An Introduction to Social Psychology

Supplementary Chapter 3: The Instinct of Laughter and Some Minor Tendencies

William McDougall

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UNDER certain circumstances presently to be defined, the normal human being laughs, or experiences an impulse, a tendency, to laugh, which often it is difficult or impossible to control or suppress. If he attempts to suppress it, he feels the impulse surging or bubbling up within him and threatening to overpower his best efforts to suppress its outward manifestations. These outward manifestations are highly complex, but specific; that is to say, they are constant in general form for all members of the human species.[1] The principal features are the spasmodic action of the diaphragm and of other respiratory muscles, with an interrupted closure of the glottis, which results in the peculiar cachination. This behaviour, which, to a Martian observer, might well seem wholly useless and utterly absurd and (if he were endowed with a propensity to laughter of a quite different kind) ridiculous, bears most, though not quite all, of the usual marks of an instinctive reaction. First, it is common

(420) to all members of the species. Secondly, it is unquestionably inborn., unlearned, or provided for in the innate constitution of the race and the individual. Thirdly, it is actuated by a felt impulse, and is more or less subject to voluntary control, and can be partially but not perfectly imitated by voluntary effort. Fourthly, it tends to inhibit all other forms of bodily and mental activity of a voluntary or impulsive nature, all other conations; and this inhibitory power is peculiarly strong in the case of the impulse to laughter. Fifthly, the outward expressions are accompanied, not only by a felt impulse, which is apt to grow more intense the more we attempt to suppress it, but also by a peculiar emotional experience best described by the words " merriment " or " amusement " or " gaiety." Sixthly, the reaction is elicited, not by any merely physical stimulation, but only through the perception or intellectual appreciation of some complex situation of a specific nature. Seventhly, laughter, like all other instinctive expressions, illustrates (and in a peculiarly striking way) the principle of primitive passive sympathy; when we merely see or hear the laughter of others, without perceiving, or in any way knowing, the object that provokes their laughter, the laughter impulse is directly stirred within us.

In one important respect laughter differs from typical instinctive behaviour; namely, it does not tend to produce any specific change in the circumstances that provoke it; it seems to have no outward goal towards which the laughter-shaken subject strives and by the attainment of which his impulse is allayed or satisfied. The goal of the impulse remains for the most part extremely ill-defined in the mind of the subject, and can only be defined in terms of the bodily and mental changes which result from the laughter. These bodily and mental changes

( 421) are in the main of a stimulating nature. Laughter seems to be a physiological stimulus of a general kind; it seems to quicken the respiratory and circulatory processes and in these ways, and perhaps also in others, to produce a general sense of well-being or euphoria.

Most of the many eminent authors who have discussed laughter have been wholly or chiefly concerned to define in general terms the nature of the ridiculous. Some such general definition must be a part of any theory of laughter. But we can with advantage approach that problem indirectly, namely, by first asking what is the biological function of laughter. In the light of the theory of evolution, we may confidently assume that a highly complex function such as laughter, involving as it does the nice coördination of a multitude of nervous and muscular processes, and a function which is provided ready-made in the innate constitution of all members of a species, we may assume that such a function is of biological value, that it is useful or beneficial either to the individual or to the species; in fact we may assume that, like all other instincts, it has what the biologists call " survival value." What, then, is the value or utility of laughter The answer to this, the most fundamental question, would seem to be that the essential and primary function of laughter is the production of those bodily and mental effects mentioned in the foregoing paragraph, namely, a promotion of the respiratory and circulatory processes and, perhaps, of other vital processes, a general stirring up of the basal metabolic processes which is reflected in consciousness as euphoria or the sense of increased well-being. The opposite of euphoria is the sense of depression which accompanies a depressed condition of the fundamental vital functions; laughter removes this depression by exerting a generally stimulating effect throughout

( 422) the organism. But it does more than this: it diverts us; that is to say, it has a quite peculiar power of arresting the stream of thought and inhibiting all other bodily activities. Even such automatized or deeply habitual bodily activities as walking and standing are apt to be interrupted by laughter. We stand rooted to the spot while we rock to and fro ; or, if the laughter impulse is excited in a maximal intensity, we are apt to sink down, our knees loosened, and to roll and shake helplessly upon the ground.

