Review of Social Psychology by Floyd Henry Allport
The wide circle of readers of the admirable Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, of which Dr. Allport is one of the editors, will welcome this volume in which he attempts to set forth a system of psychology from the standpoint of the now popular school of behaviorism. Behaviorism is not, however, presented as a method of research, which is the cardinal insistence of Dr. J. B. Watson, who coined the word, but rather and merely as "another way. of conceiving the facts."
Behaviorism is essentially an effort to study human life objectively. It began in America in the study of animal behavior, on which it has leaned heavily ever since. The method has been applied by Watson to the study of infants, with some interesting and valuable results. The time will undoubtedly come when the method will be rigorously followed in studying personality, but a careful re-reading of this volume forces the statement that Dr. Allport has here done no such thing. The reader is prepared for this lack of consistency in the Preface by the note of admiration for the Freudian psychology, which, as every reader of Watson knows, is the bÍte noir of every behaviorist. Behaviorism has in general three lines of approach: physiology, chiefly neurology; study of animals; and the study of infants. It leaves out of account any discussion of consciousness, meaning, or imagination, and indeed began as a reaction to the method of introspection.
Dr. Allport here follows the original pattern in presenting the usual inadequate chapter on neurology, illustrated with pictures of hypothetical nerve paths; introduces the subject of social behavior with numerous accounts of animal life, and bases all his system upon what he assumes to be the essential elements of infantile behavior. But one can hardly conceive such behaviorists as Watson and Lashley reading without irritation the discussion of reflexes, which central concept is used throughout the book in a manner which is wholly uncritical and absolutely divorced from any experimental attack whatever.
Much space is devoted to the contention that social psychology is a study of the individual and not the group. This concept of social psychology has of course been familiar to American readers for thirty years
( 720) in the writings of Dewey, Thomas, and others. But it is one thing to investigate the persons in a society and quite another thing to assume that the institutions of society are all to be explained as a result of the reflexes of babies. This fundamental assumption is apparently exactly identical with that of McDougall, with whom Professor Allport imagines he has wide divergences. The two positions are not quite alike, but the differences are minor. McDougall explains warfare as due to the instinct of pugnacity, while Allport "explains" the threat of hostility "implied in large protective armaments" and "the espousal by the German people of the kaiser's policy" as due to the "prepotent" infantile reflex of struggling (p. 59). If we are to have cultural institutions derived from the behavior of infants in arms, then surely the word "instinct" is to be preferred to such a clumsy term as "prepotent reflexes."
Neither the Russians, who invented the concept "conditioned reflex," nor the behaviorists, who adopted it with the same meaning, took the precaution to have it copyrighted. Therefore anyone may use it in any sense he pleases. Dr. Allport specifically states that he does not mean by "reflex" a real reflex. His reflexes are "multiple responses," and the singular is used "only for convenience." The result is not convenience, but confusion. For reflex is a very definite notion in the writings of the Russians, and it is a valuable and useful concept in medical diagnosis. Medical dictionaries list nearly a hundred diagnostic reflexes, and there are many others not useful in diagnosis. The "conditioned reflex" refers, of course, to a modification arising from simultaneous presentation of stimuli. Yet Allport refers to the whipping of a boy for stealing as an obvious example of a conditioned reflex. But it is not obvious; for it is subsequent to the activity. Moreover, it is demonstrable that whipping as a cure of stealing has obvious practical limitations.
But the conditioned reflex is still more seriously deformed in the treatment of the text. For it is modified on the efferent side by learning, so that not only is the stimulus changed by conditioning, but the behavior is utterly different, so that all that is left of the reflex is the name. Pavlow's dog secreted saliva at sight of food. By conditioning he came to secrete saliva in response to a musical note. If the dog had learned to howl when the musical note was sounded, Pavlow would not have called this a conditioned reflex, but there is nothing in Allport's treatment that would prevent such a formulation.
Part I of the text is devoted to the individual in his social aspects, and should of course have been analytical. On page 99 the author states that such has been his purpose: "Our method in the preceding chapters has
( 721) been mainly analytical." The reviewer's criticism is that the method has been the reverse of analytical. It has been exaggeratedly synthetic. Personality is assumed to be the result of the operation of reflexes, six of which are called "prepotent," and these are listed and given extended treatment. They are: starting and withdrawing, rejecting, struggling, which three are the basis of fear and anger, and all result in movement from the stimulus; and three others, hunger reactions, sensitive-zone reactions, and sex reactions, which result in approach to the stimulus. If these were the result of any method of analysis, the matter would be different. The only hint to the method occurs when the list is introduced on page 50 with the phrase, "We may recognize six important classes." So long as the fundamental human reactions depend upon the literary "recognition" of text-book writers, social psychology may be accurately defined as the opinions of professors.
"Behavior" is curiously defined. If the definition were not repeated on page 147, the reader would be inclined to regard it as a slip of the pen. It is called "responding to a stimulus by an activity that is normally useful to the individual." Later on, lynching is discussed and condemned, the serious evils of American democracy are described, billboards are spoken of as disfiguring the landscape, and the evils of small towns receive attention, so that the value of the definition remains in question.
To a sociologist, the most interesting chapter is the concluding one, which is frankly not psychological, but an excursion into social science. There is perhaps no other fifty-page chapter in existence where so many of the social problems are defined, discussed, and settled. We are told what is the matter with the rural mind, why country children are sexually precocious, and small towns given to scandal-mongering. He tells us how to run the public schools, discusses economics, and shows that upon men of business must rest the responsibility of saving us. He is skeptical whether leadership is a good thing or bad, since leaders usually secure their power through suggestion (p. 421). He has the solution for the Negro problem, and offers valuable suggestions to Congress, among them the taking of the vote when each congressman is alone in his office.
In spite of the serious and fundamental difficulties already mentioned, the book is interesting and is obviously the result of care and industry. The really valuable part, and this applies to many other books than the present, is the account of the experiments which the author himself made and reports. These concern several interesting aspects of social behavior: the experiments in reading facial expression, the result of the presence of others upon solving of problems both of thought and of a routine nature.
( 722) These experiments are interesting, valuable, and a real contribution to our knowledge. They have nothing whatever to do with "prepotent" reflexes and are not helped by being associated with them.
Social psychology can be conceived as the study of individuals or persons, but the fatal fallacy of Allport is to assume that the animal or the infant has within him the elements which develop into culture and institutions. That the author is vaguely aware of this difficulty is apparent from his trouble over the concept of submission. Submission is not in the baby, and yet slavery exists. If he were more careful or better informed, he would also know that whole societies have existed for generations without fighting or warfare. The struggling of an infant when held too tightly has no more to do with warfare than it has to do with smoking cigarettes. Punishment, slavery, religion, art, and countless cultural elements must be thought of as arising out of the interaction of persons, and can no more be found in the infant than the properties of water could be discovered by considering the separate nature of oxygen and hydrogen.
Social psychology must be analytical. We must start with persons. Personality is the subjective aspect of culture, and by comparing personalities of varying ages, divergent cultures, and contrasting traditions, it may be possible ultimately to work out what the essential elements are.
The book has been for the reviewer, who read it carefully twice, an interesting and stimulating experience. It reveals an interesting and engaging personality. Someone has remarked that a false theory does no harm and may even do good, stimulating others to make a better theory. It is a false or erroneously reported observation which is a crime against science, and this crime Dr. Allport has not committed. He has not reported many observations, but those that are set down are presented in a faultless manner.
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO