also an intrinsically positive or negative value.

This intrinsically positive or negative character is the result of two factors. The usual factor which gives to human values a more or less stable axiological meaning is the role which the given value has played in past experiences by being a part of more .or less numerous and varied systems of activity. Thus, the material result of a bodily action, besides being or not being the one aimed at, may be also intrinsically pleasant or unpleasant, useful or harmful, beautiful or ugly, etc. in the eyes of the subject; and in this sense the consequences of the reaction of the social object which the subject has provoked may be pleasant or unpleasant, useful or harmful for the subject.

However, in the case of social reactions another factor comes into play, which combines with and may even counterbalance the preceding one. This is the supposed intention of the social object. The social object is not a passive matter for activity, but a conscious individual or group. The individual or group takes a certain standpoint, shows a certain attitude towards the action of which he is the object. Such an attitude is either favorable or unfavorable to the subject's action, that is, the given individual or group either shows a positive appreciation of the purpose of the subject in accepting it, responding to it, promoting its fulfilment, or shows a negative appreciation in rejecting it, counteracting, trying to frustrate the subject's intention. The subject experiences this attitude of the object towards his action, since it is involved in the reaction of the object; and this is what primarily

(144) counts in giving the social reaction an axiological significance in his eyes. This is what marks it in the first line as intrinsically positive or intrinsically negative.

The pleasantness or unpleasantness, usefulness or harmfulness of the consequences of the reation, as judged from the hedonistic, economic, aesthetic, etc. point of view, come into consideration in so far only as the subject refers them to the social object, knows, believes or imagines that the social object actually meant his reaction to have those desirable or undesirable consequences. On early stages of social evolution, as we shall see presently, good or bad consequences of somebody's behavior are easily taken as intended by him, and showing on his part a favorable or unfavorable attitude towards some activity of the subject; whereas on higher stages the intention is more frequently dissociated from the consequences, and thus it happens that a social reaction may appear to the subject as intrinsically positive because "well meant", though its consequences are negative, and vice versa.

It is therefore easy to understand why an intrinsically negative social reaction coming instead of the expected intrinsically positive one changes the positive tendency of the subject into a negative tendency. Since the reaction appears to the subject positive or negative chiefly because of the favorable or unfavorable attitude of the object, the subject transfers his appreciation of the reaction to the social object as its source. His action implied a certain valuation of the object, but this valuation was contingent on the appearance of a positive reaction. Now. when the tendency instead of being satisfied is baffled by the agency of the social object, when the latter has reacted negatively instead of positively, the subject's valuation concerning him is naturally reversed; the reaction is such as should logically follow a negative tendency of the subject, and a negative tendency actually appears.


Other explanations of this process have been attempted. Thus Paulhan sees in it a particular case of the succession of contrasting tendencies. According to his "laws of systematic inhibition", a tendency when active tends to suppress the opposite tendency. The latter remains latent until it "finally succeeds in imposing itself in turn upon the mind... and gives to our activity a character absolutely opposed to the one it had before".[4] But the point is, why does this second tendency gain the upper hand. If one wishes to explain it at all, one must assume certain causes for its appearance connected with the present situation and the function. the object performs in this situation. Paulhan himself describes a process of negative change in terms which can be perfectly well fitted under our law formulated above. "It happens also that one illusions himself almost voluntarily about the nature of a person; one notices in his conduct only that which can give a favorable idea about it; the rest goes almost unperceived. It should not be thought however that these experiences are entirely lost... All the small details, words, acts which we do not wish to see are ,registered and classed in the unconscious, and some day, when the conscious orientation of the mind changes, when a feature more visible than others makes us open our eyes, or when the unconscious tendency, gradually developed, finally determines the inhibition of the opposite tendency, we are surprised... to find in us feelings which appear to us quite natural and very developed, and which are entirely opposed to those which we believed ourselves to have had up to then".[5] This is an ocurrence which we have already discussed: after many repetitions of the cause an effect which did not show at once because of interfering factors finally manifests itself. The cause is clearly the negative behavior of the other person; the

(146) interfering factor, a conscious effort on the part of the subject to ignore or to interpret positively the negative features of this behavior. To the problem of inhibition we shall return later.

Of course, the appearance of negative social tendencies is not always the effect of an unexpected negative social reaction taking the place of an expected positive one. A negative tendency may develop from another negative tendency; or it may appear spontaneously outside of any closed active system. These are obviously matters not touched at all by the law of negative change. But there is another category of facts which can apparently be considered facts of negative change, and yet do not seem exactly to fall under the law. Instead of a positive social tendency sometimes a negative one is provoked by some behavior or even by some passive change of the social object which is really not a negative social reaction to the subject's act, Thus, a person whom we appreciated positively commits a shameful action which has no apparent bearing upon our own purposes toward him; and yet our appreciation of him becomes negative in consequence of this action. Or take the striking changes of social valuation manifested on lower stages of civilization toward members of the same tribe or even of the same family who have fallen sick or have become the victims of accident—been wounded by a wild animal or nearly drowned, etc. Not only does a marked aversion to all contact with such individuals take the place of former affection, active solidarity and confidence, but often an aggressive hostility is shown, and sometimes the unfortunate is even killed.[6] What is the relation between such facts and those upon which our law has been based?

