Essentials of Social Psychology

Chapter 1: The Field, Development, and Literature of Social Psychology

Emory S. Bogardus

Table of Contents | Next | Previous

1. The Field. Social psychology is the study of the interactions of personalities in groups. It is based upon the facts and principles of general psychology. It begins with an interpretation of the human mind in action. It involves a knowledge of the nature and the functions of mental processes. This preliminary field of study includes an understanding of the nature and types of the instinctive, the habitual, and the conscious reactions of the mind. Upon analysis the conscious reactions of a person show three phases: affective, cognitive, and volitional.

Upon the conclusions of functional psychology, the social psychologist builds. The first independent step is to analyze and to understand the traits of human personalities. In the vocabulary of social psychology, personality is the first outstanding term. Personalities are composed of distinguishing peculiarities which combine to form individuality; personalities also possess frequently recurring similarities which constitute sociality. Social psychology generally uses the term, individual, in referring to the unit member of a group

(14) of persons; and the term, individuality, in describing that phase of personality which distinguishes one member of a group from another. First of all, the social psychologist studies personalities with their twofold nature—individuality and sociality.

The social elements of personalities are similar and manifold. The social personality is a rich field for the social psychologist. The social instincts stand out prominently. An extensive knowledge of them is basic to a fundamental appreciation of the interactions of personalities. They underlie the growth of personal character and social institutions. Common examples are the gregarious, the sex and parental, and the curiosity instincts. Then there are other closely related phases of the social personality which invite examination. These elements include sympathy, the emotions, and the sentiments. The social character represents the inner citadel of personality. The social mirror, or socially reflected, self is one of the strongest determinants in human life and progress. Language results from the attempts of persons to communicate with one another in the give-and-take of group life. Laughter is a personal trait which as a rule is stimulated by incongruous social situations, or by ideas that represent incongruous social situations. Then there is that vast, variegated suggestion-imitation phase of personality which challenges the best thinking of the social psychologist.

The consideration of the suggestion-imitation elements of personality leads the student out into the field of group phenomena. Personalities interacting in groups constitute the very heart and kernel of social psychology. At once suggestion-imitation phenomena

(15) take on the character of fashion imitation and custom imitation. These types of social action in turn may be analyzed and re-classified under the titles of irrational imitation, rational imitation, and socio-rational imitation.

The complementary aspects of imitation are found in invention. Invention is closely related in its nature to discovery; and both are inherently similar to leadership. In social psychology one of the high peaks of observation and study is social leadership.

Leadership implies the conditions of group life. These conditions may be either temporary or permanent. Social psychology gives special attention to temporary groupings, chief of which are the crowd, the mob, and the assembly. The public may be either temporary or permanent; it may be considered a transitional phenomenon between temporary and permanent groups.

An inquiry into the nature of permanent groupings logically involves an investigation of the rise of group and social consciousness. The social psychology of patriotism, or group loyalty, is vitally important. Group loyalties result in group conflicts, which produce social changes.

The social psychology of group life includes an examination of group control, or social control. The unanswered question arises: How much and what kind of control shall the group exercise in order that the individual members may perfect their personalities to the highest degree and at the same time coordinate themselves and function as one brain in ways that constitute group progress?


It is the individual who imitates, who works over the ideas and technique of his time into new and advanced forms; it is the group which appropriates and adopts the inventions of the few. The group possesses power to encourage human personalities to the extent that nearly everyone may become an inventor and contributor to progress, or it may carelessly or deliberately stifle initiative, thereby destroying personalities and inviting group stagnation and retrogression. Social control should function so that personalities may perfect themselves in both the individuality and sociality phases of their natures, and so that groups and human society may progress.

To some writers, social psychology consists chiefly of a study of the social nature and the social activities of the individual. To other authors, social psychology includes in the main an analysis of the operations of suggestion and imitation in society. The first method is essentially subjective, genetic, and psychological; the second interpretation is largely objective and sociological.

