Psychology in Relation to Social and Political Problems

Floyd Henry Allport
with Milton C. Dickens and Richard L. Shanck


In the task of bringing psychology to bear upon contemporary problems, we are faced at the outset by the necessity of revising our definitions. Our conceptions, both of psychology and of the social sciences, must be altered. Laws of behavior and introspective reports of consciousness as revealed in the psychological laboratory, however interesting and important for the study of the solitary individual, have not been of much help in predicting the behavior of individuals in the free relationships of daily social life. While we should not forget that psychology is, after all, a science of individual organisms, still we must see these individuals in somewhat broader contexts than those in which we observe them in the laboratory. Our science may lose exactness through this procedure; nevertheless it seems to be the only way in which the psychologist can be of service in the complex problems with which our social and political leaders are now struggling.

Of no less significance is the change in viewpoint which will be necessary regarding social science. We must have anew definition of social organization, social institutions, and society; for we can no longer operate under the fiction of a super-individual order operated for human ends

(200) through industry and machinery, an order to which the individual is somehow to be adjusted. Industrial and educational psychologists, as well as personnel workers, have long cherished such a point of view. They have conceived their job as the task of using psychological principles in helping to adjust individuals to the social system. The work of the social psychologist, as I conceive it, is a direct challenge to such a program. My present purpose is to place the old social problems in a new light, and to get, if possible, a more complete view of the picture. I conceive my task as a social psychologist to be the study of the behavior of individuals in association with other individuals; and my purpose is not the adjustment of the individual to society, but the study of the social system itself as a part of individuals. Instead of thinking of the social order as something which includes and is composed of individuals, we shall take the opposite viewpoint, namely, that individuals contain within their habits of behavior that system which we call the social order.

In such an approach the main interest is focused upon a twofold manner of viewing the facts of human behavior. We have, on the one hand, behavior as a collection of uniform and reciprocal responses of a vast number of individuals, that is, behavior from a "common-segment" or "institutional" point of view. This is the field of primary interest to the social scientist. The other view is that of the individual psychologist, or the psychological clinician, who sees not the common behavior segment of many individuals, but all the segments of the behavior of a single individual. This latter is the viewpoint of the whole personality. A human being is the meeting ground of these two points of view; and the major social problems, in my opinion, are due to the conflict of these approaches within the individual himself and to the maladjustments produced by the necessity, in our modern complex society, of bringing

(201) them together. Human beings are not machines, though our social arrangements often compel them to act as though they were.

A word of caution is needed at this point. We do not mean that an individual contains within himself these two aspects as sharply divided fields of living. His personality in all its uniqueness is not clearly separated from the things which he does as a member of groups and organizations. Frequently an individual expresses himself through the organizations to which he belongs. Our aim in this analysis is logically to separate, for the purpose of understanding, the things which relate to the expression of unique traits, and the things which relate to the common behavior of the group through which the individual achieves expression. For example, the kinds of organizations the subject will choose to belong to, provided it is possible for him to make a choice, may exhibit traits characteristic of his personality. Or again, if he is an executive in a business or an educational institution, there may be considerable flexibility in his role in that organization, so that his unique characteristics may emerge in the manner in which he discharges his office. But ultimately there will be limits of spontaneity: certain kinds of things must be done in certain ways by all who are playing a given societal role. And as we go downward toward the rank and file (for example, to the manual workers in a factory), we find a greater degree of stereotyped common behavior and a smaller range of the things in which the individual can exhibit characteristics of behavior peculiar wholly to himself. Life everywhere is an interpenetration of these two aspects of behavior. Their clear separation comes not in the organism as an object of study but in our purpose or point of view toward life. Nevertheless, for the study of social problems this distinction of viewpoint is very important; for regardless of whether these classes of behavior are separated in the

(202) individuals behaving or not, they are clearly distinguished in the attitude of the individualist toward the conduct of human affairs as compared with that of the institutionalist. We have, in other words, two practical philosophies at work, the one making whole individuals in all their uniqueness the center of the picture, and the other focusing effort upon a reciprocal working of activities which are only segments of individuals. The extent to which the conflict of these two viewpoints is involved in our major social problems is insufficiently realized.

One way of characterizing the contrast we have been discussing is by speaking of the institutionalist viewpoint as one of partial inclusion. This means that regardless of the number of organizations or relationships a person participates in, what he does in those relationships is by the nature of the case limited to a certain kind of behavior. It is not possible for any kind of response to follow the stimulus presented in the given situation. For example, upon entering the subway, we drop our fare in the box. Many individuals are here exhibiting substantially the same segment of behavior. It is true that there will be minor individual variations in the manner in which this is done. One individual may do it with a slightly different gesture from another; one may "pinch the nickel" a little harder than another. A third may look about to see if there is some means of getting through without dropping the nickel. But the range of things which can be done is at best very restricted in this situation. There is little hope, for example, of using our various personality traits and gifts of persuasion upon the keeper of the subway gate. All too often there is no keeper at all, but only a machine which automatically releases the gate when a five-cent piece is deposited in the slot. One characteristic of common-segment behavior is that it can usually be elicited and controlled by machines substituted for persons quite as readily

(203) as by persons themselves. It is only in those situations where the unexpected act has an opportunity to occur, that is to say, where the entire range of the personality, potentially, can be expressed, that the machine system breaks down.

I suppose no one has ever counted them, but the number of such situations with which we are faced in modern urban life, occasions, that is, in which a certain uniformity and restriction of behavior is demanded, must be very great. Among trades people, salesmen, factory and clerical workers, the number of these occasions is probably greater than in many other vocations. This stereotyping of behavior, obviously cannot absorb all of our reactions, even in the most congested and highly mechanized urban areas. There remain some occasions upon which we behave according to a "law of our own nature" rather than according to the law of the institution in which we function. It is apparently a matter of degree; and in this conflict between the partial inclusion demanded by institutional or cultural behavior and the total inclusion natural to the original biological nature of mankind as a part of the animal kingdom there lies the root of many a dilemma of modern life.

In a sense it is somewhat mystical to talk about an "individual"or a "personality" just as it is mystical to talk about the "controlling power of an institution." But we do not have to settle the question of what personalities and institutions are in themselves. All we need to think about is concrete instances, of conduct and what we want to do about them. Whether we stress the individual personality or the social institutions will depend upon the kind of behavior we are looking for and are desirous of predicting; and vice versa. The more we organize life into economic, political, religious, or other institutions, the greater the number of instances of uniform, common-

(204) segment, behavior we shall obtain. These instances will reflect the general pattern of culture, but will not enable us to differentiate between individuals. We can predict further restricted behavior of every individual from the behavior already observed; but we cannot predict the unrestricted behavior which we may expect from any one individual. If all of life were like the dropping of the nickel in the farebox, we should have a remarkable facility in predicting human behavior; but the behavior we should predict would be of a very special type— that, namely, in which every one conformed, and in which, therefore, we could detect no trace of that which we call an individual. We should predict what a person would do in a given situation precisely because we should expect him to behave like every other individual in our past observation of that type of situation. If, on the other hand, we should eliminate fare boxes and all similar contrivances from our civilization, we should have little or no ability in predicting common-segment behavior, for there. would be little opportunity either for forming universal habits or for observing them in operation; but we might be able to predict behavior of another sort, namely, the behavior which individual A would exhibit precisely because he is individual A and not individual B. That is, we might observe A reacting without any outside controls upon his behavior in so many different kinds of situations that we might be able to tell what he would do in the next and somewhat novel situation. We might, in other words, discover certain traits which are characteristic of individual A and not characteristic of any particular social situation. This, it will be readily seen, is a type of result we could never accomplish from our observation of people performing common, institutional habits. But it will be prediction of something altogether different.

Prediction is a step toward the objective of control. When we know what sort of behavior will follow from a certain

(205) kind of social regulation or its absence, we are in a position to cultivate that type of behavior or to allow it to be unexpressed as we desire. When we have both these possibilities (the individualistic and the institutional) before us we are free to choose with an understanding of what we are doing. We are free to set the stage, as it were, for the production either of behavior characteristic of separate individuals, or behavior common to a large number of human beings classed under some group or organization. We can foster either that which we regard as the best opportunity for individual self-expression, or that which we consider to be the best form of society.

