Fundamentals of Social Psychology

Chapter 16: Discrimination

Emory S. Bogardus

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FASHION, custom, and convention imitation lead to contradictions and consequent discrimination. The anomalous elements in conduct are best discovered by rational analysis and discriminating habits of thought. True progress implies the elimination of the irrational with which fashion, custom, and convention are honeycombed. Discrimination seeks merit and the worthy ; it discards the useless; it implies a maximum degree of rational imitation. It sifts the tawdry and the cheap from fashion but keeps and imitates the worth while; it breaks with customs that unduly repress, but stands by those which are dynamic; it challenges conventions and forms that hinder service and growth, but keeps and imitates those that give necessary order and dignity to the values of life. Discrimination makes a cross section of fashion, custom, and convention, discarding the useless in each and adopting the worthy in each.


Inasmuch as fashion imitation rests largely upon novelty, social prestige, reputability, differentiation, it is ordinarily irrational. Of a hundred new fashions that may be selected at random from several fields, only a few possess lasting merit. As shown in the chapter on fashion,[1] fads usually are futile, wasteful, and superficial, and develop bad habits of mind. On the other hand, a new meritorious idea or activity may appear mutation-like amidst a flood of shifting fashions and needs to be recognized and promoted ; hence it is not an arbitrarily negative attitude that should be assumed regarding fashion but rather a critical, open-minded attitude.


Since customs are ways of doing which have met the tests of generations, and since human needs change slowly, a larger portion of customs are rational than would at first appear. Attention is commonly called to those customs which, because of new life conditions, have become ridicu-

( 187) -lous, while the large number which function smoothly and usefully are rarely mentioned. The content of a custom soon dies after it ceases to function. Custom may produce anti-social effects as a result of being definitely promoted by designing individuals or groups, and thus represent highly irrational behavior. Barring this type and that which naturally survives beyond its period of usefulness, custom is generally rational and accepted by the discriminating.

Although a large amount of custom imitation is unconsciously rational, it is well that it be examined and critically reviewed from time to time. To the extent that it has evolved from the ripe experience of thoughtful persons and remains rational it deserves recognition.


Convention imitation may be expected to be less rational than custom imitation, since it is behavior in the formal rather than the meaningful side of life. Conventions often gain expression in the semi-superficial phases of life where glamor or perfunctory respectability rule. But reputability is apt to cover a multitude of foolish forms of behavior; there is no guarantee that it possesses more than ephemeral merit. The chief justification of convention imitation is that it may give rigidity to soft and backbone to weak individual reactions in social life. It standardizes the reactions of human beings to one another, and smooths off rough individual edges.


It is in mental and social crises that established habits and customs are scrutinized. It is then that they are likely to fail and their possessors be jolted into an appreciation of their inadequacy. It is then that "a way out"is sought; if the old fails and a new way succeeds, the latter is apt to be recognized and substituted for the old. Crises shake people out of slavery to decayed customs and binding conventions—into adoption of new ideas and ways. Crises force comparisons and promote discrimination.

When social conditions change or when people move from one locality to another, then discrimination is stimulated. People are forced to make comparisons between the familiar and the new; comparative judgments lead to discrimination. When two procedures are forced under the micro-scope of discrimination, merits are compared, and the more rational has the greater chances of ultimate if not of current imitation.

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Modern inductive science is the chief tool of discrimination. In science merit is the chief goal sought; merit is the god before which religion, politics, wealth must sooner or later bow. Science, following laboratory and inductive methods, begins unpretentiously ; it seeks to collect facts, not to create them; and to classify them, drawing from the classifications whatever conclusions possess accuracy, merit, and truth. Any asserted conclusion is at once subjected to criticism and experimentation in all the laboratories that are maintained in the given field and when it passes this crucible, it has proved itself worthy of rational imitation. The scientific method, in other words, is dedicated by its very nature, to the pursuit of truth.