There are two possibilities. The apparent change of tendencies may be merely a successive actualization of

(147) tendencies which have no connection with each other, do not belong to the same active system but to two separate systems. A man may be a positive value for me as a pleasant companion; but on learning of a reprehensible action of his, my latent tendency to condemn on moral grounds persons who commit similar actions may be aroused, and I may include him in the condemned class. Nevertheless, the two systems are really distinct and may remain distinct; the tendency within each system remains the same, though the same concrete social object who belonged to the system A (personal intercourse) is introduced into the system B (moral valuation of one's neighbors). System A may temporarily or permanently disappear from actuality and system B become actually supreme, if I forget or voluntarily ignore the pleasant experiences I had with this person and think only about his moral badness. This is the kind of succession of tendencies which Paulhan seems to have primarily in mind when he discusses the problem. But this is not a causal process which can be subjected to laws, since it does not go on within the same system. It may happen, indeed, that the two systems combine into one; on meeting the man I remember both his pleasantness as a companion and his moral badness, and hesitate whether I should hold any intercourse with him or not. Then, however, we have a new and complex problem which the law of negative change cannot solve alone.

The other possibility, which seems to be present in the behavior of savages toward persons who meet with some misfortune, can be explained on the ground of the law of negative change, if the necessity of considering the active subject's point of view is properly kept in mind. For the savage a misfortune which happens to a person is not a mere accident which the latter passively suffers without any fault of his; it is proof that this person by some action of his own has subjected himself to the

(148) detrimental influence of unseen magical or religious powers. And this detrimental influence is not limited to him alone; it may spread over all those who are in social contact with him. Therefore, by allowing himself to become the victim of misfortune he has endangered the whole community, broken the rules of social solidarity, and thus disappointed the latent or explicit expectations of his fellows. His suffering is the sign of a behavior which can be interpreted as a negative social reaction to the demand which his environment puts upon him for the common safety. He .is like the passenger of a boat who by some foolish or mischievous pranks endangers both his own life and the lives of his fellow-passengers. He has shown at least egotistic indifference to vital purposes of others, if not actual desire to harm them. We all know from our own experience, how easily the undesirable consequences of another person's behavior, though quite accidental, or even his undeserved trouble, when it involves trouble for ourselves, are subjectively .interpreted as happening through his fault; and how often in the depths of our minds there lurks an unspoken accusation which subconsciously affects our social valuation, although we would readily admit its absurdity, if it were put into words: "that the fellow has done it to spite us".

The change from a positive to a negative tendency is thus always explicable by what is or seems to the subject to be a negative reaction instead of the positive one which in his own opinion he is entitled to expect. Popularly speaking, the law can be resumed by saying that a seemingly hostile response to a friendly tendency which expected a friendly response produces a hostile tendency.


Since an unexpected negative social reaction changes a positive social tendency into a negative tendency, it seems

(149) natural to suppose that an unexpected positive social reaction coming instead of an expected negative one will have the opposite effect and change an originally negative tendency into a positive one. It is strange that this problem has been relatively less investigated than that of negative change, though of equal practical importance. A successful general method of overcoming antagonistic tendencies between the members of a social group or between groups and of making them cooperate or consolidate should be certainly very useful in social life.

Of course, the thing has been done many times in particular situations and there is at least one very widely spread ethical principle which is clearly associated with a practical generalization of such processes, that is, the well-known precept of loving one's enemies and repaying evil with good, which is found not only in Christianity and Buddhism, but also in the moral reflection of all higher religions. The expectation implied in this rule that enemies may be thus made into friends and their desire to do evil changed into a desire to do good seems to rest upon a sound psychological foundation. The fact that the actual application of this precept does not always have the effect of changing hostility into sympathy and active friendship is not enough to invalidate its experimental basis, for there may be interfering factors, some of which can be certainly explained without difficulty by other laws. Thus, in societies imbued with the ethics of altruism, "doing good" is much more highly thought of than "doing evil", and the person who repays evil with good may acquire an attitude of self-sufficiency and superiority which is interpreted by the "enemy" as an attempt to humiliate him, to thwart his desire for recognition or for mastery, and therefore naturally counteracts the positive change which would otherwise be produced by the friendly response to Unfriendly behavior. The fact is that repeated, consistent and tactful positive

(150) reactions to negative tendencies have seldom failed in ultimately producing the desired effect. However, the process should be analyzed more closely.

Montaigne [7] quotes a number of historical or pseudo-historical examples showing how in some cases the wrath of a victor against a vanquished foe is mollified and changed into some positive tendency by submission, in other cases by a show of courage and of unrelenting pride. He draws his usual conclusion as to the variety and incalculability of human behavior and human nature. And yet it should be perfectly possible to reduce these apparently conflicting cases to a common basis by taking into consideration the actual tendency of the victors and the significance which the submission or the proud courage of the vanquished has from the victor's point of view in the different situations. Montaigne himself tries to do it in one case,— though with little success — in his explanation of the action of Alexander the Great.