It has been the contention of many social scientists that these two aims mean one and the same thing. Minimizing the distinction we have made between the two ways of viewing and classifying behavior, some sociologists have asserted that the most perfect form of society is that in which there is the fullest degree of individual self-expression and opportunity. This assertion, however, seems to me merely a pious wish impossible of fulfillment, unless we mean by "society" merely a collection of altruistic individuals. As soon as society as an ordering, or an organization, of social behavior appears, the emergence of common-segment alignments, with their encroachment upon the total inclusion of personalities, seems inescapable. Let us test the truth of this statement by a few examples.


We shall consider first the problem of consolidation in merchandising which has resulted in such phenomena as the chain store and the chain gasoline filling station. Those who look at commercial behavior from the standpoint of the common-segment, or the economic institution, have as their goal a high degree of standardization and adjustment of actions of individuals, so that commercial transactions

(206) can be achieved with the minimum of cost and labor and with a maximum, therefore, of profits. In part this end is gained by the development of machinery of production and transportation, and in part by economies in organization. Looking at the segment of mercantile behavior alone, it has been found that the handling of great quantities of merchandise under a central head is more economical than the conduct of business in a small way by the small local entrepreneur. In the great centers of population, where life has become so divided into segments of reciprocal division of labor that a few more compartments would make little difference, the chain-store idea has taken root and has spread rapidly. In other sections, on the other hand, where people are still accustomed to intimate, face-to-face community life, a bitter opposition against this system has revealed itself. In communities, for example, where life is organized around whole personalities, the merchant is not merely a man who hands goods over a counter and takes money in return; he is an acquaintance of his customers in many other relationships, and sometimes a close friend. In such a community, moreover, the customers know that the money which the merchant receives he will spend for the most part locally, with the result of a fostering of economic prosperity in all directions within that local region. Clearly, in this earlier scheme there was a chance for the inclusion of a far greater degree of personality in economic transactions than in the great cities with their chain merchandizing systems. For this reason consolidated retail methods with distant control have met with bitter opposition by those who value the local and personal phases of business; and yet, because of their great advantage for the economic segment alone (that is, goods can be handled more cheaply, with lower prices to the customer and greater profits to the few in control) such methods are becoming widely intrenched and are altering our civiliza-

(207) don in a profound way. We have traveled in the direction of a more economically efficient social order, but at the expense of taking away many of the earlier opportunities of individuals for entering with their whole personalities and their full interests into the economic life of the community. A variety of goods and new inventions are obtained more cheaply by the consumer—and this represents the more highly perfected societal organization; but the full expression of all the consumer's interests, to say nothing of those of the local merchant, is thwarted and sacrificed. A perfected societal order, economically speaking, means a perfected functioning, not of individuals, but of economic segments of individuals. Society as our aim is not the same as the self-expression of the individual, in spite of all the assertions of our social scientists and institutional leaders to the contrary.

Let us now consider the ethics of the gasoline filling station. I have learned, in motoring, that when my radiator is empty, but my gasoline and oil supply are good, it is wise to stop at the filling station of some great oil company, such, for example, as stations marked Socony. Here one can count on courteous treatment, and even service, regardless of whether one desires to make a purchase or not. A splendid argument, it would seem, in favor of the efficiency of modern big business. But let us look more closely. There are two views of the ethics of helpfulness, according to whether we think of individuals or of organized society. The latter view is that of the business men engaged in the special sale of their gasoline products. They have learned their lesson in human psychology a little better than the slow, old-fashioned grocer, who operates a gasoline pump as an annex to his store. Having found that politeness and service pay, they have established rigorous courses of training for their filling-station attendants, and have required them to develop expertness in the courtesies which

(208) can be proffered to motorists stopping at their stations. Neighboring stations run by large-scale competitors are also likely to be governed by the same principle. The result of business competition, in other words, seems here to be to increase the general level of politeness and service in business transactions. But a fundamental question now arises. Is the courtesy here involved a characteristic of individuals as personalities, or incident only to economic situations? Will the attendant be polite to his neighbor when he meets him that evening because he has practiced his politeness upon the passing motorists who wanted their radiators filled; or will he have to wait until some business function has absorbed his relationship to his neighbor? Must his neighbor pass by his gasoline station in order to have courtesy and helpfulness extended to him? What is the difference, someone may ask, so long as we increase the number of situations of life in which politeness has become the rule for social conduct? That is a question which everyone must answer for himself. Do we want values which mean nothing to individuals except that they are inseparable components of business transactions; or do we want values which an individual will seek in very situation simply because he, as an individual, prizes them? Is the altruistic motive to originate from individuals everywhere no matter what their position, or from a few individuals who are shrewd enough to incorporate it as a part of the technique of selling?[1]

Educational institutions offer a field for similar observations. A parent is sometimes struck by the contrast between the excellent record of deportment on his child's

(209) report card, and the behavior of the same child as a member of the family group. This situation again reflects the opposition between the individual as a unit in social organization, and social organization as a mere expression of the desires of the individual. At school my child is in terror, like many children, of being sent to the principal's office. Yet I, am puzzled to know why, for very little happens to a .child in the principal's office beyond a few reproving glances or words from a dignified individual who hovers about that place. Perhaps the reason is that behavior at school is but a single segment of the child's life, and is effectively separated in most school systems from his life at home, in his gang, or elsewhere. Control aver that one segment can be easily and authoritatively established. By delegating absolute authority in certain matters to school principals, and by requiring uniform school behavior of all children, we can achieve a remarkable degree of prediction and control of the behavior of the child in the school situation. But perhaps this control is unusually effective precisely because the situation is artificially segmental, that is, because it includes only a part of the child as a biological and psychological organism. Once outside this departmental influence, a thousand other tendencies of the child's personality may be released. We may question whether the law-abiding behavior which the child learns as the segment of his life in an educational institution will be transferred to his conduct in life generally. Because administrators desire primarily an orderly and well-run school, some of them lose sight of the objective of producing an orderly and responsible child. The assumption that these two objectives are one and the same thing, or even that the one leads necessarily to the other, is a fallacy as dangerous as it is widely accepted. The same conclusion is suggested by the work of Professors May and Hartshorne, who have found that children in modern

(210) city schools do not tend to develop consistent traits of honesty which they reveal in all relationships, but are honest or dishonest according as they have been taught in specific situations.

The conflict between the standard of institutional behavior and individual personality in education is further reflected by the status of family life and its relation to our schools. The ordeal of every parent's life in regard to the school problem seems to center in two inescapable duties : first, to see that the children reach school on time; and secondly, to see that they are clean when they leave home.[2] But when they return home the situation is likely to be very different. They are frequently dirty, and are likely to be tardy, anywhere from fifteen minutes to two hours. Why should teachers not undertake the same responsibility as parents for the training of the children in habits of cleanliness and punctuality? But the overworked teacher at once, and perhaps justly, replies, "Our business is to teach the standardized branches of knowledge, and not to be concerned with moral and personal habits." There is truth on both sides, but the dilemma cannot be escaped. The higher, technical educational standards demanded for our modern, complex civilization, standards which force all the child's training into separate compartments in the interests of efficiency, are directly opposed to the task of helping the child to develop his own character and his own values in all the situations which he meets. Because the lives of children are now being supervised under so many separate segments, the problem of the parent, who seems to be the only one looking out for the child as a complete individual, is becoming increasingly difficult. We expect the average child to be taught habits of punctuality and cleanliness; these are traits which characterize socially desirable individuals. Yet the time and opportunity

(211) for inculcating these habits in our institutionalized society are very limited. No matter how careful and exhausting the parent's efforts in that direction, the training virtually stops between the hours of 9:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M., while the child is in school. The parent is held responsible for the development of moral and social traits in the child's personality; yet those things which the child may learn while functioning segmentally in the school system may undo the parent's most careful training. Modern life has kept the form or shell of the family relationship, with little or none of its reality as a source of character training.

When we turn to the political field we can again understand many contemporary problems as the conflict between the institutionalist's and the individualist's points of view. The ideal of democratic government in the earlier days of our country was based more nearly upon the complete expression of the desires and interests of individuals. Life seemed to be centered in the local communities, with little control by state or national organization of either an economic or a political type. The policies worked out in these local governments were able to represent more nearly, though of course, not entirely, the wishes of the individuals concerned, and to represent them as individuals and not as classes or pressure groups composed of farmers, manufacturers, trade-union members, or other special segments of interest to which Professor Dewey has given the name publics. The notion of the "right of each interest to be represented" in a democracy is an absurdity. An interest is a purely logical abstraction of a segment of life. An interest, being a metaphysical abstraction, has no right; but a human being, as a creature possessing interests, has. Try as we may to integrate all of these publics or interests into a society, we have had little success in bringing about a true expression of individual personalities in the affairs of government. We always find that it is the particu-

(212) -lar segment of interest which is represented, and not the individual.