Fortunately, these two views of our subject are converging. The new science of social psychology is developing its own methodology and speaking from its own vantage ground. Its sector of the field of the social sciences is that important territory which lies in the main between psychology and sociology, which for whole stretches is entirely uncultivated, and which in other places is tilled by both the psychologists and sociologists. Instead of permitting its advance to be directed from either psychological or sociological headquarters, social psychology is developing its own

(17) technique and programs, but is remaining subject, of course, to the rules of scientific and social science procedure.[1]

Social psychology lends itself to the problem-solving method of study. The student must assume not a memorizing attitude, but a problem-solving method of approach. He will read not to memorize, but in order to find answers and solutions. As no one can develop skill as a marksman except by aiming at targets in his practice work, so no student can acquire thorough methods, for example, in social psychology, except by keeping targets constantly before his mind. Who is more foolish than a would-be marksman who spends hour after hour in shooting in all directions, but at no particular target? Target-hitting is the worth-while achievement in marksmanship and problem-solving is the valuable goal in studying social psychology. It is expected that the student of social psychology, who uses this book will give his major attention to the problems at the close of each chapter. He is urged to search his own mind, his own experiences, and the experiences of others, for solutions of the given exercises. Then the subject matter of the respective chapters may be consulted in order to secure additional light, and finally the readings at the close of each chapter will afford further guidance.

The line of procedure in social psychology is inductive, evolutionary, and cumulative. It moves from the particular to the general, from the individual to

(18) the group, from the group to mankind, and it culminates in the subject of social progress. Social psychology approaches the problem of life from its own viewpoint which is psychological in origin and sociological in outlook. It begins with the socio-functional conclusions of psychology and ends in the presentation of societary principles, which underlie all sound reasoning in sociology. Social psychology is the scientific study of the social nature and reactions of the human mind, of the interactions of minds, of group conflicts and change, and of social control and progress. The quintessence of social psychology is found in personalities interacting within groups.

a. The Development and Literature of Social Psychology. Social psychology is one of the youngest of the specific social sciences. It is in the making. In the United States the subject did not command widespread attention until 1908. At the beginning of the present century there was no book in America that bore the title, social psychology; and only one that printed the term in its sub-title. Although the subject received recognition in Europe earlier than in the United States, its organized development has acquired headway chiefly in the last decade in our country. It has now won an established place in the curricula of our colleges and universities and of our leading normal schools.

In another sense, social psychology is one of the oldest studies. Since the beginning of human society upon the earth, man has been interested in, and has given thought to, the interactions of personalities in

(19) group life. The primitive tribe had its phenomena of individual ascendancy and social ascendancy which attracted the attention of the most advanced members. The tribal chieftain made rough calculations concerning the probable actions of his subjects when experiencing the exuberance of victory or the gloom of defeat. The Australian Blackfellow who put a taboo upon young cocoanuts in order to protect them and to have a supply of them on a given feast day possessed a rudimentary knowledge of the principles of individual ascendancy. The African belle who wore thirty pounds of copper ornaments upon her ankles in order to outdo a rival who could wear only twenty-five pounds was interested in the social psychology of fashion.

It is not until the days of the Greeks that we find evidences of extensive thought in the field of social psychology. Plato gave expression to many sound observations of a social psychological nature. If one person accumulates wealth, others will imitate. As a result, all the citizens will become lovers of money.[2] Plato supported custom imitation and opposed fashion imitation. Customs represent the ripe fruitage of the centuries.[3] The chief advantage of laws is not that they make men honest but that they cause them to act uniformly and hence in a socially dependable way.[4] Plato pointed out the parallelism between a just society and a just individual, and that the conduct of individuals in the mass is predictable.


According to Aristotle man is a political animal, that is to say, man lives by necessity in association.[5] Social organization, to Aristotle, is not as important as social attitudes. All people must become socially-minded before there can be a perfect government. The "social mean" plays a leading part in Aristotle's ideal society. The existence of only two classes in society—the very rich and the very poor—spells social disaster. Society is safe when the middle class is in control.[6] Aristotle analyzed the psychological weakness of communism when he wrote, "For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it."[7] In the mind of the renowned philosopher, social process and development are ever uppermost.

In the beginning of the modern period of thought, Sir Thomas More showed marvelous insight into the nature and causes of human actions. Fashion imitation was forestalled in Utopia.[8] Laws in Utopia are few [9] because the people are so well instructed and so socially-minded that numerous laws are needless. In not allowing the Utopians to vote immediately upon new issues, More shrewdly safeguarded them against the dangers of crowd emotion. More stood for freedom of opinion and recognized the group value of sympathy.

