Fundamentals of Social Psychology

Chapter 28: Group Morale

Emory S. Bogardus

Table of Contents | Next | Previous

MORALE is the quality and tone of intersocial stimulation. Although it is elusive, references to it are common, and its social value is unquestioned. In an individual sense, morale is revealed when a person inquires of another : "How do you do, this morning?" The phrase, "I hope you are well,"[1] related originally to physical tone but now includes social well-being. The person who is described as working "whole heartedly,"or "half-heartedly," is being analyzed in terms of morale. "How ready are you to act ?" or sometimes, "How ready are you to wait ?" are questions that probe morale. "How much fight is there in you ?" or "How many times can you come back ?" are inquiries that strike through to the heart of morale. Personal morale is chiefly a shifting organic tone depending on the nature of objective influences.

Group morale is a product of the interaction of the organic and feeling tones of all group members. In group morale there is more than adding of personal morales ; there is a new tension, a heightened determination, and a vigor over and above the mere sum of the morales of individuals.


1. Morale is the underlying psychic tone of will assertion; it comes nearest to the surface in times of personal crisis and, in the case of the group, in times of conflict and warfare. During the World War the attention given to morale by the various nations grew rapidly as the war continued. Hindenburg was credited with the statement, "That side will lose whose nerve cracks first." The French rallying cry, "They shall not pass," reveals the heart of morale. "Morale will win the war," became a universal slogan. Of the five essentials in war, namely, men, food, ammunition, ships, and morale, common agreement rated the last factor as the most important.

Orders to go "over the top" are severe tests of morale. When the choice for an individual rests between probable death and loyalty to the group,

( 331) a deciding factor is, "How loyal are the others going to be to the group?" Morale cannot be separated from group loyalty. If this loyalty has been worked up to a high pitch then morale will know no limits.

In war, morale becomes "mass courage," and its development is a problem in creating courageous attitudes, of putting individuals into a psychic grip or vice from which they cannot escape. The famous "goose step" produced "an excessive mechanical rigidity," a helplessness in a mass movement, a high degree of susceptibility to "orders" and "direct suggestion," an inordinate feeling control.[2] A regiment of goose steppers resembles a gigantic animal controlled objectively but possessed by tremendous feeling energies. At no point does a group take on more of the attributes of organized uniformity, resembling a machine, than in the goose step.

A measure of battle morale is the loss a body of soldiers will tolerate before yielding their position. Soldiers who will hold on till a third of them are dead or wounded are considered of excellent morale. In the statement that a Japanese company will stand until the last soldier has fallen, the highest claim possible has been made for battle morale.

2. Another laboratory for studying morale is at a championship football contest, which of course represents antagonistic developments of college spirit. A "rally" is an organized attempt to augment morale, while underneath the rally there are mental attitudes which make the rally a "howling success" or cause it to fall flat. Effervescence is often mistaken for deep tonal currents. The achievements of both persons and groups depend alike on physiological and intersocial tone.

College spirit is rated very high when it gives a hundred per cent support to a losing athletic team. It arises out of parental loyalty, especially where father and grandfather have been "Harvard men." It springs from the desire for recognition and the desire to achieve. It is boosted by college prestige among educational institutions and the public in general. It receives tremendous impetus from a current athletic victory.

3. Other phases of morale are disclosed in the élan, of a barn raising of "the olden days." On such an occasion the quality of neighborhood morale is displayed.[3] From miles, neighbors came and donated a day's services to one of their number. The heavy timbers which constitute the main structure of a barn had been arranged on the ground beforehand. With all the neighbors lifting together at a given signal, the timbers were, one by one, put into place. Neighborhood morale was concentrated in

( 332) each "Heave together" which thrilled all who participated. There was a free luncheon, a great deal of visiting and hilarity, a general "good time," but most important and intangible of all, a strong communal spirit and a desire to participate in what others are participating in. If neighborhood morale is low then no superficial inducements will suffice, but if it is high, then nothing can keep the neighbors away. This morale is built up by a considerable amount of exchange of labor, of benefits received, and assistance rendered. A democracy of economic and social status is essential. As soon as one neighbor begins "to put on airs," jealousy rises and neighborhood morale is impaired.