The increasing complexity of technological industry, the rapidity of transportation and communication, the intricacy of incorporated business, have rendered the task of government so difficult that it can be directed only by "experts," and by these only when each is working in a particular subdivision of the field. There has accordingly grown up, as over against the simple historical idea of individual representation, a totally different political' philosophy. There has emerged, gradually and unconsciously, the notion that government is more than the behavior of individuals; it is thought of as an institution over and above the individuals. It is a system or a social machine for passing laws and administering justice. This "machinery of government," moreover, has grown to be so complex that we have to employ experts to operate it. No one actually sees the government; but since almost everyone talks about it in this objective fashion, the average man assumes its existence by the suggestion arising from the impression of its universal acceptance. We have, then, on the one hand, the traditional theory that government is the direct voice of all the citizens as individuals, and on the other hand, the notion, much nearer to our practical working philosophy, that government is an agency separated from the people and run for them by experts. It is the bane of politics that, in order to capture votes, we continually pretend to be acting under the former philosophy, when we are really acting under the latter. Many assert, for example, that the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution is actually the expression of the will of the individuals of the country. Yet it was in large measure enacted by representatives in different states who were serving at least in part under the conviction that they were experts chosen not merely to represent individuals, but to

(213) "run the government." In keeping with the same ideology, the President of the United States has recently set up a special commission of experts to see what should be done now about this vexing question. A stock argument of the wets is "Prohibition can't be enforced." This argument is often illogical as used, because the one who uses it is trying to legislate for everyone else. To be accurate he ought to say frankly, "I don't wish to obey the law and there is probably an undetermined number of people like me. Let us see how many there are." The favorite argument of the drys, "Give prohibition a chance" is likewise illogical, because it substitutes a plan devised by a special group for a true representation of what the individuals of the country want to do about the question. If all who believe in drinking, whether moderate or immoderate, were to acquiesce and truly "give prohibition a chance," of course it would work— for as long as they acquiesced. When the drinkers got tired of acquiescing the scheme would again break down, because, as many of the drys would doubtless allege, it was not being given a chance. This absurd begging of the question on both sides comes from our forgetting that society and government are essentially only individuals after all, and that a social institution, plan, or system which is alleged to be an objective fact, and which is supposed to be something more than the individuals in question, is from the standpoint of scientific investigation, a pure illusion.

There are those who will say that the subtle questions of modern social engineering cannot be settled merely by counting noses. Many will insist that the notion of government as something to be delegated to experts is both necessary and desirable in the complexity of modern life. The answer is simple. It is desirable only in so far as this complexity of modern life is itself desirable. That we do treasure the idea of government as an expression of individuals is

(214) shown by the fact that we still appeal to voters in elections upon this basis; and the appeal is effective. But the widening gap between behavior as the spontaneous act of personalities and behavior as institutional alignment and symbol-worship obscures the realities of political action just as it is making increasingly difficult an intelligent approach to industrial, educational, and familial problems.

The same assumption of a separation between individual and societal realities is to be noted in theories of public opinion. Let me quote from a work on social psychology written less than a decade ago.

In the long run the upshot of the process of discussion is the emergence of a new phase in the psychological history of the group: a public opinion. It is more fundamental than the algebraic sum of individual opinions. As excitement is allayed, reflection ensues, and in such instances there is food for reflection for in the initial period of excitement individual opinions, formed at every angle of approach, of every degree of maturity and good sense, have been bandied about, and each wide-awake member of the community has observed many types of reaction thereto. Gradually there emerges, as a result of a slow, but more spontaneous than deliberate analysis, a certain apprehension of common and fundamental interests by all members of the group. This is a public opinion. It has no reference to all the varied contents of consciousness of the individuals who make up a community. It is rather, as we conceive it, a certain resultant that remains over from having entertained many opinions of more or less maturity. It is a sublimation from all that has been stirring individual natures during weeks of campaign commotion; one that has been helped on at many a crossroad and elsewhere by discussion, the genius of which is to sift; and because it is such a sublimation, attained by those elements in the community that are by nature capable of reflection and discussion and disposed thereto, rather than by the unstable savers for excitement, or by those whose dullness blocks reflection and discussion, it can be safely assumed to touch more fundamental issues, and therefore to lie upon a higher plane than

(215) the average opinion or the algebraic sum of the opinions of all individuals in the community.[3]

Such a statement as this seems to imply that out of group discussion there emerges a type of attitude or opinion which is qualitatively different from and superior to that which individuals, prior to that group activity, might attain. This is clearly a matter not for a priori conclusion, but for research. A number of experiments have been performed to ascertain whether, upon a question of fact, a more accurate judgment is derived from the average or consensus of opinion of individuals after they have been members of a discussion group than by taking isolated individual opinion without discussion. The results of these experiments have been somewhat conflicting; but through recent studies we have come to the conclusion, at least tentatively, that the belief in a superior average opinion resulting from group discussion may be justly challenged. It is necessary clearly to distinguish the factors here involved. Let us take, for example, opinion regarding the number of beans in a glass jar, to be estimated without counting. Here is a question of fact upon which the results of group discussion, as over against isolated judgment, can be accurately determined. The following measurements should be kept in mind. First, there is the average judgment of the members of the group regarding the question at issue, the members judging first as isolated individuals before discussion, and then later after a period of group discussion centered about the problem of the number of beans in the jar. A variation of this judgment might be the arriving at an estimate by discussion and compromise, which would not necessarily be the average judgment, but which would be the estimate accepted by all with the least reservation. We now have two group

(216) averages, or judgments, namely, one before and one after discussion. Which of these will be likely to differ least from the actual number of beans? By this method we can measure an average individual error before discussion, and a group error after discussion. The comparison of these errors of estimate will give us an indication of whether, in such a simple question of fact as the number of beans in a glass jar, a process of improvement of opinion through group interaction, such as that described in the quotation above, really takes place.

But there is another type of measurement which we should also keep in mind. We can measure the error not for the group average, but for each individual separately. Here we shall learn the effect of the discussion upon each individual in the group, what proportion of the individuals improve with discussion, what proportion make still less accurate estimates, and what is the average of the improvement of the individuals who improve as compared with the average increase of error of those whose second estimate is worse than the first. We have, in other words, a possibility of comparing the results of discussion not only in group-wise fashion, as the average or consensus of opinion of the group, but with regard to what the group activity has meant to individuals.

Now the results so far obtained show clearly the importance of distinguishing these two types of measures. For we have found no reliable indication whatsoever that the average or group opinion is any more accurate after discussion than before. Treating the individuals, therefore, as a group and thinking of the average of their opinion as "public opinion," we cannot say that this judgment is any better than the average of the isolated individual opinions before the so-called public came into existence. On the other hand, if we turn our attention to the number of individuals whose opinions improve or grow worse as a result of group dis-

(217) -cussion, we see that a decided reduction of the error of estimate has taken place. There are substantially more individuals whose judgments get better as a result of the discussion than there are individuals whose judgments grow worse.[4] Clearly a kind of educational process is taking place, in which the individuals who were previously extreme in their judgments have corrected their estimates through the influence of group members taking a more moderate view. We are met, therefore, by the striking fact that individuals may improve, while the group as such, treated as a mathematical average, does not. In other words, we should be no more inclined to trust the "group judgment," which embodies a supposedly superior "public" opinion, than to accept the average of individual judgments made before the public, as a discussion process, had come into being. On the other hand, after such a process has been under way for a time, we can take at random any individual and justly feel a greater assurance in accepting his opinion as coming somewhere near the truth than if we took that individual's opinion before the discussion had taken place. It should be emphasized that we are only in the initial stages of experiment in this field, and the above statement is to be considered as tentative. Such facts, however, as we do possess seem to throw doubt upon the superiority of opinion of a group as such. The group discussion does have a very clear effect; but this effect seems to relate to the character of the judgment of individuals and not to the resultant judgment of the group as a group.[5] Discussion clarifies and informs the responses of

(218) individuals, but it does not, to our knowledge, improve "the mind of a group."