What, then, are the circumstances under which this very peculiar inhibitory but stimulating behaviour may be advantageous? Here we see how this way of approaching the problem of the ridiculous enables us to avoid the error into which almost all writers on laughter have fallen. Almost without exception they have assumed without question that laughter is the expression of pleasure, and that the ridiculous object or event or situation provokes our laughter because it pleases us; and they have devoted all their ingenuity to the impossible task of discovering what element or aspect of the ridiculous it is that pleases us. Thus Thomas Hobbes, discerning, truly enough, that the ridiculous is almost always of the nature of some mishap or shortcoming of some human-being, some failure or disappointment, some miscarriage or clumsiness of action, some stupidity or grotesque defect, cynically suggested that these things please us because they make us feel superior to the persons who suffer or display them ; in this way he arrived at the famous theory that laughter is due to a " sudden glory."

But when, approaching the problem from the biological standpoint, we ask " Why should we laugh when we are pleased?" we can find no answer. If we accept the common assumption that we laugh because we are pleased, laughter

(423) must appear to be otiose, entirely without utility, rendering no service to the organism that laughs.

Professor Bergson, starting from the same facts, has attempted to remedy this radical defect of the Hobbesian theory by assigning to laughter a social function and utility. He sees no benefit to the laugher, but suggests that, in laughing, we perform a socially advantageous function, namely, we discipline the person who is ridiculous by reason of his clumsy or inefficient activities or his bizarre appearance. Now it is true that in highly civilized communities, and especially perhaps among the French, laughter is, more or less deliberately, made to subserve the ends of social discipline. But we can hardly suppose that this was its primary function and utility for the sake of which the laughter instinct was evolved in the species. Social discipline is rather a secondary and late application of the instinctive tendency, arising only in a highly developed and conventionalized society.

Let us, then, free our minds from the quite groundless assumption that we laugh because we are pleased, and let us look at the facts with fresh eyes. We shall then see that the objects, events, and situations that are universally ridiculous are such as in themselves are displeasing to us; they are such that, if we did not laugh at them, if they did not provoke us to this mysterious reaction, they would displease us or be in some degree painful or distressing to us; for they are essentially the minor misfortunes and defects of our fellow-creatures. Man is a social species, and, like all the social animals, the species is endowed with the primitive sympathetic tendencies. We have seen in Chapters IV and XV that to experience the emotions and feelings we see expressed by our fellows is natural to all men, though in some

(424) persons such sympathetic induction of emotion seems to occur much more readily than in others; and we have seen that such emotional contagion is the very cement of society at all levels, from that of the most simple animal-groups, to that of the most elaborated human communities. Without such primitive passive sympathy no effective social life would be possible. And, since man's evolution beyond the animal level has been essentially a social evolution, it was rendered possible only by the delicacy or readiness of these primitive sympathetic responses in the human species. But, as the social life of mankind developed, as men gathered in larger groups, and as the imaginative powers of primitive man grew stronger,[3] primitive sympathy, though indispensable as a social bond securing uniformity of feeling and coöperative action throughout the group, must have involved a certain grave disadvantage.

This world, as we are often told, is a vale of tears; and this was true for primitive man in a higher degree than for us. Think of his situation; an almost defenseless naked savage, with little knowledge and only the crudest of material possessions, shivering and cowering in a world full of dangers and hardships. Imagine a community of such creatures, each so constituted by nature as sympathetically to respond to all the emotional expressions of his fellows, both upon direct perception of them and imaginatively. It is obvious that primitive sympathy, indispensable as it was for the life of the group, must have involved a heavy burden upon each member : for not only had he to bear his own mishaps and disappointments and failures, but also he had to share the distresses and pains of his companions. Is it fantastic to suppose that the burden thus imposed

( 425) was too heavy to be borne; that primitive sympathy, which alone rendered possible a higher social development, threatened to destroy the individuals through depressing their vitality by excess of sympathetic distresses? Some remedy was needed, some antidote to primitive sympathy, an antidote which, while leaving men delicately responsive to all the more intense emotional expressions about them, should spare them the unnecessary suffering involved in sympathetically sharing all the minor pains and distresses which were the daily lot of each member of the group. The problem of devising such an antidote might well seem insoluble; yet Nature seems to have solved it by inventing laughter, by implanting in each member of the race the tendency to laugh when con-fronted by the spectacle of any of the minor mishaps and distresses of his fellows. And, by inventing laughter, she created the ridiculous.