Of course, we lack the historical data necessary to study in such a way the examples of Montaigne; but every one knows similar facts from personal observation, from reading biographies and autobiographies, or from works of fiction, which often contain more valuable, socio-psychological material than many a ponderous treatise of scientific psychology. A manifestation of submission on the part of the social object, when it comes before his resistance has been fully broken by the subject's own activity, appears to the latter as an unexpected positive reaction, if his tendency is the wish for mastery (desire for domination). The purpose of the wish for mastery is, in fact, to obtain submission, and until this is obtained the social object is a negative value, to be forced into submission by all moans which will break his resistance. Resistance is expected up to the end of the action, and resistance involves clearly

(151) a negative attitude on the part of the social object toward the subject's' activity. If now at a certain moment, instead of the expected further resistance, there comes voluntary submission, the latter appears as a positive reaction to the subject's desire for mastery. The effect is a change of the desire for mastery into a relatively positive social tendency — the specific variety of kindness which a superior feels towards the inferior who acknowledges his inferiority, and which seems to be a combination of the desire for recognition, pride and the desire for reciprocal sympathy. It is also evident that proud courage will not make a victor relent who is activated by the wish for mastery.

On the other hand, when the struggle on the part of the victor has been carried on under the influence of that sublimated form of the fighting impulse which is found in the so-called sportive spirit and in which the desire for victory involves the wish to excel in fighting rather than the wish to destroy the opponent, if the enemy shows himself "game" at a time when victory is assured and instead of the expected submission manifests a courageous decision to go on struggling, thus giving the victor an opportunity for a further display of his fighting power this reaction then takes in the subject's eyes the significance of an unexpected voluntary acceptance of the struggle desired, and thus acquires the character of a positive value. The effect is a reversion of the tendency, the appearance of a respectful sympathy; whereas no' such reversion would occur if the social object showed submission as soon as the victory was decided.

The situations which come under the concepts of "loving one's enemies" and "repaying evil with good" are nod always clear. The apparent change of a negative into a positive tendency after an act of the social object performed in accordance with these precepts may not be the outcome of a causal process, but merely the result of

(152) the actualization of a latent positive tendency which is perhaps a part of some other active system. The latter becomes fully conscious in connection with the act of the social object, whereas the preceding system which was activated by a negative tendency disappears temporarily or permanently from the center of attention. In other words, the same person may be in one connection a negative value, in another connection a positive value for the subject; the second connection may take the place of the first in actual consciousness owing to an act of this person which is perhaps associated with some positive past experience. In the same way, for instance, a broken friendship which has turned into enmity may be revived if the former friends find themselves together in circumstances which bring the past vividly before their eyes. This is not a case for causal explanation, since neither the mere actualization of a tendency outside of a closed system, nor even less the actualization. of a system can be a matter of scientific laws. We know from general psychology that data which have been associated together tend to provoke one another in consciousness; for the same reason if one element of a situation is actualized, other elements and the corresponding tendency are also likely to become actualized. But this is not a causal law, for it lacks all necessity; to explain exceptions from this rule, it would be indispensable to exhaust the entire conscious personality.

If, however, the change of tendencies here discussed really takes place within a closed system, a certain social action, it is always due to the fact that the person who is the object of an inimical or harmful action meets the subject half-way —and helps him realize his purpose —of course, against the subject's natural expectation of a negative (hostile or merely defensive) reaction. This is, for instance, the case of that saint who followed literally the

(153) precepts of the New Testament and when attacked by robbers not only yielded willingly everything he had upon his person, but remembering later that he had some money hidden ran after them and gave it to them with apologies for his forgetfulness, which is said to have touched them so much that it led to their final conversion.

Another instance is that of the magnanimous ruler who, on learning that one of his subjects hated him for some thwarted ambition and plotted his murder, not only fulfilled the ambition, but entrusted his person to his care, and by this behavior transformed him into a most faithful adherent. The behavior of social groups does not furnish many examples of such processes because a group, particularly in relation to other groups, seldom gives way to pure magnanimity and almost never subjects itself voluntarily to inimical or harmful action. Reversions of valuation are found with relative frequency only in active relations between a group and an individual; many cases are known where the hatred of a mob toward an individual was changed into the most fervid affection and admiration when the individual, though still endowed with power and obviously not forced to yield, met the demands of the mob half-way.

Thus, although the process of positive change is relatively less frequent than of negative change, both because its necessary condition — a positive reaction to a negative tendency — is not often realized and because even when it occurs many factors are apt to interfere with the effect, still when the process does happen, it follows the causal law of positive change which can be formulated as follows:

LAW 4. If a social action including a negative social tendency and the expectation of an intrinsically negative reaction of the social object meets with an unexpected intrinsically positive reaction of the latter, the negative tendency changes into a positive one.


