Social Psychology

Chapter 3: Fundamental Activities — Inherited and Learned

Floyd Henry Allport

Table of Contents | Next | Previous


The Origin of Fundamental Activities. Having traced in outline the mechanism employed in human behavior, there now lies before us the problem of describing and explaining, in the terms of that mechanism, the characteristic activities of life. There are certain broad and unvarying types of response, serving as imperative forces in the individual and social life of man, with which the analysis must begin. We must seek, for example, to understand why the young man learns a trade, marries, and settles down to domestic life; why the scholar and the statesman toil unceasingly for fame; why we become angry at a man who insults us or who abuses his horse; why we shrink from the sight of blood and hurry breathlessly through strange, dark places; why the boy loves to chase a squirrel; why the magnate by a shrewd deal `corners' an industry; why the laborer participates in a strike riot; and why a mother will drudge and slave that her son may go to college. Actions of this sort challenge our neurological formulae. They not only lead back to something original and fundamental in human nature, but also point to a superstructure of attainment by hand and brain. They measure both the height and the depth of man. In behavior of this type two classes of activities can be recognized, those which have been inherited and those which have been learned by the individual. It is difficult in a given case clearly to distinguish between these two; and there is a wide difference of opinion as to their relative importance. Those who believe strongly in the inherited factors maintain that the mother has an inborn tendency to love and protect her offspring, or at lust to protect small, defenseless creatures; that through certain neural dispositions; or coordinations of reflex arcs, laid down by heredity, we respond to strange and dangerous situations by avoidance, to small moving objects such as game by pursuit, to a chosen member

(43) of the opposite sex by lover-like behavior, to the sight of suffering by sympathy, to the thwarting of our endeavors by fighting, and to the sight of valued objects by seizing, `cornering,' and hoarding. Such innate neural coordinations are termed instincts. They are more highly integrated than simple innate reflexes such as yawning, breathing, and crying; and they serve the purpose, implanted in the race through evolution, of adapting the individual to the more complex and significant features of the environment.

The explanation advanced by those who favor the hypothesis of learning restricts the role of inheritance to far simpler terms, and interprets these complex and purposeful integrations of reflexes as habits. Maternal behavior, for example, may be ascribed to an association formed between the child as a stimulus and the pleasant organic responses and sentiments connected with the husband, the home life, the plans for the future, the fondling and nursing of the infant, and the attitude of society toward the maternal relation. Again, our avoidance of a dangerous object may be due to a reaction of withdrawing from injury which has become associated by experience with the sight of the object which inflicts such injury. Learning would be, according to this view, a more acceptable explanation than that of an `instinct of flight.' Flight, moreover, is possible only after the acquisition of the habits of walking and running, just as the shrewd deal of the financier is possible only because of his acquired knowledge of the market and the laws of exchange.

Instinct and habit are therefore clearly reciprocal in explanatory value. That which is ascribed to one must be denied the other; hence it is necessary to establish, in general terms at least, some tentative demarcation. Our aim in the present chapter will be to determine: (1) what instinctive coordinations of reflexes really exist; (2) how, using these coordinations as a basis, the individual builds up systems of habit and intelligent behavior; and (3) the significance of the Social environment ill this process of modification.

The Criteria of Instinct. We must first examine the grounds upon which fundamental activities are alleged to be instinctive. One of these is universality of occurrence among the members of

(44) the species. This criterion is open to serious objection inasmuch as the young of the species are universally submitted to the same class of environmental influences. Even among birds certain traits formerly thought to be instinctive have been discovered to arise from the `social tradition' taught by the behavior of the parentis to each generation. In order to prove a reaction to be innate, we must establish the fact that in the process of attaining its present development no necessary part has been played by learning through experience. If the response appeared at the moment of birth, its innate character (barring a limited amount of intrauterine habit formation) would be incontestable. Birth, however, is but one event in a long period of development which begins at conception and extends far into active life. It is therefore theoretically admissible that traits of behavior which make their first appearance during infancy, childhood, or youth may result from the `ripening' or maturing of truly innate coordinations of reflexes, and not from experience. We may call this view the maturation hypothesis. An experiment has been performed in which several swallows were placed, as soon as hatched, in a cage so small as to prevent attempts at flight. At the age at which swallows are usually able to fly, they were liberated. Some of them at once flew off quite successfully.[1] Although not altogether convincing in certain respects, this experiment illustrates the possibilities involved in maturation without the aid of use. Since practically all the asserted instincts (such as flight, attack, parental and sex behavior, hunting, hoarding, constructing, and the like) first appear long after birth, it is obvious that the instinct theory rests its case upon the hypothesis of maturation. We are led, therefore, to a consideration of the evidence for and against this hypothesis.

Post-Natal Development of Structure. No one would consider the structures which underlie behavior to be fully formed in the newborn infant. There is no response to sound for the first few days. Color vision is still longer deferred. The protective wink reflex, laughing, and other facial expressions require weeks for development. Voluntary control of the bladder is not attained until after the first year. Development of this nature, however,

(45) pertains largely to the terminal organs, the receptors and effectors, such as the eye, the ear, and the facial and sphincter muscles. In themselves these tardily appearing reactions afford little definite evidence regarding maturation at the synapses. The receptors and effectors operating in sexual activities provide a striking example of late development in terminal structures.

There is, however, an unquestioned developmental growth in the central nervous system, subsequent to birth. Considerable areas of the brain (for example, the association centers) are in the newborn infant histologically incomplete. The rich arborizations of axone and dendrite are undeveloped; and a vast number of synaptic connections of the future are not yet structurally possible. The progress which follows this infantile condition is to be regarded, however, as a general, rather than a specific, ripening of neuronic connections. There is nothing to indicate a maturing of special paths of lowered synaptic resistance between receptor and effector. It is a process of growth which makes all types of reaction structurally possible, but favors the establishment of none more than others.

Experimental evidence bearing on this point is provided by a study of the pecking response of chicks.[2] The attempts of newly hatched chicks to seize grains of wheat are, on the first day after hatching, very awkward and ineffective, an average of only fifteen per cent of `perfect trials' (that is, attempts consummated by swallowing) being achieved. On the fifth day of practice, however, the perfect trials were found to average seventy-two per cent, and on the fifteenth day, eighty-four per cent. It was decided to investigate whether this rapid increase in efficiency was due to the maturation of a `pecking instinct' or to the perfection of a habit through practice. The method used was to start the pecking experiments with groups of chicks of later ages and compare the results with those obtained from the group beginning their attempts on the second day of active life. One group was given its first trials on the fourth day, one group on the fifth day, and one on the sixth day. Between their hatching and the day their pecking trials began the chicks were kept in a dark place and given no opportunity

(46) to peck. The average accomplishments of the groups for each day's trials are shown by the curves in Figure 9. The horizontal axis indicates the day of life, and the vertical axis the number of perfect trials made out of the total of fifty trials given each day. It will be seen that the improvement curves of the three groups of delayed chicks have two significant features. (1) In the first fifty trials

Figure 9 Curves Showing the Effect of Artificial Delays upon the Development of the Pecking Response in Chicks

(first day's practice) the older birds were unable to score a greater number of perfect responses than were the birds who began to peck the day after hatching. In some cases the delayed groups were actually less effective in the first trials than the undelayed. (2) There was a much more rapid improvement among the delayed groups, so that in a few days they overtook and even surpassed the progress made by the chicks who had practiced from the start.

On the one hand, the results of this experiment discredit, for the activity concerned, the theory of the specific maturation of an instinct, and show the necessity of practice as in all habit formation. The low beginning and improvement of the delayed groups show

(47) that in their case, as in the case of the undelayed, the response of pecking had to be learned. On the other hand, the capacity of the more mature chicks for more rapid learning indicates that they were able to profit in forming the pecking habit by a greater general development of neurones, synapses, receptors, and effectors than existed in the birds one day of age.[3] The conclusions drawn from this experiment are no doubt pertinent to the development of the human being. It is generally futile to attempt instructing a child to talk or to walk before the age of twelve months. Not long after that time, however, there begins a surprising progress in the acquisition not only of locomotion and speech, but also of a more dextrous manipulation (for example, self-feeding), of control of the emissive functions, and of general comprehension of objects and situations. Curves of learning could be plotted for these activities quite comparable to the rapidly rising curves of the `matured' chicks. Synchronous development along these many lines is certainly more intelligible if conceived as a diversity of habits made possible of acquisition by general neuronic development, than if regarded as a number of specific, innate, neural coordinations which all happen to mature at about the same time.

Maturation versus Learning in the Analysis of an Activity. General assumptions aside, if we observe the progress of the infant in any particular activity, we shall probably find that it develops by a coordination of simpler part movements in a way that suggests learning. Such partial activities, for example, in walking (which is often alleged to be an instinct) include kicking, pushing with the feet, holding the back erect, crawling, acquiring tonus of trunk and limbs in standing, stepping with support, and standing alone. These part responses are themselves made up of crude innate reflexes perfected and rendered serviceable by practice, and they appear in sequence throughout the first twelve to fifteen months. Suddenly one day the baby affords its parents a delightful surprise by taking a half-dozen steps all alone. In some way an integration of the component movements is accomplished. Far from being an un-

(48) usual process, however, this sudden integration is a familiar experience in all complex forms of learning. In learning to swim, pole-vault, ride a bicycle, and play the jew's-harp, we spend considerable time in practicing the stroke, the position of the hands and feet, and other details, without being able to do the thing itself. Then we suddenly succeed in integrating these components and mastering the whole act in one or two trials; and the rest is merely a matter of perfecting the performance. This process is popularly known as "getting the knack" of a thing. Learning to walk seems to be closely analogous to learning these other feats of skill. In such a case we should no more speak of the maturation of the instinct to walk than of the maturation of a bicycling or a jew's-harping instinct.

