Psychology, General and Applied

Chapter 18: Submission

Hugo Münsterberg

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Suggestion and Selfassertion.— Whatever the psychological form of onesided or mutual approach may be, as soon as contact between individuals has been established, the chances are great that the resulting social group will be shaded by inequality. If one is giving and the other taking, one commanding and the other obeying, one leading and the other following, one teaching and the other learning, one helping and the other leaning on the help, one displaying himself and the other admiring, we have a mutual relation in which both parts are significant. Yet the mental processes on the two mules are so different that we must separate the inner processes of the leaders from those of the followers. We begin with the attitude of subordination. We may consider as such states of submission all attitudes and settings by which the individual limits and narrows his own mental life, his own ideas and feelings and volitions under the influence of other individuals. The submission may be automatic or, voluntary.

The central feature of the selfeffacing process is a submission of action. Its cleanest form is the yielding to suggestion. Of course, we all know a still more direct surrendering of our own, will, namely, the accepting of advice based on logical arguments or on superior knowledge. If I wish to conserve my health, I act not as I personally may like to act, but as my physician advises me, and if I want to take a journey, I choose the train in accordance with the information which I receive. But if we subordinate ourselves knowingly to those better informed, the result

( 255) does not depend upon a special social act; it is an ordinary thought process and it is secondary that the motives which control our decision are received from other individuals. But if we come to the accepting of suggestions, this personal relation from man to man becomes essential. It is truly a new characteristic process. Suggestion is often misunderstood, and the frequent popular discussions put the emphasis on wrong points. Suggestion is always a proposition to action. The proposed action may be external or internal, a movement or an attitude. A suggestion never refers to a mere idea. If I simply arouse imaginative ideas in another man's mind, I do not suggest anything to him. If I ask a man to imagine a clove carnation and its peculiar smell, my request may be successful in awaking his reproduced sensations, but that has nothing to do with suggestion. We have the other extreme before us, if I hypnotize a man and tell him that the pencil which I hand him is a clove carnation. If he enjoys its fragrance, it is a case of successful suggestion, not because the idea of the flower came up in his mind, but because he took it to be real. This acceptance of the imagined impression as reality is an inner activity, an attitude, an inner deed. Not the idea but the belief in the idea is the product of the suggestion.

Moreover what else is a belief but a preparation for action? I may think of an object without preparing myself for any particular line of behavior. Here in the room I may think of rain or sunshine on the street as a mere idea. But to know that it now rains or shines involves a complete new setting in my present attitude, a setting by which I am prepared to take an umbrella or a straw hat when I leave the house.. I may think of the door of this room as locked or unlocked without transcending the mere sphere of imagination, but to believe that it is the one or the other demands again a new setting in my motor adjustment. If it is locked, I know that I cannot leave

( 256) the room without using the key. Every belief demands the preparation for it definite line of action and a new motor adjustment in the whole system by which the actions in future will be switched off at once into particular paths: and there is theoretically no difference whether my belief refers to the proposition that the door is open or that a God exists in heaven. But if every belief is such a new motor setting, then the whole question of suggestion is one of motor influence.

Not every proposition to action or to belief can be called a suggestion. A mere request, "Please pass me the book on the table," or a mere communication, "It rains," may produce and will produce the ,proper motor response, the movement toward handing over the book, or opening the umbrella; and yet there may be no suggestive element involved. We have a right to speak of suggestion only if resistance is to be broken down. If I say to the boy, "Hand me the book," when he is anxious to hide the book from my eyes, and the tone of my request overwhelms his own intention, then, to be sure, suggestion is at work. The stronger the resistance the greater the degree of suggestive power which is needed to overcome the primary motor setting. If I say to a normal man, "It rains," while he sees the blue sky and the dry street, his impression will be stronger than my suggestion. But if he is suggestible, and I tell him that it will rain, he may submit and take an umbrella on his walla, even if no outer indication makes a change of weather probable.

Suggestion is certainly nothing abnormal and exceptional, nothing which leads us away from our ordinary life. There is no human life into which suggestion does not enter in a hundred forms. Family life and education, law and business, public life and politics, art and religion, are dependent upon suggestion. In every field the individual submits to propositions for motor settings or actions which he would not perform, if he were only following

( 257) his own impulses or his reason. Daily experience shows us that different men have different degrees of suggestive power. Some men's arguments and propositions leave us indifferent. We understand their thoughts, and yet we remain accessible to opposite influences, while others make us ready to carry out their propositions, even if our first inclinations turn the other way.

But still more important is the different degree of individual suggestibility, that is, of the readiness to accept suggestions. From the most credulous to the stubborn we have every shade of suggestibility, the one impressed by the suggestive power of any proposition which is brought to his mind, the other always inclined to dissent and to look over to the opposite argument. Such a stubborn mind may even develop a negative suggestibility. Whatever it receives awakens an instinctive impulse toward the opposite. Finally we are all suggestible in different degrees at different times and under various conditions. Emotions reënforce our readiness to accept suggestions; hope and fear, love and jealousy give to every proposed idea an abnormal power to overwhelm the opposite idea, which otherwise might have influenced our deliberate action. Fatigue and intoxicants also greatly increase suggestibility.

