Fundamentals of Social Psychology

Chapter 10: Communication

Emory S. Bogardus

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COMMUNICATION makes intersocial stimulation possible. Without it organic forms of life would not be able to contact and stimulate one another; the world would remain like a forest, with individual forms but no mental activity. Change would not occur except by the operation of physical forces. There would be no mental growth, and isolation would rule everywhere.[1]

Communication develops at equal pace with civilization. Primitive life which is characterized by no telephones, no newspapers, no written alphabet, no means of communication except sounds, signs, and pantomimic and facial gestures, develops no large-scale governments, no world religions, and no dependability of rational thought. Animal life with its means of communication limited to only a few simple vocal and pantomimic gestures seems to maintain no connections with the past save through inherited mechanisms and no anticipations at all of the future. The social organization of a bee hive or an ant hill appears to be inherited; no change takes place in its nature unless the physical factors first change.[2] The means of communication of paramecia which are restricted to tropistic or reflex reactions are so simple that no advancement in type is generated.


1. The first requisite for communication is inherited mechanisms of sense organs, afferent nerves, cortical centers, efferent nerves, and muscular apparatus. These must have the possibility of recognizing gestures, or the beginnings of acts, and of responding with appropriate gestures in a way that indicates a consciousness of meaning.

Communication is based on an original nature that is capable of making responses. Sticks and stones not at all; lower animals in a very slight way ; higher animals in a rudimentary fashion; and normal human beings in a noteworthy degree—are capable of responding to stimuli in meaning-

( 112) -ful ways. Communication as a human phenomenon thus depends upon an original human nature capable of responding in increasingly more elaborate ways to stimuli.

2. Among higher animals, for example, the birds, there is a definite, group of cries and calls, of stimuli and appropriate responses, with some semblance of consciousness of meaning. The mother bird utters a shrill cry and the young who run to cover are saved from the impending danger, while the others are pounced upon and destroyed by the swooping enemy, Similarity of response of a special type has survival value and thus language among animals becomes a characteristic. A set of simple sounds, or calls, and cries, with shades of feeling, thus constitute an objective evidence of language.

Higher animal life also abounds with other evidences of communicating symbols and meanings. The strutting of the peacock illustrates the complex field of non-vocal communication. A variety of methods of panto-mimic gesture is resorted to by the male in his courtship attentions to the female. A mocking bird, in swooping down and pecking the head of the house-cat which has captured and eaten a nest of young mocking birds, sends the house-cat to cover, and furnishes to the observer a situation where stimuli are expressed and appropriate survival responses are promptly made. The house-cat ruffling her fur and giving chase to a blustering pup which turns tail and dashes away affords another illustration of silent language,—a form of communication less diversified and elaborated than vocal language.

Another type of social situation illuminating the nature of communication is the mother-child phenomenon. The cry of the babe, a survival cry, produces a quick protective response on the part of the mother. Babes whose danger cries are not regarded, quickly succumb ; and thus the maternal response as well as the infantile cry are the products of vital needs in social situations.

The human babe cries—and thus speaks or communicates—in a half dozen or more different ways. To one who is unacquainted with children, these different cries sound alike, but to the mother they are meaningful. There are the particular cries of hunger, of physical pain, of fear, of anger, of general discomfort and fretfulness, and of the acquired habit to be taken up and rocked. Each of these cries develops in the years that follow into whole vocabularies, Chinese, Italian, Russian, English, according to parental tongue. If acquired cries, such as the cry to be picked up and soothed, do not produce the vaguely desired result, they die out. In other words, the cry and the recognition of its meaning are inseparable.

( 113) and language is comprised of symbols and their meaning. The significance of the symbol must be clear to the individual with whom communication is held.

In the case of the mother and babe, it should be noted that the babe's gestures or cries have much more meaning to the mother than the mother's gestures to the babe. To a crying child of tender years in a public meeting, no responses of the parents seem to have any effective meaning. Learning evidently rests upon getting a meaning for stimuli.

