Fundamentals of Social Psychology

Historical Approach

Emory S. Bogardus

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For centuries there has been much unorganized thinking about the nature of intersocial stimulation. Since the beginning of human society every person has been vitally and continually concerned in the responses which his own behavior would produce in the behavior of his fellows, and repeatedly he has cursed his luck for having said or done "the wrong thing," that is, the thing which has caused his fellows to respond contrarily to his wishes. More fundamental still, without his always realizing it, man's behavior everywhere has been largely determined by the stimuli which the behavior of his fellows afforded.

Moreover, in every social group there have undoubtedly been some who have seriously reflected upon the nature of this interstimulation and its results, in order, if possible, to discover rules or procedures by which to control the conduct of others. Such thinking gives social psychology a claim to be considered as one of the oldest of human studies, although its scientific development is only recent.

In the primitive tribe the phenomena of leadership and group control attracted the attention of the more thoughtful. The tribal chieftain made rough calculations concerning the probable actions of his subjects under flush of victory or the gloom of defeat. The Australian Blackfellow who put a taboo upon young cocoanuts in order to protect them and to have a supply of them on a given feast day possessed a rudimentary knowledge of group control. The African belle who wore thirty pounds of copper ornaments upon her ankles in order to eclipse a rival who wore only twenty-five pounds knew something of the psychology of fashion.

Among the Greeks we find evidences of organized thinking concerning psychical processes. Plato, for example, made many observations of a social psychological nature. If one person accumulates wealth, others will imitate, and as a result, all the citizens will become lovers of money.[1] He stood for custom imitation and opposed fashion imitation. Customs represent the ripe fruitage of the centuries.[2] The chief advantage of laws is not that they make men honest, but that they cause them to act uni-

( x) -formly, and hence, in a socially dependable way.[3] Plato pointed out the parallelism between a just society and a just individual, and asserted that the conduct of individuals in the mass is predictable, thus forecasting the study of behavior uniformities.

According to Aristotle man is a political animal, that is to say, man lives by necessity in association.[4] Social organization is not as important as social attitudes. All the people of a given state must become social-minded before there can be a perfect government. The "social mean" plays a leading part in Aristotle's analysis of human interactions. The existence of only two classes of society—the very rich and the very poor—spells social disaster. Society is safe only when the middle class is in control. Aristotle analyzed the psychological weakness of communism when he wrote : "For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it."[5] In the mind of this renowned philosopher, social process and development are uppermost.

In the beginning of the modern period, Thomas More revealed a keen understanding of social interaction. In Utopia he provided for fore-stalling fashion imitation.[6] Laws in Utopia are few because the people have become unselfish masters of social interactions ; in consequence few regulations are necessary.[7] Socialized habits make social legislation superfluous, and subjective personal control lessens the need for objective social control. In not allowing the Utopians to vote immediately upon new issues, More purposely guarded them against the dangers of crowd emotion. He stressed freedom of opinion, the group value of sympathy, and protested against administering punishment without first attempting to understand the personal causes for offenses.

Sympathy was analyzed at length by David Hume. He held that the sentiment of sympathy develops into intelligent coöperation and that rational control of social processes is feasible. Against the influences of environment upon man, Hume placed imitativeness, declaring that group uniformities are due more largely to imitative processes than to like physical environments. It is by ideas such as these that Hume refuted the prevailing social contract concept of society and became the father of social psychology.

It was Lester F. Ward, however, who was the first to direct attention to the importance of the psychic factors in social evolution.[8] In the

( xi) development of civilization, the psychic forces have gradually come to the fore, and tend to assume control over the physical and biological processes. The education and training of all individuals will enable them to direct intersocial stimulation to the development of all and of each. Although his psychology was faulty, Ward demonstrated an indispensable need for social psychology.

The first scientific observer to collect and classify the data of inter-social stimulation in a specific field was Gabriel Tarde.[9] With him, about 1890, the scientific study of social psychological data begins. At once the field was broadened out by the researches of such investigators as Ross, Giddings, Cooley, Howard, Ellwood, McDougall, Wallas, and other well-known writers, whose works will be referred to in the following chapters and to whom all students of societary life are inestimably indebted. To some of these writers social psychology is chiefly a study of the social side of human nature; to others, it treats of suggestion and imitation; to still others, of group conflicts and control ; it is still without a common agreement as to its territory.

The new science is, however, developing its own methods and speaking from its own vantage ground. Its sector of the field of the social sciences is that important territory which connects psychology and sociology, which is largely uncultivated, but which in certain places is tilled by the psychologists and elsewhere by the sociologists. Instead, however, of permitting its advance to be directed from either psychological or sociological head-quarters, social psychology is developing its own technique, but following, of course, the rules of scientific investigation and social science procedure.

Social psychology is one of the youngest of the special social sciences. In the United States the subject did not begin to attract widespread attention until 1908. When Roosevelt became president there was no book in America that bore the title "Social Psychology"; and only one that printed the term in its sub-title. Although the subject received recognition in Europe earlier than in the United States, its systematic development has proceeded chiefly in the last decade in our country. It is winning an increasingly important place in the curricula of our colleges, universities, and normal schools. The quintessence of social psychology is found in the study of intersocial stimulation and response and of the resultant social attitudes, values, and personalities—this is the important, and attractive field the student of human life is invited to explore, and in which perchance he may ultimately contribute new data and methods of research.


  1. Republic, tr. by Jowett, 550 D. E.; cf. Laws, tr. by Jowett, 742, 791.
  2. Laws, 722.
  3. Statesman, tr. by Jowett, see books IX-XII.
  4. Politics, tr. by Jowett, I, a.
  5. Ibid., II, 3.
  6. Utopia, Bohn's Libraries, pp. 148, tog.
  7. Ibid., P. 93.
  8. See Dynamic Sociology, 2 Vols. (Appleton, 1883).
  9. See Les Lois de l'imitation (Paris, 1890).

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