An Introduction to Social Psychology

Chapter 6: The Development of the Sentiments

William McDougall

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WE have seen that a sentiment is an organised System of emotional dispositions centred about the idea of some object. The organisation of the sentiments in the developing mind is determined by the course of experience ; that is to say, the sentiment is a growth in the structure of the mind that is not natively given in the inherited constitution. This is certainly true in the main, though the maternal sentiment might almost seem to be innate ; but we have to remember that in the human mother this sentiment may, and generally does, begin to grow up about the idea of its object, before the child is born.'

The growth of the sentiments is of the utmost importance for the character and conduct of individuals and of societies; it is the organisation of the affective and conative life. In the absence of sentiments our emotional life would be a mere chaos, without order, consistency,

(165) or continuity of any kind; and all our social relations and conduct, being based on the emotions and their impulses, would be correspondingly chaotic, unpredictable, and unstable. It is only through the systematic organisation of the emotional dispositions in sentiments that the volitional control of the immediate promptings of the emotions is rendered possible. Again, our judgments of value and of merit are rooted in our sentiments; and our moral principles have the same source, for they are formed by our judgments of moral value.

In dealing with the emotions, we named and classed them according to their nature as states of affective consciousness and as tendencies to action ; and we may at-tempt to name and classify the sentiments also according to the nature of the emotional dispositions that enter into the composition of each one. But since, as we have seen, the same emotional dispositions may enter into the composition of very different sentiments, we can, carry the naming and classification of them but a little way on this principle, and we have accordingly but very general names for the sentiments. We have the names love, liking, affection, attachment, denoting those sentiments that draw one towards their objects, generally in virtue of the tender emotion with its protective impulse which is their principal constituent; and we have the names hate, dislike, and aversion, for those that lead us to shrink from their objects, those whose attitude or tendency is one of aversion, owing to the fear or disgust that is the dominant element in their composition. The two names love and hate, and the weaker but otherwise synonymous terms liking and dislike, affection and aversion, are very general; each stands for a large class of sentiments of varied, though similar, composition; the character common to the one class being the fundamental

( 166) tendency to seek the object and to find pleasure in its presence, while that of the other class is the tendency to avoid the object and to be pained by its presence.

We must, I think, recognise a third principal variety of sentiment which is primarily the self-regarding sentiment, and is, perhaps, best called respect. Respect differs from love in that, while tender emotion occupies the principal place in love, it is lacking, or occupies an altogether subordinate position, in the sentiment of respect. The principal constituents of respect are the dispositions of positive and negative self-feeling; and respect is clearly marked off from love by the fact that shame is one of its strongest emotions.

It may be asked—If respect is thus a sentiment that has for its most essential constituents these self-regarding emotions, how can we properly be said to entertain respect for others? The answer is, I think, that we respect those who respect themselves, that our respect for another is a sympathetic reflexion of his self-respect; for unless a man shows self-respect we never have respect for him, even though we may admire some of his qualities, or like, or even love, him in a certain degree. The generally recognised fact that we may like without respecting, and may respect without liking, shows very clearly the essentially different natures of these two sentiments, love and respect.

The older moralists frequently made use of the expression "self-love," and in doing so generally confounded under this term two different sentiments, self-love and self-respect. Self-love is fortunately a comparatively rare sentiment; it is the self-regarding sentiment of the thoroughly selfish man, the meaner sort of egoist. Such a man feels a tender emotion for himself, he indulges in

(167) self-pity; he may have little positive self-feeling and may be incapable of shame.[2]

Besides the sentiments of these three main types, love, hate, and respect, which may be called complete or full-grown sentiments, we must recognise the existence of sentiments of all degrees of development from the most rudimentary upward ; these may be regarded as stages in the formation of fully-grown sentiments, although many of them never attain any great degree of complexity or strength. These we have to name according to the principal emotional disposition entering into their composition.

The sentiments may also be classified according to the nature of their objects; they then fall into three main classes, the concrete particular, the concrete general, and the abstract sentiments—e.g., the sentiment of love for a child, of love for children in general, of love for justice or virtue. Their development in the individual follows this order, the concrete particular sentiments being, of course, the earliest and most easily acquired. The number of sentiments a man may acquire, reckoned according to the number of objects in which they are centred, may, of course, be very large; but almost every man has a

( 168) small number of sentiments—perhaps one only—that greatly surpass all the rest in strength and as regards the proportion of his conduct that springs from them.

