Students' Attitudes

Chapter 19: General Summary: Suggestions Relating to Psychology, Sociology and Political Science

Daniel Katz and Floyd H. Allport

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AT various points throughout the preceding chapters attention has been called to problems, hypotheses, and conclusions relevant to research in social psychology and the social sciences. These phases touched upon the psychological field in dealing with the analysis and integration of personality. They bore upon the interest of the political scientist in studying the sources and measurement of public opinion, and the psychological factors in atypical and typical portions of the opinion scale. From a sociological standpoint, our results have dealt with racial attitudes, prejudices, stereotypes, and differences characteristic of religion, sex, and various other social groupings; and we have suggested a possible means of defining institutions and measuring institutional behavior. In this final chapter there will be brought together these suggestions for research and theory in the field of the social sciences. The writers make no claim to discoveries contributing to the body of knowledge of the social disciplines. Their aim has been merely to indicate fruitful methods, hypotheses, and lines of research.

On the whole the investigation based upon the Syracuse Reaction Study seems to have justified the use of the scale-questionnaire technique for the study of attitudes in large groups, when the questions are formulated carefully, certain conditions controlled, and the results interpreted with statistical caution and with due regard for all the environmental and motivating circumstances. Consistencies of attitude in various groups and sub-groups of students have shown that, while chance or careless checking cannot be wholly eliminated, the results seem to reflect, on the whole, genuine attitudes which are stated deliberately and with a fair degree of candor. Four variables have been found to be significant in making a canvass of human behavior such as that reported in this volume. They

(343) are as follows : (a) actual conduct (the outward or explicit behavior) ; (b) attitudes (the inner or implicit reactions) ; (c) insight (the ability to state truthfully one's own acts, motives, and attitudes) ; and (d) degree of candor (the willingness to state truthfully one's own acts, motives and attitudes). Any adequate treatment of studies of attitude and opinion demands that these four factors be taken into account; for they are related to one another in many significant, though somewhat subtle, ways. An individual, for example, may have true insight into his covert attitudes, but not into his overt behavior; or he may know accurately his daily overt conduct, but not his inner motivation. Again, he may be able accurately to report on both these phases of his behavior, but unwilling to make a true statement of the facts, or indeed to make any report at all. Such cases of lack of candor are probably due quite often to true in-sight, combined with uneasiness because of the discrepancy between inner principles and outer conduct, a discrepancy which it is painful for the subject to acknowledge. A failure of insight, on the other hand, may lead to the profession of certain attitudes which stand as rationalizations for more fundamental motives or for unacknowledged outward behavior. The relation between the attitude, or inner behavior, and the overt action is therefore important both for the light it throws upon the successful integration of the personality and the way in which one should interpret the individual's reaction to the attitude scale or questionnaire.

It is true that not all of these variables can be consistently and clearly appraised. Yet, by taking them into account and making use of them in the scales themselves, we may derive results of considerable interest for social psychology and the study of personality. The tendency to make one's actions harmonize with one's inner attitudes and principles, or vice versa, was shown, for example, in the findings upon the problem of cribbing. It was also significant that, upon a question which so clearly involved the admission of disingeneous conduct, a surprising number of frank confessions could, by a proper wording of the query, be secured (Chapter XIII).

A further methodological question arises regarding the differences in distribution of attitudes between various groups.

(344) We are usually uncertain whether such differences are due to a selective process (individuals who join the group in question being usually those of a certain type), or to the effects of association with other individuals within the group. Doubtless both factors are present, the latter reinforcing and intensifying the influence of the former. The aim of such a study as the present is to discover evidence bearing upon this question; or if this is not always possible, to point out, at least, certain psychological influences tending to produce biases and conformities of opinion among those associated in a given group. A number of such instances have been discussed in the sections dealing with the fraternity situation (Chapters VIII to XII inclusive).

The value of our findings concerning personality is limited by the fact that attitudes were studied as isolated cross sections of a large number of individuals, rather than as integrated in the pattern of personality of the entire individual. Nevertheless we have found a tendency within certain groups of students to exhibit different attitudes which are compatible with one another, rather than mutually inhibiting, and to bring about a conformity (whether by rationalization or by character integration) between the inner principles and the outward acts. Group-wise investigations, as well as individual case studies, exhibit the phenomenon of integration in personality, and indicate the possibility of discovering the more general, deep-lying attitudes, or traits, which serve as keys for the most adequate understanding of the individual. Thus we have found, in certain cases, that we can arrive at a fuller explanation of the individual's behavior by making use of some particular reply in the Reaction Study which showed a general and pervasive, rather than a merely specific, significance. Students, for example, who reported difficulty in adjusting their change in religious views to their personal philosophy and ethical standards showed also a lack of adjustment in other phases of their academic and social life. Similarly, success or failure in deciding upon a suitable vocation was reflected in a number of other attitudes toward studies and in the value placed upon a college education. Findings of this sort are in harmony with recent tendencies in the study of personality to discover patterns or integra-

(345) -tions of traits centering about some basic adjustment or maladjustment within the personality (Chapters VI and VII).

