An Introduction to Social Psychology

Chapter 4: Some General or Non-Specific Innate Tendencies

William McDougall

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IN this chapter we have to consider certain innate tendencies of the human mind of great importance for social life which are sometimes ascribed to special instincts, but which are more properly classed apart from the instinctive tendencies. For we have seen that an instinct, no matter how profoundly modified it may be in the developed human mind as regards the conditions of its excitement and the actions in which it manifests it-self, always retains unchanged its essential and permanent nucleus; this nucleus is the central part of the innate disposition, the excitement of which determines an affective state or emotion of specific quality and a native impulse towards some specific end. And the tendencies to be considered in this chapter have no such specific characters, but are rather of a many-sided and general nature. Consider, for example, the tendency to imitate—the modes of action in which this tendency expresses it-self and the accompanying subjective states are as various as the things or actions that can be imitated.

Sympathy or the Sympathetic Induction of the Emotions

The three most important of these pseudo-instincts, as they might be called, are suggestion, imitation, and sympathy. They are closely allied as regards their effects, for in each case the process in which the ten-

( 94) -dency manifests itself involves an interaction between at least two individuals, one of whom is the agent, while the other is the person acted upon or patient ; and in each case the result of the process is some degree of assimilation of the actions and mental state of the patient to those of the agent. They are three forms of mental interaction of fundamental importance for all social life, both of men and animals. These processes of mental interaction, of impression and reception, may involve chiefly the cognitive aspect of mental process, or its affective or its conative aspect. In the first case, when some presentation, idea, or belief of the agent directly induces a similar presentation, idea, or belief in the patient, the process is called one of suggestion; when an affective or emotional excitement of the agent induces a similar affective excitement in the patient, the process is one of sympathy or sympathetic induction of emotion or feeling; when the most prominent result of the process of interaction is the assimilation of the bodily movements of the patient to those of the agent, we speak of imitation.

Now, M. Tarde [1] and Professor Baldwin[2] have singled out imitation as the all-important social process, and Baldwin, like most contemporary writers, attributes it to an instinct of imitation. But careful consideration of the nature of imitative actions shows that they are of many kinds, that they issue from mental processes of a number of different types, and that none are attributable to a specific instinct of imitation, while many are due to sympathy and others to suggestion. We must therefore first consider sympathy and suggestion, and, after de-

( 95) -fining them as precisely as possible, go on to consider the varieties of imitative action.

Sympathy is by some authors ascribed to a special instinct of sympathy, and even Professor James has been misled by the confused usage of common speech and has said "sympathy is an emotion."[3] But the principles maintained in the foregoing chapter will not allow us to accept either of these views. The word "sympathy," as popularly used, generally implies a tender regard for the person with whom we are said to sympathise. But such sympathy is only one special and complex form of sympathetic emotion, in the strict and more general sense of the words. The fundamental and primitive form of sympathy is exactly what the word implies, a suffering with, the experiencing of any feeling or emotion when and because we observe in other persons or creatures the expression of that feeling or emotion.[4]

Sympathetic induction of emotion is displayed in the simplest and most unmistakable fashion by many, probably by all, of the gregarious animals; and it is easy to understand how greatly it aids them in their struggle for existence. One of the clearest and commonest examples is the spread of fear and its flight-impulse among the members of a flock or herd. Many gregarious animals utter when startled a characteristic cry of fear; when this cry is emitted by one member of a flock or herd, it immediately excites the flight-impulse in all of its fellows who are within hearing of it; the whole herd, flock, or covey takes to flight like one individual. Or again, one

(96) of a pack of gregarious hunting animals, dogs or wolves, comes upon a fresh trail, sights the prey, and pursues it, uttering a characteristic yelp that excites the instinct of pursuit in all his fellows and brings them yelping behind him. Or two dogs begin to growl or fight, and at once all the dogs within sound and sight stiffen themselves and show every symptom of anger. Or one beast in a herd stands arrested, gazing in curiosity on some unfamiliar object, and presently his fellows also, to whom the object may be invisible, display curiosity and come up to join in the examination of the object. In all these cases we observe only that the behaviour of one animal, upon the excitement of an instinct, immediately evokes similar behaviour in those of his fellows who perceive his expressions of excitement. But we can hardly doubt that in each case the instinctive behaviour is accompanied by the appropriate emotion and felt impulse.

Sympathy of this crude kind is the cement that binds animal societies together, renders the actions of all members of a group harmonious, and allows them to reap some of the prime advantages of social life in spite of lack of intelligence.

How comes it that the instinctive behaviour of one animal directly excites similar behaviour on the part of his fellows? No satisfactory answer to this question seems to have been hitherto proposed, although this kind of behaviour has been described and discussed often enough. Not many years ago it would have seemed sufficient to answer, It is due to instinct. But that answer will hardly satisfy us to-day. I think the facts compel us to assume that in the gregarious animals each of the principal instincts has a special perceptual inlet (or recipient afferent part) that is adapted to receive and to elaborate the sense-impressions made by the expres-

( 97) -sions of the same instinct in other animals of the same species—that, e. g., the fear-instinct has, besides others, a special perceptual inlet that renders it excitable by the sound of the cry of fear, the instinct of pugnacity a perceptual inlet that renders it excitable by the sound of the roar of anger.