3. In the next place, a similarity of original nature is to be emphasized as essential. The dying cry of the chicken in the cat's jaw produces no disturbing activity on the part of the nearby mother-Newfoundland; and a babe's cries of hunger arouse no response from the nesting swallow under the eaves. The mother who responds quickly, without thinking, to the crying child possesses a native constitution similar to that of the child. Her quick protection of an injured animal also discloses an original nature similar to that of the animal. The fact that she does not respond to cries of trap-ensnared rodents or other destructive animals seems best explained by the fact that she has developed a psychical background of dislike for destructive animals and that this dislike overcomes the tendency to sympathetic response arising out of similarity of structure and functions. Communication therefore implies similarity of original nature.

4. Communication arises out of common needs such as those for food, protection, and continuance of the species. In meeting these needs, individuals tend to develop like responses to like stimuli together with a uniformity of structure and function which is the essence of original human nature and of communication.

5. Communication involves gestures or symbols of various types. Sometimes these are pantomimic, that is, made by the hands and shoulders ; sometimes they are facial; and again, they are vocal, involving an elaborate development of the vocal apparatus and of a system of sound-signs, together with alphabets, words, languages, and literatures.

(1) Gestures of the hands and shoulders are common among the deaf, in fact, deaf and dumb alphabets and languages represent a unique development of gesturing and of communication. Foreigners in a strange environment resort continually to the use of the hands in trying to make their wants known. The teacher of English to immigrants may begin with the "action" method and by the use of the hands simultaneously point to and pronounce the names of objects, thus conveying through symbols a variety of meanings. In illustrating the significance of verbs, for example, the verb, to run, the teacher may run, employing the whole

( 114) body in action as a symbol. Whenever at a loss for a word a person often resorts to gesticulations in order to convey his meaning. In a moment of-anger or of excitement the pantomimic gestures become vigorous and follow one another in rapid succession. The orator is generally a past-master in the use of pantomimic gestures, which may be of the broad sweeping kind, the clenched fist pugnaciously directed at the audience, or of the menacing forefinger type.

The ordinary gestures of the hands and shoulders convey meanings which are easy to grasp. They resemble the pantomimic gestures of animals, such as those of playful cubs, of fighting dogs, and of friendly birds. Pantomimic gestures are practical, for example, the open extended hand, or the clenched fist. They are unconsciously imitated on a large scale; an entire people may develop characteristic gestures of the hands or shoulders.

Pantomimic gestures of civilized human beings, such as a deaf and dumb "sign" language, are related to the ordinary gesture of the hands and shoulders of primitive people. The latter are often able to communicate in this way with civilized people. For example, it is reported that at the World's Fair in Chicago the Eskimos began to use "signs," and carried on the rudiments of a conversation with deaf and dumb Americans. The two groups possessed an elementary medium of communication.

(2) Facial gestures center about the eyes and mouth. Like pantomimic gestures, they are easily and universally intelligible. If you are perfectly frank and unreserved when you look at me, I can tell how you feel about me even though you do not speak my vocal language. The smile of welcome, the glance of hatred, the lowered brow are understood the world round. The foreigner always and naturally gives careful attention to the facial gestures of the people whom he meets, whether he be a Greek immigrant in the United States or an American in Turkey. Although he may require several years to learn the vocal language of a country, he understands facial gestures at once and has a simple but common basis of communication with the natives.

Animals, children, primitive people, and even shrewd business men often communicate volumes to one another by the silent method. Attitudes of body and particularly of facial expression stand for whole acts with accompanying meanings. An examination of the following description of a fight between two native boys of Fakaofu discloses communication of a positive sort by pantomimic and facial gestures without the use of a sound language.

The matter did not come to blows. They stood perfectly still some distance apart, looking at one another under lowering brows for several seconds. Then a quick threatening movement on one side would be responded to by a

(115) defiant one on the other, and then followed another spell of mutual inspection. These became longer and longer, and the threatening movement less and less energetic, until each went his own way and the whole (fight) was over. The whole affair was conducted in perfect silence.[3]

All acting on the stage or off the stage discloses the power of pantomimic and facial gestures. The motion picture or the silent drama, with only a small degree of help from the printed word and no assistance at all from the spoken word, produces bursts of applause, cries of fear, and hissing of no uncertain meaning. Here we have perhaps the most common and positive demonstration of silent communication, with its sets of bodily symbols interpreted in common ways by people of a common original nature, and common mechanisms of response.