Each sentiment has a life-history, like every other vital organisation. It is gradually built up, increasing in complexity and strength, and may continue to grow indefinitely, or may enter upon a period of decline, and may decay slowly or rapidly, partially or completely.

When any one of the emotions is strongly or repeatedly excited by a particular object, there is formed the rudiment of a sentiment. Suppose that a child is thrown into the company of some person given to frequent out-bursts of violent anger, say, a violent-tempered father who is otherwise indifferent to the child and takes no further notice of him than to threaten, scold, and, perhaps, beat him. At first the child experiences fear at each exhibition of violence ; but repetition of these incidents very soon creates the habit of fear, and in the presence of his father, even in his mildest moods, the child is timorous; that is to say, the mere presence of the father throws the child's fear-disposition into a condition of sub-excitement, which increases on the slightest occasion until it produces all the subjective and objective manifestations of fear. As a further stage the mere idea of the father becomes capable of producing the same effects as his presence ; this idea has become associated with the emotion ; or, in stricter language, the psycho-physical disposition, whose excitement involves the rise to consciousness of this idea, has become associated or intimately connected with the psycho-physical disposition whose excitement produces the bodily and mental symptoms of fear. Such an association constitutes a rudimentary sentiment that we can only call a sentiment of fear.


In a similar way, a single act of kindness done by A to B may evoke in B the emotion of gratitude; and if A repeats his kindly acts, conferring benefits on B, the gratitude of B may become habitual, may become an en-during emotional attitude of B towards A—a sentiment of gratitude. Or, in either case, a single act—one evoking very intense fear or gratitude—may suffice to render the association more or less durable and the attitude of fear, or gratitude, of B towards A more or less permanent.

The same is true of most, perhaps of all, of the emotions of the class that do not presuppose sentiments al-ready formed for the object of the emotion—e.g., of admiration, of anger, of disgust, of pity. We must, then, recognise, as limiting cases on the side of simplicity, sentiments formed by the association of a single emotional disposition with the idea of some object. But it can seldom happen that a sentiment persists in this rudimentary condition for any long period of time. Any such sentiment is liable to die away for lack of stimulus, or, if further relations are maintained with its object, to develop into a more complex organisation. Thus the simple sentiment of fear, created in the way we have imagined, will tend to develop, and will most readily become hate by the incorporation of other emotional dispositions; anger may be frequently aroused by the harsh punishments and restrictions imposed by the violent-tempered father, perhaps also revenge, disgust, and shame; and after each occasion on which the father becomes the object of these emotions, they remain more ready to be stirred by him or by the mere thought of him; they all, in virtue of their repeated excitement by this one object, become associated with the object more and more intimately, until the mere idea of him may suffice to throw

(170) them all at once into a condition of sub-excitement, or to arouse all of them in turn or in conjunction to full activity. So the rudimentary sentiment, whose only emotional constituent is fear, develops into a full-blown hatred.

Now let us take parental love as the type of a strong and highly complex sentiment, and let us consider its development. By reason of its helplessness, its delicacy, its distresses, the ,young child evokes sooner or later the tender emotion of the parent, if he is at all capable of this emotion ; and if the parent does not, through laziness or under the influence of a bad tradition, restrain the protective impulse, it finds its satisfaction in a series of tender acts. Each time the emotion and its impulse are brought into operation by this particular object, they are rendered more easily excitable in the same way, until the mere idea of this object is constantly accompanied by some degree of the emotion, however feeble. This gives the object a special power of attracting and holding the attention of the parent, who therefore constantly notices the child's expressions ; and these evoke by sympathetic reaction the corresponding feelings and emotions in the parent. Thus all the tender and attracting emotions are repeatedly aroused by this one object, either singly or in combination—pity, wonder, admiration, gratitude, solicitude, as well as sympathetic pain and pleasure, and quick anger at neglect or injury of the child by others. This, perhaps, is as far as the sentiment normally develops while the child is very young. But there corns in the ordinary course of things a time when the child learns to reciprocate the parent's sentiment and, by its expressions of tenderness or gratitude, intensifies the satisfaction of the parental emotions; in so doing it welds the father's sentiment still more strongly than before, and

