Stimulation Ranges and Reaction Areas

Franklin Giddings
Columbia University

Behavior of any description, animal or human, individual, social or societal, is a product of five generic factors, each of them divisible and subdivisible as far as you please.

The first factor is a sustentation field: an inhabitable bit of the earth's surface capable of producing food, and otherwise of providing for an upkeep of plant and animal life. The second factor is an ancestry of commingled dominant and recessive traits, which has handed down in heredity a mechanism of `original nature.' The third factor is a certain range (comprising a reach and a scatter) of stimulation. Some stimuli travel far, others but a little way. The fourth factor is an extent or area of reaction. Not all neurons and not all individuals reached and hit by a given stimulus respond to it. Those that do respond make up a reaction area. The fifth factor is a history of primary conditionings and successive reconditionings of reflexes and their combinations.

In the present brief paper I am attempting only to call attention to stimulation ranges and reaction areas and their significance. We have here, I think, related facts of some importance, which have not received adequate consideration.

A stimulus may reach and impinge upon only a peripheral spot of an individual organism. A needle prick is a familiar example. It disturbs only a minute net or nest of neurons. Another stimulus, for example, a bucketful of cold water, may within an instant hit the entire periphery of one individual organism, but of one only. Intermediate in range between these stimuli are such stimuli as a limited surface burn, the slap of a hand, a `draft' blowing on one's neck and the back of one's head.

A stimulus of greater dispersion normally reaches all, or nearly all, of the individuals composing a small company or

( 450) group. The whirr of a partridge, the warning of a rattler, the start of a rabbit, normally reaches the ears or eyes of each of four or five boys or girls in close formation on a hike. The glow of hearth fires, the savory odors of dinner in preparation, normally reach all members of a household gathered within its domicile. The range of these stimuli is the radius of a relatively intimate group.

Of considerably longer reach and wider scatter are the blast of a mill whistle, the clang of the bell or the shriek of the siren of a fire engine or an ambulance, the glare of a conflagration, the crack of a rifle, the booming of guns, the harangue of a street orator. These reach a multitude, or throng.

Finally, there are such stimuli as weather, climate, and the fertility of a wide stretch of land; as possibilities presented by forests and by deposits of iron, coal, or oil; and as opportunities offered by harbors, and by navigable rivers. These reach and scatter throughout considerable distances. Their range is an entire population, composed of intimate groups, families, hamlets, and scattered homesteads; and of miscellaneous multitudes and crowds.

The range of stimulation appears to be of wide variability. It is determined by physical facts, the nature and arrangement of which need not now concern us. Let us turn then to reaction areas.

Not every neuron reached by the needle reacts to it continuously, or every time. Much less do all the neurons reached by the stimulation set up by the bucketful of cold water so react. Not every boy or girl in the company of hikers invariably starts at the whirr of the partridge or the sound of the rattler. Not every member of a domestic group is attentive to every household incident.- Not everybody in a neighborhood responds to the mill whistle, nor does every boy in the street run after the fire engine. Scores of individuals saunter by the soap-box orator without stopping to listen to him. No habitable region, however advantageous, holds all prospectors as settlers.

The extent of a reaction area is determined by factors

( 451) which, unlike the facts that determine range of stimulation and which we have passed by, are significant for our present purposes.

One is the intensity and amount of the stimulation. Within limits not strictly determined, increasing intensity of stimulation calls into reaction an increasing number of neurons. In like manner, increasing strength of any stimulation which is of sufficient range to reach respectively all members of an intimate group, or of a multitude, or of an entire population, calls into reaction within limits which as yet are only very roughly determined an increasing proportion of them. The spring of a wild cat would startle every member of our hiking party. A terrific explosion, or the collapse of a public building would arrest, at least momentarily, every individual of a multitude within stimulation range. An earthquake, a volcanic eruption, or a military invasion would call forth reactions of consternation in all, or approximately all, individuals composing a dense and wide-spread population.

The second factor determinative of reaction area is the relative homogeneity or the relative heterogeneity (as one or the other word may the better describe a given state of facts) of the units composing the plurel[1] potentially reactive. Presumably neurons are not precisely alike in molecular structure. Individual organisms certainly are not altogether alike, and among differences we have such relatively big ones as those which constitute sexes, age, classes, constitutional differences, and differences of race. A population made up of whites of various nationalities, and of yellow, red, and black stocks of numerous varieties, cannot as uniformly react, even to stimuli of great strength, as can a population relatively homogeneous in these particulars.

The stimuli of great range which determine the activities of human populations throughout long periods of time are assembled and arranged in groupings which collectively we call `circumstances.' At all times these condition and play upon human life. In the aggregate they constitute a varying

( 452) but never ceasing pressure. Circumstantial pressure, then, and the degree of homogeneity of a population are the two prime variables which determine the structure and activities of human society, and the course of human history.[2]

Have we not now found significant differentiæ which broadly mark out divisions of psychology which it has become convenient, if not indeed necessary, to recognize for purposes of intensive scrutiny? Stimuli of such limited range that they reach only one individual at a time and disturb only a correspondingly limited reaction area give us the distinctive or differential phenomena (but not all the phenomena) of individual psychology. Stimuli of greater but nevertheless limited range which reach all the individuals of an intimate group or company (companions, socii) and the corresponding reaction area give us the differential phenomena of social psychology. Stimuli of considerable range which reach a multitude of individuals and the corresponding reaction area give us the differential phenomena of crowd psychology. And finally, stimuli of indefinite range which reach all the intimate groups and multitudes that compose and constitute a population, and a correspondingly wide reaction area, give us the differential phenomena of societal psychology.