(3) Vocal language arises out of the sudden exhalation of the breath—in the exclamatory cry.[4] This exclamation in turn is preceded by an unanticipated change in the social or physical situation that requires or is naturally followed by quick adjustments. Sometimes the exclamation is a protective cry, similar to the warning call or cry of the mother bird. Out of the needs produced by shifting social situations language has its psychological origin, and out of the same types of situations vocal languages and alphabets are produced. It is these same social situations which also are related to the size and richness of human vocabularies, and which in fact are apparently the main determining factors in vocabulary building. The first use of vocal speech is to express pleasure or displeasure ;[5] thus, it represents affective nature.

An elemental step in the process of language formation is the naming of objects, that is, the creating of nouns. When the baby cries "ba ba," "pa pa," and "ma ma," he is unconsciously suggesting the general names by which he, his father, and his mother have become known. The rise of verbs, except as they are sometimes used as nouns, comes later. A verb involves the recognition of two objects and particularly of the relationship between them. Abstract concepts are the last phases of language to acquire definite meaning. Although they may attract the attention of young children they are rarely well understood even by mature persons. A five year old child who possesses a considerable vocabulary of nouns, verbs, and other word symbols will persistently ask such questions as these : What is "honesty"? What does "honest to goodness" mean? What does

( 116) "I doubt it" mean? And an adult finds difficulty in reducing such a term as "democracy" to a meaning that is universally understood and accepted.

One of the simpler forms of vocal communication is whistling. Young people communicate with one another, parents call children and so forth, by simple whistles. Fraternities and sororities sometimes develop specific whistle calls. Some primitive people have even made a vocal language out of whistling; not only tunes but specific messages are thus conveyed. For example :

In the island of Gomera everybody except a few dignitaries can converse at a distance by whistling, and express anything that words can express. They have a special note for every syllable. Natives of the Cameroons sometimes whistle a message instead of drumming it. Frobenius found that his expedition to Togoland was announced in this way to the German official forty miles away. Other tribes in the north of Africa had the same practise, but the Arabs suppressed it.[6]

As new social situations arise, new symbols of expression are needed. Sometimes communication is the shortest cut between two ideas, namely, by a new slang phrase. That is to say, language is always in process of creation. As a rule new communicative gestures have been created fortuitously and thoughtlessly. An increased degree of conscious control of the processes of inventing language would tend to prevent the formation of illogical language monstrosities and ill-cultured "slanguage" ; it would result in a perfected means of vocal and written communication.

In every case of pantomimic, facial, or vocal gesture, the gesture represents the beginning of a whole act.[7] As soon as the second party recognizes the act for which the given gesture is the beginning, communication is taking place. The response will consist of another gesture, which in turn is the beginning of another act—and communication by interchange of pantomimic, facial, and vocal attitudes and suitable responses takes place. Hence communication is a social process, consisting in an interchange of gestures and appropriate responses between persons possessing a common group background and a common original nature ; and language is disclosed as a conversation of attitudes and responses. Social life is basic to and develops out of interchanges of symbols and their meanings between individuals.

An investigator of mountain social life reports the following occurrence :[8]


Where one of West Virginia's creeks begins, a woman of our party made friends with a girl of 14, who, after the ice was broken, said simply, "I like you." And when this new found friend, "the stranger," went away, the little girl climbed up to a ledge of rock overlooking the trail, and the woman, looking back till the trail turned in the forest, saw limned against the skyline the lone figure of a lonely girl in calico. The woman waved but received no response. The explanation of this omission, perhaps, is to be found in another instance, when the visitor waved back to a little group of mother and children standing before the cabin door and overheard the question of the oldest of the girls, "Ma, wha'd she do that fer?"

In these cases the gestures were apparently without meaning. The ideas which the pantomimic gestures represented were not comprehended. Communication was incomplete—the gesture was given, but the meaning was not manifest to the recipient. The symbols of language, thus, are associated with some element or group of elements of experience before they have even "rudimentary linguistic significance."[9] It is in this "element" of experience that the "meaning" of language symbols is found. Moreover, "the symbols that ticket off experience" are associated with groups of experiences, not with a single, isolated experience.[10] Language symbols give form to culture. "They are invisible garments that drape themselves about our spirit and give a predetermined form to all its symbolic expressions."[11]

6. The most common form of communication is ordinary conversation, or talk. Talk constitutes the essence of discussion, which will be analyzed in a later chapter and the basis of opinion, also the theme of an entire chapter. Conversation, thus, is a vital as well as a fascinating theme in social psychology. The best type of conversationalist possesses several attributes, a few of which may be noted.

