Fundamentals of Social Psychology

Chapter 1: Human Nature

Emory S. Bogardus

Table of Contents | Next | Previous

HUMAN beings begin life as simple organic units and develop into personalities with complex spiritual qualities. From a helpless beginning they grow into spiritual dynamos, capable of mastery of themselves and of their social environment. The process is largely one of intersocial stimulation and response, and the product is human personalities with their attitudes and values of life. According to this analysis social psychology studies intersocial stimulation; and response, social attitudes, values, and personalities. It begins with individual human beings and original human nature and traces their growth through intersocial stimulation into persons [1] with socialized attitudes.

Out of intersocial stimulation personal nature slowly and fitfully evolves. That it has a physical basis, akin to that of animal nature, no one can well disprove.[2] It is in part a neuro-muscular system, vastly complex and not very well understood ; it is also psychical and social. It is at once a product and a cause, a resultant and a generator.

When Dr. William Healy refers to the individual "as the product of conditions and forces which have been actively forming him from the earliest moment of unicellular life,"[3] he is emphasizing a part of the truth, the product phase to the exclusion of the ascendancy phase.[4] Dr. Healy's experiences with delinquents and persons who are "victims of circumstance" have led him perhaps to overlook somewhat the inventor, the leader, or even normal persons who modify or change material and

( 4) spiritual environments. Social psychology deals primarily with normal persons as both products and initiators in the intersocial stimulation process.


Human nature originates in the psycho-physical patterns that develop in the unicellular stage of human life. Environment, however, begins to operate significantly in prenatal life. An undernourished, anaemic, or chronically fatigued condition of the mother during the pre-natal months undoubtedly has serious effects upon the physical nature and psychical quality of the offspring.[5] A mother suffering from malnutrition cannot give the unborn child a physical constitution that will ordinarily develop into a sturdy physique. Alcoholism on the part of the mother is believed to have serious effects on offspring, for the circulation of alcoholic poisons through the mother's system naturally reaches the unborn babe. Toxins from venereal disease also circulate through the blood and may permanently distort the unborn child's mental and psychical development. A sudden, violent neural shock to the mother, such as the unexpected death of a loved one, or the experiencing of great fear, an automobile accident, or other disaster, may cause disturbing results.[6]

At birth, the environmental contacts are greatly multiplied. The physical changes are extraordinary and the processes of bodily activity are numerous and varied. The earliest years are devoted to making physical and psychical co-ordinations, but therewith the psycho-social development proceeds apace. The child is born into dynamic social environments with their countless stimuli; the result is the modification and development of the original human nature traits. Communication, suggestion, imitation, and other processes operate, and personality takes definite form.

Before tracing further the development of personality by means of intersocial stimulation processes, let us examine the inherited equipment. In other words, what is original human nature?

At the beginning of life the human organism is endowed with tropistic and reflex characteristics as are the lower animal forms. It has mechanisms for responding to environmental stimuli in peculiar ways. Some of the mechanisms produce reflex and simple responses, while others are far more complex, being the bases of impulsive, habitual, and attentive activities. These mechanisms consist of a structural equipment, which in

( 5) the case of many ordinary human reactions, includes sense organs, affector neurones, synapses, higher neurone centers, muscles, and glands ; or receptors, conductors, and effectors. The activities of these factors fall into established types with a corresponding mechanistic nature. A specific stimulus creates vibrations in the sense organ, which are transmitted along the afferent neural system to the central neural system whence an impulse is sent out over efferent neurones to muscles or glands or both, and if to the latter then with emotional accompaniments. Every time the given stimulus operates it tends to discharge the whole system of stimuli and responses in the same way, and an organized habit may result.

Every person inherits certain ready-made coördinations, such as those represented by the beating of the heart, respiration, digestion, as well as other neuro-muscular mechanisms, more complicated in type, such as the so-called "instincts"with expressions that are partly innate and partly habitual. Simple and complex impulses alike are inherited ways of meeting common problems and conditions of life. Their origins are obscure but there can be no doubt about their transmission biologically from parent to offspring.

Whenever the organism receives a certain stimulus, a neuro-muscular mechanism for meeting a given type of situation is set off automatically. These standardized types of response energize the whole individual. An impulse is not a specific phase of personality, but the whole personality expressing itself in a specific way. These organized impulsive types of activity are pre-determined ways of meeting recurring situations. They serve the individual well until he faces a new problem and needs a new type of response.

Intersocial stimulation implies receptors or organs for receiving stimuli and conducting them into the neural system where responses are inaugurated. The development of receptors in the human organism makes possible seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting, and the discrimination of cold, heat, pain, and kinesthetic stimuli. Then, there are inherited organic stimuli, as evidenced by the fact that when the individual organism experiences hunger-stimuli it grows restless and seeks food; when it becomes tired, it falls asleep ; or when it is repeatedly irritated by perplexing stimuli, it grows nervous and perhaps develops insomnia, or otherwise suffers a loss in efficiency.