The laboratory method possesses greater merit than the text book procedure, despite the immature student's conviction to the contrary. It forces the individual to do his own examining, thinking, discriminating, whereas the latter method encourages the easy acceptance of the assertions of would-be authorities. The former is active and inquiring; the latter is passive and memorizing. Hence the question and answer method in the college classroom is to be rated high. The project method possesses even greater merit than the question and answer process, for it adds activity to mental inquiry; the socialized recitation [2] secures group participation and supplements inquiry and activity by socialized behavior.

Science which has been perennially attacked by religion generally wins, for its declarations are more accurately stated and more thoroughly verified before being advanced than are most religious statements. Religion is often resentful, being composed to a considerable degree of feeling reactions, whereas science flares up less, being impersonal and rationalistic. Whatever the errors in the use of scientific methods, such as an over-emphasis at times upon what is material, tangible, upon what works mechanically, upon statistical measurements, upon the intellectual as distinguished from the feeling and willing phases of personality, upon the "known" rather than the "unknown," scientific method itself is not to be blamed. It has attacked the available as the best means of approaching and understanding the intangible. Science is not to be held responsible for want of symmetry in its development. Those who have used the results of science have often viewed data myopically and without broad

( 189) vision, and the critics of science have been quick to heap scorn upon it. Science with its accurate tools of analysis, discrimination, synthesis is upon the surest foundation known.


The attempts to rate human intelligence and thus to discriminate between leaders is slowly gaining ground. The more accurate knowledge of this type that society possesses, the more discriminating will it become. Intelligence tests themselves, however, need to be used discriminatingly. The statement that intelligence is "the determining factor" in life and that its measurement at any age of the individual justifies a dogmatic estimate of a person's native intelligence and hence of the mental level above which he cannot rise is rash.[3] While giving full weight to the claims of intelligence tests we must regard them as measuring the social contacts and stimuli which a given individual has experienced, as well as inherited ability. In order to evaluate conduct rationally it is dangerous to rely wholly on intelligence testing ; it is necessary to get at the feeling responses, the intensity of the various desires, the social attitudes and interests, and other activity traits as well, until a person's behavior is diagnosed in all particulars.

All persons above the moron type evidently possess undeveloped resources of mental ability, of imagination, of emotional drive, of inventiveness, and of leadership traits. A democratic attitude gives ear to the findings of genetics and eugenics and yet holds no theory of racial arrogance. It would not pack individuals away for life, on a series of shelves, but rather open gates of opportunity. It would not arrogate to itself finality and impose as a result of fifty-minute tests of "intelligence," a shaming sense of inferiority. Intelligence tests being performance tests, are not inclusive of all personality traits.

Social discrimination shows that many tests of conduct now being used are narrow, individualistic gauges, such as those held by the exploiter or the miser. Others are of a local, provincial type, like those of the "politician," the corporation "interests," a "social set," or the family that relies for recognition on ancestral status. Other social standards exhibit national or racial limitations, as shown by patriotism, race pride. and race prejudice.

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When a person pronounces an idea or technique valuable his estimate is to be questioned until his scientific attitude of life is known. Pronouncements of values are to be rated high only when based on the widest knowledge coupled with ethical responsibility.


Education should make people more discriminating. Inasmuch as education disseminates improved methods of thinking and social techniques as well as facts, it makes for discrimination. Irrational education, on the other hand, permits "cultured" peoples to cling to superstitions, to hold to outworn theories, to hound the spokesman of scientific views. What passes for education and culture is often mere biased opinion that has been swallowed whole. Biases gain intellectual standing ; a thousand mouths disseminate them until they acquire a juggernaut momentum.

Again, education is not always synonymous with discrimination because of the mental habit of accepting prevailing ideas uncritically, usually owing to the authority of their source. The beliefs of parent, teacher, clergyman, senator are accepted without analysis. It is a protest against this habit that J. H. Robinson has uttered so vigorously,[4] and which E. A. Ross has put picturesquely as "jumping into our beliefs with both feet and standing there."

