Social Psychology

Chapter 1: The Field of Social Psychology

Knight Dunlap

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§1. The basis of social psychology

One of the outstanding characteristics of the human individual is his associating in groups of various kinds. These groups are not mere collections of people, but possess psychological characteristics binding the individuals together or organizing them in complicated ways. The family, the tribe, the nation, and the religious group are the most important of these organizations, but many other types are found. Industrial groups and secret societies have their important and fundamental psychological characteristics, and the various groups dependent on local contiguity are also psychologically organized. The numerous special groups, such as athletic teams, festal parties, and welfare agencies are possible only through mental organization. Even crowds accumulated through fortuitous causes, such as may be found at any busy street-corner, take on mental characteristics. Infra-human animals, such as ants, birds, and cattle, show many characteristic groupings, but nothing approaching the diversity and complexity of those of man, who is preëminently the grouping animal.

Human groups are the manifestations of the social nature of man, that is to say, of his tendency to form societies. Or rather, that "tendency" is merely the abstract fact that he does organize himself in groups. The psychological study of man is therefore not complete until we have investigated his groupings, and analysed the mental factors involved therein. This study is social psychology, or group psychology.

Since psychology is the study of the mind, it has been customary to speak of social psychology as the study of the social mind, or of the group mind. To this manner of speaking there is no objection, if we do not forget that the only mind of which we can legitimately speak is the mind of an individual. Unfortunately, the phrases have in the past led to the supposition of a "group mind" which

( 12) either is distinct from the individual minds in the group, or which contains some mental factors over and above the individual minds. To avoid the possibility of such confusion, we must clearly under-stand that the social mind or group mind, in any concrete case, is the mind of an individual in a social group; and that "social tendencies" or other social mental factors are those factors in individual minds which make social association possible or which result from 'social association.

Our first procedure, therefore, must necessarily be the survey of the general facts of the individual mind, from which alone the conception of a social mind can be drawn. It is assumed that the student of social psychology has already a sufficient familiarity with general psychology, but we shall in the next section call attention to the fundamental principles on which general psychology is founded.

Many attempts have been made to base social psychology on some single principle or phenomenon of the individual mind. Sympathy, fear, imitation, and instinct have each been used in this way by sociologists and philosophers in the past. But to the psychologist, it is evident that all the factors involved in the individual mind are involved in the social mind, since the social mind is the individual mind in the social situation.[1] We shall therefore, in the following chapters, first survey the details of some of the most important social groups, as a basis for the consideration of the psychological factors involved in them; and then we shall consider some of the principles involved in the organization of all groups.

§2. The individual mind

Our conception of the mind has become more definite and more practical as scientific methods have been increasingly applied in psychology, and the mind may now be defined adequately as the sum total of the conscious responses or reactions of the individual. Psychology, therefore, is definitely aligned as one of the biological sciences, and may be described as the study of the conscious functions of the organism. A brief survey of the fundamentals of general psychology fully justifies these statements.

The human individual is an organism which responds to stimuli

( 13) in a highly complicated way. It responds (or reacts) both to stimuli applied to it from the environment, and also to stimuli arising within the organism itself. Light and sound, for example, emanating from various objects, stimulate the receptors in the retina of the eye, and in the cochlea of the ear, and produce reactions through which the organism adjusts itself to the objects from which the stimuli came. But in making these adjustments, receptors in the muscles, tendons, and other tissues are stimulated, and this stimulation evokes additional reactions, or modifies the reactions evoked by the stimuli from without. Other mechanical processes and chemical processes within the organism also may be effective stimuli.

Through the series of changes set up in the organism by an external stimulation, the effects of such stimuli may be exerted upon reactions even after the original stimulation has ceased. In still another way the stimuli applied at any time may affect future activity. The reactions or responses modify the nervous system which mediates these responses, so that stimuli at future times will produce reactions which are different from the reactions which these stimuli would produce if the previous reaction had not occurred. The specific reactions which result from a stimulus are, in short, determined not merely by the character of the stimulus, but also by the characteristics of the response mechanism;[2] and these characteristics are constantly being modified by the responses themselves. This peculiarity of the reaction system we sum up by saying that individuals learn or form habits.