Human sympathy has its roots in similar specialisations of the instinctive dispositions on their afferent sides. In early childhood sympathetic emotion is almost wholly of this simple kind ; and all through life most of us continue to respond in this direct fashion to the expressions of the feelings and emotions of our fellow-men. This sympathetic induction of emotion and feeling may be observed in children at an age at which they cannot be credited with understanding of the significance of the expressions that provoke their reactions. Perhaps the expression to which they respond earliest is the sound of the wailing of other children. A little later the sight of a smiling face, the expression of pleasure, provokes a smile. Later still fear, curiosity, and, I think, anger, are communicated readily in this direct fashion from one child to another. Laughter is notoriously infectious all through life, and this, though not a truly instinctive expression, affords the most familiar example of sympathetic induction of an affective state. This immediate and unrestrained responsiveness to the emotional expressions of others is one of the great charms of childhood. One may see it particularly well displayed by the children of some savage races (especially perhaps of the negro race), whom it renders wonderfully attractive.

Adults vary much in the degree to which they display these sympathetic reactions, but hi few or none are they wholly lacking. A merry face makes us feel brighter; a melancholy face may cast a gloom over a

(98) cheerful company; when we witness the painful emotion of others, we experience sympathetic pain; when we see others terror-stricken or hear their scream of terror, we suffer a pang of fear though we know nothing of the cause of their emotion or are indifferent to it ; anger provokes anger; the curious gaze of the passer-by stirs our curiosity; and a display of tender emotion touches, as we say, a tender chord in our hearts.[5] In short, each of the great primary emotions that has its characteristic and unmistakable bodily expression seems to be capable of being excited by way of this immediate sympathetic response. If, then, the view here urged is true, we must not say, as many authors have done, that sympathy is due to an instinct, but rather that sympathy is founded upon a special adaptation of the receptive side of each of the principal instinctive dispositions, an adaptation that renders each instinct capable of being excited on the perception of the bodily expressions of the excitement of the same instinct in other persons.

It has been pointed out on a previous page that this primitive sympathy implies none of the higher moral

( 99) qualities. There are persons who are exquisitively sympathetic in this sense of feeling with another, experiencing distress at the sight of pain and grief, pleasure at the sight of joy, who yet are utterly selfish and are not moved in the least degree to relieve the distress they observe in others or to promote the pleasure that is reflected in themselves. Their sympathetic sensibility merely leads them to avoid all contact with distressful persons, books, or scenes, and to seek the company of the careless and the gay. And a too great sensibility of this kind is even adverse to the higher kind of conduct that seeks to relieve pain and to promote happiness; for the sufferer's expressions of pain may induce so lively a distress in the onlooker as to incapacitate him for giving help. Thus in any case of personal accident, or where surgical procedure is necessary, many a woman is rendered quite useless by her sympathetic distress.[6]

Suggestion and Suggestibility

"Suggestion" is a word that has been taken over from popular speech and been specialised for psychological use. But even among psychologists it has been used in two rather different senses. A generation ago it was used in a sense very similar to that which it has in common speech; one idea was said to suggest another. But this purpose is adequately served by the word "reproduction," and there is a growing tendency to use "suggestion" only in a still more technical and strict manner, and it is in this stricter sense that it is used in these pages. Psychologists have only in recent years begun to realise

(100) the vast scope and importance of suggestion and suggestibility in social life. Their attention was directed to the study of suggestion by the recognition that the phenomena of hypnotism, so long disputed and derided, are genuine expressions of a peculiar abnormal condition of the mind, and that the leading symptom of this condition of hypnosis is the patient's extreme liability to accept with conviction any proposition submitted to him. This peculiar condition was called one of suggestibility, and the process of communication between agent and patient which leads to the latter's acceptance of any proposition was called suggestion. There was for some time a tendency to regard suggestibility as necessarily an abnormal condition and suggestion as a psychological curiosity. But very quickly it was seen that there are many degrees of suggestibility, ranging from the slight degree of the normal educated adult to the extreme degree of the deeply hypnotised subject, and that suggestion is a process constantly at work among us, the understanding of which is of extreme importance for the social sciences.

It is difficult to find a definition of suggestion which will include all varieties and will yet mark it off clearly from other processes of communication; and there is no sharp line to be drawn, for in many processes by which conviction is produced there is a more or less strong element of suggestion co-operating with logical processes. The following definition will, I think, cover all varieties: Suggestion is a process of communication resulting in the acceptance with conviction of the communicated proposition in the absence of logically adequate grounds for its acceptance. The measure of the suggestibility of any subject is, then, the readiness with which he thus accepts propositions. Of course, the proposition is not necessarily communicated in formal language, it may be

( 101) implied by a mere gesture or interjection. The suggestibility of any subject is not of the same degree at all times ; it varies not only according to the topic and ac-cording to the source from which the proposition is communicated, but also with the condition of the subject's brain from hour to hour. The least degree of suggestibility is that of a wide-awake, self-reliant man of settled convictions, possessing a large store of systematically organised knowledge which he habitually brings to bear in criticism of all statements made to him. Greater degrees of suggestibility are due in the main to conditions of four kinds-(1) abnormal states of the brain, of which the relative dissociation obtaining in hysteria, hypnosis, normal sleep, and fatigue, is the most important; (2) deficiency of knowledge or convictions relating to the topic in regard to which the suggestion is made, and imperfect organisation of knowledge; (3) the impressive character of the source from which the suggested proposition is communicated; (4) peculiarities of the character and native disposition of the subject.