Or, in more vague and popular terms: friendly response to a hostile tendency which expected a hostile response produces a friendly tendency.

Here again a reservation must be made: a positive tendency can originate from other sources than the one stated in this law. Leaving aside the facts of its spontaneous appearance or its actualization by association with other actual elements of a system, which have been discussed above, it may evidently develop out of another positive tendency. Thus, a positive tendency bearing upon a class may become particularized with regard to an individual who is assumed to belong to this class. For instance, in the course of the Bolshevik revolution, intellectuals threatened with death at the hands of a revolutionary mob were saved by persuading the latter that they were not bourgeois, but poor members of proletariat.


In studying the effects of social reaction coming from an unexpected quarter to interfere with the subject's activity, that is, from some individual or group who was not originally the object of the given action, we need not and should not limit ourselves to the consideration of activities which are originally social, having human beings as their objects. In as much as both the cause and the effect of social interference are social, that is, belong to the sphere of influences consciously exercised by human beings upon one another, the problem pertains to social psychology even when the action socially interfered with is hedonistic, economic, technical, religious, aesthetic or intellectual. This is the most important point of contact between social activities and other domains of human action, for precisely by reacting socially to non-social activities of their fellows men give a social sanction to practically

(155) all the cultural life of the members of concrete collectivities. Of course, outside social reactions to specifically social action belong here also, but only as a particular variation of a more general problem .[8]

The effects of outside social interference are, of course, essentially different when this interference has the character of an intrinsically negative social reaction than when it appears to the subject as intrinsically positive. We shall begin with the first problem.

Take a child who is starting to eat something which is not considered good for him. His action provokes a negative reaction on the part of his mother, who snatches away the dangerous food and perhaps spanks him in addition. The tendency to consume the forbidden delicacy may still strive for present satisfaction; but it is no longer the original, simply hedonistic desire. It acquires a new characteristic not merely because, as often asserted, the painful impression of the spanking becomes connected with the pleasant expectation of eating, but primarily because a social feature has been added: it is no longer a simple tendency to get food and avoid blows, but a tendency to do the action by which food will be obtained against the mother's will. The food has become "the delicacy which mother forbids"; and the desire is now "to eat the delicacy forbidden by mother", a desire which turns against the mother in precisely the same degree in which it turns towards the food. This social feature will be present whatever the outcome, whether the child resigns

(156) itself, or openly revolts against its mother, or tries to circumvent her reaction by secretly obtaining the delicacy in her absence.

A soldier boasts of his exploits before a civilian; his tendency is, of course, a desire for recognition. But along comes his comrade or his superior who witnessed the battle in question and saw the speaker cut a very different figure from the one presented in the story. A smile of derision stops the speaker; his desire for recognition, of which the civilian was the object, becomes complicated with a consciousness that his attempt to satisfy it has provoked ridicule in the man who knows the facts. The subject is conscious that his action is socially repressed; he may still tend to satisfy his desire for recognition, but this tendency now implies not only the purpose of provoking a positive response from the civilian, but, also that of actively disregarding or overcoming the negative reaction of the witness.

A wealthy landlord starts to evict from her lodging the poor widow of one of his old employees. The neighborhood is aroused; some men remonstrate and an influential lady cuts him in public. Usually such methods of social repression are successful, and the landlord gives up the attempt to gain economic profit by renting the lodging to a better paying tenant; but if he still continues his effort, the action assumes to himself and probably also to his milieu the character of a social defiance of his neighborhood.

A mob in some out-of-the way village starts to lynch a criminal. It is unexpectedly confronted by an armed police force dispatched by the local authorities. The act of lynching now becomes not a mere spontaneous desire to inflict just punishment upon the offender, but an open revolt against the representatives of the legal order, and will be successfully repressed or not according to the attitude of the mob towards organized political power.

(157) A parliamentary group has proposed a new law, which awakens a storm of protest when it is brought to public notice. If the parliamentary group believes that the views , and interests of the wide public are really opposed to its measure, but nevertheless continues to promote the original plan, its action assumes the character of an endeavor to establish arbitrary dictatorship by means of a political party.

The causal process remains essentially the same when the outside social interference does not actually occur, but is merely represented by the subject as imminent or possible, judging from his past experiences and observations. This is particularly evident when the negative outside reaction cannot occur in time to interfere with an action in the process of its realization, but will come afterwards in the shape of social punishment. A boy wishes to play with other boys on the street, but remembers that on a previous occasion he has been punished by his father for doing so. The father's negative reaction is now given to him in the same way as the wished—for result of his action — his playing with the other boys — is given, or "represented". The appearance of this additional element in the situation modifies the tendency; it is no longer a naive tendency to play, but a somewhat modified tendency to join the players against his father's order and by risking another negative social reaction from the father.

