Fundamentals of Social Psychology

Chapter 3: Cognitive Nature

Emory S. Bogardus

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BESIDES possessing innate affective impulses human beings may concentrate their psychic energy upon both tangible and intangible objects in ways called attention. Impulses require supplementing by deliberation, for quick automatic responses are inadequate when problems arise. Attention occurs at those points where impulses and habits are incapable of meeting environmental demands. Attention takes place where new psychical adjustments seem necessary; it is the chief factor in the process of adjustment [1] to environment, and particularly in active participation.

Instinctive, affective, and emotional nature is insufficient in human situations. New problems stimulate attentive activity and hence cognitive reactions become characteristic. If there were no new problems to solve, then the tonal qualities reflecting past experience would be clue enough for action. In new situations, the feeling tones are poor guides and hence an additional element is required, namely, thinking. With the feeling tones non-attentively evaluating stimuli on the basis of past experience, and with attention, concentrated and highly differentiated in the form of thinking, evaluating stimuli on the basis of present conditions and future probabilities, a person is equipped to solve his problems of life.

As social environments, being less stable, give rise to more new problems than physical environments, thinking is to a surprising degree a societary product,—its development having come in response to changes in social environments. Since a child of average ability growing up without social contacts would probably not advance beyond a state of mental grovelling, it is clear that one of the essential conditions for the development of thinking is folks. The effects of stimulating psycho-social surroundings are seen in the mental activity of any typical child of cultivated parents. The term, "high potential of the city", coined by E. A. Ross, refers to the myriad mental stimuli, which bombard the urban resident daily, and which unless too numerous and sharp augment his mental activity.

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After experiencing objects, a person can reproduce them mentally, which is a phase of thinking called imagining. The imagined object tends to release the same habit mechanisms as does the actual object. While images in a sense are recalled sensations, imagination is usually a projective process, that is, images from the past or present and the known are projected into the future and the unknown. Imagination enables one to understand the unknown by the known and the future by the present or past.

Erroneous is the popular idea that the imagination functions normally when it exaggerates, distorts, or falsifies. Imagination is often deliberately abused by false desires, and is not as such to be held accountable. On the other hand the imagination may fool its possessor, but even here an explanation is needful. A fact that is not definitely noted when it is before the attention is rarely recalled and imagined correctly. Since we attempt to recall many facts that were never carefully observed, we recall distortedly and hence the imagination is charged somewhat unfairly of playing tricks upon a person.

June E. Downey has found the following types of imagination:

(I) The inert imagination

(2) The stereotyped imagination

(3) The melodramatic imagination

(4) The generalizing imagination

(5) The particularizing imagination

(a) Reminiscential 
(b)     Creative 
(c) Dramatic 

(6) The ingenious or inventive imagination

Dr. Downey arrived at this classification by using "Personals" from the London Times, such as "Jaspar.—Tick-tock. Tick-tock.—Sweetie." She asked her students to select a "personal" and write a story from it. The results were examined, and classified according to type of imagination displayed. These exercises indicated possibilities for testing the imagination paralleling the modern intelligence tests.

The highest function of imagining is perhaps that of making the real seem more real.[2] It operates even in advanced physical research and also

( 28) in the abstract processes of metaphysical reasoning. The public speaker continually utilizes images in order to present his ideas to his audiences. The crowd, a typical audience, or the average reader, grows restless unless the speaker or writer resorts to images. The advanced experimenter in the laboratory imagines one possible solution after another to a problem and proceeds to try out the imagined solutions until he comes upon the correct one. His success depends in part upon his ability to imagine a variety of experiments.

Imagination enables a person to put himself in the social situations of other persons, providing he has had similar experiences. According to Balzac, imagination permits a person to slip into the skins of other persons. A genuinely selfish man is unable truly to imagine himself in the situations of other persons, for all his experiences have become habitually organized about his ego. Imagination may be used anti-socially, for by it a person may secure entrée to the lives of other persons and take advantage of them to his own selfish gain. Imagination is a basic element in sympathy, and socialized imagining, or the process of picturing personal situations in terms of the welfare of other persons, is essential to personal and group advance.


Another phase of thinking is remembering, which utilizes imagining; it is recalling by the use of substitute stimuli objects or ideas that have already been before one's attention. Remembering is recalling with an attentive awareness that something is being summoned from past experiences. Where attention has repeatedly utilized a given thought process, and a habit mechanism has been set up, then recalling is fairly dependable. If, however, very many experiences have intervened and many new habit mechanisms have been constructed since a given recall has been stimulated, then memory may be very "treacherous." The effect of intervening experiences is to modify the recall,[3] unless a habit mechanism has been regularly used.