( 171) also establishes the relation presently to be discussed under the head of active sympathy. But this is not all; the parent is apt to identify the child with himself in a peculiarly intimate way, for he knows that the world in general regards its qualities and its defects as, in a sense, his own; and so his self-regarding sentiment of respect or of pride becomes directly extended to the child; whatever is admirable about it brings satisfaction to his positive self-feeling; whatever is defective humbles him, ex-cites his negative self-feeling; its shame or disgrace is his shame, its triumphs are his triumphs. It is the fusion of these two sentiments, the altruistic and the egoistic, in the parental sentiment that gives it its incomparable hold upon our natures, and makes it a sentiment from which proceed our most intense joys and sorrows. And not only are the various emotions, such as tender emotion and positive self-feeling, excited in complex conjunct ions, but it would seem that each emotion excited with-iii the system of any complex sentiment acquires an in-creased intensity and its impulse an additional energy from its membership in the system, an increment of energy which is greater the larger the number of dispositions comprised within the system.[3] To all this must be added yet another factor—every effort and every sacrifice made on the child's behalf, every pain suffered through it, adds to the strength of the sentiment; for with each such incident we feel that we put something of ourselves into the object of the sentiment; and this sense of the accumulation of our efforts and sacrifices gives

( 172) it an additional value ; we come to regard it as an in-vestment in which we have sunk our capital bit by bit, to lose which would be to lose that which embodies our past efforts. In this way also the child becomes identified with ourselves, so that, as with any other thing, such as a work of art or science, to the shaping of which our best powers have been devoted, approval of it gives us pleasure and disapproval pain, equally with approval or disapproval of ourselves.

Though the parental sentiment in its completest form arises from the fusion of the purely altruistic with the extended self-regarding sentiment, it may be wholly of one or other type. The mother of a child that is men-tally and physically defective can find little occasion for extending to it her self-respect or pride; it does not minister to her positive self-feeling, but rather, in so far as it is identified with herself, is a cause of shame and pain. Yet the maternal instinct often rises superior to these influences, which would make for hate rather than for love; the greater needs of the child do but call out more intensely and frequently her tender emotion, and she cherishes it with a sentiment that is almost purely tender.

On the other hand, many a father's sentiment for his children is very little, or not at all, tender, is not properly love, but is a mere extension of his self-regarding sentiment. He is gratified—i.e., his positive self-feeling attains satisfaction—when they are admired or when they achieve success of any kind ; he feels shame when they appear bad-mannered or ill-dressed or stupid; and he labours to fit them to take a good place in the world, or is ambitious for them, just as he labours for, and is ambitious for, himself ; all, perhaps, without once experiencing the least touch of tender emotion for them.

(173) The sentiment of affection for an equal generally takes its rise, not in simple tender emotion, but in admiration, m gratitude, or pity, and is especially developed by active sympathy. By active sympathy I mean sympathy in the fully, more usual, sense of the word; we must carefully distinguish it from the simple, primitive, or passive sympathy discussed in Chapter IV. Active sympathy plays, or may play, a minor part in the genesis of the parental sentiment, but it is of prime importance for the development of the sentiment of affection between equals; for while the former may be wholly one-sided, the latter can hardly become fully formed and permanent without some degree of reciprocation and of sympathy in this fuller sense.

Active sympathy presents a difficult problem, which we may consider in this connexion. It involves a reciprocal relation between at least two persons; either party to the relation not only is apt to experience the emotions displayed by the other, but he desires also that the other shall share his own emotions; he actively seeks the sympathy of the other, and, when he has communicated his emotion to the other, he attains a peculiar satisfaction which greatly enhances his pleasure and his joy, or, in the case of painful emotion, diminishes his pain.

