Fundamentals of Social Psychology

Chapter 21: Social Groups

Emory S. Bogardus

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GROUP life is the medium in which all intersocial stimulation occurs. Human nature, personal attitudes, and social values emerge only out of group life. Groups provide all social contacts and stimuli. Once formed the group is prior to the individual. Into groups all individuals are born ; up through them personality emerges ; and in turn persons dominate and create groups. "We react in terms of our groups," says H. A. Miller,[1] "and must always be understood as reflecting them." Group environment is the matrix of all intersocial stimulation.

The principle of group priority, that is, of the group existing prior to any human individual today, may be safely advanced. This principle is basic to the concept of imitation as developed by Tarde.[2] Imitation is more a product of group life than is group life the outcome of imitation.[3] Tarde assumes individualistic units becoming like one another, whereas the theory of group priority sees individuals imitating as a result of having similar group heritages.

Group priority is also basic to the principle of like-mindedness.[4] It partially explains why individuals are like-minded and why they respond similarly to like stimuli. It gives a unified background to both individual differences and likenesses,[5] as well as to all mental interaction.

The principle of group priority as conceived by the writer[6] arises out of a comparative study of the concrete facts regarding the individual and the group. At birth, the human infant is an inchoate mass of impulses, reflexes, and potential responses to simple stimuli. He is physically, psychically, and socially helpless, and without aid could not survive long. His life is maintained only between narrow temperature limits and by the simplest of foods. Not being able to creep or walk, to talk, or to care for himself, he is a classic illustration of helplessness.

On the other hand look at what he is born into. There is his parental group with its established language, its developed beliefs and ironclad

( 242) rules of conduct, its religious traditions and convictions, These in turn are made up out of neighborhood, national, racial, and cultural heritages centuries, even millenniums old. Often they are permeated by venerable superstitions, and by interpretations of life that have been passed from generation to generation and possess all the force of the ages. Compare the antiquity and the tremendous power of these group forces with the naïveté of the new born babe.

Even inherited traits are largely determined by group survival. Ancestors, generation before generation, were reared in groups, lived only as members of groups, under group control and survived only as their groups survived. An infant could have no hereditary equipment and hence no life, had there not been group priority for one, two, and many generations before his own life began.

Assuming that an infant could live outside of groups, how far would he develop mentally, socially, and personally? Suppose that from birth he could live as it is alleged Caspar Hauser lived, namely, by himself, with food being left for him by someone whom he never saw and with whom he did not communicate in any way. What would this individual, growing up remote from group life, be like at the age of twenty? What language would he speak? Would he wear clothes? cook food? live in a house? What kind of thoughts would he think and about what?

Through groups, languages, beliefs, inventions of all sorts, civilization has been transmitted from generation to generation, added unto and expanded. But for group transmission, the infant of today would have to begin in a far simpler, cruder way than the Neanderthal man began. Without the power that group transmission of ideas represents to buoy him up on the strong wings of civilization, he, or even the most mature of us, would not have a chance of surviving long.

The group may be a "higher relationship" than a person is, according to W. B. Bodenhafer.[7] He conceives of a person as a set of relationships, which is a part of a larger and more complex set of relationships, known as the group. Hence it is important to study the group and its influence if we would understand persons.


The ability which the human organism possesses of responding to social stimuli is another evidence of group priority. The young child is built to respond to all manner of stimuli from other human beings. As he grows

( 243) older, he becames frantic, insane even, when deprived of all social stimuli. It was once thought that the principle of fang and claw functions to the exclusion of other principles in the biological world. Darwin was one of the first thinkers to point out the omnipresent tendency of higher organisms to respond to social stimuli and proved thus that the social nature of man is as real as the egoistic. Animals which respond to group stimuli are at an advantage over those which rarely so react, and thus the laws of the survival of the fittest, when considered in their highest phases, are the laws of the survival of the social. If out of these basic group origins, the human race has emerged, then the concept of group priority has been established.