(I) The best conversationalist has something to give, besides words; he is not merely a fluent talker. He has more than a large vocabulary and a wide command of English. While a mastery of linguistics is an evidence of culture and opens doors to the best thought of all civilized peoples, yet a superior conversationalist is not a linguist only, for he may be able "to speak in seven languages but to think in none." He has a rich personality, the product of many and fundamental social experiences. He projects this personality into social situations and throws helpful sympathetic stimuli into the lives of those whom he contacts. He communicates to others the meaning of life's richest experiences.

(2) A superior conversationalist knows at least a few phases of life

( 118) well and authoritatively, but he does not talk "shop." At this point most persons are helpless. They know and can talk only about one thing—their daily work. Outside this field they have nothing to converse about, except the weather and items of gossip. The praiseworthy conversationalist has overcome this difficulty by developing a number of avocational interests. Through these he projects his personality into the lives of other persons in stimulating ways. Perhaps he has traveled and observed carefully when traveling, thus saturating his mental experiences with a multitude of social and physical contacts, and enlarging continually his horizon of knowledge.

(3) A superior conversationalist analyzes human attitudes and relates his funds of avocational data to the major attitudes of other people. His conversation enlightens others, not concerning himself, but regarding themselves. His conversation does not give an impression of a big "I" but of an important "you." He focuses communication not only in his own avocational experiences but in the attitudes, needs, and interests of his listeners.

(4) A superior conversationalist listens as well as talks. He is not a monologist; he does not monopolize the talking, but, what is more significant, he stimulates other people to talk. It is a part of his function to get his would-be listeners to contribute their unique and significant experiences to the social fund of mental interaction. He endeavors to learn something from everyone whom he meets and to see that other individuals likewise learn new meanings of life from their social contacts.

(5) A superior conversationalist is a director of conversation. He is a skilful questioner. He elicits information from the bashful and halts the talk of the wordy. He not only does not monopolize conversation himself, but he permits no one else to do so. He does not simply make his own contributions to discussion, but he stimulates everyone else to do likewise. By means of the expert conversationalist, thus, communication may reach a high level of perfection.

(6) Communication often starts with the feeling-emotional reactions, and culminates in music, song, poetry, and the other arts. It may partially short-circuit the intellectual processes. The gesture possesses a feeling character and may become barely recognizable intellectually. It is apt to become highly symbolic. Through art symbols with their meanings interpreted according to personal temperaments and often unanalyzed experiences, communication may reach the heights of ecstasy or be dignified by those great silences of recognition that are too profound for expression in vocal language. At such times, stirred by artistic stimuli, it seems that the

( 119) finer psychical mechanisms of individuals, the souls of persons, vibrate in perfect though silent harmony.

(7) Communication through the efforts of reason has reached a stupefying complexity. The invention of numerical systems and mathematical formulae has enabled men to understand one another when considering the composition of burning suns, when measuring parallaxes, or manipulating radium in infinitesimal quantities. The syllogisms of logic have carried communication into the remote domains of abstract metaphysical reasoning. Science employing mathematical conceptions and logical syllogisms with kindergarten ease has expanded human communication over a territory extending from microscopic to telescopic expansion. At each of these extremes philosophic reasoning and religious faith pick up the golden threads of communication, weaving them into systems of thought of universal import.

(8) Communication moreover profits by material inventions, such as the railroad, telegraph, cable, the daily newspaper, telephone, wireless, and the radio. These objective systems of conveying the thoughts and feelings of people have made opinion public, created the public as a new form of social group, and set the pulses of millions beating in daily unison. The significance of these developments will be presented in later chapters on the subjects of opinion and of publics. Suffice it to say here that by means of these communicative inventions, a person may boldly set himself up as "a center of judgment of all that goes on in large worlds of many interests." His possibilities of communication become endless, even to the point of destroying the opportunities for reflection.