The effective stimuli do not act simply or singly. The reaction which follows a stimulus of an apparently simple sort, (a stimulus such as a flash of light falling upon the retina, for example), depends upon the stimuli applied simultaneously to other parts of the retina, and upon stimuli which have been applied just previously. The

( 14) real stimulus is always a pattern, and this stimulus pattern is a temporal as well as a spatial affair.

Furthermore, no stimulus pattern of a single sense acts alone. Its effects are modified, sometimes essentially, by the stimulus patterns applied to the other senses. The neural mechanism which mediates the reactions is not a collection of single response pathways, but is normally integrated in such a way that the total stimulus pattern of all the receptors is the determining stimulus for the total reactions. The actions in which the reactions terminate are, therefore, not isolated details, but are action-patterns involving the whole system of muscles and glands, although we may analytically single out certain details of action which are of practical importance, and call these "the" action.

Some of the responses of the organism are "conscious": that is to say, that in these responses, or through them, or by them, (it makes little difference which expression we use), the ego observes, or takes note of, or is aware of external objects, or of its own organism, or of the relations involved in either of them or between them. The "ego" is merely a name for that which observes or is aware; it may be called the organism itself (in some sense), or the "soul," or the "unity of consciousness," or anything else we please, as long as we do not assume further meanings to these terms, and do not assume 'that the statement in any way explains the mere fact that awareness occurs.

The responses of the individual may be classified in many ways. One important classification is threefold and direct: (1) Reaction to one's own organism, (2) reaction to other human organisms, (3) reaction to other environmental features. General psychology is interested in all three of these classes, but social psychology is interested in the second primarily. Since all reaction is pattern-reaction and involves the results-of all previous reactions, it is clear that reaction is never exclusively of one of these three classes. Our reactions to inanimate objects are modified by present and past stimuli from other human beings; and our reactions to other human beings are modified by the present and past stimuli from inanimate objects; and both are modified by stimuli from our own organisms.

Social psychology, therefore, deals not with a specific "social" type of reaction alone, but with the "social" factor in all reactions.

( 15) It is interested primarily in that which is contributed to our life (i.e., to our total system of reactions), by other people. The distinction between social psychology and general psychology is, there-fore, not an absolute one, but is largely one of emphasis. Social psychology is the study of whatever the stimuli from other persons have contributed to our conscious lives, and to the activity (whether conscious or non-conscious) which results from the conscious life.

The conception of "instincts" as primary determinants of behavior, a conception which was rather generally held a few years ago, is today rejected by many psychologists; and it may safely be predicted that in a short time the view of instincts as mere classifications of behavior, convenient, but arbitrary, will be generally adopted. Moreover, the old contrast between instinct and habit, like that between "nature" and "nurture," and between "original nature" and "acquired tendencies," is being given up. The present tendency is to view these not in contrast, but as two factors in development and in reaction, each of which involves the other and has no efficacy except through the other. The best analogy to their relation to each other is found in the multiplier and the multiplicand which together give a product which is not any more a function of either one of them than it is of the other.

This change in viewpoint has had important consequences for social psychology, which had become a subject written largely in terms of "instincts," attempting to explain social groupings and social consciousness by these conceptions. "Instincts," as explanatory factors, are rapidly disappearing from discussions of social psychology; and "instinct," as a generalized principle, is being given its proper perspective. We may still speak of the "instincts" of an animal, as we may speak of its "faculties," "capacities," or "powers,"remembering that these terms represent logical classifications only, and not ultimate psychological or biological entities. The reader may therefore expect to find little use of these terms in the following chapters.