If we go further and view a person in his physical aspects as a stimulus-response mechanism, we find that he is overwhelmingly attuned to catch social stimuli. He seems to be basically a social being who develops specially organized sets of habit responses known as gregariousness, sex, and parental reactions, and other social tendencies. It seems that it is only by apposition to a social consciousness that he becomes aware of a self, of a so-called individual self, a self-consciousness; that it is chiefly by setting him apart from a group that he can be viewed as an individual at all.

Only individuals survive who respond to group stimuli ; no others leave offspring. We are descended from a group-responding ancestry. The explanation is found in the helplessness of infancy, and the reason for this helplessness is the necessity for time in developing a highly complex creature. It is in this period of prolonged helplessness that the individual's reliance on others, that is, his group nature, becomes organized.

Individuals vary in their group-response mechanisms. Some respond quickly and almost automatically to the bidding of the group so that they are of no use when their group is wrong and headed toward destruction. Other individuals who respond only slowly or belatedly to group influence are useful when their group is mistaken, but are apt to develop the habit of opposing all new group projects and hence may become nuisances. It is from this type of persons though, that some of the world's best leaders have come.[8]

He who proclaims himself self made, may be, in fact, a mere pygmy uplifted on the vast billows of civilization. He is far more group made than self made, having been given the advantages of languages, literatures, inventions, cultures, that have taken ages to make and that have been preserved and transmitted through group continuity. He is family-group

( 244) made, play-group made, school-group made, culture-group made, even more than self made. This realization need not discourage him, but after making him humble enough to reach his greatest social efficiency, it may and will stimulate him to be more of an integer and less of a cipher, more of an initiator and less of a parrot, "more of a voice and less of an echo."


The social group has a variety of origins. The interaction of physical factors and human beings as well as interaction between human beings themselves are among the main causes. Common needs lead to group organization. The need for food prompts wolves to hunt in packs; and the need for security partly explains why sheep graze in droves. Among human beings, the "gang" resembles the animal group, in that it is often an expression of elemental needs. In organized society, people slowly learn that by putting away their egocentric beliefs and prejudices, sprung from immature thought and judgment, and by working together, they can multiply the results of their labors. The whole idea is included in the simple illustration of ten men making chairs independently of each other as compared with the same ten, dividing up the process of chair-making and each working at a specialized but coördinated task.


Physical and geographic factors sometimes account for groups. The sparse resources of deserts and steppes draw peoples out into small marauding bands, while rich, fertile valleys throw them together in vast masses. Mountains hold peoples apart, while river systems tend to concentrate them. Geographic influences [9] produce what Giddings has called aggregation,[10] that is, the physical proximity of peoples. Aggregation may be either genetic or congregate. If it comes from the birth-rate it is genetic, but is thereby in danger of stagnating through lack of new stimuli, or of degenerating through inbreeding. Congregate grouping is the product of immigration. Individuals are attracted to some point because of reports of oil or gold discovery or some other physical feature, and establish primitive relationships. A congregate group is usually made up first of foot-loose individuals, impelled by wanderlust. Men generally preponderate in

( 245) the founding of a congregate group, and hence the refining influence of women is missing. The congregate group is apt to be unorganized, restless, and anarchistic since it is composed of individualistic pioneers.


The ideal group is both genetic and congregate with genetic factors predominating. The combination gives needed organization and new stimuli, stability and mobility ; but in all cases organization may well preponderate over new stimuli, and stability over mobility, or else social gains will be dissipated. If the preponderance is very great, however, mental interaction is likely to be paralyzed. Organization is needed in order to maintain law and order. Since these may easily be synonymous with injustice, freedom is needed for the play of new stimuli. Free speech and a free press governed by rules of fair play and good faith are essential to group progress.

A variety of elements, unless too widely different in nature, is a boon to social progress for it makes interaction lively and furnishes that wealth of social contacts out of which stimuli are born and nurtured. But when the population elements are greatly different there is likely to be a surplus of conflict that is uncompromising and intolerant.