David Hume has been called the father of social psychology. Upon the basis of the instincts and of

(21) sympathy, he analyzed society. The sentiment of sympathy develops into intelligent co-operation. Intellectual control of society is a relatively late phase of social evolution. Against the influence of environmental forces upon man, Hume placed the power of imitation and declared that group conformity is due more to imitation than to environment. It is these ideas of Hume that answered completely the contract theory of society which prevailed at that time.

In 1859, Moritz Lazarus and Heymann Steinthal founded the Zeitschrift für Völker-Psychologie and Sprachwissenschaft, which they edited jointly until 1890. In this journal psychological analyses of the traits, peculiarities, and group activities of primitive peoples were made. Subsequently, a historical and analytical résumé of social origins appeared in William Wundt's Elements of Folk Psychology. The original work of W. I. Thomas in this field is published in Sex and Society, Source Book for Social Origins, and The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (particularly volume one). In this same field, Sumner's Folkways and Hobhouse's Morals in Evolution are classics.

Fundamental pioneering in social psychology was done by Lester F. Ward. In 1883, Dynamic Sociology was published. In it and in Psychic Factors in Civilization and Applied Sociology, Ward made clear the importance of psychic factors in social evolution. In the development of society, the psychic forces are gradually acquiring strength. Ultimately, they will assume control over the physical and the biological forces. While his psychology does not stand present

(22) day tests, Ward nevertheless was one of the founders of social psychology.

Gabriel Tarde may be called the chief founder of our subject. In 1890 he published Les lois de l'imitation, which established his reputation as an authority on the psychology of society. Through his work as a jurist he became interested in the causes of human conduct and in the nature of social processes. He declared that to understand society one must know how human minds act and interact. Through interaction they become alike. Imitation is the key to the process. Opposition between imitations occurs, and inventions result. Although the English publicist, Walter Bagehot, had written a chapter on "Imitation" in his remarkable book, Physics and Politics, as early as 1872, Tarde was the first person to set forth comprehensively the laws of imitation. The Laws of Imitation is the best single volume on that subject. Other valuable books by this author for the student of social psychology are La logique sociale, L'opposition universelle, and L'opinion et la foule. In the Social Laws, Tarde gives a succinct summary of his main theories concerning the psychical processes that are taking place in society. Tarde's conception of imitation is well summarized and criticized by Michael M. Davis, Jr., in his Psychological Interpretations o f Society. In this book Dr. Davis reviews historically and critically the literature of a socio-psychological nature. The influence of Tarde has been far-reaching. A unique tribute of indebtedness to Tarde has been given by E. A. Ross.[10]


In 1892 the Psychologie der Suggestion by H. Schmidkunz was published. This book is a pioneer work in the field in which The Psychology of Suggestion (1911) by Boris Sidis has become a well-known American treatise. In 1895 there appeared the Psychologie des foules by Gustave Le Bon. This volume at once created phenomenal interest in the psychology of crowds. In The Psychology of Revolution (with special analysis of the French Revolution), and in The Psychology of the Great War, as well as in Le Bon's other works, the reader needs to be prepared for an overemphasis of crowd psychology and for a marked lack of confidence in the proletariat. In The Psychology of Peoples Le Bon gives a brief description of the leading European races.

In 1896 the Principles of Sociology by F. H. Giddings developed the thesis that in social evolution there is an increasing consciousness of kind, or of kindred interests, which becomes the chief working principle in social processes. In the following year (1897), Social and Ethical Interpretations by J. Mark Baldwin was printed. The sub-title is "A Study in Social Psychology." This was the first time that the term, social psychology, was used in America in a title of a book. It presents from the genetic viewpoint a fundamental analysis of the nature and characteristics of the social self. Thus, two books of far-reaching importance appeared almost simultaneously, one by a sociologist and the other by a psychologist. They both hastened the development of an organic social psychology.

In 1902 C. H. Cooley's first book, Human Nature and the Social Order was published. At once it was

(24) accepted as an authority on the integral relationship of the individual self and the social self. The well-balanced, accurate scholarship of Dr. Cooley receives further expression in his Social Organization and Social Process. Professor Cooley's three books should be studied in the order in which they are mentioned here. They are the chronological development of a logical and penetrating system of thought in social psychology. The first volume elaborates the concept of the self in its relations to group life; the second explains the nature of primary groups, of the democratic mind, and of social classes; the third defines the many elements in the process by which society is characterized. The central theme of the three books is that the individual and society are aspects of the same entity and that the individual and society are twin-born and twin-developed.