The laughter apparatus seems to be so placed in our constitution that every weaker impulse to sympathetic distress or pain is at once short-circuited into this most recently evolved and most specifically human of the instinctive dispositions; and the instinctive reaction thus provoked then prevents our dwelling upon the ridiculous object, the mildly distressful situation, and stimulates our organic processes in a way which not only prevents our suffering the depression of sympathetic distress but also exhilarates us and brings us to the condition of euphoria. The endowment of the species with the instinct of laughter has in short converted what in its absence would have been a depressing burden of frequent though minor sympathetic pains into occasions of refreshment and recreation.

The capacity for laughter once acquired, men learned, as with other instinctive tendencies, to make use of it in

( 426) a more or less intentional fashion; in other words, men learned to joke, for to joke is to create by artifice the ridiculous or laughter-provoking situation. At first the practical joke, beloved of children and primitive minds of all times and places, was the standard agent for the provocation of laughter; a man was tripped up, or his cup dashed from his lips, or his meaty bone was tumbled in the mud of the cave's floor. Later came the more refined joke and the funny story at the expense of some member of the group. Still later, with the growth of civilization, appeared the professional jester, the clown who, for the sake of pay or social esteem, voluntarily makes himself ridiculous by his antics and stupidities. And the clown, because we know that his distresses are self-induced and can be terminated at will, must resort to a show of the extremer forms of pain and distress, he must submit to violent blows and heavy falls and make a great show of distress and disappointment such as, if they were real, would provoke in us sympathetic suffering.

We may laugh when a man hits his thumb with his hammer; but we shrink in sympathetic pain if his hand is crushed in a machine. If a man clumsily lets fall the tasty morsel which he was contemplating with gusto, we laugh, we enjoy his discomfiture; but, when we see the same man suddenly deprived of that which is most dear to him, we suffer a sympathetic pain that may be well-nigh intolerable, and we look out on the world with sadder eyes, depressed and discouraged. And if we had not the capacity to laugh at our fellows' minor misfortunes, to find their lesser failures and disappointments ridiculous, we should on those occasions suffer in some degree the depression and discouragement that

(427) come with the sympathetic pain evoked by their major misfortunes.

The theory of laughter which I have now concisely propounded is capable, I submit, of being successfully applied to the interpretation of every instance of laughter. It is worth while to dwell briefly on some facts which at first sight may seem to offer difficulty. There is little room for doubt that smiling is the natural expression of pleasure. Now the smile is closely associated with laughter; so much so that it is commonly regarded as incipient laughter, or identified with laughter as a part of the total reaction. But there are good grounds for believing that they are distinct modes of reaction and that the association between them is secondary and acquired. We do not always smile as we laugh; there are many forms of laughter, all the hard and bitter forms, which are not accompanied by smiling. In the infant the smile appears some two months earlier than the laugh; a difference of date which marks them as innately distinct. The intimate association that grows up between these two distinct reactions, smiling and laughter, may well be attributed to the fact that, when we have laughed, we commonly experience in some degree the pleasing euphoric effects; we are pleased, and our laughter, as it dies away, gives place to smiling.

Sometimes we laugh at hearing of great disasters; and the more the horrors are piled up, the more we laugh, although we may feel a little ashamed of ourselves for so doing. In such instances the disaster is one affecting persons remote in time or place, and the recital of their suffering brings them but faintly before our minds; hence these remote though severe sufferings work upon us in the same way as the minor distresses of persons closer to us.

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There is a form of laughter chiefly displayed by young children, when they sport and gambol in fulness of health and energy. Like their other bodily movements at such times, it is a mere bubbling over of exuberant nervous energy. They are not laughing at anything, though the slightest touch of the ridiculous may redouble their laughter; they are merely finding vent through various motor mechanisms for the excess of energy within them.


One strong feature of this new theory of laughter is the fact that it renders possible for the first time an intelligible account of the nature of humor. It is clear that to possess a "sense of the ridiculous" is not, the same thing as to be humorous. When we say that a man " possesses a sense of the ridiculous " we mean merely that he readily laughs at whatever is comic, absurd, or ridiculous. Many a man is very ready to laugh at the minor troubles of his neighbors and yet is not at all humorous. To be humorous or " to have a sense of humor '' is to be capable of laughing at one's own minor misfortunes, and thus to be able to make of them occasions for that stimulating refreshing activity we call merriment. The egoistic humourist goes about the world perpetually drawing attention to, and making fun of, his own deficiencies. But there is also the larger humor which finds occasion for laughter in those defects and shortcomings which are common to all men; such humor, including in its object the laugher himself, does not wound, as does the lower simpler form of laughter; for it brings a bond of fellowship between him who laughs and all his fellows, inviting all men, without dis-

(429) -crimination, to share in the genial exercise. Humorous laughter is thus a higher form which implies the attainment in some degree of the power of viewing ourselves objectively, of seeing ourselves as others see us.