Much grouping is for the moment. A conversational group may consist of two strangers met by chance on a street corner, whose contacts may consist of a few minutes of the simplest and most perfunctory talk. Still these persons are not wholly "strangers"; they probably know one another's language, dress more or less similarly, have an elemental confidence in one another, and a mutually social spirit. Their conversation is made possible by the social elements in their common human nature and experiences.

Temporary groups may spring up primarily on feeling and emotional bases. The crowd is the best known type of temporary grouping. As will be shown in the next chapter, a crowd is any number of persons in the physical presence of one another who have common objects of attention and who are governed more by their feelings than by careful thinking. Feeling is easily excited and the crowd quickly mobilizes itself into a mob or experiences a panic. The mob seeks some person or object upon which to wreak vengeance; in a panic the group flees from something which has aroused fear.

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Temporary groups may exist on the basis of rational thought. The assembly is an illustration. In an assembly ideas are in conflict. A classroom recitation, a scientific conference, a committee meeting are samples of assemblies. There is no clear line of demarcation between them and crowds ; in fact, they may easily degenerate into crowds. Occasionally in the sessions of the United States Senate members come to blows or even a grave-mannered church congregation breaks out in applause.

Modern means of communication have brought people together mentally without congregating physically. The public, or the group without physical presence, is an entity of increasing proportions. The number and variety of publics, of people who are made to feel and think alike because of reading more or less simultaneously about the same occurrences are on the increase, and public opinion gyrates with greater speed than ever before.

The transition from temporary to permanent groups is gradual, for the terms "temporary" and "permanent" are relative. In one sense there are no permanent groups, although it is common to refer to the family or nation as such. A given family may die out or scatter. Nations rise and fall. There is no reason, however, why groups might not live on permanently, for it seems as though they are not subject to the biological laws of birth, maturation, and decay. If their constituent members are wise enough, that is, if they have social knowledge and foresight, or social telesis, to use an excellent term that Lester F. Ward originated,[11] they may eliminate their destructive tendencies before these destroy them.

There are at least fourteen different important types of permanent groups, ranging from an association of two persons by marriage to the world group. These types are the family, the play group, the neighborhood group, the school group, the occupational group, the employees' and the employers' groups, the fraternal, the political and governmental, the religious, the racial, and the sex groups, and the human species group.

Permanent groups are the outgrowth of temporary groupings. The order of development is as follows : first, human needs ; then a temporary group, sometimes a committee, to meet those needs ; finally, if the needs remain active, the evolution of a permanent group or social organization. Out of countless temporary groupings, a few permanent types have attained historical prominence, but are continually subject to the laws of change and evolution.

A permanent group, such as an occupational one, by way of example, shows a history of the following order: human needs, crude ways of

( 247) meeting these needs, the invention of methods and tools, the rise of specialization, the conscious, unconscious, or accidental line of activity, the appearance of a definite occupational or caste culture, ethics, and organization. In primitive days men were hunters and fighters, and later, herdsmen; women were untrained home-makers, crude hoe-culturists, and crass manufacturers. Under settled social conditions men transferred their attention to hoe-culture and changed it into agriculture; and to manufacture and turned it into machino-facture [12] with its elaborate development of skilled, clerical, and entrepreneural positions. The higher needs of life, freedom from manual toil, the development of science, and the demand for specialization created the professions.

Permanent groups vary from purely instinctive to socially purposive.[13] The best illustration of purely instinctive groups is found among animals, for instance, insect societies.[14] The primitive horde and the family are less instinctive than a hive of bees or a nest of wasps. The modern family including courtship is often instinctive, although showing signs of conscious purpose that are worthy of these institutions. The modern state is largely instinctive, although Germany in 1914 showed a powerful national purposiveness. Economic organizations, such as corporations and labor unions, are formed for definite purposes. Educational associations are strikingly telic. Purposive groups vary from organizations which struggle vigorously for their own advancement irrespective of the welfare of other groups or of society to those which wholeheartedly and unselfishly endeavor to serve wherever they may. Permanent groups, thus, begin with the purely instinctive aggregations at the lowest extremes of the social scale, include transitional types, and end with the purely telic groups with highly socialized purposes. Nation groups are still far below the highest stage of unselfish telic development, and hence the difficulty in establishing a stable world organization.


