Current Trends in Social Psychology

Ellsworth Faris

WHEN the men of our generation began the study of psychology they didn't know how lucky they were. For, in the years immediately following publication of James' Principles,[1] psychology was psychology, and it was possible not only to learn it but to refer to the "teachings of psychology" on this and that. There were indeed two schools in the early part of this century but they differed little and their proponents not only got along well, but spoke practically the same language. They were known as the structuralist and the functionalist schools, the structuralists being likened to anatomists and the func-tionalists to physiologists. And it was easy in those irenic days to interpret each one as really supplementing the other. There was no trouble on the horizon when Angell's Psychology appeared, and in the laboratory in Chicago and elsewhere Titchener's manual' and Angell's text were carried in the same brief case, and accepted by the same students.

Just when the trouble all began is not possible to say, nor important to date. Ross wrote a book on social psy-

( 120) -chology in which he translated some of the engaging ideas from the French sociologists. McDougall's Social Psychology [5] represented little more than an attempt to be consistent in giving instincts the first place in the explanatory scheme of human nature. But it was around 1911 and 1912 that things really began to happen. The second decade of the century witnessed all kinds of ferment. It not only saw the rise of the mental tests, the whole concept of mental measurement, but it was the period in which was brought to our attention the two major rebellions in the psychological field: psychoanalysis, the creation of European physicians, and behaviorism, under the leadership of the enfant terrible.

It was in this decade also that the gestalt psychology came into existence in Germany, though it did not become known in America so promptly as the others. The gestalt people had a poor press agent though they later became more active. While most of these systems do not claim to be social psychology, and while some of them distinctly repudiate any such implication, yet they are all influencing social psychology and must be taken into account if we are to understand the present condition. If we try to catalogue the different forms of statements or schools at present existing in America, we could distinguish easily several more or less distinct points of view.

First and oldest in America is the imitation school, originating in France and widely popularized by Ross. This is by no means so influential as it used to be, since the authors themselves have come to modify their position. Most influential of all probably is the instinct school of social psychology, represented by McDougall whose coming to America helped to strengthen the popularity of his point of view. At one period, this school was almost predominant, but within the last seven years it has been

( 121) somewhat on the defensive. The psychoanalytic movement has had much to do with social psychology, and Adler would be quite willing to call his individual psychology social psychology, paradoxical as it sounds. It is really not paradoxical, for social psychology, as most men use it, is a study of the social influences on the personality: in the words of the Psychological Index, the Social Functions of the Individual.

The most aggressive and militant group is of course the behaviorist. The founders of the behaviorist school repudiate the notion of social, but writers like Allport [6] and Bernard [7] have attempted to make a behavioristic integration and harmony in applying the concept to the problems of social psychology.

There remains to be noted the general point of view, less militantly fought for and promoted with less of partisanship and therefore perhaps less sharply defined, which is the result of the work of the Chicago group and their allies in New York, Michigan, and points west. It is an interesting fact that the social psychology of Wundt [8] has had very little influence in America and at present receives scarcely any mention.

If we inquire more specifically into the course of development of the various "schools" it should be pointed out that orthodox imitationism produced a fiery controversy in France, Durkheim [9] objecting strenuously to Tarde's [10] formulation, and arriving at the notion of representations collectives, or group ideas, social concepts, which members of a group receive from the collectivity. The effect of this process, the resultant social phenomenon, is often indistinguishable from imitation, but the

( 122) mechanism by means of which it is brought about proves to be more complicated than was assumed in the earlier formulation. The importation of imitationism into America by Ross, already referred to, was even more vulnerable. Ross unfortunately identified imitation with the process of suggestion and it became increasingly difficult to accept this. Suggestion occurs in many places in our social life, but the result of the operation of suggestion is more often than not a response which no refinement of interpretation can identify with imitation. Moreover, the phenomenon of conscious choice or deliberate copying which also results in imitation is frequently the terminal member of a series of activities and experiences for which the only acceptable term would be deliberation or reasoning, and this means that suggestion is even more remotely in evidence. In addition to these two objections it became necessary to discuss a third difficulty. The slow unconscious influence due to the histrionic self-stimulation or dramatic rehearsal of emotional experiences produces a gradual and unwitting type of modification, sometimes identified with imitation, and again utterly unlike any known form of suggestion. In America, Baldwin [11] made the concept of imitation prominent, but the work of Cooley in his observations on children and in his analysis of the process gradually deflected attention from the over-simplified conclusions of the imitation school. Imitation did not produce a large controversial literature; attention gradually shifted and social psychologists found themselves concerned with other issues.