Conclusions: The Need of Genetic Study in the Determination of Instinct. Although the foregoing observations by no means prove that no genuine case of maturation of inherited reflex patterns exists, they show that such an assumption rests upon a speculative basis. Post-natal development may be interpreted as a general growth process facilitating the formation of habits, rather than a process of maturation of instincts. Fundamental and early responses of a complex type, moreover, lend themselves to plausible explanation by the laws of learning. In order to merit substitution for learning and habit as an explanation of the tardy appearance of alleged instinctive activities, the maturation hypothesis should be at least as well founded on fact as the process of habit formation. This it clearly is not.[4]

Our efforts thus far to establish a reliable criterion of the innate and acquired factors have been without avail. The reason is not far to seek. We have begun by considering the activities in question in their fully fledged state. This is the wrong end of the proc-

(49) -ess. By the very intent to study that which we call an `instinct,' we immediately cut off from our view the life history which lies behind that activity, and which affords the only means of disentangling the component strands of heredity and environmental influence. We must begin our study at the threshold of life, with only the equipment possessed by the newborn infant, and seek in this beginning and the events which follow the origin of the fundamental activities.


Reflexes involved in Fundamental Activities. The behavior repertory of the newborn infant seems at first acquaintance a random, poorly coordinated, and unadapted affair. Yet under careful observation there will be recognized certain adaptive responses of profound significance in directing future development. In order to appreciate these reactions we may recall the experiments of Professor Sherrington upon the `spinal dog,' an animal whose nervous mechanism had been reduced to spinal reflexes by severing the cord at the base of the brain.[5] To a pin-prick upon the bottom of the foot this simple nervous system responded by jerking the foot upward away from the stimulus. This adaptive reaction, moreover, prevailed when other stimuli were competing with the injury to the foot for the determination of the final common path. Both the scratch reflex, elicited ordinarily by tickling the shoulder, and the reflexes maintaining the posture of the limbs, were inhibited in favor of the withdrawing response. Nocuous, or harmful objects, therefore, coming into contact with the receptors (‘noci-ceptive' or pain end organs) of the body, evoke reflexes which are imperative in their action, protective or adaptive in their effect, and prepotent in their ascendance over other stimuli in controlling the final common path. There are also prepotent reflexes, such as sex responses, which are accompanied by conscious pleasure rather than pain. In the male frog during the breeding season the response of clasping the female is so powerful that the transection of his spinal cord above and below the shoulders fails to loosen his embrace.


The human being has inherited a number of prepotent reflexes which are fundamental not only in their original potency, but in the control which they exert over habit formation throughout life. Ultimately, as well as genetically, they are prepotent. Most of these reflexes are functional at birth; one, the sensitive zone reflex, appears in early infancy; while the sex activities alone require a considerable period for the development of the structures concerned. We may recognize six important classes of human prepotent reflexes:

It should be emphasized that each of these activities comprises, not a single reflex, but a large group of effector movements occurring upon the application of the appropriate stimulus. In the following discussion the singular form will be used solely for convenience. The reflexes of any prepotent group include responses in the visceral as well as the somatic, or skeletal, effectors. We shall be concerned at present only with the somatic portion of the response, that which deals with the external, environmental situation. The visceral effects, which are the basis of emotion, will be discussed in the next chapter. In some of the prepotent reflexes the afferent (sensory) terminals are somatic, as in the case of withdrawing; in some they are visceral, as in the hunger and sex reactions.

I. STARTING AND WITHDRAWING. The response of starting may be produced in the newborn infant by removal of support, loud sounds, a sudden tug or push when drowsy, and immersion in water. Jerking movements of the head, arms, and legs, changes in respiration, puckering of the mouth, and crying result from these stimulations.[6] There is some doubt as to the time of appearance

(51) of the withdrawing reflex, such as that of retracting the hand or foot from a harmful stimulus. It probably exists in a crude form at. a very early age if not, in fact, at birth. In parts less readily withdrawn a nocuous stimulus produces a restless random movement which is kept up until the body is removed from the harmful contact. With practice these simple mechanisms soon develop into complex and effective habits (sometimes called `instincts') of flight and escape. Turning the head so that the nostrils will not be buried in the pillow, and blinking at objects threatening the face (at about one hundred days of age) are examples of special withdrawing responses. The latter is connected in older children with retreating movements of the head and body.

The withdrawing reflex as congenitally exhibited is, like all prepotent reflexes, remarkable in two ways: (1) It is evoked only by stimulation of an extremely simple type. (2) It is crude in the manner in which it is carried out. Subsequent development then must proceed along these two lines, the afferent and the efferent. We shall discuss them in order.

1. The Afferent Modifications. The baby under a year of age does not withdraw from the sight of fire or the dark, or from animals which would arouse fear in an older child.[7] Complex stimuli, or situations requiring experience in order to convey a meaning of danger to the individual, have no congenital stimulating value, but only simple stimuli of unusual intensity (for example, loud sounds), and suddenness, or piercing, burning, and other destructive agents. Thus the degree of energy of the stimulus and the powerful effect of nocuous stimulation upon neuron and synapse are the hereditary determiners of the withdrawing reaction —  not the awareness of danger nor the inborn cognition of an hereditary peril .[8] The first

(51) problem, therefore, in the development of the reflex is to understand the process by which other stimuli, and stimuli more complex than the original, acquire the power of evoking the response. The theory of maturation we have found to be insufficiently established; environmental factors and learning through experience must therefore be called into account.

An explanation fortunately is at hand in the law of the conditioned response (p. 39). An originally inadequate stimulus, if given at the same time as the biologically adequate stimulus, will, after sufficient repetitions, suffice of itself to call forth the characteristic response. An illustration will show the operation of this law in the development of the withdrawing reflexes. The writer's son at the age of fourteen months was pursuing his ball which had rolled under a radiator. In reaching for it he burned his fingers and quickly withdrew his hand. A few days later he started again to reach for a toy which he had lost in the same manner when he suddenly looked at the radiator and drew back. His mother watching the process repeated the word `hot' emphatically several times. After a few similar experiences the child learned to withdraw from any object at the sound of the spoken word. The response had been transferred, first, from the primitive pain receptors stimulated by heat to the sight (visual stimulus) of the radiator, and, secondly, to the auditory stimulus of the word `hot.'

In the same manner the withdrawing reactions of the child come through his experience and the social influence to be transferred to a considerable range of objects. In many cases the conditioned response is established by using language (verbally represented situations, accounts of dangers fancied or real) in order to evoke the original reaction. The name of the dangerous place or object would then, as the conditioning stimulus, be responded to by the withdrawing response which followed the original, verbally presented, situation. Through this substitution of language for the

(53) actual stimuli in behavior, the social influence is able to extend the principle of conditioning to a far-reaching education and control of the individual. The withdrawing tendencies evoked may be attached foolishly, and by arbitrary conduct of the elders, to such benign situations as the dark, `haunted houses,' and special articles of food; or wisely to the real perils of life, such as fire, high places, sharp instruments, and wild animals.

The withdrawing and avoiding responses are subject to conditioning for the social as well as for the individual good. There is profound psychology in the proper administration of punishment. If the year-old baby has its fingers rapped each time it scratches at its parent's face, the response of withdrawing the hand from the painful chastisement will soon become attached to the sight of that erstwhile interesting countenance. And so at a later age with the correction of trespassing, stealing, and other anti-social acts. Susceptibility to scorn and the tendency to shun social disfavor have even greater force as determiners of the withdrawing responses. Deprivation of pleasure serves a similar purpose. On the whole the part played by the social influence in modifying the afferent side of the withdrawing and other prepotent reflexes is one of the most important chapters of social psychology.

2. The Efferent Modifications. The training of the individual must provide not only for conditioning of the withdrawal reflex by appropriate stimuli, but also for a refinement and specialization of the act of withdrawing itself. The prepotent reflexes, as previously stated, consist of large groups of allied reactions, somatic and visceral. Efferent development is a process of selecting from among the group those movements which are most effective in carrying out the function of the reflex; that is, in this case, removing the body from the offending stimulus. Whenever a new type of withdrawal act is learned, the original stock of movements from which the selection is made includes not only original reflexes, but also previously acquired habits representing more complex coordinations. . Thus flight is a motor development of the withdrawing reflex which involves successively higher integrations of habits, such as averting the body, creeping, walking, and running. Concealment, considered an instinct by some writers, is also a habit based upon trial-and-

(54) error learning. When the little girl puts her head under the bed-clothing, the flash of lightning is no longer seen; that is, her visual receptors have been withdrawn from a stimulus which, either through its intensity or through information received about it, is an adequate producer of the withdrawing reaction. True concealment is a similar forestalling of possible contact with the avoided object. It is a withdrawal in advance. In the history of mankind withdrawal from the cold and other inclemencies of nature has led to the extensive acquisition of habits of providing clothing and shelter, habits which have been learned through social continuity by succeeding generations. Behavior which we term modesty is clearly the result of training and not of instinct. It arises from the formation of specialized habits of withdrawal from the gaze or presence of others when nude or under other special conditions. Language and the disapproving behavior of parents and others upon occasions of improper exposure are the primary withdrawal stimuli whose response soon becomes conditioned by the exposure itself. Through a wider and subtler process of language-conditioning the retirement reaction of modesty becomes linked with the `exposure' of one's personal qualities and merits. The emotional component of modest behavior resulting from exposure in situations demanding privacy is shame. It is significant that this word attaches also to emotional reactions which constitute the sense of moral ignominy. The identity of designation may be attributed to the common element of social disapprobation to which both are specialized efferent responses. Their common origin is further suggested by the fact that the revealing of turpitude, such as graft and adultery, like the discovery of physical nakedness, is frequently termed an ‘exposure.’