2. Patriotism, discussed at length in the preceding chapter, is an index of national morale. Behind the response to a national call there is a state or level of loyalty. The writer has elsewhere called attention [4] to a Greek immigrant who, in commenting on the difficulty of generating patriotism in the United States during the World War referred to his countrymen as natural patriots and to us as patriots whose patriotism had to be "drummed up." "You are obliged to have four minute men to generate patriotism for you. If one of them doesn't speak well, you leave, forgetting to show respect to the worthy cause which is being presented."

In this country there have been so many advantages into which we have been born and reared that we have never been appreciative, and hence our national morale is much less than our advantages call for. This morale is hampered by an excess individualism which construes group aims in terms of individual benefits.

3. Religious fervor is another tangible expression of morale.[5] Emotional development, a powerful faith, and moving of the "spirit" are elements in this type of morale. When the members of a religious crowd become united and begin swaying back and forth, singing perhaps in a monotonous fashion, they may reach a high state of "religious" ecstasy. Morale in this instance is chiefly crowd emotion centering in religious patterns. It is spectacular, sincere, serious, but ephemeral and non-dependable as a social force. It needs an intelligent background, and sound judgment to give it balance.


The creation of morale is not so difficult as its maintenance. Being partly the product of group feeling, it is easily aroused, but it also is like-

(333) -wise quickly dissipated. Common methods of morale maintenance are of a "feeling" character. 1. Music is perhaps the most frequent support of morale. Martial music keeps up the marching. Religious music is maintained as long as "converts" are likely "to come forward." Music is resorted to in order to hold an auditorium audience steady when endangered by a fire.

2. The use of yells and bombastic songs is well-known in morale maintenance. Athletic bleachers ring with cheers for both the fighting and the fallen "heroes," and many an exhausted player has "gone through the line" as a result of a bleacher demand for a touchdown. Uproarious cheers for dying gladiators in all types of arenas keep the remaining performers at their tasks.

3. In a great crisis military leaders urge methods of taking the minds of the private soldiers from impending dangers. Although they are told enough of the immediate risk to prevent them from being stampeded against panic, their attention is shifted to more normal matters, and often an appeal is made to comic imagination.[6] Paid entertainers are secured to bring soldiers back to norms and to prevent them from worrying their strength away and making themselves unfit to fight on another occasion.

4. The elimination of those who are likely to start panics, show the "white feather," who are "yellow," who are born "knockers," is essential to morale. One shrill cry of "fire" can set a multitude fleeing for their lives; one satirical word, laugh, or look, one word of ridicule, even "poking fun,"can destroy a morale of long standing.

5. Censorship is used in many ways to protect morale. Every group holds certain things as being too sacred to be criticized. Certain personages around which the group's history has become crystallized are to be considered with respect. Children are taught to revere certain group symbols. Censorship is especially utilized with reference to the teaching of the young. Histories and other textbooks are prepared with especial care; group ideals are developed and group weaknesses are glided over skillfully. The description of group defeats is softened and condensed.

In time of crisis censorship lines are drawn taut. When capitalism fears for its life "sovietism"is imagined on every hand. When the nation is in danger, unquestioned obedience even to the stupidest dictates of incompetent officials is insisted on in order to maintain the general morale and withhold possible encouragement to enemies.

6. A peculiar form of building army morale is that of putting private

( 334) soldiers in relays on the "burial squad." In this way they develop a callousness to the dangers of battle and the thought of death.

7. Morale is often developed by a studied appeal to the spirit of soldiership, whether individuals are working or fighting. They are asked to be good soldiers, to obey unquestioningly, to endure until the end, to fight a good fight. Religion has made especial use of this type of appeal. Pseudo-patriots often ask citizens to do their duty, to support the ticket; and employers may drive their employees by stimulating the impulses of workmanship and of rivalry.

8. One of the most advanced types of creating morale is by presenting facts and by encouraging people to reason things out.[7] President Wilson relied on giving "intellectual reasons," but the people to whom he spoke were not prepared to appreciate the method. Morale may be built by visualizing for the group the essential human values. By combining facts with reasoning and with the visualization of human values, one of the most dependable procedures has been utilized in appealing to cultivated people. The failure that results is not in the process but in the fact that most people are not yet trained to the point of responding. Until that day comes, emotional methods of arousing and multiplying morale will be utilized.