There is a peculiar condition of laughter which might well have served as the cue to the true theory and is the touchstone which may be applied to all theories; namely, laughter on being tickled. It is obvious that tickle-sensation is not in itself pleasing, but rather is annoying. When a fly settles on our face and tickles us, we brush it away with slight annoyance; one can tickle oneself with a feather without provoking the least tendency to laugh; and, if we are persistently tickled in spite of our efforts to escape from the situation, we may be driven frantic. In order to provoke by tickling the laughter reaction, it is necessary to tickle in a playful humorous manner. If you tickle a child without making clear to him that you are playful and well disposed, he will merely struggle to escape, and will then avoid you. But if you attack him playfully, you provoke his laughter; he then enjoys the game and returns again and again to renew it. Laughter on being tickled is, then, the most primitive form of humor; it implies an appreciation of the ridiculous nature of one's own situation. Children learn to laugh on being tickled only through tactful and playful repetition of the process; it is their initiation to the humorous attitude.

In this connection the fact mentioned above, that apes may be provoked by tickling to something like laughter, is of quite peculiar interest. At first sight it might seem that the fact is fatal to the view here propounded. But Professor Yerkes, who has made a prolonged and intimate study of apes, assures me that what I have written above about children's laughter-reaction to tickling is true also

( 430) of the ape. If you merely tickle him, he merely shows signs of discomfort and endeavors to escape. You can provoke in him the rudimentary laughter-reaction only by approaching him playfully, making of the tickling a game in which he takes part.

Laughter, then, is according to the theory here pro-pounded a protective reaction, an instinctive endowment which protects us from the depressing influences inseparable from the social existence of a creature in whom the sympathetic reactions are delicately responsive. A man lacking completely the instinct of laughter, but normally endowed with the primitive sympathetic response-tendencies, would very frequently suffer depression of his energies through witnessing and sharing the minor distresses of all his fellows. The possession of the laughter-instinct spares him from these frequent though minor distresses, and actually converts what in its absence would be the occasions of them into occasions of stimulation and recreation. We do not laugh because we are pleased, as so many authors have uncritically assumed ; rather, we laugh because it is our nature to laugh when we witness the minor distresses of our fellows; and, laughing, we enjoy a pleasant euphoria. After repeatedly experiencing these pleasing effects, we learn, as in the case of all other types of pleasing experiences, to seek the occasions that provoke them. When we feel out of sorts and depressed, we go to the pantomime or to the burlesque drama, where the antics of the clown and the misadventures of the fool may provoke us to health-giving laughter. Or, if we have attained to the level of humorousness, we may prefer the less crude stimulus of refined comedy, which presents the foibles and weaknesses of human nature in their universal aspect, and so evokes that touch of fellow-feeling which makes the whole world kin. For


in laughing at the comedy we all laugh together at our common human nature.[4]

Some Minor Instincts

The human species displays some minor reaction-tendencies which seem to occupy a position between the reflexes on the one hand and the instinctive responses on the other. They have commonly been described as " sensation-reflexes." The chief of them are the tendency to scratch an itching spot, coughing, sneezing, yawning, urination and defecation. All these have in common the following peculiarities : First, the reaction is evoked by some stimulation of sensory nerves; but, unlike the true reflexes, the reaction does not occur unless the stimulation evokes sensation, makes itself felt by the subject. The corneal reflex, the light-reflex of the pupil, the knee-jerk, the plantar and the abdominal reflex, and all the true reflexes, may be provoked while we are so intensely

(432) occupied as to remain entirely unaware of the provoking stimulations, or when we are anesthetised by ether or chloroform. But, under such conditions of concentrated attention or of anesthesia, the so-called sensation-reflexes do not occur. Secondly, the stimulus provokes not only sensory effects in consciousness, but also a felt impulse to action. The itching spot evokes a felt impulse to scratch it; the tickling in nose or throat evokes a felt impulse to sneeze or cough. And the impulse, though it may be controllable by voluntary effort if it is weak, may grow so strong, if we attempt to inhibit it, as to cause us much discomfort; and it may prove too strong for our control, so that we break out with a sneeze or a cough in spite of our best effort to suppress the tendency. Thirdly, as with other instinctive reactions, we can imitate these reactions volitionally; but we cannot at will evoke the impulse, except by applying to the sensory nerves the appropriate stimulation. Fourthly, when the impulse is evoked, we can voluntarily reënforce or strengthen it; as when the spontaneous cough fails to remove the irritating particle.