I do not remember to have read any account of the thoroughgoing abandoning of the doctrine of associationism which has taken place in the last twenty years. It is really a very interesting phenomenon. In the system of William James, in Angell's Psychology, and in all the orthodox texts and handbooks of twenty years ago there were pre-

( 123) -sented to the reader two utterly incompatible notions. The first was the doctrine of sensations and perceptions received through the sense organs and developing into concepts, judgments, and reasoned propositions with little essential difference from the formulations of Locke himself. The second was the theory of instincts, utterly different in origin, since they were assumed to arise from within and were related to ideas and reasoning not as disturbing factors, but as the ultimate mainspring of conduct and of reasoning itself. The situation was logically impossible. It was inevitable that the inconsistency should be discovered, for one cannot indeed logically hold that ideas enter the mind from without through the reception of sensations and at the same time insist that reasoning occurs in the service of an instinct. Sooner or later one of these had to go; and, as everyone knows, it was associationism which was crowded out of the picture.

Here we have the significance of McDougallism. The instincts had been listed and discussed long before he wrote, but the wide popularity and influence of McDougall's formulation seems to be accounted for in large measure by the fact that he clearly relegated rationality to a subordinate relation. The drives of human life were no longer rational ideas but non-rational instincts inherited from the prehistoric animal world and bred in by a thousand generations of primitive men.

It is interesting to note that this transition was made with surprising ease. One looks in vain for controversial literature defending associationism. As late as 1921, Warren [12] wrote a history of associationism but it amounts almost to an obituary notice. The pragmatic or instrumentalist philosophy had prepared the way.

Quite a different story is to be told regarding instinctivism. As a generally accepted doctrine it occupied the stage for a relatively brief period, being uncritically ac-

( 124) -cepted for little more than thirty years. The controversy arose as a result of the dissatisfaction of those who were trying to make use of it. There was first of all the difficulty in describing the list of instincts which led inevitably to an increased recognition that many supposed instincts were really due to social customs which had in the individual become "second nature." Later on there emerged the conviction that instincts could never be a matter of observation since, whatever their original nature might have been, they were always overlaid with acquired and customary influences. This gradually caused the critics of McDougall to defend the position that the inherited tendencies of the human being are, though very numerous, fractional and minute in character.

Professor McDougall has defended his doctrine with characteristic vigor but has not always understood his critics. To him the alternative of instinctivism is a return to intellectualism and Lockean associationism. It is difficult to see how he could so misinterpret those who oppose him. There has been no tendency to deny the importance of inherited movements. On the contrary, it is everywhere assumed that the original tendencies are non-rational and motor. The real issue is as to whether the actions which are organized into instinctive patterns are in any sense inherited. Fighting, flight, maternal care, and display of oneself, all arise from vague tendencies, but their specific form or even their very appearance is the result of an organization which takes place within a given cultural medium.

The instinct controversy is a matter of the last seven or eight years and the subject is at present under discussion with a number of foremost authors still defending the conception as having value, but with an increasing tendency on the part of most writers to be apologetic and tentative in their use of the term. The traditional psychologists seem to favor it, and the notion finds place in

( 125) the writings of the gestalt. group, with a certain deference paid to it by the psychoanalytic school. On the other hand, the behaviorists tend to discard the notion, many sociologists have given it up, and John Dewey [13] wrote a chapter in his social psychology which he headed "No Separate Instincts." A reconciling formula is still in the future, but it seems accurate to say that the concept of instinct plays little or no part in any present researches. It belongs to the realm of "explanation."