Through studies in social psychology it has been found that opinions and attitudes which we call public are subject to a number of distorting and confusing influences merely because those who hold them regard them as public rather than private opinions. There is, for example, the principle of pluralistic ignorance, which accompanies our tendency to assume that the great body called the public has a definite intent or wish which the government should carry out. Given the disposition to believe this, the ignorance of each citizen concerning the actual state of belief or desire of most of the other citizens furnishes a background upon which various distortions may occur. In such a pluralistic ignorance one is readily convinced by propaganda, particularly when such propaganda is a projection of the individual's own wishes. That is to say, we accept as "public" opinion that view which we hold ourselves, and

(219) would like other people to hold. Another attitude that comes into the picture is the desire to conform to the rest of the group, the aversion, in other words, to appearing or to being atypical. It has been found that subjects who are working alone, but with their work period controlled by signals which also control other subjects in other rooms, will show, to some extent, the same effects upon their work that would occur if others were actually present and working with them. A situation of this sort, no doubt, arises when a man or woman goes into a voting booth. The presence of other voters in neighboring booths or in the voting station may tend to make the individual conform with what he thinks to be the mode of the opinion of the group. Through public opinion as a psychological attitude, rather than through public opinion as a fact, a definite control is exerted over the responses of the voter.

One of the problems which has troubled civic leaders is the indifference of people generally to the serious duties of citizenship, particularly with reference to participation in party primaries, civic organizations, and elections. A careful study has recently been conducted at the University of Chicago upon reasons for not voting. From the standpoint of the present discussion, it would seem to be a little more promising to conduct a study on reasons for voting. Non-voting, rather than voting, is the result we should naturally expect from the institutionalization of behavior in the political field. Where only one segment of activity is involved the individual is not greatly interested, unless, as in clear-cut economic issues, the rest of his life hangs upon the successful functioning of that one segment. This inevitable lack of interest in institutionalized politics is accompanied by the fiction of a personified institution known as the government. Whether this fiction of a government over the heads of individuals be a sincere conviction or a rationalization for nonparticipation, the individual who holds it

(220) will probably see little reason for voting. He will be likely to take little interest in the minute and perfunctory, almost ritualistic, part which he is expected to play. An important experiment, therefore, for getting at the psychological basis of political indifference will be a future study of the popular ideology concerning government and the relation of such ideology to the participation or participation of citizens.

The problems of law enforcement and crime provide another field in which our hypothesis may be tested. What is law in psychological terms? Is it really true that a violation of one law will be likely to lead to violations of other laws? This is a statement dogmatically made by the heads of our so-called legal and political institutions. Whether it is true, I think, depends upon whether the individual law-breaker thinks of law as a detached symbol, or an institution separate from himself, toward which, as toward a being, he may be hostile or friendly, toward which he may show either reverence or contempt. If this is his ideology, the "all or none" formula may apply; that is, disregard of one law may lead to disrespect toward law in general. On the other hand, if the individual thinks of law as that which the majority of citizens do, or wish to be done, he will feel free to change his behavior in respect to obedience whenever he has evidence that the majority may wish to behave differently. And this attitude need not necessarily affect his obedience to other laws, that is, to law in general. Certain abuses will of course arise through rationalizations concerning the supposed attitude of the majority. But such rationalizations are perhaps no worse than those which are employed by the advocates of a transcendental view of law, who seek to control individual action through the symbol of a legal institution above the heads of the people. Here again, is a fruitful field for psychological investigation. A research upon this question would no doubt reveal a

(221) number of hitherto unrecognized processes of social control.

The appalling prevalence of crime in present-day America, while its roots are complex, can, I think, be partly explained by this conflict between the individual as a unique personality and his institutional habits. There is an intimate connection between modern graft, racketeering, and gang rule on the one hand and our economic organization upon the other. In the older days when a person's wealth consisted largely of what he had in his house or could carry about, robbery was a more intimate and personal affair. The robber simply met his victim in a dark alley, struck him down, and took away his money. There was in these encounters, if we may be permitted the expression, an inclusion of the total individual. One individual met another in a face-to-face manner and deprived him of his fortune. Holdups are, of course, by no means out of date; but because such events are spectacular and deal with acts in which the whole individual as an organism is involved, there is a possibility of bringing them fairly well under control. Even with the modern automobile this kind of crime would not represent more than a comparatively, small portion of the predatory activities of our modern society. When, as nowadays, robbery can be committed, not as a person-to-person affair, but through a network of institutional habits, involving often the economic life of an entire city, the possibilities for its exploitation are indefinitely multiplied, and the opportunity to check it is correspondingly small. The strictly up-to-date and efficient brigand does not snatch away Smith's money and then disappear from the scene. Instead, he gears himself in as a part of the economic institution. By means of power at the physical level, he levies a tribute upon the economic activities of merchant Smith, a tribute which ultimately must be paid by Mr. Smith's customers, that is, eventually, by the people of the city at large. Racketeering, so far as its

(222) behavior pattern is concerned, is not greatly different from the legitimate collection of taxes by city officials. In the latter case, of course, a different group of persons collect the taxes and use them, at least in part, for more social ends. The penalties for failure to pay are also somewhat less summary and drastic. But in both cases the tribute gathering is worked in as a functional part of the behavior which makes up our economic institutions. Here again, the trouble lies in the fact that we have organized life on a basis of segments of behavior common to everybody, yet fully representing nobody, segments which we set up as the institutions of our economic and social order. In preying upon human activities it is, therefore, unnecessary to deal with whole individuals as such. One needs to deal only with the agencies or centers from which the institutional habits of a large number of people can be controlled and manipulated. The individual organism disappears and the societal organism seems to take its place. Crime of this type is no longer the profiting of individual A by the exploiting of individual B, but the success of A in getting control of the machine we call society. It seems likely that the criminal tendency in mankind as individuals is no greater today than in earlier years; but the possibility of its successful pursuit has, through institutional behavior, been considerably enlarged.

In international relations the chasm between the individual viewpoint and the societal concept is no less clearly marked. Here again, we can look at the world as a collection of individual human personalities, each differing from the others, or we can view it as an array of organized groups to which historians and publicists have given the name of nations. If we take the former view the problem of international warfare disappears. If we take the latter view, such warfare is likely to continue; for nationalistic groupings have sprung up and have been strengthened in

(223) part for the very purpose of concerted struggle and for advantage to the individuals so associated. It is interesting to note the manner in which the national representatives in the League of Nations regard their activity. Are they spokesmen of nations, as collections of partially inclusive segments of common interest, or of individuals, that is, of whole and unique personalities, who live within designated geographical boundaries. If they are representatives of the latter type, they can talk more freely to one another around the Council table; while if they regard themselves as the spokesmen of nations, they are limited to the expression of certain common interests, policies, and traditions treated as defining the will of the nation concerned. Here again is the old conflict in international form. We can view the inhabitants of the world as whole individuals, on the one hand, or deal with them, on the other, as standardized units of thought, action, and feeling, whose responses are dictated by the nature of the groupings to which they belong. One of our most important tasks in social psychology is the development of scales and techniques for studying national and racial attitudes, and for measuring allegiance—or hostility—to institutional fictions and stereotypes of nation, race, and class. Experiments measuring the effect of propaganda upon international attitudes, as well as the effect of institutional thinking upon individual behavior, are already under way.


What I am offering here, for the field of the social problems, is not an application of psychology with clear-cut techniques and measurable results, such as we are familiar with in industry, medicine, law, and other pursuits. My task has to do with a more difficult and intangible problem. Psychology cannot be applied to social and political problems in the same way in which it can be

(224) applied to any of the recognized industries or professions. For in the latter the objects to be achieved are taken for granted. In social problems, however, the ends themselves are often vague and little understood. When we accept institutional behavior and standards as fixed, the problem of the means for enforcing them is relatively simple; when, however, we wish to examine the justification for our institutions themselves, we cannot escape the deeper problem of the life-values by which they must be judged. The present issue, therefore, cannot be separated from the search for and realization of a philosophy of life, and our task is to bring to the service of such a quest whatever help psychological analysis and experiment can offer.