1. With the multiplication of communicative machinery, such as the telephone, and the many square yards of daily newspaper, the demands upon the time and energy of an ordinary person whose work has attracted public attention soon defeat their own ends, and excess communication smothers reflection and exhausts mental resources. The early life of the race moved with geologic slowness because of lack of communicative means and of socio-mental interaction ; but on the other hand, modern life vibrates with a swiftness that breeds superficiality and disintegration, because the means of communication are multiplying faster than the opportunities for reflective analysis. As the pace increases, communication itself becomes a surface phenomenon, except for a few of the intellectually Úlite who in physical or social science laboratories, are inventing new tools

( 120) of increasing scientific accuracy for understanding the deepest and most fundamental laws of physical and societary life.

2. At its best, however, communication is magnifying the power of social vision, enabling persons to make "morning surveys" of the universe, and creating a new public opinion that leads to social amelioration. What the future has in store cannot be safely predicted, for only recently has the radio so extended the bounds of communication that national presidents contemplate calling their constituents together in municipal parks throughout the national realm and addressing them by word of mouth. It is stated that even the Pope is contemplating addressing by radio the hosts of his followers assembled in groups throughout the world. The latter possibility, however, presages the hastening of the day already predicted when all the people of the world will speak and understand a common tongue as they always have understood the same cry of fear or pain, and as most people enjoy martial music and other forms of art. In the cry of fear, of hunger, of excitement, human beings have a common and universal means of communication. From these elemental symbols arising out of common neural mechanisms, themselves preceded by common organic needs, the symbols of communication have evolved until circumstances such as the invention of the radio and its commercialization may hasten the coming of a universal language for mankind. But symbols are after all only the expression of meanings, the evolution of which is at the heart of social evolution.

3. Teaching is a process of transforming unintelligible and higher ideas and methods into intelligible and lower (from the standpoint of the learner) signs and symbols. Frequently the successful teacher whether of philosophy, science, music, or cooking, is one who goes through a whole act in the presence of the pupils. As the latter learn, the teacher reduces the "enacting" process, reproducing only a few motions or gestures, and finally giving only now and then, "a cry, a look, and attitude." The orchestra leader finds his trained players responding at once and accurately to his slightest facial and pantomimic gestures. The teacher of philosophy speaks to his pupils in enigmas until perchance by a few deft chalk marks on the blackboard he releases a flood of light.

The importance of the primary groups for teaching has been well established.[12] Its significance is found partly in the fact that in primary groups such as the family, play, and other "face-to-face" groups, communication functions most freely and easily. In them there is a basic communality of

( 121) experience, and the slightest gesture has a meaning. The face-to-face group is the best instrument for communication.

4. Communication is close to the heart of a community or a common life. It indicates the presence of common factors in the original nature of all human beings.[13] Its development makes possible the expansion and enrichment of this common nature. With a very simple or even a very elaborate set of communicative machinery, intersocial stimulation occurs ; and by it human personalities as well as civilization are developed.

Out of communication comes a recognition of likemindedness and a social consciousness. Communication enables us to generate social ideals and to realize a complex order of social co÷peration. But it may lead to shrewd dealing, chicanery, organized hatred, destructive competition, and war. It opens the possibilities of heaven or hell in societary life. With its ever increasing array of gesture-meanings, it constitutes language, perhaps the most fundamental social institution. Without it neither the family, school, church, the state, nor even human personality as we know it, could arise. Through its immediate resultant, namely, interstimulation, it opens all the flood-gates of societary enterprise.

5. Communication leads to organized world progress. It was this concept which Woodrow Wilson had in mind when he was speaking in Europe previous to the meetings of the Paris Conference. "If I cannot correspond with you, if I cannot learn your minds, . . . I cannot be your friend, and if the world is to remain a body of friends it must have the means of friendship, the means of constant friendly intercourse."[14] And this practical means of national communication is to be found in "an easy and constant method of conference."

The method of conference, "of come, let us reason together," is perhaps the most important means of communication between groups. It is producing measurable results in terms of understanding, amity, and good will in the controversies between labor and capital, between races, between nations. It develops co÷perative habits without which persons, and hence civilization, could not long survive.


