Fundamentals of Social Psychology

Chapter 29: Group Control

Emory S. Bogardus

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GROUPS control their individual members in a thousand ways, most of which are indirect and unknown to the controlled. Now and then a person who runs amuck realizes the force of group control but imagines that the rest of the time he is self-controlled. Most group control functions so indirectly and surreptitiously that it influences deeply the nature of all intersocial stimulation.

Group control is a process of regulating the behavior of individuals. Its definition discloses its weak and strong points. It may control (I) from "without," (2) indirectly from "within," or (3) directly from "within." 1. It may be entirely arbitrary, imperious, and dictatorial. The group through king, potentate or priest may "lay down the law" as in oriental royal and religious proclamations which conclude with the ominous words," Hear, tremble and obey." This is the master's attitude toward the slave, the landlord's attitude toward the tenant, the steel magnate's attitude toward the illiterate "hunkie."

2. Control may use circumlocution. It may give its subject the impression that he is controlling himself. Paternalism gives gifts and renders unnumbered kindnesses, and the subjects respond gratefully, but in so doing unwittingly play the rôle of pawns. Employees are each sold a share of stock at discount, and hence are made to feel that the business is "their own," whereas the majority of the stock remains in the hands of a few and the whole business is manipulated as before. The public school system sets "grades" and "contests" and pupils strive for "honors."

3. A person may be stimulated to "control" himself, that is, be given opportunity and stimuli to "decide for himself." Under these circumstances persons draw extensively upon their original human nature. The appeal to self-respect, which is socially generated, brings out constructive responses from a person, and which if repeated with some regularity, become habitual. The group environments not only help to create "self respect," but also furnish the stimuli for developing its habitual trend. The subtlety of environmental influence in determining the habits of persons, even those consciously built up, marks the extreme reaches of group control. The heart of all intersocial stimulation, therefore, is a phase of social control.

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Group control is a process of regulating personal behavior in the direction of real or supposed group welfare. This trend may be determined by one person or by all the group : the first situation is pure autocracy ; and the second, pure democracy. In primitive groups or any groups where illiteracy prevails, the trend of control is determined by a few persons called leaders. Wherever illiteracy exists, no matter if a titular democracy obtains, the control can be no other than autocratic, except in a face-to-face group, for an illiterate people cannot think in large terms. They can "feel" to be sure, but their feelings are easily subject to outside control. It is only in a very small group that pure democracy may develop among illiterate persons.

Where a few control and the masses follow, group welfare is likely to be interpreted to the advantage of the few. In a primitive or illiterate group the few in authority assume a natural superiority and feel that the many exist for the benefit of the "elect." In a literate group, such as a corporation where the control is really in the hands of a few, the trend of group control is usually determined by what the few interpret to be their own interests.

When we turn to a large democratic state such as the United States, we find that the direction of group control is still in the hands of a minority. There are representatives elected presumably to "represent"all the people, but the problems of government have become so numerous and complex and the numbers of people so great that experts are required. These experts are subject to control by manipulators and "special interests."So the masses are hoodwinked and while possessing the right of suffrage, may exercise it blindly or else become disgusted, lose interest, and refuse to vote. Thus, in a democracy control may remain in the hands of a minority. Small groups, "blocs,"special interests tend to control.

Before social control can operate in the line of true human welfare, that is, of the welfare of all individuals to the fullest possible degree, several things are necessary, namely, (I) a scientific knowledge of the lawsof societary life. In this field social psychology, sociology, and the other social sciences have made a start. Ultimately, they may be expected to furnish essential social facts and resultant principles so that an intelligent public opinion may be formed at any time on any question.

(2) A scientific system for getting all the vital facts and related principles on any subject to all the people concerned quickly and reliably

( 341) is another minimum requirement for making certain that control will be socialized. To this end a reformation in newspaper service is called for. The radio holds unforeseen possibilities. Most important is the necessity of having the instruments of dissemination in the hands of scientifically trained and socialized persons.

(3) On the basis of facts and principles widely disseminated, the people need to be trained in social diagnosis and prognosis. To the extent that they appreciate the meaning of social telesis and function therein constructively control may be directed to the best human-welfare needs.

Individual initiative continually conflicts with group standards. Although nearly all social controls have arisen from past group experiences, they are not always adequate guides for current individual action. Almost all the means for group regulation of persons have evolved spontaneously and slowly from human needs; and have been put in operation clumsily. Rarely have social controls been built to serve carefully ascertained personal welfare, but many of them possess more merit than their haphazard manner of development would imply.