The business-man who wishes to make a "good stroke" may become conscious that such dealings as he plans are forbidden by law. The representation of the possible or probable reaction of the authorities and the public — which he knows from examples where other men did something similar — endows his economic action with the features of an illegal behavior to be pursued in open defiance or by underhand "crooked" means. A girl who feels the first vague stirrings of the sexual impulse in connection with . the attentions of a young man realizes that she is on the

(158) way to do something which her social milieu strongly represses; she knows it from the more or less definite warnings of her parents and teachers, — and also from the judgments which her environment has passed upon other girls who "did not behave properly". The new impulse appears thus as an impulse to do a socially prohibited action, which must be either checked or else satisfied furtively in implicit revolt against society.

After negative social interference has produced within a certain action the effect described in these examples, every subsequent reappearance of the tendency of this action will involve the consciousness that the action which it aims to perform is socially condemned and can be performed only at the cost of a hostile reaction from certain social agents. The child who knows that a particular action is forbidden by his parents has from the very begin. ping of this action the feeling of wishing to do something which his parents disapprove of; the girl who has once realized the nature of her sexual impulse and the social attitude toward the behavior to which it prompts her is immediately conscious on each appearance of this impulse of the socially reprehensible character of this behavior; the man who knows of some crooked business methods is well aware of their illegality when the tendency occurs to him to try them for his own benefit.

The term social repression is here used to express this negative social interference with the subject's action; whether the repression proves successful or not, that is, whether it stops the action or fails to do it, has evidently only a secondary significance. In any case, the effect of social repression is, as we have seen, a specific modification of the tendency of the action. This modification can be defined as a change from a tendency merely to obtain a certain social or non-social result by a certain action, into a tendency to perform this action by counteracting

(159) or disregarding the actual or possible opposition of some interfering individual or group. The original purpose was simply to achieve an expected result; the new purpose, whether conscious or unconscious, is to reach the expected result in spite of social opposition. Originally, the problem was only how to solve the situation once defined; the ` action was taken for granted. But now, in the face of social repression, the action as a whole, involving the very definition of the situation, has become a social problem. Except for another and conflicting action of the same subject — which will be discussed in a later chapter — nothing but the opposition of an interfering conscious being could make the action as such problematic. No reaction on the part of the social object could have this effect, for the object is expected to react; and though his reaction may be different in quality than was expected, it can only affect the subject's valuation of him, and does not raise any new social problem with regard to the action as such. A mere material obstacle could not have this effect; it might check temporarily or permanently the attempts to solve the situation, but the intention of performing the action, if the situation should prove practically soluble, would remain untouched. Whereas when another conscious individual or group takes a negative attitude towards the very intention of the subject to perform the action, if the subject still means to perform it he can do so only by taking a stand against this negative appreciation of his action.In view of the fact that the tendency as modified by social repression is opposed to the social attitude of the repressing individual or group, we may say that it is antisocial. The term has here, of course, the purely relative significance of conflicting with somebody's social appreciation; but this is the only significance justified by the facts. There are hardly any tendencies absolutely anti-

(160) -social, that is, conflicting with the will of "society in general". Still less is it possible to use "anti-social" in the sense of essentially detrimental to social life; for nobody can tell in a general way what tendencies are detrimental to social life. The usefulness or harmfulness of social tendencies depends on the standards applied and on the circumstances in which these tendencies manifest themselves; there may be many cases in which social harmony is detrimental, and social conflict useful. Usually, of course, the interfering human beings are or represent the agent's social milieu, which controls his behavior as a matter of course, and the anti-social tendency really conflicts then with the will of "society" in the limited and special sense of that social group of which the agent is permanently or temporarily a member.

The anti-social tendency is thus distinguished from positive and negative social tendencies, on the one hand, and from a-social tendencies — hedonistic, economic, artistic, intellectual, etc. — on the other hand. A socially positive, a socially negative, or an a-social tendency becomes anti-social if the action to which it tends is subjected to social repression. On the ground of the preceding examples and discussion, the law of social repression can be induced.

LAW 5. If an action is socially repressed by a negative reaction of an individual or group not the original object of the action, the original tendency (positive, negative, or a-social) becomes anti-social.

Popularly, though not quite exactly, we may simply say that social repression produces psychological revolt.

The usual theory of the process of repression seems to be very different from the one here proposed. It is believed that the act of repression normally provokes another tendency, the wish to avoid the unpleasant experience of being subjected to repression; and that between this new

(161) tendency and the original tendency, which remains the same as it was, there is a conflict which may resolve itself either in the suppression of one of these tendencies resignation of the original purpose or overcoming the fear of repression — or else in a compromise between them, such as doing the forbidden action but avoiding repression by some new way of behaving. This interpretation has its origin in the old hedonistic theory of behavior according to which all activity is directed by the desire to obtain pleasure and avoid pain, and any conflict between two possible ends is settled by striking a balance between the hedonistic values available in each eventuality. As a matter of fact, however, in the case of social interference with the subject's action there are no two desires and no two ends. One tendency and one purpose remain after the interference just as before, but qualified now by the hostile social reaction which has been provoked. The situation is different from what it was before this reaction appeared (actually or in imagination), but is it always one situation; the subject wishes to realize his purpose, but sees this wish opposed. There is a conflict, indeed, not between two actions or tendencies of the same subject, but between the tendency of the subject and the attitude manifested by the interfering individual or group. It is a social, no a psychological conflict.