Moreover there are internal stimuli popularly known as motives, intentions, aspirations. A motive is explained by Woodworth [7] in objective

(6) terms. It originates in a stimulus that has not promptly achieved its goal, and which thus persists in organic activity. The internal neuromuscular mechanisms may be set off by stimuli from the receptors and thus constitute the technique of motive. The discharge of one neural mechanism, for example, of a receptor, may act as an internal stimulus to discharge another internal neural mechanism, and thus internal activities may multiply and even be organized into standard types of reaction or response. In writing this treatise, for example, I find that upon interruption it is best to make a notation in pencil of the next idea which is to be developed, or that otherwise after an interim the "next idea" which seemed so pertinent, at the time the interruption occurred may not be recalled at all or only with difficulty. In other words, as I write, one thought leads to another, and so on. There seems to be a neural process, whereby the discharge of one thought-mechanism acts as a stimulus to create or at least to release another thought-mechanism.

In addition to stimuli, receptors, simple neural mechanisms, there is the central neural system and the sympathetic neural system. The former refers to the brain and the spinal cord ; through one or both of these every nerve stimulus must pass before reaching its motor completion. Here are located the centers of what are called consciousness and sub-consciousness. The latter, the sympathetic neural system, carries motor currents as distinguished from sensory currents, to the internal organs of the body and the glands.

The neural discharges of the central neural system go out to the effectors, namely, the striped muscles which produce the visible evidences of bodily motion and activity. Then there are the unstriped muscles by which the sympathetic neural system regulates the actions of the internal organs, and also the glands which function in digestion, secretion, and excretion. There are duct glands, such as the salivary glands, the digestive glands of the stomach, the pancreas, the liver, the kidneys, and excretory skin glands. There are also the ductless or endocrine glands which in recent years have received special attention, because of their relation to the emotional tone of the human organism. The three leading endocrine glands are the thyroid, the suprarenal, and the pituitary.[8] The striped muscles, the unstriped or smooth muscles, and the duct and ductless glands therefore constitute the effector system.

Impulses to activity are the most common traits of human nature. In the main they are not highly developed at first, but are aroused by many

( 7) different kinds of stimuli. As a person's experiences multiply they become organized into definite habits and attitudes. There are also inherited impulses which are specialized although largely potential at the time of a child's birth. They are best known as aptitudes, being general, as the aptitude for speech which is inherited by all, and also being specific, as the aptitude for music, for mathematics, or for languages, which are possessed in varying degrees by some individuals, but scarcely at all by many.

Native impulses, unorganized and organized alike, may result in promoting the welfare (I) of the individual organism, or (2) of social groups. In the vast majority of instances these ends are not sought consciously, even by human beings. The chick which hears the warning cluck and runs to the mother hen does not stop to inform itself that it must hasten to cover for self-preservation. The warning cry was the stimulus which released the chick's innate fleeing mechanism, and energized the whole chick to run to cover. Chicks that do not respond to warning calls soon lose their lives ; those that respond promptly will probably be saved, and become the progenitors of a line of chicks which are characterized by this type of instinctive behavior.

The prevalence of large families a century ago in the United States, or today among the poorer classes, does not mean at all that the parents in question were or are motivated by definite plans to build up the race numerically. Most self-sacrificing, altruistic deeds are performed without thought of benefitting the race, for example, the countless acts of maternal self-sacrifice in behalf of children. It is most fortunate, in fact, that socialized conduct can thus become standardized, habitual, and sub-attentive.

The assertion that inherited tendencies are the essential springs or motive forces of feeling, thought, and action, whether individual or collective, has probably been overstressed by William McDougall.[9] The rôle played by habituation has clearly been neglected.[10] Furthermore, McDougall has isolated individual "instincts" too definitely. An "instinct" is perhaps more of a result than a cause—a result in which the purely inherited element is largely submerged in habit.[11] The term, "instinct," has developed a cluster of meanings which imply too much, and hence it is

( 8) necessary to use instead the idea of innate potential impulses. These are the core of original human nature and the elements from which personality develops. They determine the possible effects of social interstimulation; when they become organized into habitual reactions they are scarcely recognizable.

Human interstimulation plays continually upon original human nature, modifying it beyond recognition and organizing it into social patterns or institutions.[12] It is the modification of original human nature by social stimulation that transforms it into the personality traits that we know.[13]

Although the beaver needs no practice in order to cut down a tree and the first nest of a robin is as well made as the last, the human being has no such highly organized equipment. His relatively long period of immaturity, beginning with a period of helplessness when all his psychic equipment cannot keep him alive for more than a few days or hours is the organization stage of his impulses and other innate characteristics. As a result of this organization period of several years' duration, the human individual does not require the instinct equipment of higher animals. Instead, his native impulses are transformed into habits, socially and personally determined. Thus, he escapes an instinct equipment with its pre-determinism. He possesses, on the other hand, great flexibility, and limitless opportunities for personal development.)