The most significant type of group is that originally called the primary group by Cooley, whose contribution in this connection to social psychology is of first magnitude.[15] The primary group is one "characterized by intimate face-to-face association and coöperation," such as the family,

( 248) play, and neighborhood groups. It is of primary importance, because it is fundamental "in forming the social nature and ideals of the individual,"[16] because individuals live in the feeling of the whole group, and because it is from the group of the face-to-face type that one receives most of his social contacts, especially in the formative years. One's life of mental interaction is spent largely in primary groups. One's standards are usually those which will give one "some desired place in the thought of others."

The parent who can choose the primary groups for his children to grow up in can forecast their future. Their development and ultimate achievements are concealed not only in their inherited natures but equally in the nature of their primary groups. To choose constructive and wholesome groups for children to mature in is one of the greatest achievements of successful parenthood.


The larger grand divisions of permanent groups may be classified as either sects, castes, classes, or states.[17] (I) The sect is a group of persons who differ markedly but who are united by a common ideal and faith—such as religious denominations and political parties. A sect, freed from its narrower religious sense, arises frequently in the form of propaganda movements. It is likely to be intense ; and its leaders, to be motivated by determination and courage. Because of its feeling and emotional bias, a sect is apt to be characterized by narrow-mindedness and intolerance, at least, until it becomes socially recognized.

(2) The caste is a group set apart by occupation or responsibility or legal privilege or wealth so that its members show themselves non-associative and non-intermarrying with respect to outsiders. In India, for example, custom and heredity autocratically put people into castes where they must stay. In England, for example, many of the wealthy have established virtual castes for themselves. In both illustrations, purity of stock is maintained: in one case by objective and custom fiat, and in the other by intracaste control.

Wealth establishes castes, which are exclusive except as outsiders acquire wealth. The hereditarily rich caste, however, remains suspicious for a long time of the newly made or fortune-made rich. The "four

( 249) hundred" maintain a strict code that keeps out all except those who by wealth can qualify, and which forces its membership to assume an air of superiority toward all outsiders, thus doing violence to the basic principles of democracy within which it may operate.

The older professions have developed a semblance of the caste principle. Consider how difficult it is for a man to change from one recognized profession to another line of activity, and what criticism falls upon the clergyman who changes to the insurance business, upon the lawyer who shifts to bricklaying, upon the teacher who becomes a dairyman. It is disgraceful to change from a higher to a so-called lower calling, even though a mistake was made in the initial choice of an occupation. It is even a questioned procedure for a person who has reached middle life to shift from a lower to a so-called higher calling. Nevertheless, this inelasticity in public opinion is on the whole justifiable, despite the fact that in the broad sense it creates castes.

(3) The class possesses a psychological bond that is found in a unity of interests. The class is less precise in its limits, but more "formidably belligerent" in its attitudes than the caste. Observe the outstanding class divisions of the day, such as the distinction between the laboring and capitalistic classes, with their bickerings, strifes, intrigues, and underlying hatreds. Segregation and sense of superiority characterize the "class." The recent rise of "blocs" in Congress illustrates well the competitive nature of classes as compared with the more non-competitive castes. With classes, conflict is "inter ;" while with a caste, it is chiefly "intra." In very old countries of the monarchical type a class may become deeply intrenched in the customs and develop a caste-like nature.

(q) Nation states are the most extensive group organizations with powerful prerogatives that have yet evolved. A state is characterized by common bonds of language, national values, and national prestige. National loyalty and national conflicts will be considered in a later chapter. The natural climax of the state idea is now taking form in a world association which among large permanent groups will ultimately perhaps attain the most prominent place.