Many persons complain of their poor memories and even patronize the memory training schools, expending more energy in trying to memorize and utilize a set of abstract formulae than is necessary in remembering by simpler methods. All who complain of poor memories overlook the fact that they are probably using only a small percentage of the recall ability

( 29) which they have inherited. For they can recall almost anything in which they have become greatly interested. They need to utilize extensively the practice of studying the given new idea and relating it, or some part of it, to an idea or a train of ideas for which a habit mechanism has already been built up. They need to learn the importance of expressing to others frequently that which they would later recall, that is, to build up appropriate habit mechanisms.


Thinking in its most complex phases takes cognizance of factors present neither in time nor space, and is known as reasoning, which in its essence is mental exploration, or following out a logical train of ideas.[4] When reflexly, or impulsively, or habitually the individual finds no suitable immediate solution to a problem, he may seek by the trial and error method for a suitable solution.[5] He may try one line of thinking after another or try them in various combined fashions. He may project his ordinary thought processes into the future for the purpose whose constituent factors center problems, or he may consider problems on the opposite side of the earth.

Reasoning takes cognizance of a larger environment than is present to the senses. It is a supreme adjusting agent.[6] It enables a person to adjust himself to the various elements of a nation, a world, or even the universe. It may secure adjustment to all the problems of life and death. It assists an individual in becoming so adapted to his social and universal environments that he develops a perfected and socialized personality.


A person can "choose" between several proposed activities and act accordingly. Psychic nature is active, but apparently seeks the line of least obstacles. The development of thinking makes it possible to consider a wide variety of factors that are not directly or immediately before one's attention at a given moment. What is called "choice" often turns out to be chiefly an out-going of psychic activity along the path appearing to present the fewest and weakest obstacles. Although this explanation of choosing is preferred by John Dewey,[7] it does not seem to include all the factors.

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It is true that when we choose "the harder thing to do," we may be selecting a course of action which has immediately ahead of it greater obstacles than some other course, but which when viewed in the long run. has a lesser amount. It is also true that there may be a greater degree of inner urge. When we waver and "cannot make up our minds," we are perhaps finding a more or less equal number of hindrances in either of two or more contemplated pathways, or it may be that the inner urges in the alternative programs are more or less equal, or that in one case the inner urge is stronger but the obstacles are greater, while in the other instance, the inner urge is weaker but the hindrances are fewer.

The so-called "margin of freedom in choice" then is to be viewed in the light of measuring the obstacles to be met and the worthiness of the competing goals, and one's habits of action. Choosing resolves itself into a problem in calculus, and is often exceedingly difficult because of the inability of attention to hold before itself all the various urges and obstacles, and also because of lack of standards for measuring each of the urges and obstacles, and for measuring the relation of urges and obstacles to each other.

The so-called margin of freedom in choosing varies : for example, when health conditions are unfavorable or when poverty pinches, the margin shrinks. For every person the margin varies from hour to hour. For nearly all persons this ability in choosing is in many ways the most interesting psychical characteristic which they possess.


Making choices and carrying them out is learning.. It is in carrying choices into effect that one really comes to know them and their meaning. The experimental laboratory surpasses the classroom because it offers so many more opportunities for acting and doing, that is, for putting ideas into action. Discussion is superior to listening to a lecture, for it provides opportunities for expression. Action underlies learning because only so can habit mechanisms be developed. I could sit beside a chauffeur and watch him carefully in his handling of an automobile every day for a year, but at the end of that time I would not be a safe driver. It is in the actual driving that I establish the habitual responses which make me reliable. Action, therefore, leads to learning.

The activity trait of human nature has been discussed by Veblen as "the instinct of workmanship," [8] He shows how ordinary persons are nor-

( 31) -mally active and desire to achieve. Native activity finding vent in new directions of both personal and social gain is inventiveness, creativeness, and leadership.

To do is to learn; experience is the greatest teacher. The one who does, without thinking, without having a sound theory, is apt to learn by the costliest method possible. There are many social situations, especially of the destructive type, into which one can put himself sufficiently by his imagination. Through doing and imagining a person has open doors not only to learning but also to invention and leadership. Where a motor response is required then doing is an essential element in learning, but in all other cases the imagination, which may be greatly furthered in its activity by sympathetic feelings, helps to bring about understanding, and makes personal development and usefulness possible.