From the standpoint of political science, the chief significance of the results we have reported lies in the field of public opinion. Although the attitudes investigated scarcely bear, in their content, upon questions in which political scientists are interested, still we have attempted to develop a method for determining the distribution of the various elements of opinion within any given group. The graphs which might be plotted from the tables in the preceding chapters suggest that the forms of distribution of opinion in a given community depend upon types of individual personalities or upon group pressures that have been brought to bear among certain factions. The distributions shown in this study appear rarely to have been due to the chance ; for in that case a relatively flat, rather than a pronounced modal, distribution would have occurred. There have probably been at work, instead, certain dominant influences of widespread motivation, teaching, or propaganda which have piled up the modes within the groups in question. Hence these results support earlier findings to the effect that the distribution of opinion, unlike that of measurements of physical quantities, does not necessarily (or even usually) conform to the normal probability curve.[1] One finds instead a frequent skewing of the distribution toward one extreme or the other, a fact which is probably to be interpreted as due to the influence of some specific agency of teaching or propaganda acting throughout the group. Examples of this sort from the present study are shown in the discussions of religious attitudes and practices (Chapters XV and XVI). Another type of distribution not uncommon in studies of attitudes within a college community, and perhaps even more frequent in the heterogeneous community of the political scientist, is that of the multimodal form. Here we may discover evidences of opposing factions, as

(346) between economic or social classes, institutional loyalties, types of moral or religious feeling, and the like. Bimodal distributions have been indicated in the results of the Reaction Study in questions concerning cribbing (Chapter XIII), in certain items reflecting the opinions of fraternity members and neutrals (Chapter VIII), and in opinions upon the importance of church membership for leading a good life (Chapter XVI).

Another interesting aspect of the distribution of opinion concerns the characteristics of individuals who fall at various parts of the attitude scale. A number of studies have been made of individuals holding conservative, reactionary, and radical positions upon attitude scales; and attempts have been made to define the category of the atypical as such. The present investigation, though very limited in technique for studying differences of personality, has supported some of these earlier findings. We found that if a category at the extreme end of our scale on theological opinion be taken (that is, the ultra-orthodox individuals or the atheists), the greater number of persons belonging in that category have been in it for a relatively long time. The possession of an atypical opinion suggests, in proportion to its degree of extremeness, the presence ofa long-standing, and therefore probably a strong conviction. Such an attitude is probably held with comparatively intense emotional feeling. There seems, therefore, to be a fair likelihood of discovering in later investigations a correlation between atypical, extreme opinion and factors of personality, such as emotional conditionings, inner conflict, and the like, which give to that attitude an unusual degree of intensity.[2]

A point at which the psychology of personality and the field of the political scientist converge is to be found, also, in the correlation of attitudes within a given community. The results of this study have suggested that there may be types of patterns of personality within larger groups. Notwithstanding the fact

(347) that every individual probably possesses certain unique traits and characteristics, many groups of persons do tend to have in common not merely a single attitude, but a certain pattern of harmoniously related attitudes. Though we have not in this study attempted problems of multiple correlation, we have, in Chapters III to V, inclusive, suggested some pairs of attitudes toward college life which tend to go together in certain groups of students. From the psychological standpoint the problem is one of the existence of certain generalized types or patterns of personality which are to be found in a given culture area. In its political significance the question concerns the determination of blocs of opinion with reference both to the community at large and to groups within legislative bodies.

All the foregoing suggestions for the study of public opinion deal with the content of attitudes and the proportion in which their differences are distributed. Such attitudes are due to some common source of stimulation working upon all members of the group, and exploiting such psychological reactions as fear, anger, self-justification, and common forms of emotional conditioning. We may speak of these sources as the purely individual, or primary basis, of public opinion. There exists, however, a group of factors which do not influence the nature of the content of opinion, but merely reinforce its intensity or widen its spread. Such effects have to do with rumor, suggestion, and other processes whose study falls within the field of social psychology. We may call them the secondary factors entering into public opinion. In several points in the present investigation there have arisen suggestions for the technique of studying these influences. We have found a tendency to sup-port one's own attitude by the belief, or perhaps the rationalization, that the same opinion is common to the majority of per-sons in one's particular group. There are, in other words, in public opinion, such factors as impression of universality, together with the projection into the social environment of the attitudes or bias of the individual himself. This secondary reinforcement works naturally in the direction of wishes al-ready active in the majority of the individuals; and it can be most easily brought to bear in situations where there is the greatest ignorance concerning what other persons actually do