This relation of active sympathy is apt to grow up between any two persons who are thrown much together, if they are commonly stirred to similar emotions by similar objects; and that can only be the case if they have similar sentiments. Two persons may live together for years, and, if their sentiments are very different, if one of them likes and dislikes the things that are for the most part indifferent to the other, there will be no habitual sympathy established between them. There may be a

( 174) reciprocal sentiment of love without active sympathy, as in some cases of mother and child[4] ; and in such cases there will be reciprocation of tender emotion, and when one party to the relation is in distress the other will pity and succour him. But such a sentiment of love without active sympathy brings little joy and is likely to be troubled by frequent jars, irritations, and regrets. In-stances of this kind of relation are common enough; they show clearly that tender emotion and pity, though often in popular speech and by many psychologists confused with sympathy, do not constitute sympathy; and they show also that sympathy is not essential to love, that, in short, sympathy (both the simple or passive and the complex active variety) and tender emotion are radically distinct.

If, however, the relation of active sympathy is established between any two persons, some sentiment of affection is pretty sure to grow up in both parties, if they are at all capable of tender emotion; and, except in the case of parental love, active sympathy is the most sure foundation of love and is an essential feature of any completely satisfying affection.

We have, then, to ask, Why do we seek and find this peculiar satisfaction in the mere fact of another person's sharing our emotion? In the case of the pleasurable emotions we may see a partial explanation in the fact that the sharing of our emotion by another intensifies our own emotion by way of the fundamental reaction of primitive sympathy,[5] and therefore intensifies our pleasure or our joy. But the sharing of our emotion intensifies also the painful emotions, anger, revenge, fear, pity, and sorrowful emotion ; yet in these cases also we

( 175) desire that others shall share our emotion and find a certain satisfaction when they do so.

Some further explanation of active sympathy is there-fore required, and in order to find it we must, I think, fall back on the gregarious instinct. The excitement of this, the pre-eminently social instinct, is accompanied, as we have seen, by no specific emotion of well-marked quality. In the simplest cases it operates merely to produce an uneasy restlessness in any member of a herd or other animal society that has become separated from its fellows, impelling him to wander to and fro until he finds and rejoins the herd. In the present connection it is important that this gregarious impulse seems gene-rally to be called into play in conjunction with some other instinct ; that is to say, the excitement of any other instinct seems to predispose to the excitement of this one. This is, perhaps, most obvious in the case of fear. The gregarious animal may graze in comfort at some distance from his fellows, but at the slightest alarm will run first to join them, before making off in headlong flight. But it is true also of anger and curiosity, of the migratory instinct, of the food-seeking impulse when sharpened by hunger, and of the mating instinct. Animals of many species live for the most part more or less scattered, or in family groups only, but come together in vast collections when these special instincts are excited.

It seems, then, that the gregarious instinct supplements, as it were, each of the special instincts, rendering complete satisfaction of their impulses impossible, until each animal is surrounded by others of the same species in a similar state of excitement. Since man certainly inherits this instinct, we may see in this instinct the principle that we need for the explanation of the de

( 176) -velopment of active sympathy from the crude sympathetic reaction or mere sympathetic induction of emotion that we studied in Chapter IV. The blind impulse of the gregarious animal to seek the company of his fellows, whenever one of his other instincts is excited, becomes in us the desire of seeing ourselves surrounded by others who share our emotion ; and it is apt to be-come directed to seeking the sympathetic response of some one person in whom we are sure of evoking it; and then, having become habitually directed to that per-son, it finds a more certain and complete and detailed satisfaction than is possible if it remains specialised.

That we are right in thus finding the root of active sympathy in an ancient and deep-seated instinct, and that the impulse of this instinct is distinct from the tender or protective impulse, is shown by the great differences between us in regard to this impulse in spite of similar conditions of life, differences that do not run parallel with our differences in regard to the strength of the tender impulse. There are men who seem almost de-void of active sympathy; they are content to admire, or to be indignant, or vengeful, or tender, or curious, or grateful, alone, and they derive little or no satisfaction from finding that others are sharing their emotions. Such a man is not necessarily incapable of the tender emotion and the sentiment of love; he may be tenderly de-voted to his family and be capable of the most truly disinterested conduct, but he is by nature a solitary, his gregarious instinct is abnormally weak, and therefore he is content to bury his joys and his sorrows in his own bosom.