1. When instinctive response fails in a given situation, there is a concentration of one's psychic energy upon the problem in the form of attention.

2. The rise of problems makes attention and cognition necessary.

3. The thinking of past experiences or of present or future possibilities in terms of the concrete images that one has experienced is imagination.

4. Remembering is thinking over the experiences of the past with an awareness that one has already had them.

5. Reasoning is thinking logically ; it includes the pros and cons, together with an evaluation of each.

6. Choosing is evaluating with the expectation of acting accordingly.

7. Making choices and carrying them out is learning.

8. Imagining situations and putting one's self into them also is learning.


1. What is attention?

2. When does attention function?

3. Explain : Thinking is partially a social product.

4. What is imagining?

5. What is remembering?

6. Instead of complaining of a poor memory what should the ordinary person do?

7. What is reasoning?

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8. What is choosing?

9. Why do we sometimes choose "the harder thing to do?"

10. What is "margin of freedom" in choosing?

11. How does doing function in learning?

12. How does imagining help in learning?


1. Why do you ever think?

2. Why are you thinking now?

3. When during your working hours do you think least?

4. When do you think the most strenuously?

5. When do you do your highest grade of thinking?

6. Does a squirrel need to be more intelligent than a fish?

7. Does an architect need to be more intelligent than a mason?

8. Does a child of the tenements need to be more intelligent than a child of wealthy parents?

9. Why is affective behavior expressed more quickly than cognitive behavior?

10. How far is it true that the tap-root of selfishness is weakness of imagination?

11. Is the intolerant, selfish nation the unimaginative nation?

12. What is a socialized imagination?

13. In what way do adults have an advantage over children in being able to remember?

14. Is it true that the average student habitually begins the study of his lessons by memorizing "with the expectation of doing whatever thinking is necessary later ?"

15. Is the final examination system in universities sound?

16. Can one think quickly and well at the same time?

17. In what sense is it true that only those succeed who worry?

18. Explain the statement : To think is dangerous.

19. Why do so few people develop their reasoning ability to its full extent, when it would be so greatly advantageous to do so?

20. Is it more common for a person to base his decisions upon evidence, than to seek evidence to justify his decisions?


Baldwin, J. M., Social and Ethical Interpretations (Macmillan, 1906), Ch. VII.

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

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Ginsberg, Morris, The Psychology of Society (Dutton, 1921), Ch. III.

Hocking, W. E., Human Nature and its Re-making (Yale Univ. Press, 1918), Part III.

Edman, Irwin, Human Traits (Houghton Mifflin, 1920), Ch. III.

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

———,    Sociology in its Psychological Aspects (Appleton, 1912), Chs. X, XII.

Knowlson, T. S., Originality (Lippincott, 1918), Section II.

Maclver, R. M., The Elements of Social Science (Dutton, n. d.), Ch. IV.

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

Paton, Stewart, Human Behavior (Scribners, 1922), Ch. XI.

Pillsbury, W. B., Essentials of Psychology (Macmillan, 1920), Ch. XI.
———, The Psychology of Reasoning (Appleton, 1910).

Robinson, J. H., The Mind in the Making (Harper, 1921), Ch. II.

Royce, Josiah, Outlines of Psychology (Macmillan, 1908), Chs. VIII, XV.

Wallas, Graham, The Great Society (Macmillan, 1914), Chs. X-XII.

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

Veblen, Thorstein, The Instinct of Workmanship (Macmillan, 1914).


  1. For a scholarly treatment of human thought about the nature of adaptation, see L. M. Bristol, Social Adaptation (Harvard University Press, 1915).
  2. W. D. Scott, The Psychology of Public Speaking (Pearson, 1907), Ch. II.
  3. The "recall" is so important a factor in thinking that the student should consult leading authorities in psychology for detailed information.
  4. C. A. Ellwood, Sociology in its Psychological Aspects (Appleton, 1912), pp. 110 ff
  5. An excellent summary of the different types of reasoning may be found in Woodworth's Psychology (Holt, 1921), Ch. XVIII.
  6. C. A. Ellwood, Sociology in its Psychological Aspects, pp. 119-120.
  7. Human Nature and Conduct (Holt, 1922), p. 1924
  8. The Instinct of Workmanship (Macmillan, 1914).

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