Every group presumably exercises control over its members in the direction of their self protection, and in order that personal energy may not be dissipated in socially disintegrating ways. It is an encouraging sign when a group does not rely absolutely upon automatic controls. It will be a hopeful day when groups undertake to diagnose themselves, and upon the basis of that diagnosis, to establish consciously and rationally sets of social restraints and encouragements.


Social controls are commonly too rigid in certain particulars, too lax in other ways, and too emotionally haphazard in nearly all phases. They may be applied too strictly under certain conditions and too loosely under others. Since group controls are often applied objectively they coerce unjustly, occasionally maltreat, and make individuals seditious. Generally, a person is not properly stimulated to make his best contributions to his social group. Consequently, from the standpoint of social welfare vital questions must be faced. (t) In regard to any new situation, how much social control shall a group exercise? (z) How shall this control be applied? (3) What shall be the nature of the controls?

The problem is one of quantity of control, method of application, and its quality. For example, how long shall the disobedient child be "shut up in the closet," or deprived of play privileges? In order to produce the

( 351) most wholesome effects how long shall a given adult offender against society be imprisoned? Should all who have committed the same offence be punished equally? Shall controls be applied arbitrarily, belatedly, or shall they operate indirectly? Moreover, shall the teacher, for instance, use the same type of control in handling a mischievous boy bubbling over with energy as in dealing with a sneak? What kind of control shall a parent exercise over a "story"-telling child who when cross-examined, appears to be giving free rein to his imagination and nothing more? Shall society use the same castigation for an obstreperous fanatic as for a delinquent corporation?


It is natural that social control should in some cares accumulate a momentum that crushes individual initiative. Persons in control easily drift into assuming unwarranted authority. Their position and power make it possible for them to punish or intimidate critics. On the other hand, in the school where too little control is exercised, pupils make life miserable for the teachers, and develop destructive habits. In the nation too little control is illustrated by the disregard for the laws.

The doctrines of philosophical anarchism provide for too little social control. If original human nature were more social and less selfish, anarchism might work, but human nature being what it is requires the disciplinary experiences which come from group life, not only of small groups but also of large groups, even nations, but all these apparently are not sufficient to create an adequate world group control.

Too little control hinders conservation of the larger social values. It gives selfishness an inordinate leeway. It gives schemers and exploiters too much freedom. The shrewd politician may hoodwink the innocent voter ; the more sophisticated business man may take advantage of the less experienced.


There are also the problems of how to exercise control. Granted that control is needed and that the requisite amount for a specific situation has been determined, its success or failure may depend on how it is applied. In the home a child caught in some misdemeanor may be suddenly pounced on by an irate parent; in the neighborhood a "gang" when caught in an escapade may be promptly sent to jail. Adult offenders, especially if

( 343) poor and without friends, feel the swift hand of the law. Instead of being led to perceive the error of their ways, they brood upon their plight, feeling a bitter sense of injustice; their recalcitrancy is increased and their group loyalty flattened out.

Superficial responses may be produced by abrupt and rigid control. Individuals learn that the best way to meet control of this sort is to feign obedience. They "go through" the forms and become hypocrites. Unjust but powerful control always creates hypocrisy in those who have a sense of the fitness of things but are unable or afraid to strike back, or who are ruled by expediency. A great deal of seeming coöperation with those in authority and no small proportion of the complimentary things said to "officials" is deference not to persons but to "position" and to "control."


Control applied apologetically or half-heartedly or gently because of sympathetic reactions usually fails to command respect. This failure leads to open flaunting of control. Control, to be effective, must be exercised without hesitation and flinching. Reasons may be given for it, and sorrow expressed at being obliged to apply it, but firmness, even a kindly firmness with the emphasis on the firmness may be displayed. The chief point is to make the subjects of control understand that they are being treated in the spirit of fair play.

Very often parents will threaten vigorously, and then fail to administer punishment. This form of hypocritical gentleness is quickly taken advantage of. No control is better than threatened control that never materializes.


From another point of view group controls are of two general classes : those which inhibit, and those which inspire; those appealing to fear, and those stimulating hope ; those employing force, and those using love—in other words, repressive and constructive.

Any reference to repressive controls throws light on the nature of and need for constructive controls.[1] Historically, human groups have promoted social pressure at the expense of social inspiration. They have multiplied the "Thou shalt nots ; " they have featured repression.

( 344) The Hebrews emphasized negative rules for moral conduct, and the Puritans established negative controls over recreation. Nearly everywhere society has used and advertised torture, capital punishment, dark and dismal dungeons, the guillotine, and the gallows, as deterrents. Parents have become notorious for overemphasizing "Don'ts," while religion has pictured burning brimstone as the fate of sinners.