With the waning of interest in the instincts there has been an increase in interest in a topic of genuine psychological importance, namely, the desires. Unlike the instincts, the desires are not mere interpretations, but are actual facts in experience, which had dropped out of our investigations and discussions because of the inadequacy

( 16) of the psychobiological schemes which, until recently, were unable to take them in. Desires are not only present to our conscious life in a conspicuous way; they are effective agencies which contribute to our reactions. In our present psychobiological scheme they must be considered as being actual organic conditions, outside of the nervous system, which are capable of stimulating receptors and, there-fore, of producing and modifying conscious reactions, in some of which they are the objects of awareness. They are, therefore, to be classed along with the feelings and emotions, both physiologically and psychologically, as factors in the personality.

For the present, desires may be classified under the heads of alimentary desires, excretory desires, desires for rest, desires for activity, desires for shelter, desires for conformity, desires for pre-eminence, desires for progeny, and desires for sex gratification, in accordance with the types of objects to which the desires are fundamentally referred in the consciousness of the individual. 'Whether this is merely a convenient logical division, or whether there are really distinct types of desires, biologically dependent on different tissues or different processes, remains to be determined; but there is a strong probability of truth in the latter supposition, although it is not to be assumed that the list as given is the final one. That the desires become modified in their conscious associations, so that a vast number of secondary desires arise, is obvious, and it can hardly be doubted that many of the desires may occur in a vague form, conscious, but not referred to any specific "objects of desire."

Since many of the desires are preeminently social in their reference, and all of them affect social relations and social results, social psychology must have much to say about desires and we may expect that increasing knowledge concerning the conditions of desire will contribute very largely to the solution of social problems.

From the above considerations it is clear that the "consciousness" with which psychology is concerned is not a thing, or system of things, forces, or objective entities, such as the "ideas" of Malebranche and Locke, or the "sensations," "images," and "feelings" which later philosophers substituted for the "ideas." These terms may be employed still, but only with carefully defined meanings, free from their older implications. With a special mental content, or world of mental objects, distinguished from physical objects,

( 17) psychology is not concerned. "Consciousness," for psychology as in popular usage, is the awareness, or the being aware, of whatever things in the world one may be aware of. It is the observing, not the thing or object observed. It might be called an act, metaphorically at least, if it were not for the philosophical implications which have grown up around the term as so applied.

With this simplification of psychology, the problem of the "unconscious mind" has ceased to exist, and there is little further danger of social psychology becoming mystical, as was feared a few years ago. "Unconscious" reactions may occur; no psychologist would doubt their possibility. And if these occur, they must influence further conscious reactions, since all reactions are produced by the same mechanism, and any reaction has its effect on the mechanism itself, and therefore on further reactions, conscious and unconscious. But the unconscious reactions, as well as the conscious, occur in conformity with biological laws, and are amenable to scientific treatment.

§3. The social mind

The Social Mind is, of course, the mind of a social group; but it is in no wise distinguishable from the individual minds in the group. The social group itself is nothing more than the sum of the individuals. It is not the sum of the individuals as they would be if isolated from the group, but as they actually are in the group. So, the social mind is either (a) the enumerative total of the individual minds in the group, or, (b) the mind of some individual in this group who is considered as typical of all in the group. The term is actually used in both these senses, and there is little danger of confusion if the general principle involved is clearly understood. In the first sense, the total is enumerative merely: we cannot actually combine the mental reactions of two individuals to make a resultant mental total. If three men, a, b, and c, pull on a rope together, the total "pull" registered on the dynamometer to which the rope may be attached is the sum of the individual pulls of a, b, and c considered separately. But the actual muscular activities of the three men are three distinct systems of things, and their conscious processes during the pulling are also distinct; and there is no more possibility of summing the mental processes to give a total different from the

( 18) mere enumeration of the three systems, than there is of summing the three sets of muscular activities except by enumerating them.