Learning and Thought in the Efferent Modification of the Withdrawing Reflex. The specific process by which efferent modification is effected may be outlined as follows. In response to a novel nocuous situation there occurs a large number of random movements including both original reflexes and previously formed habits. For example, a rat imprisoned in a burning building would probably run wildly about, biting, clawing, squealing, and entering every possible nook and cranny. As soon as an exit is found, the withdrawing is successfully completed and the random responses

(55) cease. If placed in the same situation again the rat would probably find the way of escape in a shorter time than before. In still further trials the time required and number of useless movements made would continually decrease until the physiological maximum in the efficiency of escape was attained. This is known as learning by trial-and-error, or better, by trial-and-chance success. Just why the reflex arcs which produce the successful movements are thus selected and `fixated' in this process, while the useless reflexes do not persist, is not clearly known. A partial explanation may perhaps be found in the fact that the successful response, since it occurs in each trial, is in the end the reaction most frequent in occurrence. It is also the most recent (that is, the last used) at the beginning of each trial, because its occurrence marked the termination of the preceding trial. These factors, combined with the reinforcing effects of visceral (emotional) reactions, are no doubt operative in lowering the synaptic resistance and fixating the arcs of the successful movements.

In their highest development the prepotent reflexes in man involve as their central portion the intimate correlating mechanisms of the cortex. By cortical activity —  that is, by reasoning —  the selection of the successful responses is greatly facilitated. Let us consider, for example, the behavior of a man caught in his room in a burning hotel. Unless he becomes confused, he will not rush about as did the rat trying every possible exit. He will think. That is, he will represent to himself the various exits. In terms of behavior the process involves two components: (1) the use of symbols, and (2) habitual attitudes (knowledge and experience) attaching to them. A symbol is a brief and labile response usually undetected in outward behavior, but capable of being substituted for overt responses. Incipient, subvocal, and inaudible word responses are particularly suitable material for symbols. By reacting with the production of the symbol for 'stairway. the man in our illustration is able to call into play the neural processes representing habits which were formed by previous experience or information about stairways under such conditions. He may recall that the stairway would be likely to be choked by smoke and flames. His attitude (response) in this situation would be clearly antagonistic to the

(56) impulse to escape by the stairs. This exit being thus blocked (by thought), he continues with a random series of symbol responses representing avenues of possible escape (the elevator, the fire escape, the rope of bedclothes, and so on) until one is found whose train of associated, habitual attitudes presents no check to its use in the withdrawing reaction. This symbol is followed by its overt action, and the problem is solved. Symbols are thus reactions which are used as abridged and `internal' trials in the process of trial and error.[9] They require but an instant to execute, and involve neither the delay nor the danger of overt trials. They serve to reinstate one's past experience regarding the proposed movement and so predict the outcome. Thought, therefore, is an abridged and highly efficient form of trial-and-chance success in the consummation of the prepotent reflexes.[10]

Conclusions regarding Modification. From these introductory illustrations of the withdrawing responses we may now deduce somewhat more precisely the laws according to which the fundamental activities are developed. The prepotent reflexes are subject to modification by synaptic changes in their central portions. The effects of such changes are (1) to extend the range and complexity of the stimuli capable of exciting the response, and (2) to refine and specialize the response itself. The first effect, which may be called an afferent modification, is brought about by the principle of the conditioned response; the second, resulting in an efferent modification, is due to the selection and fixation of successful random movements in the processes of habit formation and thought.

II. REJECTING. By the third day of life the use of the hands and feet in pushing away noxious stimuli from the body is clearly seen. There has been observed in the infant four days of age a response of pushing at the hand of the experimenter who was pinching the nose of the infant. When the newborn baby is lying on its back with legs extended, a slight pinch on the inner surface of one knee

(57) will cause the opposite foot to be drawn up, somewhat awkwardly at first, until the sole finds and presses against the hand that is pinching. This reflex, although slow and crude at the start, has a deep evolutionary foundation. It is precisely the reaction evoked by stimulating with acid one leg of a frog whose spinal cord has been separated from the brain. If the stimulus is intense and difficult of removal, there develops a greater force in the rejecting response, together with random movements of other parts of the body and crying. A primitive discomfort closely resembling anger is the visceral component of the reaction. Indomitable restlessness of movement in carrying out prepotent activities in the face of difficulties is universal in the animal kingdom. The imperativeness of the prepotent reflex is Nature's provision that adaptation and survival will be achieved.

The afferent modifications of the rejection reflex involve its production by all kinds of potentially dangerous or irritating objects which are best escaped by pushing them away. If a caterpillar or a hornet walks across the hand, since the visual and tactual stimuli have been associated in experience or through teaching with pain and revulsion, the child will react to the sight and touch of the object and quickly remove it before the actual hurt is experienced. A still more effective and `forehanded' conditioning is accomplished when the response occurs to the visual stimulus alone, and undesirable objects are rejected before they even reach the body. Well before the age of a year the infant pushes out toward the approaching nursing bottle, when in no mood for its contents. A little later the same response is shown toward bitter medicine and toward toys which are proffered in an attempt to beguile his stormy moods. These are reactions of `rejection in advance,' just as we found concealment to be a `withdrawal in advance. In the writer's son the repulsive movement was early combined with a downward striking movement of destructive effect. Such behavior tends to convince one that the use of the hands in self-defense or attack is attributable rather to an efferent development of protective reflexes than to a `fighting instinct.

One of the most important modifications of the rejecting reflex is the habit of cleanliness. The part which social agents must play in

(58) influencing the child to regard dirt with the aversion necessary for its removal is well known to all. In the cortical and verbal processes of later life we find still more extensive afferent modifications. Disagreeable or debasing proposals, offensive personalities, and attempts to hamper us or to lower our self-esteem become adequate stimuli for producing the rejecting response. The efferent aspect in such cases often involves the language effectors and the attitudes and facial expressions of scorn and aversion. The frank response of disgust employs, at least incipiently, a primitive reflex of rejection of nocuous internal stimuli, namely, vomiting. Its conditioning by social objects is apparent. We acquire the afferent modification of reacting toward certain types of individuals or situations as if they were nauseating to us.[11]

III. STRUGGLING. If the limbs or the head of a newborn child are held so that the usual random motions are impossible, a struggle ensues which grows more violent as the restraint continues, involving more and more of the bodily musculature, and accentuated by crying and later screaming. The restraint of movement is no doubt to be considered biologically as a nocuous stimulus. The struggle response is a compound of the two more elementary reflexes of rejection and withdrawal. Attempts are made both to push away the restraining agent, and to escape its force by withdrawal. The accompanying emotion is therefore often a mixture of anger and fear. The two reactions are readily seen in certain wild animals when captured and held in the hands. Many creatures, pursued and brought to bay, quickly substitute for the withdrawing response of flight the rejecting or repelling response of fighting. It is probable that the habit of pugnacity arises genetically from the rejection employed in self-defense. When the efferent development is complete —  that is, when one has learned how to fight —  the use of the ability for offensive purposes is likely to follow.[12] A response which appears to be a purely offensive attack is

(59) often correctly interpretable as `rejection in advance. Experience teaches that the best way to repel injury through the attack of another is to attack and disable him first. The irreconcilable attitude which attends this kind of situation is one of the chief menaces to civilization. The threat of hostility implied in large protective armaments is an example. The espousal by the German people of the Kaiser's policy of invasion and devastation in order to protect themselves in advance from supposed annihilation is also a case in point.

Afferent Development: Extension of the Stimuli of the Fighting Reactions. At the beginning of life the human infant struggles indiscriminately against any restraining force, whether it be another human being or a blanket which confines his movements. There is no inherited susceptibility to social stimuli, as distinct from other stimulations, in anger. At a later date the child learns that certain. actions, such as striking, scolding, and screaming, are effective toward persons, but not toward things. In adults, although the infantile response is still sometimes seen, the fighting reaction becomes fairly well limited to stimuli whose hurting or restraining influence can be thrown off by physical violence.

The various prepotent reflexes are prominent among the movements whose blocking leads to an angry struggle. Interference with the nursing activity (hunger reflexes) is an invariable stimulus for this response. There is an extension to an ever-widening circle of stimuli as the child develops, so that the restriction, not only of the innate mechanisms, but of all kinds of acquired habits based upon them (for example, blocking of the habits of manipulation through withholding a desired plaything) is certain to evoke the struggle. At a later age an insult, which thwarts one's habitual bearing of self-esteem, has often a more potent effect than direct bodily attack. Finally, our readiness to struggle against the thwarting or restraint of others, under conditions which we term `injustice,' is the final development in the transfer of the fighting response to situations of a social character.