To point to the extreme form, it may be added that it is only an artificial increase of suggestibility which constitutes the state of hypnotism. The hypnotic effect results only from the mental conditions of the subject and not from any special influence emanating from the mind of the hypnotizer or from any especial power flowing from brain to brain. Everything results from the change of equilibrium in the psychomotor processes of the hypnotized, and thus upon the interplay of his own mental functions. All that is needed is a higher degree of suggestibility than is found in normal life. In such a more suggestible state even the direct sense impressions may be overwhelmed by the proposition for an untrue belief, and the strongest desires may yield to the new propositions for action. Whether I say, "You

( 258) will not move your arm," or whether I say, "You cannot move your arm," awakening in the one case the impulse to the suppression of the movement, in the other case the belief in the impossibility of the movement, the arm remains stiff. If the subject is in the strongest hypnotic state, may tell him that our friend has left the room: he will not see him, he will not even hear a word which the friend speaks. The direct sense impression of eye or ear is completely eliminated by the suggestion.

The increased suggestibility is produced by slight visual or tactual stimuli, by monotonous sounds or by words which encourage relaxation and sleep. The subject may stare at a shining button held in front of his forehead. But in any case it is the play of his own imagination which produces the sleeplike state. No one can be hypnotized for the first time against his own will. To expect strong hypnotic effect from a certain individual is often in itself sufficient to produce the sleep. Hence there is no special personal power necessary. Anybody can hypnotize, and almost with the same sweeping statement it may be said anybody, with the exception of young children or insane persons, may be hypnotized. Yet not everybody can be hypnotized to the same degree. The lowest stage of hypnotism is that breakdown of the resistance in which the subject can no longer open his eyes against the order of the hypnotist. Rather few can be brought to the point of accepting extended hallucinations or of yielding to the impulse to a dangerous action.

The explanation of suggestion and at the same time of its exaggerated form, hypnotism, must evidently go back to those mechanisms which we found at the bottom of inhibition. Actions exclude one another because they are antagonistic. The suggestion simply helps one motor impulse to inhibit its antagonist. It opens the channels of action in the suggested direction. The results appear surprising only if we forget how endlessly complex the psychomotor apparatus really is. If we disregard this complexity we may easily have the feeling that one person has an unexplainable influence over another. But as soon as we see

( 259) that every action is the result of thousands of psychomotor impulses, which are in definite relation to antagonistic energies, and that the result depends upon the struggling and balancing of these processes, we understand how small outer influences may help the one or the other side to victory. As soon as the balance turns to the one side, a completely new adjustment must set in.

If an action is proposed for which no antagonistic impulse exists, the idea of the action leads to its realization without any element of suggestion. If the idea of the proposed action arouses an antagonistic impulse which is strong, the proposition will not be carried out. But if tile individual is by nature suggestible or is brought into a state of increased suggestibility, the antagonistic impulse will be powerless. We can define a suggestion as a proposition to action which overcomes the antagonistic impulses. To be suggestible thus means to be provided with a psycho-physical apparatus in which new propositions for actions readily close the channels for antagonistic activity. The suggestive influence of the individual consists in his power to arouse a state of suggestibility in other men by appealing to their imagination or their emotion. A feeling of confidence, of respect, of admiration, but also of fear helps toward this result. The most complete submission must follow when a high degree of natural suggestibility en the one side coincides with a powerful suggestive influence on the other side, especially in a situation which arouses emotional expectations such as hope or fear.

Imitation and Sympathy.—The typical suggestion is given by words. But the impulse to act under the influence of another person arises no less when the action is proposed in the more direct form of showing the action itself. The submission then takes the form of imitation. This is the earliest type of subordination. It plays a fundamental rôle in the infant's life long before the suggestion through words can begin its influence. The infant imitates

( 260) involuntarily as soon as connections between the movement impulses and the movement impressions have been formed. At first automatic reflexes produce all kinds of motions, and each movement awakes kinesthetic and muscle sensations. Through association these impressions become bound up with the motor impulses. As soon as the movements of other persons arouse similar visual sensations the kinesthetic sensations are associated and realize the corresponding movement, Very soon the associative irradiation becomes more complex, and whole groups of emotional reactions are imitated. The child cries and laughs in imitation.

Most important is the imitation of the speech movement. The sound awakes the impulse to produce the same vocal sound long before the meaning of the word is understood. Imitation is thus the condition for the acquiring of speech, and later the condition for the learning of all other abilities. But while the imitation is at first simply automatic, it becomes more and more volitional. The child intends to imitate what the teacher shows as an example. This intentional imitation is certainly one of the most important vehicles of social organization. The desire to act like certain models becomes the most powerful social energy.. But even the highest differentiation of society does not eliminate the constant working of the automatic, impulsive imitation.