Then there is the general background of beliefs with which our group heritages color our thinking and even determine our biases. These regulate what ideas shall be given a hearing, and since they have generally been accepted without much thinking, our educational growth may be anything but rational. The group heritage[5] often controls educational systems and particularly the preferences of those who direct educational policies.

Education and scientific discrimination are at times wide apart because of a shortsighted commercialism. "Practical" education is sought after, but the "practical" in education means those ideas which can be turned into dollars. Ideas which lead to service rather than profits are rated low among men engaged in a competitive commercial struggle.

Education and truth go hand in hand only when the principles of science and mutual service prevail in public opinion. Under these circumstances we find evolutionary principles of progress in control. The principle of authority is freely observed, but only when the representatives of authority behave in purely scientific and democratic ways, when they live not unto

( 191) themselves in a state of luxury, but as servants of the people. The principle of following authority, under the conditions just stated, indicates an important attitude to take in a life of vast complexity where science, literature, and religion possess so many lines of activity that no one can keep abreast of the developments in more than one or two limited fields.


Pecuniary discrimination rules in business, for this field of human activity has been built up on the basis of calculation. Where there must be a regular accounting of all items handled, and where there is a competitive struggle for gains over losses, for profits in terms of dollars, then efficiency attains a high premium value and is feverishly sought. In business, merit is ever becoming commercialized; worth while ideas are "sold"; and profits become the high priest who sits in judgment upon what is or is not meritorious. Pecuniary merit is often defied at the expense of personal character and social welfare.

In modern industry, financial results again are imperious, putting a premium on the activity of laborers who produce the largest number of mechanical "parts" in the shortest space of time. Workmen who adopt a short-cut method displace those who maintain older and clumsy techniques. Consequently, the latest meritorious inventions revolutionize industrial processes.

Scientific discrimination is often bowled over in industry, for that which dazzles in a country like ours where fashion is rated high is often preferred to a more quiet, substantial type of merit. He who can work well in making clothes cheaply, in manufacturing sparkling tinsel, in constructing roads that will soon need to be repaired is apt to be rated the most meritorious. Robert Hunter has stated the idea well when he points out that the so-called meritorious uses of labor often became the wastes of labor, because employers insist that so much labor shall be put "upon cloth that goes the soonest into tatters, upon leather that tears and cracks, upon timber that is not well seasoned, upon roads that fall into immediate decay, upon motors that must be junked in a few years, upon houses that are jerry-built, and, in fact, upon nearly every article manufactured in quantity for the American public."[6]

That discrimination thus shortsightedly turned into a waste of labor is evidently to be charged first against a profit-system of industry and second, against a superficial, fashion-racing public. It is possible as for ex-

( 192) -ample in England, commonly to put good labor upon valuable materials, instead of cancelling the values in the first item by the disutilities in the second, as is so frequently done in the United States.[7]


Rational discrimination is both conservative and radical. There is no contradiction between being rational and holding fast "to the good old ways," providing no other ideas or methods have demonstrated their superiority. The time tested things are more likely to have merit than the dazzling innovations of the hour. Old fashioned monogamy is in no serious competition with the latest "free love" theory; and one need not blush to confess religion even in the presence of an arrogant agnostic.

The rationalist may also be highly radical, for he is always ready to test the merits of new claimants in any field. He is not willing "to complete his education on any point." Moreover, the rational imitator is radical in that he is willing to give up the "old" for the better "new," to forsake the old dwelling with its attachments of sentiment for the more commodious and better situated new home, and to give up an autocratic system of industry for a more democratic organization.

These conservative and rational traits of discrimination involve no dualism of thinking, only a dualism in results. The thought attitude is single and self-consistent, namely: open-minded inquiry regarding worthwhileness irrespective of date and prestige.

The rational imitator is slavishly subject neither to the pronouncements of the Great Man nor to the whimsies of the Crowd.[8] He penetrates prestige and mob-mindedness alike, seeking truth or worth, and governing his actions thereby. Hence he is apt to be no weakling. Although an imitator and a follower, he is not putty but a discriminating human being.