When morale collapses, its nature is revealed in unique ways. From sickness an individual "gives up" and goes to bed. He cancels all engagements and if he becomes very ill, he drops his work. He "loses interest" in everything, and as disease overcomes him his most cherished aims fade away. From this example, morale is seen to be a certain expectancy buoyed up by physical health. In this way, likewise, groups are maintained in part by the sheer strength and energy of their members. A group composed of physical weaklings has not the basic element of morale. What is bad for the health tone of persons is evidently not good for the morale of the social group.

Defeat after defeat wears away the morale of a person. He rushes at a task with zest and skill. The first defeat may spur him on, and focalize his mental energies. After several defeats he grows more reflective; he examines his desire for achievement ; and changes his tactics or gives up the unaccomplished task altogether. In this instance, morale consists in feeling impulses organized into a powerful desire. It is a crude force

(335) that does not take cognizance of all the factors involved. Reason is subordinated to desire. Group morale likewise consists in part of feeling tones, organized into powerful crowd emotion. The group rushes forward head-long, being characterized by a morale that is strong in feelings but weak in rational diagnosis and prognosis.

Low morale reveals other elements. Cheating in examination affords a convenient laboratory for studying causes of morale. An examination as a test of a person's ability is also a test of his morale. Ordinarily an examination is a test of one's self respect. When the questions are unfair, when circumstances have unduly hindered one's preparation, when "everyone else" is cheating, a person may feel that his answers will put him at a relative disadvantage, and he resorts to unfair methods. Whatever the provocation, his habitual standards of right and wrong break down. Morale is thus partly synonymous with habitual ethical standards. The morale of the group is seen to be closely related to the morals of the group, to the adherence of the individual members to generally recognized standards of right.

When we turn to the chronic cheater in examinations we again find habit in the center. The brazen cheater is dishonest by habit. A low personal morale is partly represented by low habitual responses to social stimuli. Groups, also, that have low morale, are composed of members having little respect for one another. Loyalty to group values is undeveloped. No group principles have been evolved or no habits of loyalty to group ideals have been formed.

The collapse of national morale discloses other factors. In the spring of 1917 the Czarist morale broke ; in the fall of that year the Kerensky morale snapped, and a year later the German morale failed. Within a period of eighteen months these three national morales gave way, each spectacularly, but differently. In Russia the Czarist adherents had been killed in battle and constitutionalists and their sympathizers had gradually been put into control of the military forces. This new control suddenly and peacefully arrested the old régime and the constitutionalists came into control of the government.[8] The morale of the Czar failed when his military power failed. Morale had been resting on force, physical force, military force. It was not a genuine morale but a fear inspired by a rod of iron wielded by prestige.

The Kerensky morale was one of different type ; genuine but weak. It had sound principles but did not maintain itself because it required an intelligent support that was lacking among a people sixty or seventy per

( 336) cent illiterate. The Kerensky government came into control at a time when an autocratically ruled people had become frantic, when the seeds of communism had been widely sown ; it maintained itself until the exiled leaders of communism and bolshevism returned from Siberia and foreign countries and, utilizing the soviets and appealing to the feelings of an aristocracy-hating and bourgeois-hating proletariat, brushed the Kerensky forces aside and swept into power. Popular feelings swung to the extreme, and the Kerensky morale, also weakened by some unwise decisions by its leaders, was caught between Czarism and bolshevism, and was smothered. Here was a morale that under other conditions might have flourished, for at heart it was composed of an intelligent loyalty to sound principles.

The break of the German morale came when the German people began to perceive that all the strength of American resources and men were against them. The officers of the German armies, realizing this situation, made a determined drive to reach Paris, but failing of the grand objective, the loyalty to the Kaiser that had systematically been built up through the years began to crumble. With America against them, with their strength depleted by four years of fighting, with the promises of their military leaders being repeatedly unfulfilled, the German people began to listen to the socialist leaders who saw a glimmer of hope in accepting President Wilson's Fourteen Points. This "swing" so weakened the support of the Kaiser and the military leaders that there was nothing to do but to make armistice terms, even though German armies were on foreign soil and not far from the enemy's capital. Morale, again, is seen to be confidence in leaders, their purposes, promises, and achievements.