The activities of sexual and family love are particularly liable when opposed to lead to struggle. The ferocity of sexual jealousy and the blood feuds of the mountaineers are well-known instances. The hunger reactions are equally potent in the fierceness of the struggle to which they lead when blocked. Aggression, unsatisfied hunger, crowded conditions, and limitations which hamper both'; the economic and the sex life, are, when they evoke struggle responses on a large scale, the cause both of industrial conflict and war.

The Social Influence upon the Struggle Reflex. Under the conditions of survival of the fittest the original and unaltered operation of the responses of economic struggle would lead one creature completely to annihilate, if possible, all the others with whom he must compete for the limited subsistence. But society has grafted upon these reflexes a number of remarkable modifications. Man through the docility of his period of infancy has developed habits of regard for others and submission to social control, so that his struggle against beings who by competition tend to check his own autonomic activities has been greatly altered. The youth must learn to treat the struggles of life as a game which he must play according to the rules. Aggressive physical combat is discouraged and self-control inculcated. The fiery Scotsman in Mr. J. M. Barrie's The Little Minister had been trained, when incited to wrath, to repeat furiously the books of the Old Testament before acting upon his anger. After this performance his reaction was more likely to be one of righteous remonstrance than of homicide.

It is clear that the mechanism of self-control is based upon antagonistic reflexes. Two opposing impulses compete for mastery. They are (1) the prepotent response of crushing the agent who thwarts our activities, and (2) the habit of submission to control by social sanction. Under normal conditions the result of this antagonism is the selection of a new and highly discriminated response. A final common path is chosen which serves both the prepotent needs of the individual and the interests of society. A resolution, for example, is afforded by fair competition and rivalry, which provide a successful outlet for the response of struggling against limitation of the vital processes, while at the

(61) same time fostering that regard for the rights of others upon which every social group depends.

The Yielding Response —  Habits of Activity and Passivity. There exists in many species of animals a curious antithesis of the struggling reflex. Creatures of such widely different orders as insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals, when surprised or overpowered by a strong foe, will sometimes become limp as if paralyzed or else assume a catatonic rigidity. It has been said (though the writer knows of no verification) that the struggles of a baby held very firmly will soon subside, and he will become passive in a way that does not suggest fatigue. When drowsy the struggling of an infant may be readily quelled by this method combined with rocking. Neither the mechanism nor the significance of this reaction is known.[13] There may be some biological end to be attained by complete submission in cases where being conquered would be the inevitable issue of combat. The reflexes employed are the direct antagonists of those in the active, victorious state. Flexor contractions give way to extensor, and the body becomes limp and yielding. A complete polarity occurs between the attitudes of the victor and the vanquished. In infancy and childhood there are built up definite habits in the form of attitudes of activity and of passivity toward persons who are respectively weaker or stronger than the child himself. These habits, persisting as they do throughout life, are the true basis of those traits which are sometimes alleged to be instincts of `self-assertion' and `self-abasement. We shall find that ascendance and submission are important in the study of the personality and the social contacts which it makes.

IV. HUNGER REACTIONS. The Approaching Responses. The behavior which we have been thus far discussing might be conveniently classed under the general heading of avoiding responses, The biological function of these activities is protection; and their stimuli arise from contacts which the organism makes with external objects. The responses also are mainly in the somatic group of

(62) effectors. There is in many such reactions, however, a visceral emotional component having an unpleasant conscious quality, as in fear and anger. These reflex mechanisms maybe shown schematically in Figure 7, page 36, by connecting SR with SE and V E respectively. The activities now to be considered arise from internal stimulation of the interoceptors, and are somewhat periodic in function. The recurrent hunger of all creatures is an example, and also the internal stimulation of sex. While the receptor end of the arc is visceral, the effector organs, as before, are chiefly somatic, with certain visceral responses, pleasant in quality, accompanying the final or ' consummatory' stage of the action, as in feeding or sex behavior. In Figure 7 these reflexes may be represented by connecting VR respectively with SE and VE. By the familiar method of the conditioned response a number of external stimuli of food and sex, which have been present at the same time as the original visceral stimulation (VR), become adequate to arouse a complex group of approaching responses. These reactions in their full development comprise the bulk of human behavior, having the function biologically of sustaining the individual and the race.

There is a general formula applicable to the approaching reactions. In terms of consciousness it may be stated as follows. An internal need or desire —  for example, for food or for a mate —  is experienced, called in the older terminology an 'appetition.' Thereupon a restless procedure serving the purpose of a search is entered upon and continued until the needed object is obtained. After the hunger or lust is satisfied, the creature lapses into its former quiescence. For the explanation of this cycle we must turn to the mechanisms of behavior. A condition of internal maladjustment —  for example, lack of nutriment —  sets up internal stimulations, such as those caused by the contraction of the stomach muscles in hunger. These stimuli produce responses in the somatic effectors consisting of wandering and searching movements of the whole organism. These movements serve sooner or later to bring the receptors of the creature into contact with an edible object. The prey is devoured, and the presence of the food in the stomach promptly abolishes the stimuli of hunger contractions and with them the overt seeking activities. There follows a period of repose

(63) until a recurrence of the hunger stimulus, or perhaps another type of internal stimulation, again sets the somatic effectors into operation.

The Learning Process in Hunger Reactions. The approaching responses become modified in the process of learning in the same manner as the avoiding responses. We have already given an example of the latter in the escape of an animal from a dangerous situation. If we place a hungry cat in a puzzle box or cage with a simple latch mechanism on the inside for opening, and if we place food where the animal will observe it through the bars, we shall be able to witness in its primitive form the hunger response. As in our former illustration the prepotent stimulus (this time internal) leads to the performance of the complete repertory of movements, both instinctive and habitual. Climbing the bars, clawing, biting, mewing, and many other responses are made in purely random fashion. Finally one of these movements chances to release the mechanism. The door opens, and the prisoner escapes and obtains food. When placed in the same apparatus for another trial the animal strikes the correct (that is, the releasing) movement more quickly and precisely than before; and in succeeding trials the selection and fixation of the useful reflexes, and the dropping out of the useless ones, proceed in the usual fashion.

Autonomic Interests as Drives in Learning. Although the exact nature of the fixation process is still obscure, the important role of the viscerally stimulated prepotent reflexes in the maintaining of restless movements, the transfer of stimuli, and the selection of the most efficient responses in habit formation is very clear. Hunger is the supreme drive of the learning process. Sex is a close rival. Other important factors, such as rivalry, desire for social approval, and the like, are incentives derived from these two. The baby's earliest and most facile learning is exhibited in turning his head to find the mother's breast, and later in holding the nursing bottle, and also in the transfer of the sager responses, originally made in tasting food, to the sight of it, and later to the parents and the sound of their footsteps. in these exciting moments the synaptic resistances of the useful afferent and efferent pathways are lowered, and the acquisition of the habit rendered speedy and certain.


All teachers testify to the readiness with which any fact which relates to an `interest' of the child is assimilated. It is probable that interest can always be traced genetically to an autonomic foundation. The promise of a stick of candy causes the child to 'set himself' to memorize the twenty-third Psalm with alacrity, a task which the tedious dogma of piety could scarcely accomplish in an entire day. Ultimately, if not immediately, the 'setting to learn' is generally reducible to the approaching reflexes whose afferent side lies in the viscera. The outworn pedagogical view that man is a creature controlled essentially by Reason divorced from the lower `appetites,' is rapidly being displaced by this deeper truth. Intelligence is the servant, not the master, of autonomic activities.

The Human Hunger Reflexes and their Development. Our study of the learning process shows the necessity of regarding the prepotent reflexes not as unitary pathways, but as large groups of reflexes, often diffuse in character, and involving the unspecialized play of numerous effectors. Out of this chaotic mass-response the learning process selects and fixes those movements which, in removing the source of prepotent stimulation, satisfy the demands of life. In the newborn infant the hunger contractions of the stomach give rise to crying, thrashing about, with arms and legs, and turning the head from side to side. If an object touches the cheek the head is quickly turned so as to bring it into contact with the mouth. Sucking, in many cases at least, is not perfected at birth, but requires a certain amount of practice often with artificial induction. This response together with swallowing is, however, made serviceable by use almost upon the threshold of life. Movements of the head and body toward the source of food are also selected very early from among the random activities and fixated by the learning process. The hands and arms develop their earliest coordinations in connection with the mouth. Finger-sucking is followed by the holding of the bottle of food, and later by eating with the knife and fork. It is interesting that the original component response of crying persists because of its effect in producing nourishment through social agencies. In the second year the innate random vocal reflexes begin to take the form of language which, by a more

(65) precise integration with the mechanism of various bodily needs, replaces crying as a method of controlling the social environment.

In the broader spheres of adult behavior the hunger responses join with those of sex to form the powerful undercurrent of practically every human life. The acquisition of a trade or profession may be looked upon as the supreme achievement in the efferent modification of the prepotent reflexes of hunger and sex.[14] The social and intellectual tradition in vocational training, involving the use of language and thought, gives incalculable aid in preparing for the economic and domestic future of the youth. In the trial-and-error procedure, by responding to the social instruction, he rules out in advance many of the major errors. His energies are thus saved for the more intricate and progressive adjustments to his particular problem.