The behavioristic movement has strongly influenced American writers in social psychology. Allport and Bernard are quite explicit in their allegiance to the general point of view and even those who have reacted unfavorably have been compelled to reckon with it. The history of the rise of behaviorism roots in two movements, the brilliant work in animal psychology, and the controversy regarding imageless thought which began some eighteen or twenty years ago. The first of these showed the possibility of a method of purely objective observation and record of observable movements under controlled conditions, and the second led to widespread skepticism concerning the reliability of the hitherto unchallenged method of introspection. To these two we may add the Russian discoveries of the conditioned reflex which led to the publication of a psychology by Bechterew [14] which he preferred to call in a sub-title "Reflexology." The controversies arising as a result of the vigorous advocacy of behaviorism are still current and there is a tendency on the part of many American authors to treat as "behavioristic" the whole problem of personality. As a result there are several kinds of "behaviorism," the extreme type and a series of more or less well organized systems in. which imagination, ideas, and subjective phenomena are recog-

( 126) - nized and studied, but with reference to their function in behavior.

The relation of J. B. Watson's [15] system to the instinct psychology, out of which it in part arose, is roughly analogous to the relation between Lockean associationism and the preceding system of innate ideas which we connect with the name of Descartes. Behaviorism with its central doctrine of a reflex which can be "conditioned" is a sort of physiological associationism and it is interesting to note that Watson has actually asserted the same possibility of absolute control over the individual children in almost the same language that was used in the mid-nineteenth century by the disciples of Bentham and Mill. These latter were quite sure that on the blank tablet of the mind, ideas could be written which would make of the material at hand any types of personality desired. Watson is equally certain that with the uniform and identical stock of inherited reflexes a "wise conditioning" would produce any desired personality type. He agrees to take a hundred children and make them into musicians, artists, or what you will, as a result of properly conditioning their behavior.

The exigencies of controversy have forced an interesting extension of the conditioned reflex which has amounted almost to repudiation of it. Curiously enough, this has received little attention and yet it seems to be a very vulnerable point. A conditioned reflex is a movement which remains unmodified, the "conditioning" consists in producing this movement by simultaneous association with the stimulus of another and irrelevant one. If the reflex is modified or changed the problem of the modification should receive attention. In a "behavioristic" system this is passed over. A "reflex" or "response" is often said to be "conditioned" when it is really modi-

( 127) -fied or changed, that is, when it disappears. A child who learns to repeat what his nurse says to him is said to be conditioned. It is as if Pavlow, in reporting his experiments, would have recorded that the dog secreted saliva in response to a musical note associated with the original stimulus, and then had proceeded to record that in course of time the dog would come to play the violin.

The psychoanalytic school of psychology is interesting for several reasons. It is in the first place extra-academic. There is now one of these men in an academic position, but he is in Europe, and no recognition was given in the programs of the Psychological Association until five years ago. Nevertheless, they have attracted worldwide attention and have had a very great influence on us all.

One of the most interesting aspects of this movement is its utter independence of physiology. That such a system so founded should have influenced academic psychologists may perhaps be partly due to the gradual dissatisfaction with the earlier alliance with physiology. At any rate, the psychoanalysts have no physiological assumption. There is not a neuron in Freud. The whole system is built upon the experiences of the person and is concerned with wishes, images, anxieties, fears, and dreams. It is a sort of antithesis and counterpart to behaviorism. No more striking symptom of the confusion and ferment of our time is to be found than the simultaneous allegiance which many writers profess to Watson and Freud. Perhaps some Elijah will appear before the multitude ere long with the cry, "Choose this day whom ye will serve." But a consistent system and a resolution of contradictions requires time and perhaps the time has until now been insufficient.

The gestalt psychology slowly matured from about 1912 for a period of ten years before it attracted very much attention in America. This was due in part to the

( 128) isolation caused by the great war. It may be that the relative lack of influence so far results from the difficulty of taking over such a thoroughgoing system and incorporating it into existing systems which are older. It seems too early to predict how much of their insight will be found useful, at least I find it difficult to speak with confidence.