Of the countless reconditionings whereby the reactions of populations to stimulations of indefinite reach and bewildering scatter are fashioned into human society only brief and highly generalized descriptions can be offered at this time. Enumerated in order of occurrence they are: conditioning by interstimulation and response, reconditioning by kind, re-conditioning by speech, reconditioning by spoken discriminations of kind (subjectively the `consciousness of kind'), and reconditioning by integrations of habit (folk-ways, culture). These reconditionings enter into an integration of co-individual behavior.

In the beginning is multi-individual response (i.e. responses by many individuals) to one after another wide-ranging stimulation. There is congregation at places: feeding places, drinking places, places that offer shelter and security. There is concourse and commingling on occasion, when things

(453) happen. Multi-individual responses may be simultaneous or approximately so, or they may occur with varying degrees of promptness, differences from which emerge leadership and following. They may be prevailingly 'alike or prevailingly unlike, and herein lie all possibilities of conflict, competition, and coöperation.

Conditioning begins with interstimulation and reactions to it. In any aggregation or assemblage of animals or of human beings the behavior of each individual is stimulus to many of his fellows, now and then to all of them; and some of them, now and then all of them, react. With this inter-change communication begins, and herein lie the possibilities of suggestion and suggestibility, of example, imitation and mass intimidation. An exceedingly important phase of multi-individual behavior conditioned by interstimulation is dramatization. In the presence of another or of others the acts of any and each individual become acting. Conditioned by interstimulation and response multi-individual behavior becomes co-individual behavior.

Reconditioning begins with facts and distinctions of kind. Creatures of one identical kind or variety tend to keep together and to go together. This is not because of gregarious instinct.[2] It is because, first, offspring of the same parents and often most of the offspring of one ancestral line for two or three generations hold together by inertia unless an extraneous cause scatters them; and, because, second, holding together is the line of least resistance. Creatures of identical kind do not as a rule repel one another, partly because they are not usually as dangerous to one another as creatures of unlike kind are, and partly because the cries and other behavior of similars are in everything except individual source almost identical with the auto-stimulating behavior of each individual provocative of reactions within himself.

That the fact last alleged is more substantial than a mere ingenious assumption might be, will be conceded, I think, if we reflect upon the certainty that without the similarity

( 454) of stimulation by kind to auto-stimulation, speech could not have been acquired. For, as a behavioristic fact, speech is precisely such an approximate identity of self and other stimulation, of self and other response. With the acquisition of speech a further reconditioning of co-individual behavior began, more radical and far-reaching, perhaps, than any other in the whole history of the human race. It brought every phase of the experience of each individual to bear upon the behavior of every other, and it made possible the handing on of experience, and of acquisitions too subtle for transmission through any other medium, from generation to generation. Conversationalized experience became knowledge, an essential part of which was conversationalized discrimination.

With discriminations talked about came sortings, the beginnings of classification, of distinctions of kind; and among these the most important by far was a talked about discrimination of `own kind' from `other kind,' of `my kind' and `our kind' from `your kind,' 'his kind,' and `their kind.' Without entering into the question upon which behaviorists and the psychologists of subjectivism are at odds let us say that in the language of the vulgar (if we are talking as behaviorists) or of the esoteric (if we are subjectivists) the phenomenon of which we now speak is an `awareness' or `consciousness' of kind. When men attained it they began to be social as already they had been gregarious. Now they not only consorted by kind, but also they began to associate, picking and choosing companions and confirming their likes and dislikes by talking about them. It was, in short, the `consciousness of kind,' or at any rate, the `talking about' distinctions of kind that converted the animal herd into human society, a reconditioning of all behavior second in its tremendous importance only to the effects of speech itself.

Finally, came reconditioning by an integration of habits and an accumulation of knowledge (both of which now were talked about) which had been made possible by speech and association. The integrations constituted folk-ways or customs, and the acquisitions became cultures and culture

( 455) patterns. The reconditionings which these have brought about constitute our so-called civilization.

These conditionings and reconditionings of co-individual behavior have not, of course, appeared one after another only to disappear. Each has supplemented and reacted upon whatever went before. By means of them (co-effective always with primal multi-individual response to wide-ranging stimulation) co-individual behavior has been integrated and fashioned into the fabric of human society.


  1. This is a useful archaic substantive corresponding to the adjective ‘plural.’
  2. Giddings, `Studies in the Theory of Human Society,' pp. 252 and 257.
  3. I do not admit that there is a gregarious instinct. My reasons for denying it are presented in a chapter on ‘The Mind of the Many’ in my ‘Studies in the Theory of Human Society.’

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