The inner relation between imitation and suggestion shows itself in the similarity of conditions under which they are most effective. Every increase of suggestibility facilitates imitation. In any emotional excitement of a group every member submits to the suggestion of the others, but the suggestion is taken from the actual movements. A crowd in a panic or a mob in a riot shows an increased suggestibility by which each individual automatically repeats what his neighbors are doing. Even an army in battle may become either through enthusiasm or

( 261) through fear a group in which all individuality is lost and everyone is forced by imitative impulses to fight or escape. The psychophysical experiment leaves no doubt that this imitative response releases the sources of strongest energy in the mental mechanism. If the arm lifts the weight of an ergograph until the will cannot overcome the fatigue, the mere seeing of the movement carried out by others whips the motor centers to new efficiency.

We saw that our feeling states are both causes and effects of our actions. We cannot experience the impulse to action without a new shading of our emotional setting. Imitative acting involves, therefore, an inner imitation of feelings too. The child who smiles in response to the smile of his mother shares her pleasant feeling. The adult who is witness of an accident in which some one is hurt imitates instinctively the cramping muscle contractions of the victim, and as a result he feels an intense dislike without having the pain sensations themselves. From such elementary experiences an imitative emotional life develops, controlled by a general sympathetic tendency. We share the pleasures and the displeasures of others through an inner imitation which remains automatic. In its richer forms this sympathy becomes an altruistic sentiment; it stirs the desire to remove the misery around us and unfolds to a general mental setting through which every action is directed toward the service to others. But from the faintest echoing of feelings in the infant to the highest self sacrifice from altruistic impulse, we have the common element of submission. The individual is feeling, and accordingly acting, not in the realization of his individual impulses, but under the influence of other personalities.

This subordination to the feelings of others through sympathy and pity and common joy takes a new psychological form in the affection of tenderness and especially or parental love. The relation of parents to children involves certainly an element of superordination, but the

( 262) mentally strongest factor remains the subordination, the complete submission to the feelings of those who are dependent upon the parents' care. In its higher development the parental love will not yield to every momentary like or dislike of the child, but will adjust the educative influence to the lasting satisfactions and to the later sources of unhappiness. But the submission of the parents to the feeling tones in the child's life remains the fundamental principle of the family instinct. While the parents' love and tenderness means that the stronger submits to the weaker, even up to the highest points of selfsacrifice, the loving child submits to his parents from feelings which are held together by a sense of dependence. This feeling of dependence as a motive of subordination enters into numberless human relations. Everywhere the weak lean on the strong, anti choose their actions under the influence of those in whom they have confidence. The corresponding feelings show the manifold shades of modesty, admiration, gratitude and hopefulness. Yet it is only another aspect of the social relation if the consciousness of dependence upon the more powerful is felt with fear and revolt, or with the nearly related emotion of envy.

Aggression and Selfexpression.—The desire to assert oneself is no less powerful in the social interplay than the impulse to submission. Society needs the leaders as well as the followers. Selfassertion presupposes contact with other individuals. Man protects himself against the dangers of nature and man masters nature ; but he asserts himself against men who interfere with him or whom he wants to force to obedience. The most immediate reaction in the compass of selfassertion is indeed the rejection of interference. It is a form in which even the infant shows the opposite of submission. He repels any effort to disturb him in the realization of the instinctive impulses. From the simplest reaction of the infant disturbed in his play or his meal, a straight line of development leads to

( 263) the fighting spirit of man, whose pugnaciousness and whose longing for vengeance force his will on his enemies. Every form of rivalry, jealousy and intolerance finds in this feeling group its source of automatic response. The most complex intellectual processes may be made subservient to this selfasserting emotion.

But the effort to impose one's will on others certainly does not result only from conflict. An entirely different emotional center is given by the mere desire for selfexpression. In every field of human activity the individual may show his inventiveness, his ability to be different from others, to be a model, to be imitated by his fellows. The normal man has a healthy instinctive desire to claim recognition from the members of the social group. This interferes neither with the spirit of coördination nor with the subordination of modesty. In so far as the individual demands acknowledgment of his personal behavior and his personal achievement, he raises himself by that act above others. He wants his mental attitude to influence and control the social surroundings. In its fuller development this inner setting becomes the ambition for leadership in the affairs of practical life or in the sphere of cultural work.

The superficial counterpart is the desire for selfdisplay with all its variations of vanity and boastfulness. From the most bashful submission to the most ostentatious selfassertion, from the selfsacrifice of motherly love to the pugnaciousness of despotic egotism, the social psychologist can trace the human impulses through all the intensities of the human energies which interfere with equality in the group. Each variation has its emotional background and its impulsive discharge. Within normal limits they are all equally useful for the biological existence of the group and through the usefulness for the group ultimately serviceable to its members. Only through superordination and subordination does the group receive the inner firmness which

( 264) transforms the mere combination of men into working units. They give to human society that strong and yet flexible organization which is the necessary condition for its successful development.


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