In the midst of the complexity of present-day life it is difficult for us to see the demarcation between these two fields, the individual and the institutional, into which behavior is being directed. If we could place ourselves at a greater distance from the human scene, these broad features might become a little more distinct; just as the details of a piece of country are more intelligible to the aeroplane observer than to one who travels through it on foot. Suppose that a scientist were to come to the earth from Mars in order to make observations.[6] Let us suppose that we have taken him to a tower near the intersection either of two country roads or of two streets, at the outskirts of New York City. He would now see automobiles coming from any one or more of four directions. As the automobiles approached the intersection he would observe various changes—stopping, acceleration, or deceleration—in their movement, from which, if he knew anything about terrestial mechanisms, he would infer corresponding types of behavior on the part of their drivers. Should two cars be approaching the intersection at the same time from direc-

(225) -tions at right angles to each other, he would see that one car would slow down or stop long enough to allow the other car to pass. Which car would stop and which would pass through would depend probably upon a number of factors, for example, their relative nearness to the intersection, or their relative speed, which factors might in turn be related, directly or indirectly, to the temperaments of the particular drivers. The instances of stopping or accelerating might also depend upon such characteristics of the drivers as their relative degrees of aggressiveness or submissiveness, haste or leisure, politeness or impoliteness, and the like. There would be no outside, "institutional" influence determining what should be done, but only the circumstances of time and place and the personality traits of the individuals involved. The cars, in other words, would behave toward one another very much as human beings behave in their informal, face-to-face relationships.

Should the Martian observer desire to be more accurate in his observations, he could make a chart of the frequency of starting, stopping, or going of the automobiles observed. He would probably find, if he did this, that the behavior of the cars, that is, the behavior of the individuals driving them, would be distributed in the form of what is familiarly known as the bell-shaped curve of normal probability. This result is to be expected from the manner in which human traits or capacities are distributed in an unselected population. Taking, for example, the trait of ascendance-submission, let us think of persons arranged along a scale from the most aggressive on the one extreme, to the most retiring and self-effacing upon the other. Experiments with tests of this trait have shown that by far the greater number of people are neither extremely ascendant nor extremely submissive, but are in the middle region of the scale. As we go out from this middle region toward the ascendant extreme, we find a decreasing number of

(226) individuals, until we come to the most ascendant individual of the group, who stands practically alone at the extreme of the scale. On the other side of the mid-region we find people decreasing in number toward the most submissive extreme. The measurement of any trait of personality, as well as measurements of intelligence, body weight, stature, or any other biological or psychological characteristic seem to give us this same bell-shaped form of distribution. We may call this the natural biological or psychological distribution. It is unmodified thus far by any sweeping artificial, cultural, or social influence, such as a law, a custom, or an economic process. In the Martian observer's record we should expect to find that the motorists who have a moderate degree of some trait expressed in driving are in the large majority; and this moderate possession of the trait will dictate their action. That is, they will neither rush in, nor will they hang back and stop altogether; they will be more likely to slacken their pace and proceed somewhat cautiously. Only a few of the bolder ones will push through without slowing up, and only a few of the more timid or polite will stop altogether. We should, therefore, expect to find reflected in this free, non-institutionalized traffic situation the probability curve of normal distribution. It is also evident that most of the motorists concerned would be reacting in a way natural to them as individuals under the circumstances. They would be in a sense expressing their personalities in their encounters with fellow motorists. The task of driving an automobile under these conditions would incline toward our definition of total, rather than partial, inclusion.

Now suppose that we remove our Martian observer from the rural districts to the corner of Fifth Avenue and Thirty-third Street, New York City, and place him on the top of the Empire State Building. Looking down upon this stele, if he had never been closer to the earth than the roof

(227) of the building in question, he might suppose that he was observing a different species of vehicle from those he had witnessed at the country crossroads. Instead of reacting as man to man, the drivers of the cars would seem to be scarcely aware of one another at all, but would all start or stop together as if by some kind of magic. If the Martian had an inkling of what earth-beings, with their stimulus-response mechanisms, were like, he might guess the truth, namely, that they were responding not to one another, but to some common controlling stimulus which he would be too far from the earth to see or hear. Should he make records from this vantage point for purposes of comparison, we should expect that the distribution of behavior would be of a different type from that observed in the uncontrolled traffic situation of the country crossroads. In the traffic-signal situation, the observer from Mars might measure the frequency with which motorists arriving at a given corner when the signal was against them obeyed that signal and stopped, and the frequency with which they passed through in disregard of the signal, checking their speed only slightly or not at all. In this case we should expect that the mode of the curve (that is, the greatest frequency), instead of being at the mid-region, representing, say a moderate, cautious slackening of speed, would be at the extreme end of the scale. That is, most of the motorists would come to a complete stop when the signal was against them. Regardless of varying individual degrees of boldness or timidity, hurry or leisure, politeness or rudeness, the great mass of drivers would stop when faced by the red signal. Conformity to this extreme of behavior, demanded by law under threat of punishment, would therefore probably be high. There would be relatively few whose personal traits were so impelling that they would run through when the signal was adverse. A few might go through after slowing up and looking about to observe whether another


Figures 1a and 1b

(229) car was approaching or a policeman was in sight, and fewer still, the very boldest, might rush through without changing their speed. We should expect, however, that the distribution of these atypical individuals would follow a rapidly declining proportion, so that the curve, instead of being a normal, bell-shaped one, would be J-shaped, having its mode at one extreme of the scale (that is, at the complete stop), and rapidly descending in frequency toward the mid-region of the scale. There is in the traffic-signal situation but very little opportunity for expressing individual differences of temperament on the part of the drivers, whereas in the uncontrolled traffic movement, we have seen that there would be a maximum opportunity for the revealing of such differences. The viewpoint under which the traffic control system is conceived is that of partial rather than total inclusion. All efforts are made to establish only one segment of response in the entire population, deviations from this mode of behavior being made as rare as possible.

Let us abandon our fictitious Martian observer and talk about realities. The hypothesis which has just been presented has been put to the test by Milton C. Dickens, who has observed and recorded thousands of instances of the actual behavior of motorists under varying conditions. Wepresent here some of his results. The upper diagram of Fig. 1 shows the distribution of the behavior of 208 motorists observed at a certain street intersection in Syracuse, New York. At this corner there were buildings obscuring the motorists' view from every direction; but there was no traffic signal of any kind, either traffic light or boulevard stop sign. The behavior of the motorists was recorded only in cases where traffic was approaching the intersection on the other street at the same time. What the motorists did on these occasions was observed on a four-step scale, the positions of which were, respectively:


1.  Complete stop 

2.  Slowing down to a very slow speed 

3.  Slackening the pace slightly 

4.  Going ahead without any alteration of speed The height of the column erected upon each step indicates the percentage of the entire group falling on that step of the scale. I have drawn through the centers of the tops of these columns a curved line which suggests what we might expect the distribution to be if the steps of our scale were more finely differentiated and our number of cases sufficiently great.[7] It will be seen that there is here some evidence for our hypothesis of a normal, bell-shaped curve of distribution where a purely individual, rather than an institutionalized, situation is presented. 

The lower curve of this figure is based upon 2,114 cases, and includes not only the general location already mentioned in Syracuse, but certain street crossings in Los Angeles, California. The situation in these cases also involved the presence of approaching traffic; but in addition to this every motorist whose behavior was tabulated was faced by a boulevard stop sign. While keeping the presence of opposed traffic constant as a uniform condition, we are thus measuring the effect of a particular variable, namely, a sign placed at an intersection by municipal officials, commanding the driver to stop before crossing. The results are

(231) very different from those shown in the upper half of the figure. Whereas only 17 per cent of the motorists in the free situation stopped completely, 75.5 per cent of those faced by the traffic sign came to a full stop. The two middle steps of

figure 2

the scale, which in the free situation drew 37 and 34 per cent respectively, are in the stop-sign situation represented by only 22 and 2 per cent. Out of the entire 2,114 cases there were only one half of 1 per cent who proceeded at

(232) full speed, in complete disregard of the sign. The mode has thus shifted to the left extreme of the scale; and the curve instead of being normal in character has become like the letter J (or rather the reverse of the letter J) in form.

figure 3

If we consider situations in which the stimulus is not a constant stop sign, obedience to which often seems so arbitrary a matter, but red and green traffic lights, we find that the tendency of the curve to become J-shaped is more marked. Figure 2 is based upon the observation of 102 cases at the crossing of Fayette and Salina Streets in Syracuse (perhaps the most congested corner of that city), an intersection whose traffic was regulated by policemen

(233) working in conjunction with the traffic lights. The observations were made for half an hour at the noon period. Since cars in a row stopping for a light block one another, the results were recorded only for cars approaching the inter-

Figure 4

section alone or as the first car in a row. Hence the driver of the car tabulated was free to disregard the signal if he chose. A glance at Fig. 2. will show that the uniformity of behavior here was very marked. Of the 102 cases, 96 fell on the extreme end of the scale representing "Stop"; while

(234) 3, 2, and 1 cases, respectively, failed to stop and violated the signal in progressive degree.