Of these the first need not engage our attention, as it has but little part in normal social life. The operation of the other three conditions may be illustrated by an example. Suppose a man of wide scientific culture to be confronted with the proposition that the bodies of the dead will one day rise from their graves to live a new life. He does not accept it, because he knows that dead bodies buried in graves undergo a rapid and complete decomposition, and because the acceptance of the proposition would involve a shattering of the whole of his strongly and systematically organised knowledge of natural processes. But the same proposition may be readily accepted by a child or a savage for lack of any system of critical belief and knowledge that would con-

( 102) -flict with it. Such persons may accept almost any extravagant proposition with primitive credulity. But, for the great majority of civilised adults of little scientific culture, the acceptance or rejection of the proposition will depend upon the third and fourth of the conditions enumerated above. Even a young child or a savage may reject such a proposition with scorn if it is made to him by one of his fellows ; but, if the statement is solemnly affirmed by a recognised and honoured teacher, supported by all the prestige and authority of an ancient and powerful Church, not only children and savages, but most civilised adults, will accept it, in spite of a certain opposition offered by other beliefs and knowledge that they possess. Suggestion mainly dependent for its success on this condition may be called prestige suggestion.

But not all persons of equal knowledge and culture are equally open to prestige suggestion. Here the fourth factor comes into play, namely, character and native disposition. As regards the latter the most important condition determining individual suggestibility seems to be the relative strengths of the two instincts that were discussed in Chapter III. under the names "instincts of self-assertion" and "subjection." Personal contact with any of our fellows seems regularly to bring one or other, or both, of these two instincts into play. The presence of persons whom we regard as our inferiors in the particular situation of the moment evokes the impulse of self-assertion ; towards such persons we are but little or not at all suggestible. But, in the presence of persons who make upon us an impression of power or of superiority of any kind, whether merely of size or physical strength, or of social standing, or of intellectual reputation, or, perhaps, even of tailoring, the impulse of submission is brought into play, and we are thrown into a submissive,

(103) receptive attitude towards them; or, if the two impulses are simultaneously evoked, there takes place a painful struggle between them and we suffer the complex emotional disturbance known as bashful feeling.[7] In so far as the impulse of submission predominates we are suggestible towards the person whose presence evokes it. Persons in whom this instinct is relatively strong will, other things being the same, be much subject to prestige suggestion ; while, on the other hand, persons in whom this impulse is weak and the opposed instinct of self-assertion is strong will be apt to be self-confident, "cock-sure" persons, and to be but little subject to prestige suggestion. In the course of character-formation by social intercourse, excessive strength of either of these impulses may be rectified or compensated to some ex-tent ; the able, but innately submissive, man may gain a reasonable confidence; the man of self-assertive disposition may, if not stupid, learn to recognise his own weaknesses; and in so far as these compensations are effected liability to prestige suggestion will be diminished or increased.

Children are, then, inevitably suggestible, firstly, be-cause of their lack of knowledge and lack of systematic organisation of such knowledge as they have; secondly, because the superior size, strength, knowledge, and reputation of their elders tend to evoke the impulse of sub-mission and to throw them into the receptive attitude. And it is in virtue largely of their suggestibility that they so rapidly absorb the knowledge, beliefs, and especially the sentiments, of their social environment. But most adults also remain suggestible, especially towards mass-suggestion and towards the propositions which they know to be supported by the whole weight of society or

( 104) by a long tradition. To the consideration of the social importance of suggestion we must return in a later chapter.

This brief discussion may be concluded by the repudiation of a certain peculiar implication attached to the word "suggestion" by some writers. They speak of "suggestive ideas" and of ideas working suggestively in the mind, implying that such ideas and such working have some peculiar potency, a potency that would seem to be almost of a magical character; but they do not succeed in making clear in what way these ideas and their operations differ from others. The potency of the idea conveyed by suggestion seems to be nothing but the potency of conviction; and convictions produced by logical methods seem to have no less power to determine thought and action, or even to influence the vital processes, than those produced by suggestion; the principal difference is that by suggestion conviction may be produced in regard to propositions that are insusceptible of logical demonstration, or even are opposed to the evidence of perception and inference.

A few words must be said about contra-suggestion. By this word it is usual to denote the mode of action of one individual on another which results in the second accepting, in the absence of adequate logical grounds, the contrary of the proposition asserted or implied by the agent. There are persons with whom this result is very liable to be produced by any attempt to exert suggestive influence, or even by the most ordinary and casual utterance. One remarks to such a person that it is a fine day, and, though, up to that moment, he may have formulated no opinion about the weather, and have been quite indifferent to it, he at once replies, "Well, I don't agree with you. I think it is perfectly horrid weather."

( 105) Or one says to him, "I think you ought to take a holiday," and, though he had himself contemplated this course, he replies, "No, I don't need one," and becomes more immovably fixed in this opinion and the corresponding course of action the more he is urged to adopt their opposites. Some children display this contra-suggestibility very strongly for a period and afterwards return to a normal degree of suggestibility. But in some per-sons it becomes habitual or chronic; they take a pride in doing and saying nothing like other people, in dressing and eating differently, in defying all the minor social conventions. Commonly, I believe, such persons regard themselves as displaying great strength of character and cherish their peculiarity. In such cases the permanence of the attitude may have very complex mental causes; but in its simpler instances, and probably at its inception in all instances, contra-suggestion seems to be determined by the undue dominance of the impulse of self-assertion over that of submission, owing to the formation of some rudimentary sentiment of dislike for personal influence resulting from an unwise exercise of it—a sentiment which may have for its object the influence of some one person or personal influence in general.