The Tardian social psychology was taken up by h. A. Ross, who has gone far beyond Tarde, not only in his treatment of conventionality and custom imitation, but in producing a chef-d'oeuvre on the subject of social control. Professor Ross' Social Psychology (1908) has been widely read. It appeared in the same year that William McDougall's An Introduction to Social Psychology was first printed. These two books by Ross and McDougall established social psychology as a definite branch of knowledge.

Professor Ross used the sociological and objective method in handling his subject; Mr. McDougall utilized the psychological and subjective viewpoint. The latter made a detailed diagnosis of the springs of social action which he found in the social instincts of the

(25) individual. He gives primarily the psychological premises of social psychology and affords the student a fundamental discussion of the social instincts and of their functioning in group life. Dr. Ross, on the other hand, does not inquire into the social nature of personality nor into the genesis of the social attitudes of persons. He discusses intensively and uniquely the nature of suggestion-imitation phenomena. Custom imitation, conventionality, and fashion imitation are favorite themes. While Ross' Social Psychology is Tardian in its origin, it manifests the rare originality and phrase-making power of its author. Where Mr. McDougall concludes his analysis, Professor Ross begins; their two books have little in common except the title. Consequently, a controversy has arisen over the question: Shall social psychology be studied subjectively or objectively? The psychologists insist upon the subjective method; the sociologists urge the objective approach. I believe that the subjective analyses naturally precede the objective, that the two blend together well, and that in the blended regions the new science of social psychology will find its citadels of strength. Professor Ross' Social Control is the best book upon that subject; it constitutes an excellent supplement or complement to his Social Psychology.

In his syllabus, Social Psychology (1910), George Elliott Howard maintains the sociological viewpoint. Dr. Howard has prepared the best analytical reference syllabus (including the most comprehensive bibliography) that is available. Professor Howard planned volume XII of the "Publications of the American Sociological Society." It is entitled, Social Control,

(26) and contains thirteen papers which deal with the history and the problems of social control and which constitute an indispensable document for the social psychologist. The initial paper which was written by Professor Howard and which bears the title, "Ideals as a Factor in the Future Control of International Society," is a magnum opus.

Charles A. Ellwood in An Introduction to Social Psychology (1917) writes as a sociologist who constantly keeps in mind the psychological viewpoint. The book contains a careful and synthetic discussion of the nature and function of the chief psychic elements that operate in social life. A valuable analysis of social change under normal and abnormal conditions is made. Sociology in its Psychological Aspects (1912) by the same author is an earlier and standard work.

Italian contributions are represented by Paolo Orano's Psicologia sociale, which includes only a partial treatment of the subject. Scipio Sighele in La foule criminelle and the Psychologie des sectes has given a detailed analysis of groups.

The Great Society by Graham Wallas is a penetrating, philosophic discussion of social process and organization. The social psychology of business and industrial life has been indicated by Thorstein Veblen in The Theory of Business Enterprise, The Theory of the Leisure Class, and The Instinct of Workmanship. An incisive inquiry into the nature of psychosociological forces and especially of social control is made by E. C. Hayes in his Introduction to the Study of Sociology.


The primary group of books for the student of our subject is the standard works on the principles of psychology. The psychologies which bear the names of James, Royce, Stout, Titchener, Thorndike, Angell, Pillsbury, and other authorities are invaluable. They give the most important bases of our science. For further references and for citations of leading articles, the reader is directed to the lists at the end of each chapter and to the selected bibliography at the close of this book. Although social psychology is new as a field of organized and scientific study, it already possesses a large and increasing body of literature.

To the writer, social psychology begins with the psychological analyses of human personality. It centers attention upon the social traits of personality as they express themselves under group stimuli, and upon the resultant group activities. It concludes its work by evaluating the method of group, or social, control in terms of socialized personalities. In brief, the interactions of personalities in groups is the interesting and attractive field which the student of social psychology is invited to explore.


1. Before you began this study, what meaning did the term "social psychology" have to you?

2. What is the relation of psychology to social psychology?

3. What relation does social psychology bear to Sociology?

4. What connection do you observe between so-

(28) -cial psychology and the psychological phases of sociology?