Prepotency in Habit. A question naturally arises whether in the higher intellectual and artistic vocations the autonomic drives are really of fundamental significance. The artist and poet work, it is believed, for sheer love of their work. They eat only to keep alive so that they can work. The miser lives for his gold; the food interest is reduced to a minimum in favor of the mercenary motive. These exceptional cases are probably to be explained as a transfer of emphasis from the original prepotent stimulus to the mechanism by which it has been habitually gratified. Through a restriction of the field of response to a certain line (such as music, art, entomology, etc.) in which the individual possesses aptitude, the mechanism employed appears to have become a drive in itself. It is probable, however, that such `derived drives' are more dependent

(66) than we commonly recognize upon the original approaching reflexes which we have classified as prepotent. The spur of economic success and comfort and the desire for connubial happiness are both the origin and the mainstay of many an original and productive career. Genetically considered, autonomic sources are usually discoverable, as in the case of a rich young lady who, having been disinherited by her parents for marrying a poor man against their wishes, developed a tremendous energy for work, saved, and grew thrifty to the point of miserliness.

One may interpret the habit of manipulation as a response which has acquired a kind of potency through its connection with prepotent reflexes. It appears so early and is so vigorously pursued that it is considered by many able writers to be an instinct. Since it clearly arises from simpler, non-manipulative origins, its assignment to the category of a habit seems, however, to be at least equally sound The genetic components of manipulation are the newborn activities of grasping and of getting the hand into the mouth, and the later developing response of reaching. As soon as objects are seized they are taken to the mouth, since that is one of the most frequent terminations of all infantile hand movements. This reaction is a part of the complex group of reflexes in the hunger response. At a later date the infant inspects the object before mouthing it; and finally all the interest becomes centered in the examination of the object and its manipulation in random motor play. If we regard the hunger (mouthing) reflex as the origin of this habit, we have here a remarkable case of an efferent development acquiring the function of a prepotent reaction in itself. The tendency to manipulate is far-reaching in its importance. In conjunction with certain prepotent reflex groups it probably forms the basis of the early trait of curiosity, and the later habits of hunting, hoarding, and constructiveness.

Social and Affective Aspects of Stimulus Transfer. The sight and taste of food arouse in the hungry individual salivary secretions and pleasurable movements of feeding. Pleasant feelings and anticipatory movements come soon to be attached by the law of conditioned response to situations accompanying the feeding or to persons through whom the food is obtained. This transferred

(67) reaction of pleasure is the basis of the earliest attachment of the child to its parent.

With the gourmand the pleasure accompanying the act of eating, rather than the cessation of the gastric hunger stimuli, becomes the prime consideration. This was the case with the Roman voluptuaries who were said to have disgorged their food between courses in order to prolong their alimentary pleasures. Through socially approved custom the original and biological function of prepotent reflexes is thus subject to alteration. An opposite tendency exists to-day in regarding a dinner party primarily as a means for social contact, many persons affecting a superior aversion to the nutrient part of the ceremony.[15]

V. SENSITIVE ZONE REACTIONS. Response of the Infant to Tickling. At about the age of six weeks a light stroking of the baby's lips or pressure upon the cheek will evoke a smile. Soon other regions of the body, such as the orbits, neck, axillae, lower ribs, thigh (just above the knee), and soles of the feet, become sensitive to pressure or light touch. The responses elicited are mild squirming movements, 'pseudo-withdrawing' in type, arching of the back, thrashing of arms and legs, giggling, and finally laughing. Why these zones are sensitive, and why their cutaneous receptors should be connected with the spasmodic responses of ticklishness, we can only conjecture. Little is known of their physiological or biological significance. The affective state under mild sensitive zone stimulation is pleasant. The random tossing and squirming responses become refined with motor development into movements which bring about a continuance of the agreeable attack and a surrender to it. Witness a child holding up its foot to be tickled again. For this reason we may classify these reactions with those of hunger under approaching responses, in spite of the fact that the stimulus seems to be external rather than visceral.

Relation of the Sensitive Zones to Hunger and Sex. There is an early association of the sensitive zone reactions with those of hunger in that the mouth is concerned in both. Nursing combines the

(68) stimulation of this region and the consummation of the hunger cycle in one series of acts.[16] Freudian psychology, on the other hand, assumes that the sensitive zones of the child have a sexual significance, and applies to them the term `erogenous zones. While this interpretation cannot be fully credited, there are certain significant resemblances between ticklishness and sex reactions. (1) Both give rise to approaching responses having the effect of enhancing the tactual stimulation. (2) Both are pleasurable in the affective quality of their sensations, and there is a strong introspective resemblance between the experiences of itch, tickle, and lust. (3) In the mating of adults the stimulation of both (sensitive and sexual zones) are combined in a series of love-making events culminating in copulation. On such occasions —  for example, in the embrace of lovers —  the sensitive zones become particularly potent in producing responses. These regions may be said to represent the infantile stage of development in a complex system ,which, in the adult, includes the sex zones proper. Their chief interest for social psychology lies in their importance in the problems of adjustment within the family.

Pleasurable Habits based upon the Sensitive Zone Reflexes. The caressing which children commonly receive and solicit is intimately associated with sensitive zone stimulation. Their cuddling of dolls and toys, and expressions of love toward these objects, have their root in the same source. There are many afferent modifications of the reflexes arising from the stimulation of these zones. The earliest is the transfer of the stimulus from the tickling itself to the person who does it. After a few such titillations the baby will laugh in a most 'tickled' fashion upon the mere approach or sudden movement of the parent. It is not improbable that the effort to obtain praise and the avoidance of censure (sometimes spoken of as social instincts) are partially derived in a similar manner. Words and tones of approval are connected with caresses, playful behavior,

(69) and other stimulations of sensitive zones by the parent; and they come to evoke the same responses as the latter, namely, actions inducing their continuance and repetition. This process is the basis not only of a large amount of filial childhood affection, but also of the susceptibility of the individual to control and development through social influences.

VI. SEX REACTIONS. The Original Sexual Reflexes. During the age of puberty there occurs in both sexes a rapid development of the receptors and effectors employed in sex behavior. Hormone secretions from the cells of Leydig stimulate the growth of the secondary sexual characteristics, the genital organs mature, the erogenous zones upon contact yield pleasurable sensations, while the secretions of the reproductive, and possibly other glands afford an internal stimulation for sexual activities. There is meanwhile the familiar adolescent awakening of tender feeling and the various forms of love.

The original stimulus for sex responses is not, as is popularly supposed, an individual of the opposite sex. It is rather an internal excitant. In the male it is the gradual distention of the seminal vesicles, a condition requiring a fairly periodic discharge of their contents. The distention produces an increase of tonicity in the wall of the vesicle, and this internal activity, combined, no doubt, with similar glandular effects in other parts of the pelvic viscera, stimulates the interoceptive end organs in these parts. In the female the excitatory visceral changes are probably caused, not by distention, but by some hormonic (glandular) process occurring about the time of menstruation. The response which follows this stimulus consists of random and restless activity quite analogous to that in the case of hunger. The tumescence of the sex organs sets up further stimulations in these parts, which provide allied afferent processes having the same outlet (that is, through random seeking movements) as the visceral stimulus. The movements are sufficiently directed to bring the erogenous areas already yielding lust sensations into contact with some object, thereby adding external tactual stimulations to the original and purely internal stimulus. In the human species (and in some animals) stimulations from the contact of the sensitive as well as erogenous zones are added to the

(70) excitations during the sexual embrace. In the male copulation thus raises the tonic contraction of the muscle of the genital apparatus to such a pitch that it breaks over into the phasic contractions by which the accumulated sexual secretions are discharged. The complete sexual reaction, therefore, involves a chain of prepotent reflexes. It begins with an internal stimulus caused by glandular activity and distention, followed by crudely directed reflex responses which bring the highly sensitized and tumescing organs into contact with some object in the environment. Contact with this object contributes sufficient stimulation to evoke a second group of reflexes, those of emptying the contents of glands and vesicles whose distention was the original cause of the activities described. After sexual satisfaction, therefore, as after the satisfaction of hunger, the organism lapses for a time into quiescence.[17]

The internal character of the original sex stimulus is clearly shown in those animals which have well-marked breeding seasons. Such seasons depend directly upon the periodic activities of the sexual glands and smooth muscle. A pigeon which is not `in season' will evade or repel any approach made by the opposite sex. On the other hand, a male bird in the period of sex excitement will begin the usual courtship antics at once, and, in the absence of the female, will make advances to individuals of its own sex.[18] Among human beings, although the relations of the sexes are greatly complicated by recognition, imagination, and other cortical processes, the original sexual stimulus is also unquestionably internal in its location. Stimulation from the physiological activities of the internal sex organs, rather than the sight of a member of the opposite sex, is the drive to action. The normal sex life of adults, while it is not so clearly cyclical as that of lower animals, is nevertheless timed according to the occurrence of a true organic need.