This word has been used by M. Tarde in his well-known sociological treatises to cover processes of sympathy and suggestion as well as the processes to which the name is more usually applied, and, since the verb "to suggest" can be applied only to the part of the agent in the process of suggestion, and since we need some verb to describe the part of the patient, it is perhaps legitimate to extend the meaning of the word "imitate" in this way, so as to make it cover the process of accepting a suggestion.

But in the more strict sense of the word "imi-

( 106) -tation," it is applicable only to the imitation or copying by one individual of the actions, the bodily movements, of an-other. Imitation and imitativeness in this narrower sense of the words are usually ascribed to an instinct. Thus James writes : "This sort of imitativeness is possessed by man in common with other gregarious animals, and is an instinct in the fullest sense of the term."[8] Baldwin also uses the phrase "instinct of imitation" and its equivalents,[9] but applies the word "imitation" to so great a variety of processes that it can hardly be sup-posed he means to attribute all of them to the operation of this assumed instinct.

The reasons for refusing to recognise an instinct of imitation may be stated as follows :—Imitative actions are extremely varied, for every kind of action may be imitated; there is therefore nothing specific in the nature of the imitative movements and in the nature of the sense-impressions by which the movements are excited or guided. And this variety of movement and of sense-impression is not due to complication of a congenital disposition, such as takes place in the case of all the true instincts; for this variety characterises imitative movements from the outset. More important is the fact that, underlying the varieties of imitative action, there is no common affective state and no common impulse seeking satisfaction in some particular change of state. And we have seen reason to regard such a specific impulse,

(107) prompting to continued action until its satisfaction is secured, as the most essential feature of every truly instinctive process. Further, if we consider the principal varieties of imitative action, we find that all are explicable without the assumption of a special instinct of imitation. Imitative actions of at least three, perhaps of five, distinct classes may be distinguished, according to the kind of mental process of which they are the outcome.

1.  The expressive actions that are sympathetically ex-cited in the way discussed under the head of "sympathy" form one class of imitative actions. Thus, when a child responds to a smile with a smile, when he cries on hearinganother child cry, or when he runs to hide himself on seeing other children running frightened to shelter, he may be said to be imitating the actions of others. If we were right in our conclusions regarding the responses of primitive sympathy, these outwardly imitative actions are instinctive, and are due, not to an instinct of imitation, but to special adaptations of the principal instinctive dispositions on their sensory sides, and they are secondary to the sympathetic induction of the emotions and feelings they express. Imitative actions of this sort are displayed by all the gregarious animals, and they are the only kind of which most of the animals seem capable. They are displayed on a great scale by crowds of human beings and are the principal source of the wild excesses of which crowds are so often guilty. 

2.  Imitative actions of a second class are simple ideomotor actions. The clearest examples are afforded by subjects in hypnosis and in certain other abnormal conditions. Many hypnotised subjects will, if their attention is forcibly drawn to the movements of the hypnotiser, imitate his every action. A certain proportion of the people of the Malay race are afflicted with a disorder 

(108) known as lātah, [10] which renders them liable to behave like the hypnotic subject in this respect. And all of us, if our attention is keenly concentrated on the movements of another person, are apt to make, at least in a partial incipient fashion, every movement we observe—e.g., on watching a difficult stroke in billiards, the balancing of a tight-rope walker, the rhythmic swaying of a dancer. In all these cases the imitative movement seems to be due to the fact that the visual presentation of the movement of another is apt to evoke the representation of a similar movement of one's own body, which, like all motor representations, tends to realise itself immediately in movement. Many of the imitative movements of children are of this class. Some person attracts a child's curious attention, by reason perhaps of some unfamiliar trait; the child becomes absorbed in watching him and presently imitates his movements. It seem to be in virtue of this simple ideo-motor imitation that a child so easily picks up, as we say, the peculiarities of gesture, and the facial expressions and deportment generally, of those among whom he lives. This kind of imitation may be in part voluntary and so merges into a third kind—deliberate, voluntary, or self-conscious imitation.

3. Some person, or some kind of skilled action, ex-cites our admiration, and we take the admired person for our model in all things or deliberately set ourselves to imitate the action.

Between the second and third kinds is a fourth kind of imitation allied to both, and affording for the child a transition from the one to the other. In cases of this fourth type the imitator, a child say, observes a certain

( 109) action, and his attention is concentrated, not on the movements, but on the effects produced by the movements. When the child again finds himself in a situation similar to that of the person he has observed, the idea of the effect observed comes back to mind and perhaps leads directly to action. For example, a child observes an elder person throw a piece of paper on the fire; then, when on a later occasion the child finds himself in the presence of fire and paper, he is very apt to imitate the action ; he produces a similar effect, though he may do so by means of a very different combination of movements. This kind of imitation is perhaps in many cases to be regarded as simple ideo-motor action due to the tendency of the idea to realise itself in action; but in other cases various impulses may be operative.