1. Communication is the primary phase of intersocial stimulation.

2. Communication implies a basic community of stimuli-response mech-

(122) -anisms ; it arises in part out of common needs; it develops simultaneously with civilization.

3. Communication involves symbols with recognition of their meaning; these may be pantomimic, facial, and vocal.

4. Communication is a conversation of attitudes with their appropriate responses.

5. Communication magnifies social vision, affords teaching media, provides carrier waves for social stimuli, and makes socialization possible.


1. What is communication?

2. How is communication related to stimulation?

3. How are common needs a basis of communication?

4. What is a language gesture?

5. Distinguish between pantomimic and facial gestures.

6. What is the first expression of vocal speech?

7. What are the main characteristics of a good talker?

8. How are the arts representative of communication?

9. How is communication essential to "world progress"?


1. What is the social origin of language?

2. Why do people have a strong desire to communicate with others ?

3. What is the chief function of communication?

4. Name one new word or phrase that you have recently added to your vocabulary and describe the circumstances under which you made the addition.

5. Why is there so much conversation about trivial matters?

6. What is the origin of slang?

7. What is the origin of the idiom?

8. What is the chief attribute of a successful conversationalist?

9. Why is it difficult for many people to converse at a formal reception?

10. What is a vocal gesture?

11. Explain : A word is a syncopated act.

12. Why are facial gestures similar the world over, whereas each race has a different vocal language?


Baldwin, J. M., Social and Ethical Interpretations (Macmillan, 1906), PP. 137-48.

Clow, F. R., Principles of Sociology with Educational Applications (Macmillan, 1920), Ch. IV.

Cooley, C. H., Social Organization (Scribners, 1909), Part II.

Edman, Irvin, Human Traits (Houghton Mifflin, 1920), Ch. X.

Gillette, J. M., Rural Sociology (Macmillan, 1922), Ch. XVI.

Judd, C. H., Psychology (Ginn, 1917), Ch. X.

Lippmann, Walter, Public Opinion (Harcourt, Brace: 1922), Ch. I.

Maclver, R. M., Community (Macmillan, 1917).

Mead, G. H., "Social Consciousness and the Consciousness of Meaning," Psychological Bul., VII :397-405.

Preyer, W., Mental Development in the Child (Appleton, 1907), Ch. VIL

Tarde, Gabriel, The Laws of Imitation (Holt, 1903), pp. 255-65.
———, La Logique sociale (Paris, 1898), Ch. V.

Todd, A. J., Theories of Social Progress (Macmillan, 1918), Ch. XXVIII.

Tylor, E. B., Anthropology (Appleton, 1913), Chs. IV, V, VII.

Watson, J. B., Psychology (Lippincott, 1919), Ch. IX.

Wundt, William, Elements of Folk Psychology (Macmillan, 1915), pp. 53-67.


  1. No finer contribution to the subject of communication can be found than in Social Organization (Scribners, 1909), Part II, by C. H. Cooley.
  2. Cf. W. M. Wheeler, Social Life Among the Insects (Harcourt, Brace: 1923). III
  3. J. J. Lister, "Notes on the Natives of Fakaofu," Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXI: 49.
  4. See Watson, Psychology (Lippincott, 1919), Ch. IX, for a detailed account of the basic psychological factors in language formation.
  5. Herman Klaatsch, The Evolution and Progress of Mankind (Stokes, 1923), p. 130.
  6. Klaatsch, ibid., p. 130-
  7. See G. H. Mead, "Social Consciousness and the Consciousness of Meaning," Psychological Bul., VII: 397-405.
  8. R. G. Fuller, Rural Child Welfare (Macmillan, 1922), P. 153.
  9. Edward Sapir, Language (Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1921), p. g.
  10. Ibid., p. 11.
  11. Ibid., p. 236.
  12. The concept of "primary groups" is one of the outstanding contributions of C. H. Cooley to the field of social psychology.
  13. The fundamental elements in "community" have been discussed at length by R. M. MacIver in Community (Macmillan, 1917), particularly in Book III.
  14. See the writer's Essentials of Americanization (Univ. of Southern California Pr., 1922), p. 413, for the context of this quotation.

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