1. Intersocial stimulation and response together with the resultant social attitudes of personality represent the main field of social psychology.

2. Original human nature is composed largely of impulses and their mechanisms.

3. A stimulus may be either objective or subjective (motive) ; in the latter case it may have definite environmental origins.

4. The "instinct" theory is overdrawn; in its place the habit-organization of innate impulses theory possesses greater reasonableness.

5. The long period of human infancy makes possible, through the processes of intersocial stimulation, far-reaching modifications of human nature.

( 9)


1. Illustrate intersocial stimulation.

2. What is original human nature?

3. Distinguish between an individual and a person.

4. Describe the operation of a neuro-muscular mechanism.

5. What is an innate impulse?

6. What is a motive?

7. What is an "instinct?"

8. Why is the "instinct" theory weak?

9. What is a reasonable substitute for it?

10. Explain: Human nature is "one of the most modifiable things we know."


1. How is human nature different from animal nature?

2. In what sense is human nature mechanistic?

3. In what particulars is the term, mechanistic, as applied to human nature misleading?

4. In what ways would a full equipment of "instincts" be a serious human handicap?

5. Give a new illustration of the modificability of human nature.

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

7. What is your chief aim in studying social psychology?

8. Would you expect that the study of social psychology will make you more dependent on others or more independent of others?

9. How far would you have developed toward your present mental level without intersocial stimulation?

10. What is the most recent illustration of your participation in intersocial stimulation?


Cooley, C. H., Human Nature and the Social Order (Scribners, 1922), Introduction, Ch. I.

Dewey, John, Human Nature and Conduct (Holt, 1922), Part II.

Edman, Irwin, Human Traits (Houghton Mifflin, 1920), Chs. I, II.

Ellwood, C. A., An Introduction to Social Psychology (Appleton, 1917), Ch. III.

( 10)

Gault, R. H., Social Psychology (Holt, 1923), Chs. I, II.

Ginsberg, Morris, The Psychology of Society (Dutton, 1921), Chs. I, II.

Hayes, E. C., Introduction to the Study of Sociology (Appleton, 1915).

Hocking, W. E., Human Nature and its Re-making (Yale University Press, 1918), Chs. VII, X.

McDougall, William, An Introduction to Social Psychology (Luce, 1914), Ch. III.

——— , "The Use and Abuse of Instinct in Social Psychology" Jour. of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology, XVI: 285-333.

Park and Burgess, Introduction to the Science of Sociology (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1921), Ch. II.

Parmelee, M., The Science of Human Behavior (Macmillan, 1913), Ch. XIII.

Paton, Stewart, Human Behavior (Scribners, 1922), Chs. I, VIII.

Tarde, Gabriel, Etudes de psychologie sociale (Paris, 1897), pp. 279-86.

Thorndike, E. L., The Original Nature of Man (Teachers College, Columbia Univ., 1920), Ch. XI.

Wallas, Graham, Human Nature in Politics (Houghton Mifflin, 1906), Part I, Ch. I.

———, The Great Society (Macmillan, 1914), Chs. I, II.

Williams, J. M., Principles of Social Psychology (Knopf, 1922), Ch. I.


  1. Cf. the statement made by Park and Burgess, Introduction to the Science of Sociology (University of Chicago Press, 1921), p. 55, that "the person is an individual who has status. We come into the world as individuals. We acquire status and become persons. Status means position in society."
  2. Cf. Stewart Paton, Human Behavior (Scribners, 1912), Ch. I.
  3. The Individual Delinquent (Little, Brown: 1915), p. 16.
  4. Cf. E. A. Ross' term, "individual ascendancy," Social Control (Macmillan, 1901), p. vii; and Social Psychology (Macmillan, 1908), p. 4.
  5. L. L. Bernard, Publications of the American Sociological Society, XVI :93 f.
  6. There is little, if any, evidence, however, that indicates that an impinging fear or a grave shock experienced by the mother produces "birthmarks" on her unborn child.
  7. Psychology (Holt, 1921), p. 84f.; also Dynamic Psychology (Columbia Univ. Press, 1918).
  8. The student should consult standard authorities in physiology for detailed information concerning the rôle of the endocrines in human activity.
  9. An Introduction to Social Psychology (Luce, 1914), Ch. II.
  10. To be discussed in Chapter IV.
  11. The treatment of "instincts" by William McDougall has called forth various criticisms, such as K. Dunlap's "Are there any instincts?" (Jour. of Abnormal Psychology, Dec., 1919), and Ellsworth Faris' "Are instincts data or hypotheses?" (Amer. Jour. of Sociology, XXVII: 184-196).
  12. See the argument by C. A. Ellwood that human nature is the most modifiable thing in the world, in his article, “The Modifiability of Human Nature and Human Institutions," Jour. of Applied Sociology, VII:229-237.
  13. Ibid., p. 232.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2