For the sake of completeness a fifth kind of imitation may be mentioned. It is the imitation by very young children of movements that are not expressive of feeling or emotion; it is manifested at an age when the child cannot be credited with ideas of movement or with deliberate self-conscious imitation. A few instances of this sort have been reported by reliable observers ; e.g., Preyer[11] stated that his child imitated the protrusion of his lips when in the fourth month of life. These cases have been regarded, by those who have not themselves witnessed similar actions, as chance coincidences, because it is impossible to bring them under any recognised type of imitation. I have, however, carefully verified the occurrence of this sort of imitation in two of my own children; one of them on several occasions during his fourth month repeatedly put out his tongue when the person whose face he was watching made this movement. For the explanation of any such simple imitation of a par-

( 110) -ticular movement at this early age, we have to assume the existence of a very simple perceptual disposition having this specific motor tendency, and, since we cannot suppose such a disposition to have been acquired at this age, we are compelled to suppose it to be innately organised. Such an innate disposition would be an extremely simple rudimentary instinct. It may be that every child inherits a considerable number of such rudimentary instincts, and that they play a considerable part in facilitating the acquisition of new movements, especially perhaps of speech-movements.

We shall have to consider in later chapters the ways in which these three forms of mental interaction, sympathy, suggestion, and imitation, play their all-important parts in the moulding of the individual by his social environment, and in the life of societies generally.


Another tendency, one that the human mind has in common with many of the animals, demands brief notice, namely, the tendency to play. Play also is sometimes ascribed to an instinct; but no one of the many varieties of playful activity can properly be ascribed to an instinct of play. Nevertheless play must be reckoned among the native tendencies of the mind of high social value. Children and the young of many species of animal take to play spontaneously without any teaching or example. Several theories of play have been put forward, each claiming to sum up the phenomena in one brief formula. The oldest of the modern theories was proposed by the poet Schiller, and was developed by Herbert Spencer. According to this view, play is always the expression of a surplus of nervous energy. The young creature, being

( 111) tended and fed by its parents, does not expend its energy upon the quest of food, in earning its daily bread, and therefore has a surplus store of energy which overflows along the most open nervous channels, producing purposeless movements of the kind that are most frequent in real life. There is, no doubt, an element of truth in the theory, but it is clearly inadequate to account for the facts, even in the case of the simple play of animals. It does not sufficiently account for the forms the play activities take; still less is it compatible with the fact that young animals, as well as young children, will often play till they are exhausted. The element of truth is that the creature is most disposed to play when it is so well nourished and rested that it has a surplus of stored energy. But this is true also of work.

Others, looking chiefly at the play of children, have regarded their play as a special instance of the operation of the law of recapitulation; and they have sought to show that the child retraverses in his play the successive culture periods of human history, owing to the successive development or ripening of native tendencies to the forms of activity supposed to have been characteristic of these periods. This recapitulatory theory of play and the educational practice based on it are founded on the fallacious belief that, as the human race traversed the various culture periods, its native mental constitution acquired very special tendencies, and that each period of culture was, as it were, the expression of a certain well-marked stage in the evolution of the human mind. This view can hardly be accepted, for we have little reason to suppose that human nature has undergone any such profound modifications in the course of the development of civilisation out of barbarism and savagery.

( 112)

Professor Karl Groos[12] has recently propounded a new theory of play. He sets out from the consideration of the play of young animals, and he points out the obvious utility to them of play as a preparation for the serious business of life, as a perfecting by practice of the more specialised and difficult kinds of activity on the successful exercise of which their survival in the struggle for existence must depend. Consider the case of the kitten playing with a ball on the floor. It is clear that, in the course of such playing, the kitten improves its skill in movements of the kind that will be needed for the catching of its prey when it is thrown upon its own re-sources. Or take the case of puppies playfully fighting' with one another. It seems clear that the practice they get in quick attack and avoidance must make them better fighters than they would become if they never played in this way.

Starting out from considerations of this sort, Professor Groos argues that the occurrence of youthful play among almost all animals that in mature life have to rely upon rapid and varied skilled movements justifies us in believing that the period of immaturity, with its tendency to playful activities, is a special adaptation of the course of individual development, an adaptation that enables the creature to become better fitted to cope with its environment than it could be if it enjoyed no such period of play. Groos therefore reverses the Schiller-Spencer dictum, and says—it is not that young animals play be-cause they are young and have surplus nervous energy: we must believe rather that the higher animals have this period of youthful immaturity in order that they may play. The youthful play-tendencies are, then, according to this view, special racial endowments of high biological

( 113) utility, the products, no doubt, of the operation of natural selection. If we ask—In what does this special adaptation consist? the answer is—it consists in the tendency for the various instincts (on the skilled exercise of which adult efficiency depends) to ripen and to come into action in each individual of the species before they are needed for serious use. We have other and better grounds for believing that the time of ripening of any instinct in the individuals of any species is liable to be shifted forwards or backwards in the age-scale during the course of racial evolution, so that the order of their ripening and of the appearance of the various instinctive activities in the individual does not conform to the law of recapitulation. There is, therefore, nothing improbable in this view that play is determined by the premature ripening of instincts. But it will not fully account for all the facts of animal play, and still less for all forms of children's play. There remains a difficulty of a very interesting kind.