By interstimulation the members of a group develop, not only a self-consciousness, a social consciousness, but also a social self-consciousness,[18] which is one of the culminating points of socialization. Each individual

( 250) not only becomes aware of himself and of his group and develops personal opinions like those of his fellows, but each becomes aware of his fellows' opinions and feelings, and thus may help to swell the rising tides of public opinion and emotion. New means of communication enable persons a thousand miles apart to think and feel alike, but far more important, to know that everyone is thinking and feeling just the same at that particular time about particular occurrences. It is this outstanding fact which distinguishes groups, even the largest groups, and makes of them subjects of fascinating study; they afford an amazing interplay of leadership and social control.


Social self-consciousness is partly synonymous with community spirit. Community means common attitudes, a common understanding of different attitudes, common social values, and communion.[19] It involves participation and the rise of social responsibility. The community organization movement [20] is psychologically sound because of its emphasis upon participation as the chief means of expanding the ethical responsibility of individuals, and at the same time of magnifying the spirit of democracy.[21] Community may easily arise where a few congenial persons are gathered together, but it is difficult to secure in a city where millions live. The concept of world community is even more idealistic, but is scientifically sound, judging by the trend of social evolution.


Since a person is indebted so fundamentally to groups, since the number and quality of his social stimuli are determined by them, it would be important to measure the creative influence of different groups upon him. One might divide the amount of time he gives in a week to each of the various groups in which he participates weekly by the total amount of time that he gives to all groups in the same period of time.[22] The result

( 251) would be a rough quantitative group quotient. By taking a large number of people and finding out their group quotients for any particular group, such as the religious group or family, it would be possible to work out quantitative norms, with which any given person could compare his own quotient for that particular group. F. Stuart Chapin suggests finding out the average attendance at a group's meeting for a term of years, distribution and average financial support of the members, active membership on committees, on how many committees, for how many years, and active committee chairmanships as a basis of measuring personal relationship to group life.[23] He advances this hypothesis: "There is a direct correlation between the number of groups that the average person may belong to and the intensity of his participation in each group activity as indicated by such objective facts as regularity of attendance, membership on committees, and financial support." The suggestion is also made that group participation for each person has its saturation point. Dr. Chapin believes that this saturation point rests upon a person's range of elasticity for group participation which can be measured.[24] Such data would help in working out a quantitative group quotient.

Qualitative group quotients for a person would be more worth while and also far more difficult to obtain. An approach might be made by determining a rating for the various offices in groups as well as active and passive membership and then "scoring"a large number of representative persons in a given community. A person could divide his own score by the medium score for representative persons in order to obtain a qualitative quotient. The real group quotient that is needed is one showing the quality of social contacts and stimuli afforded a person by each of his groups. The relationships between a person's intelligence quotient and his group quotient represent another field of research.


1. Group life enables human individuals to survive and furnishes the stimuli whereby they may develop into persons.

2. The prolongation of infancy under group protection and stimulation reduces the need for inherited rigidity ("instincts") to a minimum and provides for an unending range of acquired development (habits).

3. The impact of group life and traditions upon the new-born infant is almost overwhelming.

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4. Through groups, cultures are transmitted, thus freeing each person from having to start at the beginning of civilization and create language and other mental tools anew.

5. Groups are facilitated by the influence of physical and geographic factors, such as fertility of soil and climatic conditions.

6. Groups are either congregate or genetic, but generally both.

7. Groups are either temporary or permanent, the latter being relatively few in type, and representing outgrowths of the former.

8. Inventions in methods of communication have made possible the formation of powerful groups without physical presence.

9. Permanent groups range from those purely instinctive, such as an insect society, to those socially purposive such as a city planning commission.

10. Large permanent groups are either sects, castes, classes, or states.

11. A "world group" is the culmination of the group concept.

12. The members of groups possess social self-consciousness.

13. The essence of group life is a community of spirit and reaction.

14. A person's relation to different groups may be estimated by the use of group quotients.


1. Define a group.

2. Why is it necessary that a human individual grow up within social groups?

3. Why is a person immeasureably indebted to "group transmission?"

4. Why is response to group stimuli a survival trait?

5. Why has group life made prolongation of infancy possible?

6. Explain the term, "a group made person."

7. Enumerate the differences between genetic and congregate groupings.

8. Distinguish in several ways between purely instinctive and socially purposive groups.

9. Compare sects and classes.

10. Under what circumstances may caste conditions arise in a democracy?

11. Distinguish between social consciousness and social self-consciousness.


1. In how many permanent groups do you regularly participate?

2. What is the relation of the number of your permanent groups to the number of your temporary groups?

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3. What percentage of your groups did you enter by rational choice?