In the past a social group has emphasized "Don't ;" occasionally, "Do." It has left persons free until they near the border of traditional group beliefs and then it has spoken negatively and arbitrarily. Repressive control is illustrated when a group hurls opprobrious names at individuals who veer away from group standards. Heretic, shyster, quitter, boner, knocker, tom-boy, sissy, fraidy-cat, renegade, traitor, bolshevik,—these terms act as negative social pressures. The immigrant often staggers under a heavy burden of negative controls, as shown by disheartening epithets, such as dago, hunkie, sheeny, chink, wop. The look of scorn cast by the débutante upon the hard-working daughter of the farm or factory is withering; the haughty "once over"which the millionaire's chauffeur gives the humble owner of a Ford is ostracizing. Silk gloves sneer at "horny hands"; power tramples on weakness.

It was once necessary for groups to give negative pressure precedence over constructive controls. When fang and claw ruled, groups had to supervise their members with rods of iron in order to protect the members against enemy groups. But as social knowledge and vision develop, positive controls may be substituted for negative ones, even though habit, both personal and social, persists in the maintenance of negative pressures long after the need for them has passed away. Careful scrutiny of a situation will show how wrong conduct may be produced by the application of negative controls. If a child acts badly, that action proves at least that he possesses energy which is seeking an outlet, and since that energy has been dammed up, it either breaks through the dam or goes over the banks at some weak place, causing harm to the individual himself and to others. When an adult commits a crime, that act implies the presence of misdirected energy—energy that might have been expressed wholesomely if constructive stimuli had been functioning. When society shuts up a criminal in a dark, ill-ventilated jail, feeds him poorly, isolates him, his energy naturally turns into brooding, and automatically produces a sense of injustice. Although negative control will always be essential their blind and conventional usage creates more evil than good. An underlying law of social control is that the more nearly social justice is obtained by self control processes, the less will be the need for negative social pressures.

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Constructive stimulation in itself makes repression unnecessary. Energies when put to constructive ends are not available for harmful activities. Routine but necessary tasks, when translated into "projects" full of foci of interest, are sought rather than shunned, and discipline is achieved through activity. Constructive group control may now be defined as a process of stimulating personal energy in socially wholesome ways. [2]

Constructive control does not order this or that; it says neither "Do" nor "Don't." It focuses attention not merely on rewards for obedience but actually stimulates individuals to be themselves, to invent, to make over group values and standards. It encourages not obedience so much as initiative, in fact, as much initiative as is compatible with group unity. It is more than the principle of "attractive legislation" which L. F. Ward developed.[3] Ward would have the group offer such inducements as will in all cases make it advantageous for persons to perform acts beneficial to society. This standard implies social values as being already determined, whereas "constructive control" as used here implies that persons are to be stimulated to make over even the group values. Ward's principle appeals to personal gain ; constructive control emphasizes social service without expectation of personal reward.

Although constructive group control has been exercised by awarding honors, degrees, prizes, these have usually made an appeal only to the few. Society needs to institute procedures on a universal scale for stimulating everyone to achieve his best. Despite the strides made in this direction by popular education, the masses are greatly hampered by lack of broad social vision and of creative opportunities. Although groups have developed a "hero" terminology as a means of stimulation, yet it is far less extensive than "traitor" and "heretic" nomenclatures. Although constructive controls rely on hope rather than fear, yet hope is far less instant and powerful than fear in determining behavior, and hence, there is need for the development of techniques as auxiliaries to hope and for making hope stronger than fear. There is urgent demand, therefore, for all groups to give persistent and wholesale attention to the processes of personal stimulation.

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Constructive group control seeks to discover the underlying principles of both personal and social progress, of the development of personality through intersocial stimulation, and of social justice. In accordance with these principles it will work out tentative procedures and patterns of behavior. By educational processes it stimulates individuals, even from the youngest to the oldest, to adopt, and to improve upon these social behavior patterns. It will strive to change anti-group impulses into socialized habits,[4] to subordinate standards of individual pecuniary success and power to social welfare behavior, to translate egoistic desires into socialized attitudes.

Constructive group control subordinates the interests of the part to those of the whole; of sections to national welfare; of nationalism to world community spirit; of "denominationalism" to human service; of factionalism to community needs. It does not repress honest criticism. It formulates ideals, group ideals, world community ideals, and makes them so attractive that mankind is drawn toward them.