Consider the case of young dogs playfully fighting together. If we simply assume that this is the expression of the prematurely ripened pugnacious instinct, we ought to expect to find the young dogs really fighting and doing their best to hurt one another ; and, since anger is the affective state that normally accompanies the exercise of this instinct, we should expect to observe every symptom of anger as the dogs roll about together. But it is perfectly clear that, although the dogs are capable of anger on other occasions, they make all the movements of combat without anger and in a peculiarly modified manner ; one seizes the other by the throat and pins him to the ground, and so forth; but all this is done in such a way as not to ' hurt his opponent ; the teeth are never driven home, and no blood is drawn. That they do no

( 114) hurt to one another is by no means due to lack of muscular power or of sharp teeth ; nor is there any lack of energy in the movements in general ; in merely chasing one another the utmost exertions are made. This peculiar modification of the combative movements seems to be an essential character of the playful fighting of many young animals, and boys are no exception to the rule. How is it to be accounted for and reconciled with Professor Groos's theory of play? Mr. F. H. Bradley has made a suggestion in answer to this question.[13] He takes the case of the playful biting of young dogs as typical of play, and points out that, not only in this case but in many others also, a certain restraint of action is manifested in play; and he proposes to regard a certain degree of self-restraint as the psychological characteristic of play. He takes the view that, when the dog bites your hand in play, he knows he must not exert so much force as to hurt you; "there is restraint, a restraint which later may be formulated as the rule of the game." Mr. Bradley here seems to ascribe to the playfully biting dog a certain deliberate self-restraint. I think that in doing so he greatly over-estimates the complexity of the creature's mental process, and ascribes to it a degree of self-consciousness and a power of intelligent control of conduct of which it is really quite incapable. We might find a parallel to the psychological situation in which Bradley supposes the dog to be, in the case of a boy who, fighting with another in real earnest, is aware that, if he should do the other more than a slight hurt, he will bring punishment upon himself, and who therefore exerts a strong control over his actions and hits his opponent only in places where no great harm can be done. To suppose that the mental process of the young dog at all approach-

( 115) -es this degree of complexity is, I think, quite impossible. And that this view is untenable is shown also by the fact that young dogs display this playful fighting and its characteristic restraint of movement at a very early age, when they can hardly have learnt self-restraint from experience of the ill consequences of biting too hard. It is not that the young dog, when playfully fighting, has the impulse to bite with all his force and that he keeps a strong volitional control over his movements ; we must rather sup-pose, since the movements he makes are in all other respects like those of real combat, that the instinct of which they are the expression is a peculiarly modified form of the combative instinct.

The movements, with their characteristic differences from those of actual combat, must be regarded as instinctive, but as due to the excitement of some modified form of the combative instinct, an instinct differentiated from, and having an independent existence alongside, the original instinct. And that the movements are not the expression of the true combative instinct is shown also by the fact that the specific affective state, namely anger, which normally accompanies its excitement, is lacking in playful activity. Professor Groos's theory that play is due to the premature ripening of instincts needs, then, to be modified by the recognition of some special differentiation of the instincts which find expression in playful activity.

It is obvious that Groos's theory is applicable to some of the plays of children, especially the warlike and hunting games of boys and the doll-playing of girls. But there are other forms of childish play which cannot be accounted for in this way and which are not the direct expressions of instincts. The motives of play are various and often complex, and they cannot be characterised in

( 116) any brief formula; nor can any hard-and-fast line be drawn between work and play. Beside the class of plays to which Professor Groos's formula is applicable we may recognise several principal classes of play motives—such are the desire of increased skill, the pleasure of make-believe, the pleasure in being a cause. But a motive that may co-operate with others in almost all games, and which among ourselves is seldom altogether lacking, is the desire to get the better of others, to emulate, to excel. This motive plays an important part, not only in games, but in many of the most serious activities of life, to which it gives an additional zest. For many a politician it is a principal motive, and many a professional and many a commercial man continues his exertions, under the driving power of this motive, long after the immediate practical ends of his professional activity have been achieved; and in the collective life of societies it plays no small part. But, wherever it enters in, it is recognised that it imparts something of a playful character to the activity; a recognition which often finds expression in the phrase "playing the game" applied to activities of the most diverse and serious kinds.

Whence comes this strong desire and impulse to surpass our rivals? We saw reason for refusing to accept a specific instinct of rivalry or emulation in the animals, for rivalry and emulation imply self-consciousness. It is a defensible view that the impulse of rivalry derives from the instinct of self-assertion; but, though it is probably complicated and reinforced in many cases by the co-operation of this impulse, it can hardly be wholly identified with it. Nor can it be identified with the combative impulse; for this too seems to persist in the most highly civilised peoples with all its fierce strength and its specific brutal tendency to destroy the opponent. The

(117) obscurity of the subject and the importance of this impulse of rivalry in the life of societies tempt me to offer a speculation as to its nature and origin that is suggested by the issue of our discussion of the playful fighting of young animals.