4. Low far would you consider yourself group made and how far self made?

5. What is mass attention?

6. In what ways can mass attention be developed?

7. In order to get the best possibilities for group growth, what should be the proportion between the genetic and the congregate factors in group constituency?

8. Can you formulate a law regarding the relation of communication to group formation?

9. Can you suggest a way for estimating the amount of community spirit existing in a group at a given time?


Clow, F. R., Principles of Sociology with Educational Applications (Macmillan, 1920), Chs. V, VI.

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

Ellwood, C. A., Sociology in its Psychological Aspects (Appleton, 1912), Chs. XV.

Follett, M. P., The New State (Longmans, Green: 1920).

Giddings, F. H., Principles of Sociology (Macmillan, 1896), Bk. II, Ch. II.

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

Lindeman, E. C., The Community (Association Press, 1921).

McDougall, William, The Group Mind (Putnam, 1920).

MacIver, R. M., Community (Macmillan, 1917), Ch. II.


  1. “The Group as an Instinct," Amer. Jour. of Sociology, XXVII : 340.
  2. The Laws of Imitation (Holt, 1903).
  3. M. P. Follett, The New State (Longmans, Green: 1920), p. 37.
  4. F.H. Giddings, Principles of Sociology (Macmillan, 1896), pp. 17 if.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Cf. article in Jour. of Applied Sociology, VII: 84-87.
  7. “The Group as a Valid Concept," Jour. of Applied Sociology, VIII: 163
  8. As we shall see in Part Four on "Leaders and Interstimulation."
  9. Extensively developed by Ellen C. Semple in her Influences of Geographic Environment (Holt, 19o9).
  10. Principles of Sociology (Macmillan, 1896), pp. 81 ff.
  11. Dynamic Sociology (Appleton, 1915), Vol. I: 27ff.
  12. Cf. L. F. Ward, Pure Sociology (Macmillan, 1914), pp. 26, 32, 279.
  13. J. M. Baldwin in The Individual and Society (Badger, 1911), pp. 36 if., classifies groups as instinctive, spontaneous, and reflective.
  14. Cf. W. M. Wheeler, Social Life Among the Insects (Harcourt, Brace: 1923).
  15. C. H. Cooley, Social Organization (Scribners, 1909), Chs. III, IV.
  16. Cooley, ibid., p. 23.
  17. Following continental writers, such as Tarde, L'opinion et la foule (Paris, 1901), pp. 177 ff., and Sighele, Psychologie des sectes (Paris, 1898),pp. 45 ff.
  18. F. H. Giddings, Principles of Sociology, p. 137.
  19. Cf. R. M. Maclver, Community (Macmillan, 1917), Book II, Ch. I.
  20. One of the best definitions of a community is that it "consists of a group or company of people living fairly close together in a more or less compact, contiguous territory, who are coming to act together in the chief concerns of life." By R. E. Hieronymous, quoted by Stuart A. Queen, "What is a Community?", Jour. of Social Forces, I:375.
  21. Five basic principles or phases of community organization have been stated by C. E. Rainwater, namely, participation, correlation, development, self-supporting, and democracy. Community Organization (monograph, Southern California Sociological Society, 1919, Los Angeles), p. 3.
  22. Cf. E. W. Burgess, "The Study of the Delinquent as a Person," Amer. Jour. of Sociology, XXVIII: 666-667.
  23. Cf. F. Stuart Chapin, "Leaders and Group Activity," Jour. of Applied Sociology,VIII : 141-145.
  24. Ibid., p. 144.

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