The case may be put in another way by pointing out that the total "pull" in pounds of three men, a, b, and c, may be exactly the same as the total "pull" of three other men, d, e, and f, although the individual pull of no man in the first group may be equal to that of any man in the second. But the total of muscular activities in the one group cannot be the same as the total in the other group unless the activities of each man in the one group are exactly the same as those of a man in the second group. In the same way, the total "group mind" in the first case cannot be the same as that in the second case unless the mind of each man in the first group is exactly the same as that of one of the men in the second group.

The reactions of two or more individuals, when each influences the other, are obviously not the same as they would be if each were uninfluenced by the other. Yet in both cases, the actions of each individual are their individual actions. So, the consciousness of each, when the reactions are mutually interdependent, is not the same as it would be if each were isolated; yet even when the reaction and the consciousness are "social," they are always the reactions and consciousness of the individuals. Failure to grasp this point is responsible for the doctrine of the "social mind" as "some-thing more" than the total of the individual minds: a confusing dictum, involving no more truth than the obvious fact that the sum of the individual minds when social is not the same as the sum of the individual minds when socially isolated.

In the second sense of "social mind," we are considering the mind of some one person in a group as involving certain processes, which we assume are characteristic of the other minds in the group also, although not necessarily in the same degree or complexity. And we must not assume that any one mind is "typical" of the group in the sense that it represents the other minds so completely that the individual differences may be neglected. Consideration of the social mind in this sense is never complete until we have considered the various ranges of variation of the specific mental processes which are the subject of study. In the case of a group of persons enviously discussing the fortunes of a successful man, the envy in the mind of one of the individuals may be taken as representative of the envy

( 19) of the others; but the various types and degrees of envy in the various minds, and its varying relation to the other emotional attitudes of the individuals, prevent our considering the mind of any one individual in the group as completely "typical," even in respect to this particular emotion and its manifestations.

The "social mind," in any case, involves "social consciousness." This is the consciousness (in the individual, of course) of others in the group, and consciousness of them as related, in the group, to oneself; in other words, consciousness of being a member of the group. The consciousness of the others may be perceptual, or it may be ideational. One may be conscious of one's membership in the Lutheran Church, or in the group of atheists, when physically alone; and this group consciousness may be as important and as vivid under such circumstances as when one is physically surrounded by other members of the group. Usually, however, the group-consciousness is more vivid when one is actually in the group in a spatial sense.

The group relations of which one is conscious vary in order and complexity according to the individual, and according to the group. In the most highly developed minds, duty is prominent, but in many social situations duty may be absent. In many cases, also, the group consciousness is accompanied by an emotional attitude, or emotional background, sometimes called group spirit, or group enthusiasm; in certain specific cases, called patriotic emotion, loyalty, pride of race, etc.: but these emotional complements also may be entirely lacking, although the group consciousness exists. These factors will be more fully treated in the later discussions of group organization.

§4. Individual differences

In general, no individual will act exactly the same in different circumstances, and no two individuals will act precisely the same in the same circumstances. In the one case as in the other, the differences in reaction may be large or small. Sometimes they are so small as to be negligible or perhaps to escape detection by the measure or methods of observation employed, (in some cases approaching zero), but these cases are relatively unimportant. In almost all cases the differences are observable, and the question of sole importance is whether they are important or not for this or that practical purpose.

( 19) Two individuals, when attracted by the cries of a drowning person, may react in "the same" way: both may plunge into the water to attempt rescue. From the point of view which is most important to the drowning person, the reactions are "the same": but from other points of view they will not be the same. One rescuer will swim with a trudgeon stroke, the other with a crawl. One will plunge in without any hesitation, the other will show a second's hesitation, or indecision. Again, if two children are asked: "What is the proper instrument with which to chop down a tree?" both may answer "an axe." From the point of view of the school examination, the reactions are "the same," and both may be so prompt that ordinary observation will reveal no time difference. Yet, there will be many differences in the details of the two reactions.