The impulse of rivalry is to get the better of an opponent in some sort of struggle; but it differs from the combative impulse in that it does not prompt to, and does not find satisfaction in, the destruction of the opponent. Rather, the continued existence of the rival, as such, but as a conquered rival, seems necessary for its full satisfaction; and a benevolent condescension towards the conquered rival is not incompatible with the activity of the impulse, as it is with that of the combative impulse. Now, these peculiarities of the impulse of rivalry, when stripped of all intellectual complications, seem to be just those of the modified form of the combative impulse that seems to underlie the playful fighting of young animals. May it not be, then, that the impulse of rivalry is essentially this impulse to playful fighting, the impulse of an instinct differentiated from the combative instinct in the first instance in the animal world to secure practice in the movements of combat? In favour of this view it may be pointed out that in the human race the native strength of the impulse of rivalry seems on the whole to run parallel with, or to be closely correlated with, the strength of the pugnacious instinct. The impulse of rivalry is very strong in the peoples of Europe, especially, perhaps, in the English people ; it constitutes the principal motive to almost all our many games, and it lends its strength to the support of almost every form of activity. It cannot be denied that we are a highly pugnacious people or that our Anglo-Saxon and Danish and Norman ancestors were probably the most terrible fighting-men

(118) the world has ever seen. On the other hand, men of the unwarlike races, e.g., the mild Hindoo or the Burman, seem relatively free from the impulse of rivalry. To men of these races such games as football seem utterly absurd and irrational and, in fact, they are absurd and irrational for all men born without the impulse of rivalry; whereas men of warlike races, e.g., the Maoris, who, like our ancestors, found for many generations their chief occupation and delight in warfare, take up such games keenly and even learn very quickly to beat us at them.

I think we may even observe in young boys the re-capitulation of the process of differentiation of the impulse of rivalry from the combative instinct. The latter usually comes into play at a very early age, but the former does not usually manifest itself until the age of four or five years. Up to this time the more active playing of boys is apt to be formless and vague, a mere running about and shouting, a form of play sufficiently ac-counted for by the Schiller-Spencer theory. But then the impulse of rivalry begins to work, and from that time it may dominate the boy's life more and more, in so far as his activities are spontaneous. In this connection it is important to note that the growth of self-consciousness must favour and strengthen the operation of this impulse, whereas it is rather adverse to the display of most of the other instinctive activities in their crude forms.[14]


A universal tendency of the mind, which is so familiar as to run some risk of being neglected, must be briefly. mentioned; namely, the tendency for every process to be repeated more readily in virtue of its previous occurrence and in proportion to the frequency of its previous repetitions. The formulation of this tendency may be named the law of habit, if the word "habit" is understood in the widest possible sense. In virtue of this tendency the familiar as such is preferred to the less familiar, the habitual and routine mode of action and reaction, in all departments of mental life, to any mode of action necessitating any degree of novel adjustment. And the more familiar and habitual is any mental process or mode of action in a situation of a given type, the more difficult is it to make any change or improvement in it and the more painful is any change of the character of the situation that necessitates an effort of readjustment. This is the great principle by which all acquisitions of the individual mind are preserved and in virtue of which the making of further acquisitions is rendered more difficult, through which the indefinite plasticity of the infant's mind gradually gives place to the elasticity of the mature mind.



In order to complete this brief sketch of the more important features of the native mental constitution, a few words must be said about temperament. This is a very difficult subject which most psychologists are glad to leave alone. Yet temperament is the source of many of the most striking mental differences between individuals and peoples.

Under the head of temperamental factors we group a number of natively given constitutional conditions of our mental life that exert a constant influence on our mental processes. This influence may be slight at any one time, but since its effects are cumulative—i.e., since it operates as a constant bias in one direction during mental development and the formation of habits—it is responsible for much in the mental make-up of the adult. Temperament is, as the ancients clearly saw, largely a matter of bodily constitution ; that is to say that among the temperamental factors the influences on the mental life exerted by the great bodily organs occupy a prominent place. But there are other factors also, and it is impossible to bring them all under one brief formula; and, since temperament is the resultant of these many relatively independent factors, it is impossible to distinguish any clearly defined classes of temperaments, as the ancients, as well as many modern authors, have attempted to do. Some of the best modern psychologists have been led into absurdities by attempting this impossible task. The truth is that we are only just beginning to gain some slight insight into the conditions of temperament, and progress in this respect must depend chiefly upon the progress of physiology. In one respect only can we make a decided advance upon the ancients—we can realise the great com-

(121) -plexity of the problem and can frankly admit our ignorance.

The temperamental factors may conveniently be grouped in two principal classes—on the one hand, the influences exerted on the nervous system and, through it, on mental process by the functioning of the bodily organs; on the other hand, general functional peculiarities of the nervous tissues. We may best grasp something of the nature of the former class by the observation of cases in which their influence is abnormally great. Of re-cent years some light has been thrown upon temperament by the discovery of the great influence exerted on mental life by certain organs whose functions had been, and iii many respects still are, obscure. The most notable ex-ample is perhaps the thyroid body, a small mass of soft cellular tissue in the neck. We know now that defect of the functions of this organ may reduce any one of us to a state of mental apathy bordering on idiocy, and that its excessive activity produces the opposite effect and may throw the mind into an over-excitable condition verging on maniacal excitement. Again, we know that certain diseases tend to produce specific changes of temperament, that this is often gives it a bright and hopeful turn, diabetes a dissatisfied and cantankerous turn. It is clear t hat, in some such cases of profound alteration of temperament by bodily disorder, the effects are produced by means of the chemical products of metabolism, which, being thrown out of the disordered tissues into the blood and reaching the nervous system by way 6f the blood-stream, chemically modify its processes. It is probable that every organ the body exerts in this indirect way some influence upon our mental life, and that temperament is in large measure the balance or resultant of all the many contributory chemical influences.