The impulsive and, at times, compulsive nature of these reactions is the principal ground for regarding them as instinctive rather than merely reflex. In the case of the scratching tendency we have a further ground, namely, that the tendency is perfectly general and may express itself, not in any one movement or particular combination of muscular contractions, but in a multitude of different movements all directed towards the one goal, the removal of the irritating object. We see this clearly in the animals, as well as in ourselves; the dog or the horse, as well as the man, that has an obstinately itching spot may resort in turn to a variety of movements for the alleviation of the discomfort; he may scratch with

(433) fore or hind limb, or may bite, or may rub the spot against a post in varied contortions that employ a multitude of muscles and efferent nerve-paths. Further, all such efforts are directed, not by mere sensation, but by intelligent perception of the locality of the itching spot.

If we class these reactions as expressions of very simple instincts, as I think we should, we must recognize that in certain respects they are anomalous, that they do not conform in all ways to the type of instinctive action. Especially they are peculiar in that, like laughter, they do not impell to any activity directed upon the external world; they do not seek goals external to the organism. Rather, the changes which they impel us to effect and in which they attain their satisfactions are intrinsic to the organism. With the exception of the scratching tendency, all these minor instincts express themselves very constantly through some one system of motor mechanisms, with but little variation in detail upon successive occasions; this peculiarity is due to the fact that in each case the exciting sense-impressions are confined to one locality and the natural end of the instinct, some change of the condition of the organs affected, can be attained only by the employment of a particular set of muscles.

We should, perhaps, add one more to this list of obscure minor instincts, namely, an instinct to relaxation, rest, and sleep. In recognizing this tendency as instinctive, I am following the lead of Professor Claparède, who strongly urged this view twenty years ago. Perhaps the strongest argument in its favor adduced by him is the analogy between our normal falling asleep and the hibernating sleep of various animal species, to which it is difficult to refuse the status of an instinctive process. But there are other good grounds for this view. Fatigue-

(434) sensations seem to provoke a tendency to relaxation and rest of the organs through which they are evoked. And the fatigue-sensations about the eyes and eyelids seem to have a quite specific influence of this kind, tending to induce closure of the lids, general relaxation, and sleep. This fact is commonly made use of by the hypnotist in inducing the hypnotic sleep. Further, the facts that we have in various degrees the power of sleeping and of waking at will, and that this power can be cultivated, go to support Professor Claparède's theory.

It is possible that, if we had fuller insight into the nature of the processes which we commonly regard as typical reflex reactions, we should find that they also are of the hormic rather than the mechanical type.

Supplementary Remarks on Play and Suggestion

Of the topics discussed in Chapter IV under the head of " Some general or non-specific innate tendencies," I have little to say in the way of modification or addition. What was there written of primitive passive sympathy or the sympathetic induction of the primary emotions seems to me to stand good and to be of the first importance for the interpretation of the phenomena of group life, as I have shown in my " Group Mind "; yet very few psychologists have accepted the principle or recognized its importance.

Play remains to me somewhat mysterious. In the section on play in Chapter IV, I accepted with some modification the theory of play propounded by Professor Groos, namely that play is the expression of instincts prematurely and partially developed for the sake of affording the young creature exercise in the bodily movements which it will later need for the serious conduct of life. I am not prepared to reject that view entirely; but