The Afferent Modification of Sexual Reflexes. Sex Attraction. The long period of childhood and youth preceding sexual maturity affords an extensive opportunity for training, through Social tradition and example, in the lore of sex and the significance of male and

(71) female. The boy and girl know about family life and, in a general way at least, the procreative function of marriage. They learn from their elders the part played in life by courtship and lovemaking, as well as the habits and attitudes of chivalry, modesty in regard to one's person, and reticence upon sex topics. Habits which must inevitably control and modify the prepotent reflexes of sex are thus established well before the appearance of the reflexes themselves. When the first awakening of the internal sexual urge is felt, the boy, if he has been properly instructed, knows that the female is the proper object of his searching movements. He is further aided in this new adjustment and in understanding the contact which it involves by the experience of the sensitive zone stimulations. These he has known from infancy, and they have already given a meaning, as yet non-sexual, however, to caresses and other expressions of affection. The realization that a member of the opposite sex is the most satisfactory object of the sex desire thus represents a stimulus transfer, or allied conditioned response, by which the sight of a possible mate augments, or of itself directly evokes, the seeking responses which originally were produced only by the organic stimulus. As in the afferent modification of other prepotent reflexes which we have studied, language and other social influences are of the highest value in the conditioning process.

A striking instance of the afferent modification of the sex reaction by social agencies among pigeons has been recorded by Whitman.[19] If a male ring dove is reared from infancy among carrier pigeons, and then placed at maturity among birds of his own species, he cannot be induced to mate with them. The breeding activities, however, speedily commence as soon as he is brought into the presence of a carrier female. The sexual drive —  that is, the internal stimulating secretions —  and the random activities to which they lead, are truly innate and hereditarily determined. The act of pairing between male and female, however, seems to be the result not of instinct but of learning.

To the average adult the opposite sex appears so obviously fitted for the mating process that he is likely to assume the apprehension of this fact to be instinctive. He has forgotten, however, that tur-

(72) -bulent adolescent period before his sexual adjustment was perfected. Children pass through various stages in the comprehension and use of sex objects. In the absence either of enlightenment or of opportunity for coition the adolescent youth associates his sex feelings with those fortuitous objects or situations (for example, pressure of clothes, climbing trees, etc.) which afford contacts with the genitals during random movements, thus providing pleasurable erotic experiences. Masturbation, homosexuality, and other ready means for attaining the same end follow more or less inevitably. In the mature individual sex gratifications of this sort are termed perversions, because they indicate the persistence of a false or inadequate training in these matters. In childhood, however, they are only to be expected, in the absence of social control and direction, as natural stages in the process of learning by trial and error. Here again learning, rather than instinct, must be the guide in the search which is finally to end with mating in the normal heterosexual manner. Many perverts and neurotic adults are now known to be persons who have never advanced beyond the childhood stage in the education of the prepotent reflexes of sex.

The Problem of Sex Training. The moral of the preceding discussion is not far to seek. It is as pernicious to withhold information necessary for the development of the prepotent sexual responses as it would be to allow the child to grow up in ignorance of the objects upon which he should condition his reactions of avoidance, rejection, and food-seeking. If direction through social agencies is neglected, the youth must fall a victim to the more crude and often disastrous mistakes of trial and error in the process of learning sex behavior. To wait for puberty to arrive before beginning sex instruction is not only to throw away the priceless years of childhood which should be used in building up the proper attitudes for sexual maturity, but also to run the risk of allowing habits to be formed which are antagonistic to the normal sex reactions of the adult. One important caution, however, must be borne in mind. The mere informing of the child in sexual matters, if not combined with the formation of attitudes, principles, and habits proper to persons possessing such knowledge, is as likely to produce harmful as it is beneficial results. The mere desire to "tell the child the

(73) truth" is in itself no adequate justification for imparting the physiological facts. The aim should be not merely sex enlightenment, but sex training.[20]

The efferent side of the sexual reflexes is as much in need of modification through learning and social guidance as is the afferent. Breeders of animals are fully aware of the crudity and clumsiness of random movements made in efforts for sexual union. In the human race the untaught youth is equally devoid of the knowledge and skill necessary for conjugal love-making and a wholesome sex life. A large proportion of marital discord and unhappiness results from the lack of knowledge and training whereby the random movements arising from the sex stimulations may be developed into responses nicely adjusted to the needs of both husband and wife. As for the broader aspects, such as the wise choice of a mate, the regulation of the reproductive function, and the application of the laws of heredity, we are but on the threshold of progress.

Sex and Sensitive Zone Reactions in Familial Behavior. There is a general agreement among psychologists that the family responses, such as parental and filial behavior and feeling, are intimately connected with the sex reactions. Among both human and sub-human creatures the birth and rearing of offspring is an intrinsic part of a cycle which begins with courtship and selection of a mate. There extend throughout this cycle a continual internal excitation and a series of reactions to stimulations of the sensitive and erogenous zones. The incubation of eggs by birds and the suckling by mammals (including man) fall within this class of pleasurable and approaching reactions. Parental as well as conjugal behavior is largely conditioned by internal stimulation. The distention of the crop in certain birds and the rapid secre-

(74) -tion of milk in mammals are the immediate stimuli for feeding the young.[21]

The love life of a human being is lived through contact, not only with the spouse, but also With the children. For most adults, to see a baby is to desire to fondle it in a very lover-like fashion. The love reactions toward children are similar to those which the child manifests toward its parents or other relatives. That is, they are responses mainly to stimulations of the sensitive zones, and are productive of caressing and fondling movements. The stimulation of sexual zones and true responses of sex are forbidden by custom and social standards. It seems probable, however, when we recall the fusion of sensitive zone and sexual reactions in the adult, that the internal sex drive allies its stimulation with that of the sensitive zones to bring about the reaction of fondling (final common path). Periods of sex excitement, moreover, are associated both in man and the lower animals with periods of unusual fondness for offspring.

The law of conditioned response is also operative. If a woman loves her husband and her home, her lover-like responses will be extended to a new stimulus, the child, which through its origin as well as through its immediate presence is closely connected with the beloved objects. The reverse side of the picture is sometimes seen in hospitals where illegitimate children are born whose mothers are in the throes of shame and fear, and perhaps of hatred of the men who caused their maternity. The absence of the usual maternal feelings is often conspicuous in such cases.[22] Social standards and early training are likewise very important in determining the attitude which the parents adopt toward their offspring. Another evidence that parental love depends upon contact and experience is the fact that it grows with the child. Parental and maternal pride develop, and attractive plans are laid for the child's future. The fondling, nursing, protecting, and planning grow into definite

(75) maternal and paternal habits. These habits, sometimes loosely spoken of as instincts, rest upon the instinctive prepotent reactions of sensitive zones and sex; but their real development is brought about by the interplay between these innate mechanisms and the environment of the family.

The Sex Reactions and Learning. Considered in this broad manner the sex reactions are close rivals of hunger as drives in the learning process. In order to obtain access to the female the male dog or cat, through the trial-and-chance success method, will rapidly learn the use of the release mechanism of a puzzle box. The struggles of a mother bird in similar experiments to gain access to her nest and young result in effective learning by the same method. In human society the efferent modifications by which custom requires that the sex reactions shall be consummated lead into many productive fields. The lover must conform to the standards set for courtship, desirability of character, and economic standing. He must give up the irresponsible vagaries of youth for the sober achievement of the man. A vocation must be learned if he is to support the wife and children which are necessary to his love-life. Here, as in the case of the other instinctive bases of learning, we find that the social inheritance through schools and elders, and the use of language and thought processes, are of paramount importance. The nature of the vocation chosen in many cases depends upon fundamental individual interests or abilities; but the zeal with which it is studied and practiced is directly proportional to the inciting effect of the combined stimulations of hunger, sex, and the sensitive zones —  in short, to the demands of economic and domestic life.

`Sublimation.' A great deal of speculative writing has been done on the so-called process of `sex sublimation. It is believed ! by some that the sexual drive represents a kind of free-floating energy which can be transformed by suppression and redirection into some 'nobler' pursuit, such as science, art, religion, or charity. In the present writer's opinion, it is nearer to the truth to say that the intellectual and cultural achievements of man represent things done in the interest of sex, and as a means to a more satisfactory adjustment of the sexual life, than to assume them to be a

(76) substitution for or transformation of the sex drive. Many a young man whose passions led him into devious and profligate ways has been converted through marriage into an efficient producer. Sex is the spur which keeps native ability and talent always at their maximum effort. The operation of the sex drive under the stabilizing influence of family life is a factor of progress second to none in human society. One of the most serious problems of our higher and professional education is the restlessness and distracting influence produced by enforced celibacy long after the sexual maturity of the student. Much time and energy is diverted from study into seeking such sex excitements as chance and a conflict with the sense of propriety may allow. If this sexual effort could be allied with the goal of scholastic and professional attainment, as it might be in some cases by early marriages with child-bearing deferred, instead of being allowed to detract from serious study, the gain both in work and happiness would be enormous.


At a very early age a child shows susceptibility to the influence of the social environment, and a ready response to approval and disapproval. The reason is fairly obvious. During the first two or three years every event of importance to his well-being occurs through the ministration of other persons. Features, facial expressions, and vocal sounds are the regular accompaniments of these events. It is obvious, therefore, that, through the law of conditioned response, these social stimuli must acquire an early and universal significance in child life. Attitudes of approval, disapproval, command, and prohibition acquire a value as forms of social control which persist through life and compel our obedience to law and other social sanctions. There is little ground for believing that this subservience to the attitudes of others is inborn, or that the child is instinctively responsive to what Mr. Trotter mystically calls the "voice of the herd."

Imitation. It has been asserted that the child possesses an instinct to imitate, and that this inborn tendency is one of the chief aids to learning. Probably both of these statements are incorrect.