There is, then, no sharp line between uniformity of action of different people, and differences in action. The limits must always be set by practical considerations. While it is true that general psychology is concerned with uniformities of reaction, and individual psychology with individual differences, the uniformities with which the one is concerned are merely variations which do not exceed certain limits, more or less arbitrarily fixed, and the differences with which the other is concerned are variations exceeding a certain limit within which holds the general uniformity of action which we assume to hold for all persons.

§5. Racial and stock differences

In any well defined "race" or general stock, there are, in spite of the diversities, certain general characteristics which are different from the corresponding characteristics of other stocks. These are characteristics, in other words, in which individuals in this stock differ, in the mean, from individuals of the other stocks. Sometimes these stock or race differences are so marked that the individual differences within the stock are far less than the differences of the mean of the stock from the mean of some other stock, and sometimes the distributions in two stocks do not overlap at all. Certain races, for example, are tall in stature, others short. The tallest Akka pygmy is shorter than the shortest adult Galloway Scotchman. The Scandinavian race have blue eyes, the Mediterranean brown, and the differences in color within each of these are less than the

( 21) differences between the eye color of any Scandinavian and any Mediterranean.

There are extreme cases, however, and in general there is over-lapping of any two races in regard to characteristics in which they differ in the mean. The African negro is, in the mean, lower in "intelligence" than the Anglo Saxon; yet there are many negroes who are higher in intelligence than many Anglo Saxons, that is, the highest in intelligence in the negro race are higher than the lowest in the Anglo Saxon, and perhaps higher than the Anglo Saxon average.

Racial differences in stature, body form, color of skin, eyes, and hair, shape of the skull, texture of the hair, and other structural details are obvious and are very little affected by the environment, some of them practically not at all. Differences in resistance to specific diseases and to heat and cold are also marked. With respect to the strictly mental factors, there are also great differences, but it is more difficult to make out the extent to which these are due to differences in environment and the extent to which they are due to differences in heredity. As between the white and negro races, we can reasonably conclude on the basis of statistical evidence that the difference in intelligence is in a considerable part due to heredity, but we cannot as yet say how much. With respect to differences in emotional tendency, in industry, in moral characteristics, etc., we have no definite information as to the strictly hereditary difference.

When we compare the white with the yellow races, or with the red, we are almost entirely ignorant as to the importance of the hereditary and environmental factors, whether in respect to intelligence or any other mental characteristic. The conclusions are, if possible, still more insecure when we compare branches of the "white" race, such as the French, English, Norwegian, Italian, and Swiss. That there are characteristic national traits—mean differences from other nations—is indisputable. But that these differences are due to heredity rather than to environment is not to be easily concluded.

The characteristics of the individual, we know, are largely moulded by his environment, particularly by his social environment, although the physical environment of climate, food, and work, is by no means negligible. The social environment, on the other hand, is not the

( 22) result of the independent working of native tendencies of people, but of these tendencies as determined by climate, other geographical conditions such as land and water ways, timber, mineral, and agricultural resources; by the aggression or coöperation of other people, and by the chance dominance of exceptional individuals who have often had great influence in shaping the social institutions of nation and race.

At the present time it is very much the fashion to assume that mental racial differences are predominantly hereditary, and that environment counts for little. This assumption is, however, an unfortunate one with no great evidence to support it. Certain individuals of English or German extraction have recently built up the myth of a great "Nordic" race, including the Scandinavian, German, and Anglo Saxon peoples, which is assumed to be, by heredity, vastly superior to the "Mediterranean" and "Alpine" races, and have bewailed the "passing" of the "great race" as a calamity from which the world cannot recover.

In spite of ingenious appeals to anthropology, there is little sup-port for this view. It would seem to be more nearly true that any race, when it comes to consider itself a "chosen people" and in-valuable to the progress of civilization, becomes a nuisance which needs to be somewhat abated in order that progress may continue.[3] There are undoubtedly important racial and stock differences, and some races have much more capacity for progress than others; but the estimation of these capacities, either qualitatively or quantitatively is very difficult, and we have not enough reliable information at present to enable us to decide even whether the suppression of the white race by the yellow would be an ultimate evil or good. We cannot even decide historically whether the practical extinction of the Carthagenian, Greek, and Roman nations was a blessing or not; or whether the preservation of the Jewish race was an evil. Of course, the Romans, Greeks, and Carthagenians had their opinions about it, and so have the Jews and "Nordics." But naturally, such opinions are biased.