In the process of breaking the morale of an antagonistic group, additional light is thrown on the nature of morale. Nowhere in human history is there record of such attempts to undermine the opposing groups' morale as in the World War. Germany created an elaborate program of breaking the Allies' morale. The Zeppelin raids were designed to strike terror in the hearts of women and children and at the same time to worry the men in the trenches. The appeal to loyalty to the home folks was used to break loyalty to the national cause. Submarine warfare was originated not only to destroy merchandise, ships, and men, but to arouse fear in omnipresent and lurking dangers and thus shift attention from national loyalty. The "big Berthas" were invented not so much to destroy property and lives, but to engender fear and worry and thus to weaken loyalty to an abstract

( 337) cause. One basic element in the introduction of poison gas was to disorganize the enemy's customary methods of fighting and thus to weaken his solidarity or his morale. In most of these instances morale is revealed as ,a feeling of social unity organized into habitual types of reaction. When these feeling-habits of the members of a group are snapped or disturbed, group morale crumbles.

Morale we may conclude is the moral soundness of a group, and yet is not the same as the morals of a group; it is deeper and more underlying. It includes the confidence that the members of a group have in one another. It refers to the degree of coöperation which exists between the members. It is the group's faith in itself.[9] Morale is a social soundness wherein the group members interact whole heartedly.


1. Morale is the tone of group behavior; it may be measured by the loyalty of the members to group ideals.

2. Battle courage, college spirit, the élan of a barn-raising "bee," national patriotism, and religious fervor display different evidences of morale.

3. It is easier to create morale than to maintain it, because of its strong feeling currents.

4. The maintenance of morale is often accomplished through the use of music, song, an appeal to comic imagination, elimination of those likely to start panic, the exercise of censorship, the appeal to soldiership and workmanship, appeals to reason.

5. Morale may collapse, that is, seem to give way suddenly, due to the contraction or puncturing of inflated feeling elements.

6. Morale is "moral" or social wholesomeness.


1. Why does morale receive more attention in times of group crisis than of peace?

2. How is morale related to original social nature?

3. What are the main elements in college spirit?

4. What is the relation of loyalty to morale?

5. How are morale and patriotism related?

6. What is the significance of the "goose-step"for morale?

7. Why is reasoning not sufficient in creating morale?

( 338)

8. Why does morale often "collapse" instead of diminishing slowly?

9. What are the chief causes of the collapse of morale?

10. What is "low morale"?

11. How is an individual's cheating in an examination affected by group morale?

12. What are the differences in the collapse of the morale of the Czarist forces and of the Kerensky régime in 1917?

13. How is morale related to morals?


1. What is the origin of the term, morale?

2. In what ways is morale an important factor in intersocial stimulation?

3. What is the best procedure in order to have a strong morale in times of group crisis?

4. How would you go about measuring the morale of a group at a given time?

5. Compare and contrast the morale of the United States today and that of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the Christian Era?

6. Under what conditions is the morale of a group apt to break?


Commons, J. R., Industrial Goodwill (McGraw-Hill, 1919).

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

Goddard, Harold C., Morale (Doran, 1918).

Gulick, Luther H., Morals and Morale (Association Press, 1919).

Hall, G. Stanley, Morale (Appleton, 1920).

Hocking, W. E., Morale and its Enemies (Yale Univ. Press, 1918).

———, "Morale," Atlantic Monthly, 122: 721-28.

Lord, H. G., The Psychology of Courage (Luce, 1918).

Ward, H. F., The New Social Order (Macmillan, 1919), Ch. VI.


  1. "What 'condition' is to the athlete's body, morale is to the mind." W. E. Hocking, "Human Nature, and its Remaking," Atlantic Monthly, 122:744.
  2. Harold Goddard, Morale (Doran, 1918), p. 32.
  3. An elemental phase of "the morale of communal labor." Goddard, Morale, P. 55.
  4. Essentials of Americanization (Univ. of Southern Calif. Press, 1923), p. 208.
  5. For a fuller discussion of religious morale see G. Stanley Hall, Morale (Appleton, 1920), Ch. XX.
  6. Hall, Morale, Ch. IV.
  7. See the discussion of "The Morale of Reason," by H. Goddard in his Morale, pp. 87; also see Hall, Morale, Ch. VII.
  8. E.A. Ross, Russia in Upheaval (Century, 1919), Ch. VIII.
  9. W. E. Hocking, "Morale," Atlantic Monthly, 122: 728.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2