The general point of view represented by Cooley, Dewey, Mead, Thomas, Park, and their colleagues differs essentially from the preceding formulations in the emphasis on the social group or matrix in which the personality takes shape, and in the emphasis on the social nature of individual personality. When Thomas speaks of "social attitudes" he refers to the attitudes of individuals which are the result of social influencing. Dewey wrote: "Institutions cause the instincts." Cooley [16] has written convincingly concerning society and the individual as different aspects or phases of the seamless fabric of human life. Personality appears from this point of view as the subjective aspect of culture. Social psychology so considered draws heavily on anthropology and finds itself closely related to sociology. This explains why so many sociologists have been interested in the subject of social psychology-.

The foregoing systems or "schools" do not exhaust the list, but sufficient has been said to justify the statement made earlier in this paper that we are at present in a state of relative disorganization, at least the student coming into the subject of social psychology must listen to conflicting and contradictory views to an extent unparalleled in our earlier history. If the past can teach us anything of the future, it will be safe to prophesy that a few years from now either we or our successors will be able to formulate an integrated statement with the hope that insights will be clearer and generalizations more valuable.

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The distinguishing characteristic of the present situation in social psychology is at once the result of the present confusion and rivalry of systems and at the same time the promise of betterment. I refer to the enthusiasm for research and the widespread attempts to carry on first-hand factual investigations. Much that passes under the name of research is of course hardly worthy of the dignity, but when liberal discount is made there is much gold in the dross. And just as warring theologians find themselves able to cooperate in enterprises of practical religion and service, so the partisans of the various systems and schools have very little temptation to object to actual investigations made by their rivals. And of course as time goes on the accumulation of data will require new attempts at synthesis and integration, for the new wine is best poured into the new wineskins.

The complete catalogue of investigations now in progress in what may be accurately called the field of social psychology runs into hundreds of titles, obviously of varying importance. Many of these are studies of individual persons. From the behavior clinics is coming a wealth of carefully gathered material concerning boys and girls whose conduct has deviated slightly from accepted norms, while studies of actual delinquents, of criminals, and of the mentally abnormal, and of the insane are piling up data which will. ultimately be assayed and will inevitably add to what we know. There are also being accumulated guided autobiographies, "life histories," of normal people, most of them having to do with specific crucial moments and all potentially valuable as confirmatory or contradictory evidence. We shall shortly be in a position to state with much more confidence than ever before the results of attempts to analyze human nature into the elements, wishes, desires, and attitudes, which seem to point to the necessity of abandoning permanently the older atomistic individualism. No indi-

( 130) -vidual wish nor any individual attitude seems to have arisen without relation to the environing culture in which the life was lived.

On the other end of the logical series lies the problem of types of personality, the end results of the life organization of the individual. The morphologist, the physiologist, and the psychiatrist arc all being called upon to contribute to this, while every organized and dynamic group is also assumed to be capable of contributing to the answer to this central problem in social psychology. And here again the trend seems to be in the direction of an increasing emphasis upon the function of the whole in determining the type of the one.

But not only in the study of individuals are research workers busily engaged in collecting facts, but collectivities are yielding their due share of data. Groups, gangs, families, communities, and institutions are being studied with reference to particular concrete problems. Social pathology, including chiefly crime and delinquency, but not confined to these phenomena, occasion studies often looking to the solution of concrete problems, but pregnant with the possibility of theoretical generalizations of major importance. Besides these, specific group problems, such as the attitudes of a group, studies in public opinion, and related inquiries, give promise of yielding a wealth of needed information.

It was remarked in the beginning that the present chorus of competing and conflicting voices which confront the student who attempts to master current social psychology is unprecedented in its variety and in its contradictory nature. It was further shown that this condition is comparatively recent and the opinion is here repeated that it will probably not endure for long. One reason for saying this has just been presented. The new facts will of necessity compel new formulations, but there is another consideration. The leader of a school very

( 131) rarely has been known to yield to his opponents or rivals. Their concepts and phrases assume the character of slogans and shibboleths. If these leaders were immortal, perhaps the condition we now are in would be permanent; but their tenure is finite and though few die and none resign, yet eventually all are retired. And students and successors will inherit their tasks and in the nature of things they will be more syncretic, more objective, and their formulations more useful, which is perhaps what we mean by saying, more true.