( 435) I feel now that it by no means covers the whole ground. I am disposed to distinguish between pure play and those forms of play, notably organized games and sport, in which various instinctive impulses, especially the self-assertive impulse and impulses derived from various group-sentiments, give to play something ,of the nature of serious striving towards definite goals. In purely playful activity, I suggest, there is no such factor, no striving towards a goal, no impulse seeking satisfaction in attainment. The distinction drawn in the earlier part of the following chapter between instinctive dispositions and motor mechanisms (a distinction which I had not clearly grasped when writing Chapter IV) enables us to give a more satisfactory account of purely playful activity. The gambollings of lambs, of puppies and of young children, seem to be instances of pure play, bodily activity directed to no goal and sustained by no specific impulse. I suggest that such gambolling is merely the activation of the various motor mechanisms with which the young creature is innately endowed. Two young dogs gambolling together may make many of the movements and assume many of the postures appropriate to fighting; but they are not fighting; and they exhibit also many other movements and postures, bringing into play almost all their repertoireof motor mechanisms. The same is true of young rats and of the gambols of many young animals. Whence comes the energy that sustains such activities? What relation does it bear to the instinctive energies? The following answer may be, I suggest, an approximation to the truth. There is some reason to suppose that all the instincts draw their energies from a common source, the special function of each instinct being to give specific direction of such energy towards its own special goal. And we may suppose that the store of hormic energy in

(436) the young creature is in excess of its needs, its needs being mainly provided for by parental care, which also wards off from the young animal many of the impressions that might excite its instincts. Hence in the well-fed and well-rested young creature the hormic energy overflows directly into the various motor mechanisms, actuating them to the aimless activities which constitute pure play or gambolling. This is but another more technical statement of the popular view of such play, namely, the view that it is a mere working off of an excess of " animal spirits."

In the section on "Suggestion," I distinguished as the most important form of suggestion what I called " prestige suggestion"; and I put forward the view that the success of prestige suggestion depends upon the bringing into play of the impulse of the submissive instinct. In subsequent articles and in my "Outline of Abnormal Psychology," I have developed this view and generalized it, arguing that it is true of all forms of personal influence to which the term suggestion can properly be applied. A greatly extended experience in the use of hypnotism, for both experimental and therapeutic purposes, has convinced me of the truth of this view, which at the time of writing this book I had put forward very tentatively.

It is worth while to point out that Professor Freud has recently arrived at a very similar view of the nature of suggestion. In his earlier writings, in accordance with his unfortunate pan-sexual tendency, he had taught that the energy at work in all suggestion, the energy which produces conviction and expresses itself in the compulsion to perform every suggested act, such as post-hypnotic actions and the forced actions and inhibitions and contractures of the hypnotic state, is the libido, the energy of the sex instinct. And this view quickly became the ac-

(437) -cepted doctrine of the psycho-analysts. In putting forward this view, Freud was making a great step in the right direction. Previous writers had failed to define, much more to solve, the essential problem of suggestion, namely — What is the nature and source of the hormic energy at work in suggestion, that energy which the hypnotist's suggestions evoke and direct within the hypnotic subject? In accordance with his sound fundamental principle, Freud brushed aside as worthless all the current intellectualistic and mechanical theories of suggestion and sought the source of the energy manifested in the working of suggestion in the instinctive constitution. But, pre-occupied too exclusively with the sexual instinct and its energy, the libido, he erred in deriving the energy of suggestion from that source. In a recent work Freud has improved upon his earlier theory and has come nearer to the theory propounded in this book.[5] He now regards the suggestible attitude as due to the working of a special innate disposition or instinct developed in the males of the human race by many generations of life in the primitive human horde; for he believes that during a long period primitive society took the form of a horde, the leader of which horde, the horde-father, actuated by his sexual jealousy, habitually treated his sons with extreme brutality. Freud proposes the theory that such treatment induced and impressed upon the race (or the male half of it) the docile, submissive, or suggestible attitude.

To me it seems unnecessary to give any such extremely speculative, not to say fantastic, account of the genesis in

( 438) the race of this instinctive tendency. Freud's account of this genesis not only postulates a condition of primitive society which is very hypothetical, but also assumes the truth of the Lamarckian theory of transmission of acquired modifications. And it is further rendered very improbable by the fact that, like other instinctive tendencies of the human species, the submissive tendency is clearly manifested both by the anthropoid apes and by many other species of mammals and, therefore, was in all probability evolved long before the human species became differentiated. Freud's speculative account of the genesis of docility, of the submissive tendency, merely illustrates once more the ill effects of neglecting the comparative method in psychology. We may and must recognize and attempt to define the various instinctive tendencies of man, even though we may be unable to give any satisfactory account of their genesis in the race. The psychologist may legitimately speculate on the problems of phylogenesis; but he is under no obligation to offer any phylogenetic theory before accepting as racial endowments the innate tendencies manifested in human and animal behaviour. As well might the anatomist refuse to recognize the existence of the liver or the spleen until he may be able to account for their phylogenesis.