(348) feel and think. Hence the state of "pluralistic ignorance" in a given community must be ascertained by those who would understand the full process of the formation of public opinion within that group. We have found that attitudes excluding unconventional types of students from one's intimate social relationships, as illustrated in fraternity life, are often ascribed by the individual himself to a belief in the potency of public opinion, rather than to his personal feelings, and to a desire to uphold the reputation of his group. Our investigation, since it comprised all the individuals in the group concerned, made it possible to determine whether such a spurious projection of the individual's opinion into the "mind of the group" was really a rationalization, and was perhaps responsible, as a secondary reinforcement, for the intensification of the opinion itself (Chapter IX). A probable strengthening effect of the belief in the universality of a certain reaction within the group was also found in the attitudes and practice regarding cribbing (Chapter XIII). The experience of a definite group loyalty, together with a belief in certain fictions regarding the group as a whole (Chapter XI), may serve as an aid to the tendency to project one's own motive into the social environment, and to receive from such projection a reinforcement and sanction of the motive itself. These interpretations of the results of the Reaction Study are still somewhat hypothetical; but they seem to suggest, at least, a new and interesting field of investigation for students of public opinion.

We turn now to the bearing of the Reaction Study upon problems of the sociological type. For the investigation of what the sociologist terms "social distance," a survey of the types of individuals which the students voted to exclude from their fraternity and rooming-houses is of interest. Not more than 5 per cent were willing to admit Negroes to intimate social relationships. Other groups, such as Turks, Hindus, Chinese, Japanese, students of unconventional morals, Bolsheviks, anarchists, loafers, and students of low intelligence were regarded as admissible only by from 7 to 9 per cent of the students. Greeks, Armenians, Poles, Jews, agnostics, socialists, and lazy or unattractive students were also welcomed by a relatively small number. In part, however, social distance may be merely

(349) the unpopularity of certain stereotypes or group labels. A number of categories having no racial connotation, such as loafers, dullards, immoral students, and the like, were as far down in the ranks of the excluded types as some of the unpopular races. Terms such as agnostic and anarchist also drew forth many avertive responses. One of the most interesting findings of the Reaction Study in this field was the fact that the order in which the groups were excluded (which may serve as a roughmeasure of "social distance") was remarkably uniform through-out the entire student body. Whether we took Engineering students, Liberal Arts students, Fine Arts students, or Graduate students, men or women, fraternity members or neutrals, the relative aversion attached to these racial and group stereo-types was everywhere the same. In terms of the ethnologist we may perhaps say that prejudices against unpopular group labels are a part of the cultural pattern. They are practically universal within the culture area selected, or at least are more widespread and fundamental than the alignments making up sub-groups or institutions within that area (Chapter IX).

A few of the results of the Reaction Study bore upon sex differences, the sociological status of the sexes, and the change of the older sex stereotypes. The men were more sensitive than the women to distraction through the presence upon the campus of the other sex, as revealed in attitudes toward coeducation (Chapter XIV). While somewhat more than half the students rejected, in theory at least, the double standard, the men were more tenacious than the women of the greater moral prerogative of the male, and were more sensitive than the women regarding the moral standards of females, particularly within the sex field. Coeducation was believed by many of the students to have increased their knowledge of human nature, to have pre-pared them for the associations of life, and to have given them a more realistic view of the other sex. The men in particular noted that they had acquired a higher opinion of the other sex, had been broadened culturally, and had improved in social etiquette. It is significant that relatively few men believed coeducation had made them more chivalrous or more inclined to idealize the other sex (Chapter XIV).


Differences of race and religious affiliation are intermingled with sex differences in such a fashion as to render a discriminating analysis very difficult. Where group or institutional loyal-ties have entered, it is difficult to know what factor is account-able for the sex differences shown within the group as a whole. Differences of sex, of a significant degree, occur within one institutional group but not within another. In certain sects, as perhaps, for example, among Catholics, the effect of early teaching is so strong and produces so great a uniformity, that the determination of psychological differences of sex in the field of religion is well-nigh impossible. While there were occasional sex differences among the Jews and non-church group, and perhaps among the Protestants, we do not know whether these differences were due to selection, or to the type of training given girls in certain denominations as contrasted with that of boys, or to possible native psychological differences. In some of our Protestant groups there was a considerably greater pro-portion of women than men. This fact might be advanced either as showing that women are more religious and more frequently members of churches than men, or as an evidence of a trend in our culture pattern to expect of women the type of behavior inculcated through church affiliation. Though the facts are complex and difficult to interpret, it is true that, on the whole, more women in our investigation than men expressed orthodox theological beliefs and practiced regular religious observances. The Jews in this study showed fewer orthodox views and religious observances than the Protestants, though it cannot be determined whether this fact is due to selection or to a genuine universal tendency .among the younger Jews to break from the faith of their fathers. The Jewish women differed from the other women students in a tendency to be less, rather than more, orthodox than the men of their religious group. Students claiming no church affiliation were more unorthodox than either the Jews or the Gentiles (Chapters XV and XVI).