Of course, the subject may consider whether he will go on with the action or not, and he may accept some one of the three possible methods of solution mentioned above, varying his behavior to suit the conditions. But his consideration is not an attempt to balance pleasure and pain; it is an effort to define in a new way the situation which has been changed by social interference. What the final decision will be depends primarily on the relative importance which the interference has in the eyes of the subject when combined with other elements of the

(162) situation: the originally expected result, the object of the action, the instrumental process, eventually the reflected self. The interference will vary in relative significance according to the sources from which it comes, its form, its physical efficacy, the appreciation it manifests of the subject's personality, etc. The problem is very complex, and it is not our present task to follow and to compare the innumerable possible ways in which concrete social subjects interpret it.

The main points are: first, that whatever definition of the new situation the subject finally reaches, the tendency is no longer what it was, though the action may go on; secondly, that this changed tendency does not disappear even though the original action be discontinued —repression never leads to suppression. The tendency is no longer what it was precisely because the interference is not a mere painful experience like hitting one's toe, but somebody's social behavior introducing into the action the element of the social valuation of this action. As we have seen from the above illustrations, a tendency to perform an action which the subject knows to be negatively valued by a social observer is different from a tendency to which no such knowledge is attached. This new characteristic is felt even if the opposition has been overruled; it is counterbalanced only if the tendency ceases to be anti-social by being approved by some other, perhaps wider social milieu than that which condemned the action.

After the many subtle and profound studies of repressed tendencies by the Freudian school, it is hardly necessary to emphasize that the tendency does not disappear even if the action stops. Perhaps it would be worth while in such studies to take more into account the specific socio-psychological aspect of repressed tendencies — the implicit and sometimes explicit antagonism which subsists toward the social agents of repression. Though the individual may not acknowledge to himself the anti-social bearing of

(163) his repressed tendencies and even seem to share the point of view of the repressing milieu, the lurking hostility which often breaks out suddenly into open revolt against the interfering powers may be discovered by an exact analysis of the mental troubles resulting from thwarted wishes and may even be sufficiently manifest to the casual observer.


Positive social interference with an action can take many forms, ranging from simple approval to full cooperation. Just as negative interference, it may arise in the very course of the action or come afterwards. In the latter case it has, of course, .no direct effect on the past performance; but if the action is repeated, the memory, of the social reaction which was provoked at a former time and experienced or observed by the subject comes as a new element into the situation and influences causally the course of activity in a more or less similar way as an actual reaction. Furthermore, a modification once produced in the active system remains a permanent characteristic of this. system and manifests itself every time the system is reproduced by the subject. Knowing all this, we do not need to distinguish many possibilities, as we did in studying the preceding process; one series of cases will suffice for the purposes of scientific induction.

It is essential that positive social interference in order to produce its effect should appear to the subject as a social reaction of an individual or group not originally selected as social object of the action. It is essential further that this reaction should show or seem to show a positive attitude toward the action of the subject. This means that, if the outside individual or group for his own purposes happens to modify the conditions of the subject's action without any seeming intention of approving or assisting the

(164) subject's performance, this modification, however desirable it may prove practically, does not possess the character of a positive social reaction.

Whoever sees a boy performing some feat of daring or a girl playing with her doll, cannot fail to notice the rapid change which comes into their behavior as soon as they notice that their action is observed and approved by some one. It seems that self-consciousness is not necessarily involved — if by self-consciousness is meant some idea, however vague, of the subject's personality as the subject believes or feels it viewed and appreciated by others. Mr. Cooley's subtle analysis of the self has helped much to remove definitely from social psychology the mysticism which enveloped this concept in older philosophic psychology; and yet, he still ascribes to it a wider sphere of existence than it seems actually to possess. The consciousness that the action I am performing is observed and appraised by somebody else is still far removed from the consciousness that I am observed and appraised myself.

Of course, the action I am performing is radically different to me from somebody else's action, has that specific actuality, interest, nearness, warmth of feeling connected with it which other people's activity can hardly ever acquire in my eyes. There is no doubt either that my self-consiousness does arise from a gradual socio-psychological synthesis of my actions and my values as they appear when viewed by others and in contrast to the actions and values of others. But the fact that my action has this specific character does not mean yet that there is any, however vague consciousness of the self attached to or implied in it, that I should know or feel in some way that the action is mine Animals are manifestly susceptible to the observation and appraisal of their behavior by others, and yet it would be hardly justifiable to call them even rudimentarily self-conscious.

(165) It is, therefore, necessary for the sake of exactness to distinguish between the consciousness of the subject's particular actions as viewed by others and the consciousness of the subject's self. The former appears rather early, under the influence of social interference with the subject's activity; the latter develops relatively late, under many complex influences, and involves a reflective reconstruction of that social structure which the subject's milieu has gradually formed about him. In order to fix this distinction in terminology, we might perhaps speak of self-conscious actions and of self-conscious tendencies as against selfconscious subjects.