The greatest enemy of constructive group control is group narrowness. No matter how fine a social spirit may be engendered within a group, for example, within a national group between citizens, that group may still hold an egoistic and domineering attitude toward other peoples. A high level of social education had been developed in Germany by 1914, but was dominated by hyper-nationalism. The world, however, will be safe only when a world-group procedure is rationally worked out—in which every nation group has a free voice "according to the intelligence and public spirit of its members," but in which no one group should dominate.[5]

Constructive group control will provide all individuals with full opportunities for creative effort,[6] for forming socialized habits, and for assuming social responsibility. It will stimulate initiative, invention, and leadership. If it cannot make routine tasks interesting, it will invent machines to perform them and make the operation of the machines skilled and interesting work. It will aim to direct human energies into problem-solving activities. It will draw human nature out rather than crush it ; stimulate rather than smother. That manufacturing establishment which not only turns out honest shoes but enables all the employees to develop themselves, to have a voice in its management, and to become better and

( 347) more useful men and women illustrates constructive control. That classroom in which the students, forming themselves into small groups, are stimulated to do coöperative scientific investigation and thus to develop new powers of mental inquiry demonstrates the validity of constructive control. That community which gives recognition to its members who sacrifice for the common good and who stimulate others, and condemns those who are shrewdest in their own behalf has caught the meaning of constructive control. Constructive control will make life's opportunities for the ordinary person so many and so socially helpful that all will feel the thrill of the abundant life of service, develop fully their original social nature, and find their most important activities in creating wholesome opportunities for other persons.


1. Group control is the regulating of personal behavior and the conditions of intersocial stimulation by group action.

2. Control may be so indirect as to allow persons to think that they are self-determining.

3. Even when control is in the direction of group welfare, the goal is often falsely interpreted by power-holders in terms of their own narrow interests.

4. Group control often conflicts with wholesome personal initiative.

5. Control may be excessive or insufficient; it may be applied too abruptly or too gently.

6. Control ranges from harsh and blind repression to wholesome stimulation and inspiration.

7. The more nearly social justice is obtained by autonomous processes the less will be the need for repression.


I. What is group control?

2. When is control most effective?

3. What is the purpose of control?

4. Why is it easily abused?

5. What are the differences between control in a monarchy and in a democracy?

6. Why is so much control unscientific?

7. Why do both geniuses and criminals come into conflict with group controls?

8. Why is exercising control a series of problems in calculus?

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9. How may control be exercised so as to secure respectful and coöperative responses?

10. What are the strong points (a) of love and (b) of fear as a means of control.


1. In what way have you felt the effect of group coercion?

2. Is more social control needed in a dense or in a sparse population?

3. In a homogeneous or a heterogeneous population?

4. In time of war or in time of peace?

5. In a society stratified by classes or in one not so divided?

6. Why is it sometimes necessary for teachers to use "polite coercion" in order to get students to work?

7. In what ways do some pupils politely coerce their teachers?

8. In what ways in the United States is more control needed?

9. In what ways is less control needed?

10 Define : The protective philosophy of a group.

11. Is there reason to believe that in years to come more social control will be necessary in the United States?

12. Why are infamous names applied to refractory members of a group?

13. Why is persecution used as a method of control?

14. How generally are individuals aware of being under group control?

15. Would there be need for social control if every member of society were completely socialized?


Blackmer and Gillin, Outlines of Sociology (Macmillan, 1915), Part IV. Case, Clarence M., Non-Violent Coercion (Century, 1923).

Frazer, J. G., The Golden Bough (Macmillan, 1922), Chs. XIX-XXII. Giddings, F. H., Studies in the Theory of Human Society (Macmillan, 1922), Ch. XII.

Hayes, E. C., Introduction to the Study of Sociology (Appleton, 1915), Part IV.

Park and Burgess, Introduction to the Science of Sociology (University of Chicago Press, 1921), Ch. XII.

Ross, E. A., Social Control (Macmillan, 1901).

———, Principles of Sociology (Century, 1920), Chs. XI, XXXIV, XXXV.

Ward, L. F., Psychic Factors of Civilization (Ginn, 1906), Ch. XXXIV.
———, Applied Sociology, (Ginn, 1906), Ch. IX.


  1. One of the chief merits of psychoanalysis has been its portrayal of the evils of repression and its emphasis on the need for constructive stimuli.
  2. Thus it will be seen that constructive group control is one of the main techniques of socialization.
  3. Applied Sociology (Ginn, 1906),p. 338.
  4. See Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct (Holt, 1922), Parts One and Two, for an analysis of the process of changing impulses into habits.
  5. See the chapter on "The Principle of Balance," Ch. LXII, by E. A. Ross in his Principles of Sociology (Century, 1920).
  6. See Ward's discussion of "Meliorism" (Psychic Factors of Civilization, Ginn, 1906, Ch. XXXIV) ; and his treatment of "Opportunity" (Applied Sociology, Ginn, 1906, Ch. IX).

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