( 23)

§6. Class difference

Within any large civil society—a state, nation, or metropolis--there are always classes which show characteristic mental differences. These classes are sometimes sharply delimited, as in the feudal system in medieval England, and the caste system in parts of India. In these cases, the classes are founded on ultimate racial differences, and the problem of the nature of the differences is therefore complicated by the racial problem discussed in the preceding section. Undoubtedly some of the peculiarities of the ruling class in England in the time of Richard Coeur de Lion were due to the fact that this class was Norman-French. But this tells us nothing as to the ultimate grounds for any specifically Norman-French characteristics. In modern England as in the United States, the class distinctions are less rigid, and are relatively free from racial factors. Yet the mental reactions of the "laboring class" are different, in the mean, from those of the political class, the "capitalist class," and the "leisure class."

Here again, theory has run rampant, and it has been widely assumed that the "upper classes" (those distinguished as such by wealth, political control, or "social position") are "upper" because of hereditary capacities, and that the "lower" classes are "lower" because of hereditary defects of various sorts. Hence, the low rate of reproduction of the "upper" classes as compared with the rate of the "lower" is bewailed as a lowering of the national "stock."

The evidence for the importance of hereditary factors in the "classes" is really a little more impressive than the evidence for hereditary racial supremacies. But after all, the evidence even in this case is slight, and really does not bear on the "class" question unequivocally. Undoubtedly, there are some family strains among the "upper classes" which it is unfortunate to have extinguished; but perhaps the same is just as true of the "lower classes." No one knows whether the extinction of the total stocks of the present "upper class" in the United States would be an evil or a benefit. Some immensely valuable stock would be extinguished: some very evil stock would also be extinguished. How the proportion compares with the proportion in the "lower classes" is a question at present unanswerable.

( 24)

Historically, even, we are in the same quandary. The stock of the "upper classes" was very much reduced by the French Revolution. Did the general French stock suffer, or did it benefit? The same question can be asked concerning the effects of the recent Russian Revolution, and cannot be answered in this case either.

Social psychology, for the present at least, had best concern it-self little with either class heredity or racial heredity. The actual mental differences of races and of classes, on the other hand, are matters of interest, and well worthy of investigation. Such investigations are highly specialized parts of the field of social psychology, and should not be extensively treated in a general outline.

Heredity, in its individual aspect does, however, concern social psychology very much. Individual differences are the foundations of many of our social problems and probably of the solution thereof; and individual differences and the problems connected with these cannot be adequately considered aside from the hereditary factors involved even though our knowledge of these hereditary factors is at present limited. One of the problems of individual difference, namely, the problem of preserving and multiplying the best individual stocks, in whatever classes or races they may be found, is preeminently a part of the business of social psychology.


  1. Or, it may be not one such mind, but a number of them.
  2. We usually speak of the human organism as a "mechanism," but when we use this term, we do not commit ourselves to either side of the philosophical controversy between the "mechanists" and the "vitalists." The psychologist should always keep himself free from this controversy, and the coördinate controversy over "determinism" and "free will," adhering strictly to facts and to the working hypotheses which are capable of experimental test. This rule holds for social psychology just as much as for general psychology. And the conception of the organism as a "response-mechanism" must not be held in any such fashion as will exclude facts from consideration, or will exclude any useful working hypothesis.
  3. The Germans had the notion; so did the French at one time. Probably the Romans became similarly puffed up just before their decline, and probably so did the Greeks and Egyptians. The Hebrews certainly did. It is a form of national or racial paranoia.

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