The rational imitator discriminates between imitating and leading; he leads when he may ; in other particulars he becomes an imitator, bowing to authority, but only after rigorously applying scientific tests. In so doing, he often requires not one whit less courage than when he is an actual leader. The rational imitator may occasionally be obliged to display heroic qualities.


A natural outgrowth of rational discrimination is socio-rational discrimination. The distinction is one of degree in application of human welfare

( 193) standards. To ordinary rationality sociality is added. The rational discriminator who develops a full measure of ethical responsibility, including a sense of obligation to all human beings and all human groups, becomes socio-rational. Rational imitation usually refers to personal conduct conducive to the advancement of self or one's group; but socio-rational conduct takes into consideration the welfare of competitors and competing groups. It is all-inclusive in its ethical and social import.

It has been common to use individual efficiency tests rather than socio-rational criteria in the business world. To crush out small competitors has been accounted just. To call a strike at a critical hour in industrial production and especially in public utilities has been considered efficient by labor leaders, but in so doing they have not recognized socio-rational standards, that is, have not thought first of welfare of the public and of the employer as well as of labor.

Strength of character and efficiency are terms that connote rational methods of living and working, but both may be used anti-socially. Psychological efficiency ranks high, but practically it often results in turning men into automatic machines. Strength of character is no guarantee of socialized action. Villains and criminals often possess great strength of character, which they use against their fellow-men. Socio-rational discrimination adds the standard of social welfare to that of psychological efficiency.

Socio-rational discrimination leads to the highest forms of imitation and suggestion. In the past rational conduct has been thought of chiefly in terms of individual happiness and welfare. This idea always had staunch support in hedonism, Epicureanism, and related theories.[9] Then, rational conduct was given a larger meaning, even in early Chinese, Hebrew, and similar philosophies, as well as in the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, and of early Christianity, and included individual action befitting the welfare of small groups, such as one's family group, the occupational group, the local club or fraternal organization. It is still considered rational to enact tariff legislation which will benefit a relatively small number of individuals as much as possible and enable them to charge the mass of consumers in their own country more than they sell the same goods for (even at a fair profit) in a foreign country. There are those to-day who consider it rational to profit by "log-rolling," by undermining or defying law, by promoting class hatred.

The concept of rational conduct needs to be expanded so that the acts

( 194) of the individual and of the group will be habitually measured not simply by local or selfish ends but by humanity standards.[10] Even nations still act along paths that are nationally selfish and call such action rational ; they have not yet worked out standards that will stand the test of what the writer has elsewhere called a world community spirit.[11] A socio-rational pronouncement was made by the United States when, through her President, she declared that she had no selfish national ends to gain, that she desired no conquest, no dominion, that she is but one of the champions of the rights of mankind.[12]

Socio-rational discrimination involves a broad-visioned analysis of human life but especially socialized habit formation.[13] By the continual setting of socialized examples of acting and talking, in the home, school, and other primary groups, a mutual service atmosphere can be created which in turn will stimulate all who breathe it to respond to every situation primarily and habitually from the standpoint of what are its social welfare values, and only secondarily from the viewpoint of "how much can I get out of it."

The difficulties in the way of arriving at rational social standards are almost insuperable. When the necessary knowledge is scanty, scientific techniques not developed, and experts in the subject disagree, it is no small wonder that the common man is lost unless he takes refuge in authority. Until standards of social values become more scientific a high level of discrimination cannot be expected on the part of persons generally. The call for a broad-visioned development of social standards, together with their wholesale dissemination was never greater than now.


1. The anomalies in and failures of fashion, custom, and convention imitation lead to discrimination.

2. Fashion imitation requires scientific scrutiny because of its emphasis on mere novelty and fashion racing; custom imitation, because it tends to persist after usefulness has ended; and convention imitation, because it unduly stresses forms.

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3. Crises "show up" the weaknesses of current and established ways of life.

4. The scientific method is the chief tool of discrimination.

5. Education may whet or dull people's discrimination, according to the attitudes and values it promotes.

6. Discrimination in modern business and industry is apt to be unscientific because they are guided by pecuniary standards.