Other records concerning obedience to traffic ordinances have been tabulated and put in graphic form for practical purposes different from that of the present study. Figures 3 and 4 are reproduced from data compiled in municipal studies.[8] These data indicate that, with reference to length of time of parking in districts where a fairly uniform time restriction exists, the curve of distribution conforms remarkably to the hypothesis of the J-shaped curve.

Thus far we have carried our hypothesis into only a few fields of investigation; but two or three more instances maybe mentioned which deal with behavior sufficiently different from that of the traffic situation to suggest that the law we have tentatively formulated may transcend a particular institutional setting and apply to institutional behavior in general. Let us take the question of religious and moral attitudes. Figure 5 shows the distribution by percentages of 1,219 students of the College of Liberal Arts in Syracuse University upon the question of the existence and nature of the deity. Here we have a scale of graded steps, ranging from the belief in God as a personal creator to be supplicated through prayer, on the left extreme, through agnosticism, in the middle of the scale, to the complete denial of a deity and the belief that the universe is a pure machine, on the right. The different groups shown in the figure are, from top to bottom, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and students with no church affiliation. It will be seen that in the first of these groups, and perhaps to some extent in the second, religious beliefs tend to conform to an institu-

(235) -tional pattern. Where large numbers of individuals have been influenced by some common stimulus or teaching, as in

figure 9

the Catholic faith, we find the characteristic J-shaped distribution of attitudes. The mode is that of the behavior

(236) or belief held proper within that institution, other attitudes decreasing in frequency as one goes toward the other side of the scale. The curve is skewed less for the Protestants and Jews than for the Catholics, and loses its actual J-shaped character. When we come to the students who profess no institutional allegiance whatever, the outline of the curve, for the men at least, approximates the bell-shaped normal frequency distribution. As in the case of traffic regulation, tendency toward the stereotyping of response in an institutionalized population has thrown the distribution into a J-shape and has concealed personal differences of religious attitude which otherwise might have found expression. Where no such institutional factor is present these differences tend to reveal themselves upon the probability curve of normal frequency distribution.[9]

This fact is shown in the present instance not only by the shape of the distribution, but by the relationship of the curves drawn for the two sexes. In Fig. 5 the solid line denotes the frequencies of the men and the dotted line the frequencies of the women. Just as purely individual differences are obscured in the J-shaped distribution, so also are the differences peculiar to sex. We find that there is less difference between the distribution curves of men and women among the Catholics than in any of the other groups; while the differences between the sexes among the students who have no institutional religion are more marked than in any other group.[10]

Since religious and moral questions involve standards of thinking and feeling, rather than outward behavior, it may

(237) be maintained, with some justice, that upon such questions there may be a double set of attitudes or opinions, one set representing what the individuals express publicly, that is, as a part of their institutional relationships, and the other revealing their private or purely personal opinion. If this is true, we might expect a J-shaped curve of attitude distribution for public attitudes, and another curve approaching the normal type for free expression of individual personality differences. Richard Schanck has been working upon this problem in a rural community of three or four hundred inhabitants. He asked his subjects to react for him upon scales representing, among other things, their attitudes toward baptism and card playing. The scales were given in two different ways, representing respectively the situations of public and private opinion. First, the investigator asked the subject (who belonged, for example, to the Methodist Church) to check the behavior or opinion which he deemed proper for himself as a member of that Church. In the second procedure the same individual was asked to check the scale according to his own private feelings. The steps of the scale on card playing were briefly, as follows :

1.  I will not play card games of any kind. 

2.  I will not play games with face cards (but will play flinch, rook, etc.). 

3.  I will not gamble (but will play any kind of cards for amusement). 

4.  I will play any kind of cards, whether for money or 'otherwise. 

Figure 6 shows the frequency distribution by percentages on these scales for the two types of attitude, public and private, respectively. It will be seen that in the group of fifty-two Methodists to whom the scale was given, the overwhelming majority for the public attitude fell upon willingness to play card games only so long as the cards

(238) used were not regular playing cards. These people, publicly speaking, were flinch and rook players. This attitude in fact corresponded pretty closely to their public behavior. A visitor at one of the community bridge parties in this village would have been surprised to find a small group of Methodists and Baptists in the corner playing rook or flinch, instead of auction. When their private attitudes

figure 6

were sought, however, the large majority showed a more moderate choice, with the mode falling upon the conviction that it was permissable to play with any cards so long as gambling was not involved. Here again, we find the suggestion of the normal probability distribution of free individual choice, as contrasted with the J-shaped distribution of institutional behavior.

A similar situation is shown in Fig. 7 with regard to the attitude of the Methodists of the town toward baptism.

(239) A cardinal dispute between the Methodists and the Baptists of this particular town, a controversy which had long stood in the way of a much-needed union of the two churches, was the old question of whether baptism should be by sprinkling or by complete immersion. The two parts of Fig. 7 show the distribution of the public and private attitudes of the Methodists toward this supposedly vital question. When approached as members of an institution,

figure 7

over 90 per cent of Methodists insisted upon the method of sprinkling, 8 per cent consented to either method, and no one preferred immersion. When privately questioned, however, 70 per cent said that either method was acceptable, according to the feeling of the convert. The remainder, who had any personal attitude on the question, were distributed upon either side of this mode.

While these data are only suggestive, they contain a hint of a method which can be used to study institutions and

(240) their relation to various social problems. We have shown that when the leaders of the social order look at a part of the individual only, that is, at his reaction as a unit in an economic, political, religious, or educational scheme, the leadership which they attempt to exert in that society will be likely to throw the behavior of the individuals into the skewed or J-shaped distribution. This viewpoint of institutional management and control will also be likely to obscure individual differences of thought, action, and feeling which might otherwise be expressed. Conversely when the institutionalizing of behavior is at a minimum, and the view of the whole individual rather than a mere segment of behavior is taken, we tend to find a distribution conforming to the normal or probability type, and suggesting the whole gamut of differences in traits, attitudes, and capacities which are found naturally among human beings.

If this hypothesis can be sustained, a significant index of measurement is suggested. Assuming that' we can measure collective behavior and attitudes by appropriate scales, and that we can so arrange conditions as to discover the distribution of such behavior under the control of an institutionalized plan as compared with the distribution in a non-institutionalized aggregate of people, we can then arrive at a quantitative statement of the discrepancy between these two. viewpoints as reflected in. the issue concerned. A glance at Fig. 8 will show the theoretical possibilities of such an index. Let curve A represent the complete regulation of certain behavior from the institutional standpoint, and curve B represent behavior having the same function or purpose for adjustment, but subjected to no institutional control. For example, curve A might denote the distribution on a mechanical traffic light system, and curve B the distribution of behavior on meeting vehicles at a country crossroad. Now an index might be

(241) devised by appropriate calculations to show the steepness of the slope of the J-shaped curve or the distance between the median of the J-shaped distribution (a in Fig. 8) and the median of the normal distribution (b in Fig. 8). This slope

figure 8

or distance might be taken as an index of the institutionalization of the behavior under consideration. Various types of social organization and control might then be compared on the basis of their discrepancy from normal distribution,

(242) as indicated by the size of this index. If the coefficient of institutionalization in plan X were greater than that in plan Y, then, other things being equal, X would not be as desirable as Y, because it would not allow free play for the biological and psychological differences of the majority of individuals.

We have already seen some recognition of this fact in the establishment of more flexible traffic systems. Along stretches of boulevard light systems have been so devised that a motorist starting at one end and traveling continuously at an average and constant speed, may proceed to the other end without being interrupted by the changes of signals. Even here, however, we see that behavior can be individualized only approximately, or on the average. The man who is slow and easy-going by temperament, as well as the one who seeks a release of his tensions in a heightened speed, will find even this system inadequate. A newer type of traffic signal, which I believe is being developed, is one which acts in a truly individual manner. When a motorist approaches a corner, his car passes over a tread which turns the signal, in the direction perpendicular to his line of travel, red. When he has crossed the intersection the signal goes back to green. This device would approximate the free meeting of motorists. While giving the advantages of order and safety in the regulation of traffic, it would permit also of the expression of individual differences as they naturally occur on the curve of normal distribution. The Martian observer, looking down on the crossroads, might be observing the effects of such a traffic system without knowing it, since the behavior of the individuals would seem similar at a distance to their behavior if no system 'at all were present. In such a case the coefficient of institutionalization would approach zero. The same reasoning might be applied with good effect to proposed systems for the regulation of the consumption

(243) of alcoholic liquors. If we could find the mode and distribution of natural, uncontrolled behavior in the population upon this question, we could measure the discrepancy between that distribution and the present, probably poorly defined, J curve enforced upon the population under the present law. A scale representing the degree of permanence of the marriage relation in this country as compared with Russia might reveal another interesting and instructive comparison.