Most of the bodily organs probably co-operate in determining temperament in another way hardly less important. All of them are supplied with afferent nerves, nerves that constantly carry impulses up from the organs to the central nervous system. And all these impulses probably modify in some degree the general working of the nervous system and play some part in deter-mining the "coenęsthesia," the obscure background of consciousness on which the general tone of our mental life chiefly depends. The organs of reproduction afford the most striking example of this kind of temperamental influence. The skeletal system of muscles also probably exerts a great influence of this kind—a well-developed and active muscular system tends to maintain a certain tone of the nervous system that favours an alert and confident habit of mind. Perfect functioning of all the bodily organs not only favours in this way mental activity in general, but tends to an objective habit of mind; whereas imperfection of organic functions tends to pro-duce an undue prominence in consciousness of the bodily self and, therefore, an introspective and brooding habit of mind.

As regards the part played by the general constitution of the nervous system itself in determining temperament, we are still more ignorant than in regard to the influence of the bodily organs. A few characters of the nervous tissues we can point to with confidence as determining differences of temperament. Such are native differences of excitability, of rapidity of response and transmission of the nervous impulse, and differences in respect to fatigability and rapidity of recuperation. But there are probably other subtle differences of which we know nothing.

Temperament, then, is a complex resultant of many

( 123) factors each of which is in the main natively determined, and, though they are alterable perhaps by disease and the influence of the physical environment, especially by temperature and food, they are but little capable of being modified by voluntary effort; and the mental development of individuals is, as it were, constantly biassed in this or that direction by peculiarities of temperament, the selective activity of the mind is given this or that trend; e.g., the child natively endowed with a cheerful temperament will be receptive to bright influences, his thoughts will tend to dwell on the future in pleased anticipation, optimistic ideas will readily find a foothold in his mind, while gloomy, pessimistic ideas will gain no permanent influence over him in spite of being intellectually grasped. And with the child of gloomy temperament all this will be reversed. In this way temperament largely determines our outlook on life, our cast of thought and lines of action.

Temperament must be carefully distinguished from disposition and from character, though these distinctions are not always observed by popular speech and thought. The disposition of a person is the sum of all the innate dispositions or instincts with their specific impulses or tendencies of the kind discussed in Chapter II. Differ-aces of disposition are due to native differences in the strengths of the impulses of the instincts, or to differences in their strengths induced by use and disuse in the course of individual development, or more rarely to absence of one or other of the instincts. Thus we properly speak of an irascible, or tender, or timid disposition; not of irascible, tender, or timid temperament. Character, on the other hand, is the sum of acquired tendencies built up on the native basis of disposition and temperament; it includes our sentiments and our habits

( 124) in the widest sense of the term, and is the product of the interaction of disposition and temperament with the physical and social environment under the guidance of intelligence. Thus a man's temperament and disposition are in the main born with him and are but little alterable by any effort he may make, whereas character is made largely by his own efforts.


  1. "Les Lois de l'Imitation." Paris, 1904.
  2. "Mental Development," and "Social and Ethical Interpretations."
  3. "Op. cit., ii., p. 410.
  4. This truth has been clearly expressed by Herbert Spencer ("Principles of Psychology," vol. ii., p. 563), and Bain recognised it, although, as we have seen, he failed to hold it consistently.
  5. Shortly after writing these lines I was holding a child in my arms, looking out of window on a dark night. There came a blinding flash of lightning and, after some seconds, a crash of thunder. The child was pleased by the lightning, but at the first crack of thunder she screamed in terror; immediately upon hearing the scream, I experienced, during a fraction of a second, a pang of fear that could not have been more horrible had I been threatened with all the terrors of hell. I am not at all disturbed by thunder when alone. This incident illustrates very well two points—first the sympathetic induction of emotion by immediate instinctive reaction to the expression of emotion by another; secondly, the specific character of loud noises as ex-citants of fear. Regarded as merely a sensory stimulus, the flash of lightning was far more violent than the thunder; yet it provoked no fear in the child.
  6. This is very noticeable in the case of vomiting. A tender mother will sometimes turn away from a vomiting child with an Irresistible impulse of repulsion.
  7. See p. 150, for bashfulness.
  8. "Principles of Psychology,"vol. ii., p. 408.
  9. "Mental Development, Methods and Processes," 3rd ed., p. 281. New York, 1906.
  10. An excellent account of this peculiar affliction may be found in Mr. Hugh Clifford's "Studies in Brown Humanity," as also in Sir F. A. Swettenham's "Malay Sketches."
  11. "Die Seele des Kindes," 5te Auflage, Leipzig, 1900, S. 180.
  12. "The Play of Animals" and "The Play of Man."
  13. "Mind,"N.S., vol. xv., p. 468.
  14. While living among the hybrid Papuan-Melanesian people of a small group of islands in the Torres Straits, I was much struck by the marked weakness of the impulse of rivalry among them. Though adults and children spent a large proportion of their time in playing, the spirit of rivalry was displayed but feebly in a few of the games and hardly at all in most of their playing. I failed completely to get the boys to take up various English games, and the failure seemed due to the lack of for impulse of rivalry. The same defect or peculiarity seemed to be responsible for the fact that the people were so content with their equality in poverty that, although opportunities for earning high wages in adjacent islands were abundant, few could be induced to avail themselves of them, or to work for more than a few months, if they did so. These people are unwarlike, and the men and boys never fight with one another—a striking fact, which certainly is not to be explained by excellence of the social system or refinement of manners; for but a generation ago these people were notorious for having devoured the crews of several vessels wrecked upon the islands.

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