Freud's new theory of suggestion, stripped of the speculative phylogenetic hypothesis, is, then, essentially the same as that put forward in the first edition of this book; and I am glad to acknowledge this identity and to find in it fresh ground for confidence in the truth of the theory.

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The Theory of the Sentiments and of the Development of Character

In conclusion I would add a few words about the account of the sentiments and of the growth of character contained in Chapters V to IX. This account was the most novel, original and, in my view, the most important part of the book. But, while my preliminary account of the instincts and the primary emotions has been very widely discussed and, in many quarters, accepted as substantially correct, most of my professional colleagues seem to have failed to notice that the book presents the only intelligible and consistent account of the nature and growth of character and volition that has hitherto been propounded. I .wish, therefore, to draw attention to that account and to point out that recent great advances in the field of psycho-pathology have gone far to substantiate my account. Especially studies of the disintegration of personality, such as those of Dr. Morton Prince, Dr. T. W. Mitchell and Prof. E. C. Cory, have clearly shown that what we call personality or character is a highly complex product of a long integrative process, a process which may go wrong and may be largely undone at any stage; a process which seldom, if ever, is carried to an ideal completion. The same studies, as well as the general trend of the psycho-analytic movement, have also confirmed the view that the functional units which enter into the integration we call character are the sentiments, the so-called complexes of the psycho-analysts.[6] And the same studies have shown that my

(440) account of character was essentially correct in assigning a dominant and all-important rôle in character-formation and in volition to the master-sentiment of self-regard. The Freudians have recognized the importance of this rôle in all that they have written of the function of the " ego-complex " and the " ego instincts " in inhibiting, controlling, conflicting with and repressing the sexual tendencies. And all these studies converge to support my theory of character, the theory that the harmonious integration of the instinctive tendencies in sentiments and of the sentiments in a hierarchy, dominated by the sentiment of self-regard and an ideal of character, is the supreme goal of individual development and the only route by which an efficient and stable personality may be developed. As I wrote in Chapter IX, " In this way the self comes to rule supreme over conduct, the individual is raised above moral conflict ; he attains character in the fullest sense and a completely generalized will, and exhibits to the world that finest flower of moral growth, serenity.


  1. It is commonly said that laughter is peculiar to the human species. But Dr. R. Yerkes has recently demonstrated to me the fact that his two domesticated chimpanzees can be provoked by tickling about the neck to a reaction which remarkably resembles human laughter, including the emission of spasmodically interrupted voice sounds. The gibbon also emits an interrupted musical cry remarkably suggestive of laughter, as I have repeatedly observed in wandering through the forests of Borneo.
  2. Cp. p. 93.
  3. The development of imaginative power was one, perhaps the chief, of the steps that raised men above the animals.
  4. I would point out that the art of Charlie Chaplin seems to illustrate in the nicest way the theory of laughter and of humor here propounded. I recite one peculiarly instructive instance. Recently I went to see " The Gold Rush," one of his most successful productions. I entered the theater at that moment when Charlie and his companion are rocked in a wooden shanty. Charlie's first action was to hurl himself repeatedly and with increasing violence against the door in order to open it. The audience roared with laughter and I could not understand why they reacted so vividly. I remained unmoved. I sat through the repetition of the film and, when this scene in the hut was repeated and Charlie again hurled himself at the door, I shook with loud and uncontrollable laughter. For I then knew the situation to be as follows: The hut from which Charlie was struggling to escape was perched on the edge of a precipice, and the door he was endeavoring to burst open projected above a fearful abyss. But Charlie was unaware of this situation, as I had been on witnessing his efforts the first time. This instance serves also to show the falsity of the common assumption that suddenness and unexpectedness are essential factors of the ridiculous.
  5. "Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego." In an article in " Problems of Personality, Essays in Honor of Morton Prince." I have examined at some length this new attempt of Freud to solve the problem of suggestion.
  6. As I have elsewhere shown, the psycho-analysts use the term "complex" to cover both the normal sentiments and the morbidly repressed sentiments. I have urged that by restricting the term "complex" to the latter and using the term "sentiment" for the former, we may usefully differentiate our terminology.

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