(77) The evidence for the innate neural disposition to imitate, though conflicting, is preponderantly negative. Such instances of apparent early imitation as have been reported are insufficient to establish the existence of an instinct of imitation. As for the role ascribed to imitation in learning, there is equal reason for doubt. In the vast array of habits acquired during the first eighteen months there is no bona fide case of learning by imitation. A more complete analysis of alleged imitative behavior will be undertaken in Chapter X.

Gregariousness. Man is a society-forming animal. The congregation of human beings in groups of all sizes, and for all purposes, is one of the most universal of ethnic phenonema. That this congregating denotes a 'gregarious instinct' is a purely gratuitous assumption. The usual argument for this instinct is to ascribe to it a necessary role in large-scale aggregations such as football crowds and growing cities. Two fallacies are evident in this reasoning. The first is the ignoring of the powerful interests appealed to, which, although common to great numbers of individuals, are nevertheless individual rather than social in their driving power. Almost every one is interested in contests and exhibitions of power and skill. Cities draw youths from the country by a variety of excitements and opportunities having a universal appeal, and based upon the prepotent demands of each individual. Desire for flirtation and the sexual interest constitute the greatest single cause of the thronging of public parks and cafes. There is always some definite aim or interest, other than merely 'getting together,' in every congregation of people. This is true even for the purpose of recreation and social festivities. Emulation, exercise, dancing, exchanging news, and 'kissing games' are only a few of the more common incentives. There is no question but that the pleasure derived from these gatherings is greatly increased by the contact with others. This pleasure, however, is readily explained without the need of assuming an instinct to congregate.

The second fallacy lies in assuming that, in cases where the need of companionship is the actual motive, the seeking of human company merely for itself is necessarily an innate reaction. The stimulus usually asserted for the `gregarious instinct' is the condition of

(78) 'loneness' or separation from the herd, which induces a restless searching until the creature is able to resume contact with his fellow beings. If the inheritance of reactions to specific objects or classes of objects is difficult to conceive of independently of experience with those objects, how much more incomprehensible is the notion of inherited reactions to the absence of specific objects. When a man loses his favorite pipe, he is restless and even lonely until he finds it. His restlessness, however, is more acceptably explained as the result of his having been long accustomed to the pipe than as the operation of an inherited reaction stimulated by the absence of the desired object. During a day hundreds of our habitual responses are directed toward or conditioned by our fellow beings. When we are removed from human society, these habits are in a measure thwarted. The effect is therefore unpleasant, and searching movements begin. Habit, then, is a better explanation than instinct for the uneasiness and misery of enforced solitary life. It should be remembered that there are many reclusive persons whose pleasurable habits have been conditioned by a solitary rather than a social setting. Large gatherings of people, are shunned by such individuals. Or, if they attend the theater or ball game, they do so in spite of the crowd. Habituation to the group is the necessary condition of loneliness upon separation from it.

We may summarize our discussion of the social factors in the development of prepotent responses by the following observations.

It has been previously noted that the rage of an infant is at first directed as fully toward a blanket which confines his movements as toward a person. The appropriate reactions to stimuli of a social sort must be differentiated by the learning process from the reactions to non-social objects. Whatever instinctive equipment man may possess, it is individual in its nature. It is only the subsequently learned reactions that may be termed 'social. It will therefore clarify our discussion if we avoid the conception of 'Social instincts' and speak instead of the development of social habits. Among the latter the responses to approval, scorn, and other forms of social control are among the most significant. Submission, self-assertion, leadership, and other traits which are largely inculcated by training

(79) are vital in determining the mutual adjustments of human beings. The importance of gregariousness, which is an effect rather than a cause, has been much overrated.


It is now possible to return with fuller understanding to the problem stated at the beginning of this chapter. Our aim was to give an account of the innate sources of behavior, and to show how the complexity of human activities is constructed upon these inborn foundations. A certain group of reflexes, either present at birth or involving a later ripening of receptors and effectors, were selected as the origins for which we were searching. These reflexes are classified as (1) the avoiding reactions, such as infantile withdrawing, rejecting, and struggling, and (2) the approaching responses to the stimulations of hunger and of the sensitive and erogenous zones. In the competition with other reflexes for the final common path, these reflexes are prepotent. They are of the highest importance for the welfare of both the individual and the species. And finally, they determine the subsequent acquisition of knowledge and skill by every human being. The intricacies of human conduct arise as modifications of these simple prepotent responses.

Upon the afferent side of the arc the modification proceeds by a process of conditioning, a vast array of objects and situations becoming the adequate stimuli for evoking both avoiding and approaching responses. Upon the efferent side progress is made by learning to solve efficiently more and more complex problems, such as those of escape, mate-securing, and food-getting - problems which must be solved for the satisfaction of the prepotent demands. Solutions of this sort proceed by trial-and-chance success, with fixation of the arcs involved in the successful movements. As infancy is left behind, that marvelously effective refinement of trial and error, known as thought, is increasingly employed.

If we seek to arrange under the various prepotent reflexes the neural organizations of habit and thought to which they have given rise, we are faced with a bewildering complexity. In many characteristic habits, such as walking, manipulation, talking, and constructing, an indeterminate number of reflexes have been geneti-

(80) -tally prepotent. It is also clearly possible that the reflexes in which the development of a given habit originated may differ under different environmental circumstances. Variations in the social influence likewise produce diverse trends of modification. Without, therefore, attempting to classify the fundamental habit systems, we may enumerate the more important ones in the following list: flight, escape, concealment, modesty, shyness, providing and wearing clothes, habitation, fighting, resentment, repulsion, cleanliness, rivalry, yielding, eating, drinking, food-getting activities, responses to tickling and amusement, aesthetic and play attitudes, chivalry, courtship, coyness, mating, caressing and fondling, maternal and paternal behavior, filial behavior and other family responses, manipulation, locomotion, developed vocalization, talking, reading, writing, curiosity, hunting, hoarding, constructing, imitating, domineering, self-assertion, submission, sympathetic behavior, response to approval and disapproval, learning of a trade or profession. These include the activities which are of major importance for the existence both of the individual and the social group. Being rooted in mechanisms which originally dominated in competition for final common paths, they retain as habits the domination of mature behavior. We may call them prepotent habits.

Because of their early and universal occurrence as well as their importance to life, some writers have considered many of the prepotent habits to be instincts. And indeed it may be urged that it makes little difference whether we call an action a prepotent habit or an instinct so long as we mean a certain definite response of a universal and fundamental character. The distinction, however, is a necessary one, because the unwarranted use of the term 'instinct' obscures, by implicitly denying, the influence of the social environment in the reactions concerned. The social psychologist ought to regard childhood, not as a blank period for the internal ripening of systems of conduct, but as an opportunity which must be used in learning such useful behavior through social contact. The sex reactions may lead a woman to a career of honored maternity or to prostitution, according to the social forces brought to bear in her early training. Instruction rather than a

(81) ‘maternal instinct' must be the guide. The responsibility lies with us, not with our ancestors, to see that our children develop modesty, rivalry, wholesome and properly expressed resentment, avoidance of physical and moral dangers, regard for family, susceptibility to social control, constructiveness, self-assertion, and wisdom in sex matters.

From a theoretical standpoint also the instinct theory is an impediment to the scientific observation of behavior. It is a kind of 'blanket theory,' which having been used for certain reactions is likely to be extended without discrimination to others. The explanation that a certain tendency is `inborn' is furthermore so final a statement that all actual observation and analysis of its formation is discouraged. The theory begins at the wrong end of the developmental process in making its assumptions. It seizes upon the completed activity, and reads back into the life of the child an inherited purposive development in the direction of that activity and determined wholly from within. In view of the uncertainty regarding the maturation hypothesis it seems better to adopt the genetic viewpoint, and beginning at birth with the simple reflexes, which are demonstrably innate, progress with no further assumptions than the well-known facts of the learning process.

In mankind, considered as individuals, there are certain inalienable qualities and tendencies of a social nature. Our reluctance to explain these characteristics as instinctive in no way diminishes their importance. The shaping of the fundamental activities by social factors renders the individual as truly socialized as he would be with inborn reactions of the same sort. To summarize briefly this shaping process: Social objects such as persons, attitudes, expressions, and language serve as the stimuli to which the various prepotent activities may be transferred. Approval and disapproval become the conditions of response. Through contact with others an enormous part of the learning takes place by which the original reflexes arc converted into useful habits. The child and youth being docile and responsive to language, many prepotent stimuli need be represented only indirectly; that is, through admonition and instruction. Hence many of the cruder errors of the learning process are eliminated in advance. The more drastic ex-

(82) -periences in satisfying the need for protection, and for food and sexual adjustment, are worked out in the history of the race. The individual begins the modification of his prepotent reflexes where unnumbered generations of his forbears have left off. Thought itself, in its inseparable connection with language, traditional knowledge and custom, is largely a part of the general social influence. By the direction through society of the learning process the efferent side of the prepotent reflex arcs are modified from purely individualistic to highly socialized responses. And finally, the common sanction may so far control the habits formed upon the inborn activities as to substitute for the original biological end a somewhat modified purpose of social origin.


General Discussions of Instinct and Learning:

James, Wm., Principles of Psychology, vol. II, ch. 24.

McDougall, Wm., An Introduction to Social Psychology, 8th ed., chs. 2-4, 10-14, supplementary ch. 2.

Thorndike, E. L., Educational Psychology (Briefer Course), part I.

Watson, J. B., Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist, ch. 8.

Edman, Irwin, Human Traits and Their Social Significance, chs. 1-7.