Of possible sociological interest is the suggestion which has been presented for the measurement of institutional behavior. In the discussion of the factors underlying public opinion, there was mentioned the skewing of certain distributions toward one end of the scale, as produced by adherence to some definite in-

(351) -stitutional teaching or belief. So strong was the effect of common stimulation from institutional leaders that other differences which might otherwise have appeared, for example those due to temperament or sex, were almost completely obscured. So far as the attitudes of members are concerned, the definition and possible measurement of the "power of institutions" may be found to lie in such skewed and concentrated forms of distribution of attitudes as those shown in our results. This method for institutional measurement in psychological terms appears to have possibilities for research. It would be interesting, in any event, to develop scales for determining participation, and for loyalty and submission to various group symbols, in social institutions generally.

Perhaps the main contribution of the Reaction Study to the investigation of institutions lies in the ideology of institutional beliefs. In a certain functional sense, the existence of an institution may be said to rest in the belief of its members that it operates as a real and powerful entity, in quasi-independence of the individuals concerned. And with this view there frequently goes the belief that purposes, ideals, moral standards, and sanctions of this "Super-Being," rather than the motives of the individuals, are controlling human conduct within the group. Chapter XI has described a technique for determining the distribution of this form of "institutional-mindedness," as opposed to the more concrete logic of those who ascribe purpose, ideals, and agency only to individuals. Within the institutions of the students themselves (fraternities), a large majority accepted the statement of their fraternity in terms of the institutional fiction. And, what is more significant, there was correlated with the acceptance of this fiction a consider-able number of attitudes which characterized fraternity members as a whole in contrast to non-fraternity students. Through-out many phases of academic and social life, institutionalism, or belief in the group as the more compelling reality, seemed to play a part. Thus students who accepted the institutional fiction were likely to set higher store upon administrative controls generally, and to favor administrative supervision of morals, the prestige of varsity teams, and more exclusive requirements for entering fraternities. Institutionalists were

(352) also more inclined than the individualists to believe that, in excluding unwelcome groups, they did so not out of personal prejudice, but for the traditions and the reputation of their fraternity. The individualistic fraternity students, on the other hand, resembled in many respects the non-fraternity students, and were more disposed toward a critical and realistic view of prerogatives, responsibilities, and personal values.

This approach to the problem of institutional attitudes reveals interesting possibilities for research in two directions. On the one hand, the tendency to accept (or reject) institutional fictions, since it is associated characteristically with other attitudes toward life, may depend upon something fundamental in the personality of the individual. It seems to harmonize with his fully integrated and systematized philosophy of life. There arises, therefore, the problem of investigating genetically the factors which have led to this condition, and of ascertaining the native or environmental influences from which such a configuration of personality has developed. Upon the other hand, the ideology of institutionalism suggests researches which may be of interest for social scientists. The attitude of accepting the group or institution as a super-individual force may be a large factor in the like-mindedness or "solidarity" of the individuals concerned. Students of nationalism have already pointed out that the best way in which to tell the nationality of a person is to ask him—that is, to determine the group symbol toward which he feels the greatest personal loyalty. We might add to this the suggestion of determining how vital and compelling the individual feels his group or nation to be, as a reality transcending its individual members. And, finally, since the power which is conferred upon institutional leaders by the popular ideology of institutionalism is probably great, the study of the degree and manner in which such fictions are accepted may throw some light upon the process of social control.


  1. This statement is open to the objection that our skewed distributions and multimodal curves are artifacts due to the crudeness of our attitude scales. It is true that we did not work out, as Thurstone has done by psycho-physical methods, a genuine continuum the units of which may be assumed to be equal. Nevertheless, it is probable that a more refined technique for measuring the spread of opinion would only smooth the sharp outlines of the curves we obtained rather than destroy the tendencies they indicate. See S. Rice, Quantitative Methods in Politics, Chapter VI.
  2. Cf. Allport and Hartman, "The Measurement and Motivation of Atypical Opinion in a Certain Group," American Political Science Review, Vol. XIX, November, 1925, and "A Technique for the Measurement of Public Opinion," Publications of the American Sociological Society, Vol. XXXII, 1926. See also G. B. Vetter, "The Measurement of Social and Political Attitudes and the Related Personality Factors," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol. XXV, 1930

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