The change which the child's action undergoes under approving observation is primarily, just as in the case of social repression, a change of the tendency; instead of aiming naively and directly as its purpose, as formerly, it becomes indirect, aiming at the original purpose only through the medium of a new purpose which has a social significance. The subject who knows his action to be approved now wishes to perform it not only in order to obtain the originally expected result, but also because the action as such has become a positive value for somebody and he wishes it to remain so. The action has acquired a new dignity which it did not possess before and the tendency aims to preserve and increase this dignity; it is a tendency to perform the action as a socially approved one, to be in harmony with the positive social reaction which it has provoked.

Social imitation has the same effect when it implies a desire to perform the same activity as the subject because this activity seems valuable. The individual in a crowd who, having begun to applaud a speaker or to run away from a supposed danger, sees others join him in his applause or his flight, acquires thereby the feeling that his action has a social validity which it would not have possessed

(166) if he had performed it alone. If he had any doubt before as to the way he has defined the situation, the doubt disappears and sometimes even the original purpose fades away before the social importance of the action itself by which the purpose was to be reached.

This change of the tendency under the influence of imitation explains the well-known fact that the behavior of the individual in a crowd possesses a subjective certainty and decisiveness which is often entirely unwarranted by the objective conditions. It is not, as some social psychologists assert, that the individual on seeing others behave in a particular way implicity supposes that they have an objective reason for doing so, and finds therein the reason for his own behavior; this would require a process of logical induction hardly possible to reconcile with the irrational character of mob behavior. Retrospectively the individual sometimes tries to explain to himself the unreasoned decisiveness of his action by such considerations. But if this interpretation were true, then certainty and decisiveness of action should be the most pronounced in those who are the last to follow the crowd, for they act on the example of all the others, which should make the objective reason for doing what everybody else is doing appear particularly strong. Whereas, on the contrary, the decisiveness of action and the consciousness of its rightness are more emphatic among those who first perform the action and see the others follow.

The effects of positive social interference are, of course, particularly clear when this interference has been consistently and repeatedly` exerted with regard to a certain type of actions by the social group to which the individual subject belongs. These actions which the group appreciates positively as "good" possess a specific social dignity which makes the subject willing to perform them not only for the sake of their results, but as valuable for their own

(167) sake. Similarly, acts of leadership, individual actions in which other members of the group join in imitative cooperation, become .thereby exalted in the eyes of the subject, whatever may be their particular purpose. The feeling of righteousness of the "good man" and the feeling of moral responsibility of the leader are well-known manifestations of this attitude toward one's own behavior which is induced from the active positive interference of the group. The development of this attitude can be studied in the numerous instances furnished by pedagogical, biographical and autobiographical literature. We always find essentially the same process underlying the many variations: some of the actions spontaneously performed by an individual meet with the approval of parents, teachers, friends or casual observers, or are imitated by his fellows, and from that time on their continuation or repetition shows the social modification of the tendency.

As in the case of negative interference, however, there is always only one tendency, not a combination of the original tendency and of another one. It is one and the same performance which is at first naive and absorbed in the expected result, but later becomes conscious of its social dignity and intent upon maintaining this dignity. There are, indeed, complex activities where two distinct actions are performed and two distinct tendencies are at work, one subordinated to the other, as when an individual wishing for social recognition performs a feat which is apt to gain it for him, and later on or at intervals during this performance does something to attract attention to his feat. The purpose is then not merely to do the socially valuable action, but to do the action and to gain thereby social recognition. Such cases must be sharply distinguished from those we are investigating here, for social recognition may be gained not only by performing an action, but by showing off a value belonging to the

(168) social personality, a part or property of the reflected self. Moreover, an action which has once acquired in the eyes of the subject a social dignity may be performed afterwards for its own sake, even if no positive social reaction to it is actually expected; whereas a subject who wants social recognition will not do the action by which the latter can be gained unless he hopes to attract the attention of others to it.

In the further development of the "good man" or the leader there often comes a moment when the subject no longer merely repeats actions which have already been positively interfered with by his milieu, or which he has seen positively appreciated when performed by others, but tries to obtain positive social appreciation or imitative cooperation for acts which have been either unappreciated or unknown up to then. In short, he experiments in social reactions, and this experimentation, which cannot be studied here, is the mainspring of social progress and the source of the social influence of leading personalities.

The collective behavior of social groups shows also many clear cases of the effects of positive interference. Particularly interesting are those in which a special function performed by a smaller group within a wider community is positively valued by the latter. The social dignity which professional activities acquire in the eyes of organized professional bodies is a good illustration. Each individual member of such a professional body has two source from which to draw the consciousness of the social importance of his professional actions: one is the approval of his fellows; the other, the appreciation and eventually the imitative cooperation of the wider social milieu.