Drever, James, Instinct in Man.

Pillsbury, W. B., The Psychology of Nationality and Internationalism, ch. 2.

Trotter, W., Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, pp. 11-41.

Special Viewpoints:

Woodworth, R. S., Psychology, a Study of Mental Life, chs. 5, 6, 8. Dynamic Psychology, chs. 3-5.

Smith, Stevenson, and Guthrie, Edwin, General Psychology in Terms of Behavior, chs. 2-4.

Hunter, W. S., General Psychology, part n, ch. 3.

—" The Modification of Instincts from the Standpoint of Social Psychology," Psychological Review, 1920, XXVII, 247-69.

— "The Modification of Instincts," Journal of Philosophy, 1922, XIX, 98-101.

Craig, Wallace, "Appetites and Aversions as Constituents of Instincts," Biological Bulletin, 1918, XXXIV, 91-107.

Tolman, E. C., "Instinct and Purpose," Psychological Review, 1920, XXVII, 217-33.

Gault, R. H., Social Psychology: The Bases of Behavior called Social, ch. 3. Genetic Observations and Experiments:

Watson, J. B., Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist, ch. 7.

Shepard, J. R., and Breed, F. S., "Maturation and Use in the Development of an Instinct," Journal of Animal Behavior, 1913, III, 274-85.


Breed, F. S., "The Development of Certain Instincts and Habits in Chicks," Behavior Monographs, 1911, I, no. 1.

Whitman, C. O., Orthogenic Evolution in Pigeons, vol. 3, "The Behavior of Pigeons." (Ed. Harvey Carr.) Carnegie Institute, Washington, Publications, no. 257, 1919.

Yerkes, R. M., and Bloomfield, Daniel, "Do Kittens Instinctively Kill Mice?" Psychological Bulletin, 1910, VII, 253-63.

Spalding, D. A., "Instinct and Acquisition," Nature, 1875, XII, 507.

Stone, C. P., "The Congenital Sexual Behavior of the Young Male Albino Rat," Journal of Comparative Psychology, 1922, II, 95-153.

Critical Discussions:

Dunlap, Knight, "Are there any Instincts? " Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1919-20, XIV, 307-11.

Kuo, Zing Yang, " Giving up Instincts in Psychology," Journal of Philosophy, 1921, XVIII, 645-64.

Bernard, L. L., " The Misuse of Instinct in the Social Sciences," Psychological Review, 1921, XXVIII, 96-119.

Geiger, J. R., "Must We Give up Instincts in Psychology?" Journal of Philosophy, 1922, xix, 94-98.

Faris. Ellsworth, " Are Instincts Data or Hypotheses? " American Journal of Sociology, 1921, XXVII, 184-96.

Ayers, C. E., "Instinct and Capacity," Journal of Philosophy, 1921, XVIII, 561-66;600-06.

McDougall, Wm., "The Use and Abuse of Instinct in Social Psychology," Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology, 1921-22, XVI, 285-333.

Tolman, E. C., "Can Instincts be Given up in Psychology," Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology, 1922, XVII, 139-52.

—" The Nature of Instinct " (a review), Psychological Bulletin, 1923, xx, 200-18.

Kantor, J. R., " The Problem of Instincts and Its Relation to Social Psychology," Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology, 1923, XVIII, 50-77.


  1. Spalding, D. A. (See references cited at the end of this chapter.)
  2. Shepard, J. F., and Breed, F. S. (See reference cited at the end of this chapter.)
  3. This interpretation differs from that offered by Breed and Shepard. A good descriptive and critical discussion may be found in Watson's Behavior, an Introduction to Comparative Psychology, pp. 138-41 and footnote.
  4. This assertion refers only to man. The lower animals, particularly the insects, have well-defined maturations of innate responses. The functions of the effectors are, however, far more limited and specific in the lower animals than in man. When we consider the simple and unvarying uses in which the jaws of the ant, the claws of the beetle, the fin of the fish, and wing of the bird are put in comparison with the complex and thousand-fold activities of the human hand, it becomes clear that the notion of innate responses is more appropriate to sub-human forms than to mankind. The more highly variable action system of man and the higher vertebrates has its neural basis in the cortex, whose pathways are determined by learning rather than by inheritance.
  5. The Integrative Action of the Nervous System, pp. 226-34.
  6. For these facts of infant behavior and others discussed in this chapter the writer is indebted to the researches of Dr. J. B. Watson. See his Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist, pp. 199-236, 236-49; also his article, "Studies in Infant Psychology," Scientific Monthly, December, 1921.
  7. Watson: loc. cit., pp. 199-206. Similar observations have been made regarding the young of certain birds and mammals.
  8. This statement is in opposition to the older doctrine of instincts as formulated by Professor McDougall and others. To substantiate the inheritance of adaptive responses e9 to complex and meaningful stimuli would require the acceptance of a central process, or 'cognitive disposition,' corresponding to a realization of danger, which is transmitted by heredity. Two improbable assumptions are involved in this. On the conscious side the discarded doctrine of innate ideas would have to be reinstated as valid; and on the neural side there would be required an exceedingly complex cortical maturation. We have already found reason to doubt the existence of maturation in far simpler neural correlations than these. Professor McDougall has faced the first objection by asserting his belief in innate ideas. (An Introduction to Social Psychology, 8th ed., p. 399.) The evidence, however, is not forthcoming.
    Within recent years there has been an increasing tendency among psychologists to deny the existence of instincts as maturations of complex cognitive or perceptual patterns. See references cited at the end of this chapter.
  9. It will be noted that the term 'symbol' is here used to denote primarily an actual response which is used in place of other responses, rather than a 'conscious idea' standing for other ideas.
  10. It is impossible in this place to do full justice to the process of thinking. For a more complete account the reader must be referred to the behavioristic interpretations of thought included in recent textbooks on general psychology.
  11. This extension of physiological disgust is characterized by Professor McDougall as the "intellectualizing of an instinct." We shall return to it in the chapter dealing with facial expression.
  12. Offensive fighting, however, since it is practically always for the purpose of protecting one's interests, is at least partially defensive. In a suggestive article Professor Wallace Craig has shown that fighting throughout the animal kingdom is defensory and protective in character. The animals have no inborn desire to fight. (International Journal of Ethics, 1921, XXXI, 264-78.) Considerations of this sort discredit the militarist's argument that war is inevitable because of an "instinct to fight." There is an innate reflex basis for self-defense; but there is none for fighting in itself.
  13. For a possible explanation on the basis of thyroid secretion, see J. P. McGonigal: "Immobility: An Inquiry into the Mechanism of the Fear Reaction," Psychological Review. 1920, XXXVII, 73-80.
    Another theory explains the 'death-feigning' reaction as due to an excess of adrenin, a substance secreted in intense emotional excitement.
  14. The reader may think it far-fetched to say that these complex acts of acquired skill are modifications of certain simple, original reflexes. They seem rather to be integrations of habits which can be put to the service of any bodily need. Genetically considered, however, the presence of some powerful (prepotent) stimulus was necessary in order to evoke the crude or random activity through which they were, by trial and error; acquired. This early stage is that of the infantile prepotent reflexes which we have described. Integration of the nervous system makes it possible for the skilled acts, once learned, to belong to the general action repertory, and to be called out by any appropriate prepotent stimulus (as final common path) in the same manner that the original, unskilled movements were evoked. In this sense, therefore, the skilled performances of life may be regarded as modifications and enlargements of scope of the original prepotent reflexes.
  15. The social alteration of the biological purpose of instincts is well discussed in an article by Professor W. S. Hunter cited at the end of this chapter.
  16. In pigeons there is a curious combining of these two mechanisms. In billing the sensitive zones of the beak are involved in a series of amorous activities. It is, however, by similar movements that the young thrust their beaks into the parent's mouth in order to obtain food. The latter action has, in fact, been observed under certain conditions to evoke in the parent the characteristic sexual response. (C. O. Whitman: The Behavior of Pigeons, pp. 64, 65-67, 107-08.)
  17. For certain portions of this account the writer is indebted to a theory of sex reactions (as yet unpublished) developed by Mr. F. T. Hunter.
  18. Whitman: loc. cit.
  19. Loc. cit., p. 68.
  20. Reports of social workers reveal the importance of the pre-adolescent years for establishing wholesome attitudes toward sea adjustments. A psychologist in charge of work with delinquent girls divided her prostitute cases into two classes: those who were reformable, and those for whom nothing could be done. The latter class consisted alrnost entirely of girls who had been brought up in immoral home and surroundings or who had been the victim of an assault usually by a male relative) before the age of puberty. (E. R. Wembridge: "Work with Socially Maladjusted Girls," Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology, 1922, XVII, 79-87.) The sex drive is so powerful that, if the proper inhibitions have not been established before adolescence, the chances of building them up after that period are very slight.
  21. Absence or abnormalities of this internal excitement probably account for such parental anomalies as defective cycles, abandoning of nests, and devouring of litters of young. See Whitman: loc. cit. For some valuable observations on the physiology of the 'maternal instinct,' consult Rabaud, E., "L'Instinet Maternel chez les mammifères," Journal de Psychologie, 1921, XVIII, 487-95.
  22. See J. B. Watson: Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist, pp. 257-58. Also Ruth Reed: "Changing Conceptions of the Maternal Instinct," Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology, 1923, XVIII, 78-87.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2