Another problem involved in the measurement of institutionalism is that of the relative importance of any one segment of institutional behavior in the whole life of the individual. Some means of measuring this phase of the situation is desirable. Habits of card playing, or even habits of driving in traffic, no matter how institutionalized, do not necessarily involve a large part of the lives of individuals. But if there were associated with these habits others which also follow the J-shaped distribution, the amount of the individual's life which would conform to institutional patterns, as over against normal individual differences, would increase. Consider, for example, the view of the Catholic students at Syracuse University regarding the deity. This one element of their ideational and emotional life may not in itself be important; but if it is correlated with conformist behavior on many other matters, such for example, as the freedom of speech, the limitation of marriage, sex customs, political allegiance, and birth control, then the institutional, J-shaped distribution of attitudes toward the deity becomes highly significant. Such a state of affairs would yield an index of institutionalization not of a population in regard to a particular segment, but of an individual in his whole, or in a large part of, his personality. Some method is needed for measuring this clustering of institutional habits. An example of this, in the older institutional terminology, would be the

(244) earlier fusion of Church and State. The separation of the control of these segments, political and religious, is an ideal toward which democratic peoples have long striven. We are perhaps not so clear in recognizing the same problem today in the economic institutionalization which now ramifies into fields of education, art, applied science, family life, recreations, and even religion.


In order to understand the contrast between the individual and the institutionalized program in the field of economics, let us compare economic life in a society based upon total inclusion of individuals with that in our own society which is operated upon economic behavior segments almost exclusively. Malinowski has given a good account of the former type of society in his description of the Trobriand Islanders, a people living on an archipelago just north of Australia. The islanders living on the shore are fishers; those who live inland are agriculturists. A division of labor and exchange of products occurs between the two. There is, however, no regular market employing a pecuniary medium of exchange, as in our society. Each fisherman, instead, has established a trading relationship with a certain farmer who brings his garden produce from the interior on stated occasions. No money is passed; there is simply a direct exchange of fish for vegetables or fruits, to the mutual satisfaction of the two parties involved. Quantities exchanged vary according to the conditions of fishing or the crops. Where there is a poor catch or a bad harvest due allowance is made by the other partner in the trade. Only deliberate stinginess and laziness are penalized. It is clear that in a situation of this sort numerous and varied needs, desires, and traits of individuals come into direct contact in the business of economic exchange. Every circumstance about the individual can

(245) have potentially, at least, a bearing upon the transaction. The situation approaches total inclusion; and the behavior,  if we could plot it, would probably resemble in its distribution that of the normal frequency curve of probability. There is here little possibility of overproduction, for if fish are unusually plentiful, there is no incentive for securing a larger catch than necessary. The fisherman would have nothing to gain, for there would be no possibility of amassing monetary profits. His needs for agricultural produce would be quite as well supplied if he secured only a normal catch. The only result, therefore, of a prosperous fishing trip would be that he would not have to work so long to secure his living. He will be unemployed for a considerable part of the time. But this unemployment will not represent suffering for himself or his family; it will merely give an " opportunity to do other things in which he is interested, or simply to loaf. In short, in a system of economic exchange which is uninstitutionalized, and which involves the whole person rather than merely a pecuniary segment of his behavior, our present serious problems of over-production, unemployment, and business depression would be impossible. There would also be no occasion for under-production, hoarding, or speculation, for nothing could be gained by speculation in a society where prices, profits and dividends on invested capital were unknown.

If we compare with this simple, face-to-face situation our present complex society, we see that in the latter tremendous dislocations between needs and the satisfactions of those needs are not only possible, but likely. Business has become a matter not merely of the fulfillment of wants, but of the stimulation of new wants, the increase of sales, and the accumulation of profits. The manufacturer and merchant cast their products upon a market, hoping for the highest monetary reward they can get. If they can stimulate the buying segment of the people's behavior and increase

(246) sales, so much the better, for this will mean higher profits. And profits represent not the direct satisfaction of their own biological needs and personal desires, but a monetary surplus which can be used, both through increased consumption and through further capitalization, to accelerate segmented business activities just so much more. But let us not forget that this philosophy is founded upon only a segment of human behavior and not upon the whole individual. The purpose is to get business operating upon as rapid and high a level as possible. Business behavior is stimulated at the expense of other interests of the organism, and often regardless of genuine needs of many individuals involved in the process. What we need is a closer study of the relation between the economic segment of behavior and the complete life of the normal individual. A curve of normal distribution for the consumption of goods might perhaps be expected in a society where individual needs, traits, and differences alone determined the consumption. As compared with this distribution, it may be possible that through modern business, in which we attempt to standardize economic responses and to persuade each family to buy as many different types of goods and mechanical equipment as possible, we are skewing the curve or even producing a J-shaped distribution. The dislocation between these two curves of behavior—the coefficient, in other words, of the consumer's institutionalism—might throw light upon the problems of overproduction and business depression which now face us. We might tentatively advance the hypothesis that cycles of depression result from these periods of over-accentuation of institutionalized economic behavior. When the skewing of the curve reaches a certain point, or becomes J-shaped, that is, when business as an institution is most flourishing, then the individual organisms rebel. Fear is set up, desire for security is aroused, and people tend to swing back to a condition in which each

(247) man or woman, as an individual, and in defiance of advertisers and salesmen, determines his or her own standard of consumption. The causes of business depression may perhaps lie in this discrepancy between the curves of economic behavior under an institutional as contrasted with an individual plan.

The unemployment now prevalent is probably also due in no small part to the invention of labor-saving machinery. Such machines enable entrepreneurs to produce more goods and services with the help of fewer hands and brains, and therefore with a reduction of costs. Many workers are directly replaced by machinery and new scientific processes of manufacture. An indirect relationship is the lowering of the purchasing power of these unemployed considered as consumers, the consequent slackening of business, and the throwing of still more men out of work. In view of this fact we must view somewhat cautiously the widely prevalent policy of using psychological methods to find the best possible adjustment between the worker and his work. So long as the main criterion for that adjustment is increased economic production, larger profits, and higher wages, personnel work in factories is really only another method for accelerating the already exaggerated business segment of human activity.

If we start again from our assumption of a normal distribution of capacities among workers, we find a conflict arising in a machine industrialism similar to the conflict between normal and institutional distributions in the traffic situation. Native capacities for work, such as speed, deftness, endurance, and the like, seem to be normally distributed. Yet as the process of manufacture becomes institutionalized, that is, as we give our main attention to the efficiency of production rather than to the individuals who are producing, we find our view becoming more and more limited to particular habits of individuals rather than directed

(248) toward human beings as such. As a result, a J-shaped distribution is again superimposed upon the picture, with the mode of the distribution set at that requirement of speed or skill which must be maintained in order that the industry shall keep pace with all the other industries, competitive or coöperative, which make up our industrial system. Now dexterity, speed, endurance, and the like, unlike the acquired habits of driving in traffic, are largely based upon innate or physiological factors. They cannot be readily changed by training or by regulations. How, therefore, can a J-shaped distribution be secured among the working population? The answer is simple but grim. We produce our J-shaped curve in machine industry not by training, but by selection. We can employ only the individuals who by their nature conform, and throw the rest completely out of the economic scheme. In certain industries it seems that this is the very process which is going on today. With the aid of Fig. 9 we can picture what happens in the normal working population through the introduction of organized and technological industry. In the earlier economic era, when manufacture was a handicraft and selling was accomplished through personal relations of producer and consumer, there was a place for nearly everyone. Only a few, comprising the most incompetent (as indicated to the right of line a in Fig. 9), were completely excluded. The pattern of economic activities fitted the normal probability distribution of talents fairly well. But machines, with specialization and division of labor, have brought a change. In order to keep the modern large organizations, integrated as units, in operation, there is now required a definite and fairly high minimum requirement below which workers cannot fit into the system. A line, b, may therefore be drawn at the mode of the normal distribution curve breaking it into two halves, respectively, those who are acceptable for industry and those who are unacceptable. The latter

(249) are now discarded. As the employment of labor-saving machinery increases, and as this fact as well as other conditions of business make fewer employees necessary, the line of demarcation is moved still farther to the left, for example, to the position c. And now if we center our attention

figure 9

upon the workers still retained, we find, in regard to the distribution of their abilities, the true J-shaped curve which has seemed in all our studies to characterize the institutional as contrasted with the purely individual and biological ordering of behavior. This time the J-shaped curve has been achieved not by training the individuals to conform, but by thrusting those who do not conform out of the institutional relationship concerned.