Since owing to positive social interference with the action the latter becomes exalted in the eyes of the subject, acquires the dignity of a socially valuable, "meritorious" action, we may call this whole process a process of social

(169) sublimation. The tendency which has become socially sublimated as part of the sublimated action may be called a socially conforming or, if such an adjective be permissible, conformist tendency. Whereas originally it aimed simply to reach a certain result by a certain action, through social sublimation. it has become a tendency to conform to social valuations by doing the action which the agent's social milieu appreciates positively. Of course; the conformism of sublimated tendencies must be taken in a relative sense, just as the anti-social character of repressed tendencies. There are no absolutely conformist tendencies, only tendencies conforming to the valuations of some particular milieu; and there may be many different and independent milieux to which a subject adapts his behavior. Sublimation due to the positive interference of some individuals or groups may be counteracted by repression due to the negative interference of other individuals or groups.

The law of social sublimation can be thus stated in the following terms:

LAW 6. If an action is socially sublimated by a positive social reaction on the part of an individual or group not the original object of this action, the original tendency (positive, negative or a-social) becomes a conformist tendency.

Briefly and popularly speaking, social sublimation produces psychological conformism.

The use of the term sublimation in this sense is, of course, somewhat divergent from the meaning which has been given to it by Freud and his school. Freud discribes the process indicated by this term in the following way: "The sexual tendency resigns its purpose directed toward some partial pleasure or the pleasure of propagation, and accepts another purpose, which is genetically connected with the one it has resigned, but which by itself must be named no longer sexual but social. We call this process

(170) 'sublimation', in accordance with the general valuation which puts social ends higher than essentially egotistic sexual ends. Sublimation is, however, only a particular case among those in which sexual impulses seek a support for themselves in other, non-sexual ones".[9] In this definition not only is the term "sublimation" restricted unwarrantedly to one category of actions, but several, essentially distinct processes are mixed together. One is the process for which the term sublimation is here reserved, that is, the process by which an "egotistic" purpose is changed into a social purpose — this use of the term being justified not merely by the fact that social purposes are generally more highly considered than egotistic ones, but also by the fact that in the eyes of the subject himself the socially approved action stands higher than one lacking this approval. Other processes covered by Freud's definition of "sublimation" will be studied later on under the chapter on "idealization" and "rationalization". The Freudian school, which has studied so thoroughly the effects of social repression, has not given proper attention to sublimation, and in particular has failed to subject the facts which it groups together under this term to an exact causal analysis. [10]

Nearly all human actions may be socially sublimated in the way described above. Sexual activities have undergone social sublimation without losing their hedonistic purposes, but by subordinating them to social valuation in marriage and in certain relations of the demi-monde; the sublimation of eating and drinking is seen in public festivals;

(171) fighting is sublimated in war and sport; economic activities in socially regulated forms of trade; the search for solitude in mediaeval and Eastern anchoritism; finally, any activity may undergo social sublimation by being expressed in play or in art.

It is evident from these examples that sublimation is an important factor not only in developing tendencies which the social group considers desirable in all their manifestations, but also in giving a socially permissible outlet to tendencies whose active expression in most cases is considered bad or dangerous. While certain active manifestations of the sexual impulse, the fighting tendency and the desire for gain are socially repressed, other classes of actions with the same original tendencies are approved, and this approval is often generalized and stabilized by positive social regulation raising such actions to the dignity of institutions. The same original tendency when manifesting itself in a forbidden action becomes anti-social; whereas if it flows into established and positively sanctioned channels it acquires the character of social conformism. Social sublimation is thus usually a counterpart of social repression. Its importance as safety-valve for thwarted instincts is limited, however, for all it does is to diminish the opportunities for repression by making it unnecessary in all those cases when an action can be incorporated into an institutional system.


  1. See for many concrete illustrations Thomas and Znaniecki, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America.
  2. Cf. several good concrete examples in Aubry, La contagion du meurtre, Paris, Alcan, The sexual impulse appears sometimes, in pathological cases, connected with the desire to inflict suffering; but we are considering. here only the usual case, where the original tendencies accompanying the sexual impulse are positive.
  3. Principles of Social Psychology, New York 1923, passim.
  4. Activité mentale, p. 375.
  5. Ibidem, 384.
  6. Many examples of this have been collected by Lévy-Bruhl is his book La mentalité primitive, Paris, Alcan.
  7. Essais.
  8. The apparent effect of outside interference is sometimes complicated in social actions by the fact that the object of the action is a person or a group which can be assimilated to the interfering one as belonging to ;the same class, and thus the latter is not treated as an outsider, but as the social object itself. For instance, an unknown man who interferes in a fight is apt to betaken for an enemy by the combatant whose activity he attempts to check, and the hostile tendency will then be extended to him.
  9. Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die Psychoanalyse. Leipzig—Vienna 1916, p. 398.
  10. Since before Freud used the term it was employed in French psychology (for instance, by Tarde) in a sense more approaching ours, there can hardly be any objection against our deviating from the Freudian meaning. However, to avoid all misunderstandings, we shall always qualify sublimation in our sense by the adjective "social".

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