This discussion has been concerned with the direction in which current scholarship has been trending. The part played in this development by the members of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago has been entirely worthy ,of the traditions of our group. Professor Tufts has emphasized throughout his teaching career the social influences in the development of personality. The chapters which he wrote in Dewey and Tufts Ethics [17] not only revealed a thorough mastery of sociological and economic writings, but served to define for the younger men of that day the problem of the relation of the mores to the moral life of the individual.

In the lectures and writings of Professor Moore the stress has been placed (at least this was true when the writer was a student) on the analysis of the thought process, and later students of social psychology have derived much inspiration and received much clarification from his formulation of instrumentalism. The relation of conflict to reasoning makes essential the discussion of association with others and leads inevitably to a repudiation of the older atomistic individualism. Indeed, the accusation of solipsism which was heard in the early days of the pragmatic controversy was utterly unfounded, chiefly for the reason that individual mind is essentially social in its constitution.

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Professor Ames repeatedly acknowledged his obligation to the social point of view and made a notable contribution in his Psychology of Religious Experience.[18] The analysis set forth of the essentially social character of the individual's religious experience added a strong tower to the structure of the temple. When religion is defined as the consciousness of the highest social values there is made possible a method of study of religious experience through social psychology which was previously not available.

In the case of the present writer the greatest obligation is felt to Professor Mead,[19] to whom American scholars are indebted for some invaluable and wholly unique contributions. Nowhere can be found a comparable analysis of the psychology of meaning, the nature of symbolism, and the distinction between the significant symbol which makes human experience possible and the inferior development which accounts for the limitations of the lower animals. Mead's doctrine of the histrionic tendency which runs through all normal human imaginative experiences, very happily designated as the tendency to "take the role of the other," has, in the opinion of the writer, been one of the major contributions in this generation to our knowledge of how the personality develops and the consciousness of self arises. Mead has set forth the process by means of which the spontaneous and meaningless gesture is defined by the responses of the other so that while our ideas are our own and the symbol is private, yet the soul of the symbol is its meaning, and the meaning is the contribution of others.

 There are other aspects in the spoken and written contributions of our beloved and honored teachers, but this

(133) is no place for any detailed list of them. These are mentioned because no story, however fragmentary, of the development of modern social psychology in America would be complete if it did not include what has been done by the men in whose honor this volume is issued.


  1. James, William, Principles of Psychology, New York, 1890.
  2. Angell, James R., Psychology, New York, 1904.
  3. Titchener, E. B., A Text-book of Psychology, New York, 1909.
  4. Ross, E. A., Social Psychology, New York, 1908.
  5. McDougall, William, Social Psychology, Boston, 1912.
  6. Allport, F. H., Social Psychology, Cambridge, 1924.
  7. Bernard, L. L., Introduction to Social Psychology, New York, 1926.
  8. Wundt, Wilhelm, Völker Psychologie.
  9. Durkheim, Emile, Les Rčgkes de la Méthode Sociologique, Paris, Alcan, 1895.
  10. Tarde Gabriel, Les Lois d'Imitation.
  11. James Mark Baldwin, Mental Development in the Child and the Race.
  12. Warren, H.C., History of Association Psychology, New York, 1921.
  13. Dewey, John, Human Nature and Conduct, Part II, Section 6, New York, 1922.
  14. Bechterew, W., Objektive Psychologie, German Translation, Leipzig and Berlin, 1913.
  15. Watson, J. B., Psychology front the Standpoint of a Behaviorist, Phila delphia, 1919.
  16. Cooley, C. H., Human Nature and the Social Order, New York, 1922.
  17. New York, 1908.
  18. Boston, 1909. See also by same author, Religion, New York, 1928.
  19. Mead, G. H., "The Social Self," Journal of Philosophy, 1913; X:374-80; "The Behavioristic Account of the Significant Symbol," Journal of Philosophy, 1922:XIX:157-63; "The Genesis of the Self and Social Control," International Journal of Ethics, 1925:XXXV:251-77.

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