7. Rational discrimination is conservative in that it "holds fast to the good ;" and radical, in that it is willing to experiment.

8. Socio-rational discrimination supplements "rational" inquiry by human welfare standards.


1. What are the main weaknesses of the ordinary text-book method?

2. Is it rational to follow authority?

3. In what ways are the standards of science and religion different?

4. Give a new illustration of the statement that rational imitation is conservative.

5. Illustrate: rational imitation is radical.

6. Illustrate: To be rational often requires courage.

7. Explain: "Most of us jump into our beliefs with both feet and stand there."

8. Why does education often fail to produce rational behavior?

9. Illustrate the difference between rational and socio-rational imitation.


1. Why are problems attached to each of the chapters of this book?

2. In what sense are these problems the best part of the book?

3. Indicate a rational way of "ascertaining woman's sphere."

4. Is it rational for a religious leader to require his followers "to renounce the extravagances of fashion and to dress simply?"

5. Why should the study of hygiene, psychology, and sociology help one to become "crank-proof ?"

6. Why do Americans who eat raw oysters criticize the Japanese for eating uncooked fish?

7. Why do American women criticize Chinese women for compressing their feet longitudinally when they themselves try "to escape the stigma of having normal feet" by "a formidable degree of lateral compression ?"

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8. Why do we ridicule the customs and beliefs of other peoples while we remain oblivious to the weaknesses of our own customs and fashions?

9. What effect does knowledge of the customs and beliefs of other peoples have upon your own customs and beliefs?

10. If you are trying to induce "Jews and Christians, Orangemen and Catholics, Germans and Slays, Poles and Lithuanians" to sink their enmities, how would you proceed?

11. Who has the wider outlook and the freer mind, "the average teacher or the average parent?"

12. Illustrate : "One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea."

13. If everybody should become a rational imitator, would progress cease because of the lack of people to try strange and peculiar ideas?

14. Why in this enlightened country are so many fashions irrational?

15. Why have we only recently begun to talk about socio-rational discrimination?


Cooley, C. H., Social Process (Scribners, 1918), Ch. XXXII.

Dewey, John, Human Nature and Conduct (Holt, 1922), pp. 75-83.

Howard, G. E., Social Psychology (syllabus, University of Nebraska, 1910), Sect. XIV.

McCall, W. A., How to Measure in Education (Macmillan, 1922), Chs. I, VII.

Ross. E. A., Social Psychology (Macmillan, 19o8), Ch. XVI.
———, Principles of Sociology (Century, 1920), Ch. XLVII.


  1. Chapter XIII.
  2. F. Stuart Chapin, "The Socialized Class Room," Jour. of Applied Sociology, Vol. VI, No. 11-13.
  3. Cf. H. H. Goddard, Human Efficiency and Levels of Intelligence (Princeton Univ. Press, 1922). L. B. Terman, "The Great Conspiracy," The New Republic, Dec. 27, 1922, 116-120.
  4. See The Mind in the Making (Harper, 1921).
  5. See Graham Wallas, Our Social Heritage (Yale Univ. Press, 1921), Ch. II.
  6. "Labor Once Lost," Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 131,p. 73.
  7. Ibid., p. 74.
  8. E. A. Ross, Social Psychology (Macmillan, 1908), p. 286.
  9. Cf. the writer's History of Social Thought (Univ. of Southern California Press, 1922), pp. III, 112; also Ch. XI.
  10. A pointed analysis of the rôle of standards in human conduct is given by E. A. Ross, Principles of Sociology (Century, 1920), Ch. XLVII; also see Cooley, Social Process (Scribners, 1918), Ch. XXXII.
  11. "The World as a Group Concept," Jour. of Applied Sociology, VII; 31-38.
  12. "Address to Congress by President Wilson, April 2, 1917.
  13. "John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct (Holt, 1922), pp. 75-83; also cf. Ch. IV of this book.

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