5. Which is the more important for the study of social psychology, a knowledge of psychology or of sociology?

6. Explain the statement that formerly psychology was individualistic in its interpretations.

7. Why has the American been primarily an individualist?

8. Is the American youth today more of an individualist than his father?

9. Which is the more useful, the study of individual psychology or the study of social psychology?

10. Distinguish between racial psychology and social psychology.

11. What meaning do you see in the terms "individual ascendency" and "social ascendency"?

12. Would an abnormal development of either individual ascendency or social ascendency be good for a community?

13. When do you feel of greater importance—on a mountain alone, or as a member of a multitude of people?

14. Is social psychology an old or new subject?

15. What is the primary cause of the rise of social psychology?

16. Why has David Hume been called the father of social psychology?

17. Why does Gabriel Tarde occupy a high place among the founders of social psychology?

18. Why is 1908 a red letter year in the rise of social psychology?


19. What is your highest aim in studying social psychology?

20. As a student of social psychology what constitutes your laboratory?

21. Do you expect that the study of social psychology will make you more dependent upon others, or more independent of others?


Angell, J, R., Chapters from Modern Psychology, Ch. VI.

Baldwin, J. M., The Story of the Mind, Ch. I.
——The Individual and Society, Ch. I.

Bentley, M., "A Preface to Social Psychology," Psychological Rev. Mon., 1916, No. 92, pp. 1-25.

Blackmar and Gillin, Outlines of Sociology, Part III, Chs. IV-VI.

Bogardus, E. S., Introduction to Sociology, Ch. XIII.

Cooley, C. H., Human Nature and the Social Order, Ch. I.

Dealey, J. Q., Sociology, Chs. IV, XV.

Dewey, John, "The Need for Social Psychology," Psychological Rev., July, 1917, pp. 264-77.

Ellwood, C. A., Sociology in its Psychological Aspects, Ch. VI.
—— An Introduction to Social Psychology, Ch. I.

Gault, R. H., "Psychology in Social Relations," Amer. Jour. of Sociol., XXII: 734-48.

Giddings, F. H., Democracy and Empire, Ch. III.

Hall, G. S. "Social Phases of Psychology," Amer. Jour. of Sociol., XVIII: 613-21.

Hayes, E. C., Introduction to the Study of Sociology, Ch. XVII.

Hobhouse, L. T., Mind in Evolution, Ch. I.

Howard, G. E., Social Psychology, (syllabus), Sect. I.

Leuba, J. H., "Psychology and Sociology," Amer. Jour. of Sociol., XIX :323-42.
——, "Methods and Principles of Social Psychology," Psychological Bul., XIV :397-74.

McDougall, William, An Introduction to Social Psychology, Ch. I.

(30) Psychology, Ch. VIII.

MacIver, R. M., "What is Social Psychology?" Sociological Rev., VI: 147-60.

Mead, G. H., "Social Psychology as a Counterpart to Physiological Psychology," Psychological Bul., VI: 401-408.

Orano, Paolo, Psicologia sociale, pp. 9-114

Ross, E. A., Social Psychology, Ch. 1.

Sighele, Scipio, La foule criminelle, pp. 1-22.

Smith, W. R., An Introduction to Educational Sociology, Ch. II.

Tarde, Gabriel, La logique sociale, Ch. II.
——, Laws of Imitation,
Ch. I.

Thomas, W. I., "The Province of Social Psychology," Amer. Jour. of Sociol., X:445-55.

Tosti, G., "Social Psychology and Sociology," Psychological Rev., V : 347-87.

Wallas, Graham, The Great Society, Ch. II.


  1. According to another view, social psychology has no distinct field of its own and must be considered as either psychology or sociology; but the probabilities are that time will prove this conception to be a mistaken one.
  2. Republic, (tr. by Jowett), 550 D, E; cf. Laws, (tr. by Jowett), 742, 791.
  3. Laws, 772.
  4. Statesman, (tr. by Jowett), see bks. IX-XII.
  5. Politics, (tr. by Jowett), 1, 2.
  6. Politics, IV, ii.
  7. Ibid., 11, 3.
  8. Utopia, (Bohn's Libraries), pp. 148, 149.
  9. Ibid., p. 93.
  10. "Preface", Social Psychology.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2