On the other hand, the person in whom this impulse is strong can find, when alone, no enjoyment in the things that give him, when in sympathetic company, the

( 177) keenest delight. He may, for example, be an enthusiastic admirer of natural beauty; but if, by some strange chance, he takes a walk alone through the most beautiful scenes, his emotional stirrings, which, if shared by others, would be a pure delight, are accompanied by a vague though painful desire, whose nature he may or may not clearly recognise. And the chances are that he occupies himself in making mental notes of the scenes before him and hurries home to give a glowing description of them to some friend who, he knows, will be stirred in some degree to share his emotions. Some persons, in whom this impulse is but little specialised though strong and whose emotions are quick and vivid, are not satisfied until all about them share their emotions ; they are pained and even made angry by the spectacle of any one remaining unmoved by the objects of their own emotions.

Many children manifest very clearly this tendency of active sympathy; they demand that their every emotion shall be shared at once. "Oh, come and look!" is their constant cry when out for a walk, and every object that excites their curiosity or admiration is brought at once, or pointed out, to their companion. And if that companion is unsympathetic, or is wearied by their too frequent demands upon his emotional capacities, the urgency of this impulse gives rise to pain and anger and, perhaps, a storm of tears. On the other hand, another child, brought up, perhaps, under identical conditions, but in whom this impulse is relatively weak, will explore a garden, interested and excited for hours together, with-out once feeling the need for sympathy, without once calling on others to share his emotion.

Active sympathy is, then, egoistic, it is a seeking of one's own satisfaction. There are selfish men in whom this tendency is very strong; such men wear out their

( 178) wives, or others about them, by their constant demands for sympathetic emotion, regardless of the strain they put upon their companions, who cannot always be in the mood to sympathise. Such men constantly demand sympathy and give but little. Sympathy then, whether in the active or the passive form, is not the root of altruism, as Bain and others would have it. Nor is it, as Mr. Sutherland maintains, to be identified with the maternal impulse. But, although it is not in itself an altruistic impulse and is not in any sense the root of altruism, it is a most valuable adjunct to the tender emotion in the formation of altruistic sentiments and in stimulating social co-operation for social ends. The man that has it not at all, or in whom it has become completely specialised (i.e., directed to some one or few per-sons only), will hardly become a leader and inspirer of others in the reform of social abuses, in the public recognition of merit, in public expression of moral indignation, or in any other of those collective expressions of emotion which do so much to bind societies together, even if they fail of achieving their immediate ends.

It is only when this active sympathy is specialised and is combined in both parties with a reciprocal sentiment of affection, and when each, knowing that the other desires his sympathy and derives from it increase of joy and diminution of pain, desires to procure these results for the other and in turn derives satisfaction from the knowledge that he can and does produce these results—it is only then that sympathy, in the fullest sense of the word, is achieved.


  1. In a recent article criticising M. Ribot's book "Les Passions"("Mind," vol. xvi., p. 502) Mr. Shand has suggested that the sentiment of love is innately organised. I cannot see any sufficient grounds for accepting this suggestion, and I believe that any such assumption will raise more difficulties than it solves. In previous chapters I have suggested that certain of the instincts may have peculiarly intimate innate relations, that, e.g., the instinct of pugnacity is thus specially intimately connected with the maternal instinct and with the sex instinct of the male. But even this seems to me very questionable.
  2. I shall be told that in restricting in this way the meaning of the term "self-love" I am setting aside a usage consecrated by age and the writings of innumerable moralists. I would anticipate this objection by asking—Why should the psychologist feel any obligation to clog and hamper the development of his science by a regard for the terminology of the pre-scientific ages, while the workers in other scientific fields are permitted to develop their terminology with a single eye to its precision and to the accurate discrimination and classification of the like and the un-like? The chemist is not held to be under any obligation to class earth, air, fire, and water with his elements, nor does the physicist persist in classing heat and electricity with the fluid substances.
  3. For the same reason other sentiments of this type, resulting from fusion of the self-regarding sentiment with the love of an object other than the self (of which patriotism is the most striking example), acquire their power of supplying dominant or extremely powerful motives
  4. E.g., the relation of mother and son in Mr. Wells's "Days of the Comet."
  5. Cp. Chapter IV.

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