To many readers the analysis of social problems given above will seem to imply a challenge to our whole Western civilization. Our social institutions, many will say, have carried us so far in the direction of progress, and are so unalterably intrenched in all that we call modern life, that to attack them as the root of the evils of this civilization is a hopeless diagnosis indeed. What is the value of a remedy for the evils of society when the use of that remedy would involve the denial of society itself, at least as we now know it? Most of the experts who have sought to cure our ills have given far gentler and more reasonable prescriptions. They have assumed the naturalness and inevitability of economic and political institutions as they have developed, and have tried to adjust human beings to the situation. But the purpose of the present chapter is neither to praise nor condemn, in wholesale fashion, the thing we call civilization. Much less is it my intention to prescribe, or even to predict, a future civilization to be built up when the present one has vanished. Abjuring any such presumption, I have only tried to analyze our present dilemmas, taking into account all the realities of the situation, not merely those described by economists and sociologists, but the facts seen by the psychologists and biologists as well. When all these factors are considered, the problem seems to be more complex than those who seek to solve it through institutional agencies would have us believe. I am not saying that it will be impossible in the future to guide and direct institutional behavior in such a manner as to make life more livable. One cannot foretell the effects of new institutional habits which may be established. It does seem dear, however, that many of the difficulties in the fields we have been discussing have arisen not because we are backward in our development of institutions, but because of the very fact that we have institutions at all;

(251) or rather that in trying to meet human needs through institutional alignments we have obscured the reality of the basic biological and psychological character of individuals. This reality, however it may be ignored in social engineering, will probably always remain. To overlook the facts of the distribution of human talents and traits of personality and to assert that the center of reference most important in life is the social system rather than separate individuals, may lead to the development of a social organization of amazing institutional elaboration and efficiency; but it will be sure, in the end, to invite disaster. Whatever our good intentions may be in regard to social planning, cooperation, and organization of effort, we are simply flying in the face of facts if we ignore the curve of distribution upon which individuals, as biological and psychological realities, fall. We make here no pretense that our experiments in the measurement of institutional behavior are anything more than a limited and tentative suggestion. But we are justified in warning the leaders in the management of business, industry, and social planning, that if they are really to substantiate their claim that their efforts are based upon the established principles of science, they must look well to the implications of these differences between the biological distribution curve and the curve of institutionalized behavior. Those experts who are more eager to apply scientific methods to the efficiency of social institutions than to individuals may be making the most unscientific blunder of all.

Hugo Münsterberg took the position that the business of the psychologist was to apply his techniques to the accomplishment of ends which were to be determined by others. It is not the psychologist, he thought, but the industrial, political, or educational leaders of society, working in accordance with social institutions and purposes who should be the mentors of conduct and social policy. In so far as Münsterberg meant that considerations

(252) other than those of purely psychological character should determine human ends, there is no denying his position. But the same may be said of the viewpoint of any expert, or for that matter of any social scientist or political or economic leader. Life is too vast and complex to have its objectives determined in any particular department of human endeavor or by any one person or group of persons. In the end only the rank and file of men and women, as whole and integrated individuals, can determine them. And are not psychologists, as men and women, as thoroughly qualified as anyone else? No one's contribution, of course, whether that of psychologist or of social leader, should be considered as more than the revelation of the values of one individual, so far as the ultimate objectives of life are concerned. It seems necessary then to qualify Münsterberg's conception. If psychologists are to be of genuine service in the solution of social problems, they may properly regard their task to lie not merely in showing the means toward the realization of ends dictated by others, but in studying the nature of the ends themselves in so far as they involve the integrity and happiness of individuals. It is the thesis of this chapter that many of our dilemmas result, not from some flaw in the working of institutions, some technical error which industrial, legal, or educational experts can remedy, but from the nature of these institutions themselves, and from the conflict between the attempt to direct life from the standpoint of a perfectly organized social system on the one hand and the personalities of individuals upon the other. If this is true, our problems will never be solved until we can work out some harmony between these two points of view. The task of the psychologist is, through observation and analysis, to make clear this issue and to help in the discovery of methods whereby the conflict and the possible avenues toward its solution may be understood.


  1. It should also be noted that service in business as developed in our modern era of competition means really service as a result rather than as a motive. A business man by rendering service to a prospective customer renders a disservice to his competitor by capturing the prospective customer's business for himself. The application of the principle of service through business enterprise can never, therefore, become truly universal, as an attitude of character or personality can.
  2. For this illustration the writer is indebted to Mrs. Sidonie M. Gruenberg.
  3. GAULT, R. H., "Social Psychology," pp. 176-177. Quoted by special permission of the publisher, Henry Holt and Company, and with a slight alteration as directed by the author.
  4. For these experimental facts the writer is indebted to the researches of his present and former graduate students at Syracuse University, particularly those of Dr. Arthur Jenness, Miss Dorothy Loeb, and Mr. Samuel Cummings.
  5. Some readers will object to our drawing an inference in the complex problems of public opinion from so simple an experiment as estimating the number of beans in a glass jar. I concede that our results are suggestive only. There are certain points, however, which can properly be made in defense of this inference. In the first place, our results apply only to questions of fact; that is, to questions upon which there is an ascertainable correct answer which can be used for purposes of checking the errors of estimate. In perhaps the majority of current popular issues there is no such available standard of accuracy. The questions must remain matters of opinion. In this case, obviously, no quantitative experiment is possible. We must remain in ignorance as to whether the consensus or group average is better than that arrived at by individuals in isolation. This limitation, of course, would invalidate both any negative statement and any positive eulogy of the public opinion process such as that given in the quotation above. We can experiment only with factual questions. Regarded in this light, our bean experiment seems to be much more of a kind with questions of fact involved in public issues; and the hypothesis we have suggested may seem to be fairly reasonable. There are two other cautions, however, that must be borne in mind. If the so-called public contains one or more experts who know the facts, then it will not take them long to convince their fellows of their superior knowledge, and so greatly improve the consensus of group judgment. The other reservation relates to the discovery, not of objective facts, but of the existence of common interests which can be revealed fully only through discussion. In either of these situations our experimental hypothesis does not apply. But it may be also said that these instances do not cover more than a part of that which is generally included in the term public opinion, as will be seen in fact from the quotation we have been discussing.
  6. The following illustration is a modification of one originally proposed in a master's thesis written by Milton Dickens.
  7. It should be pointed out, however, that the scale here employed, as well as others used in this study were only rough, a priori, logical scales. In order to have a scale in the true sense, that is, with steps known to be equal, it will be necessary to construct it in accordance with some special technique, such for example as the psychophysical procedures suggested by Professor L. L. Thurstone. This construction of a telic or logical scale for the measurement of institutional behavior will be the next step in the research. For the present, however, it may be said that the rough scales here used do at least suggest that the hypothesis of distribution we have advanced may be true. A change in the scale value of the positions as worded might skew the curve, but would still leave it with a tendency toward the normal type. No serious disturbance in the curve would be likely, since it is fairly certain that the steps of our scale are, at least, in the correct order.
  8. Figure 3 is taken from "A Traffic Control Plan for Kansas City," p. 150, a study by the Albert Russel Erskine Bureau of Harvard University, Miller McClintock, Director. Figure 4 is taken from an article entitled Downtown Storage Garages, by Hawley S. Simpson, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, September, 1927, p. 83. These figures are reproduced by special permission.
  9. Rather striking confirmations of these results are to be found in an earlier work of Professor Thurstone, dealing however not with the same but with a closely related question—namely attitude toward the Church. See Thurstone and Chave, "The Measurement of Attitude," p. 70, University of Chicago Press, 1929.
  10. For a more complete account of these researches the reader is referred to "Students' Attitudes," by Daniel Katz and Floyd H. Allport, Craftsman Press, Syracuse, New York, 1931.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2