Ejective Consciousness As A Fundamental Factor in Social Psychology[1]

Margaret Floy Washburn
Vassar College

Like sociology, social psychology has been stronger in description than in explanation. At its service for explaining the phenomena of human social behavior it has three classes of psychological influences. Two of these are universally recognized: first, the great social drives—gregarious, fighting, self-exhibiting, imitating, submitting, mating, and protecting; and secondly, the laws of learning. The third influence is probably taken for granted by everyone, but its working has never been adequately analyzed and described in print. This influence is that of ejective consciousness, and ejective consciousness is one's idea of what is going on in other minds. It was W. K. Clifford who coined the word `eject' to designate an idea representing a state in another person's mind (2). Ejective consciousness does not necessarily involve sympathy. We can contemplate what we suppose to be another person's state of mind, without sharing it; we may feel towards it attitudes ranging from sympathy through indifference to violent antagonism. It should also be stated at the outset of this address that when I speak of ejective consciousness as influencing social behavior, I am not implying interaction between body and mind. The expression is used as an abbreviation: the full statement to be understood is that

( 396) social behavior is influenced by the neuromuscular processes which accompany ejective consciousness.

The presence of ejective consciousness in man explains the most striking differences between his social behavior and that of the lower animals. Animal social behavior results from the combined influence of external stimuli, especially though not exclusively those stimuli resulting from the behavior of other animals; and internal rhythms, which at certain seasons intensify fighting, mating, and parental behavior. When the external stimulus or the internal rhythm is lacking, animal social behavior lapses. Many observations show that it is unaccompanied by any ideas of the thoughts or feelings of other animals, for instance Herrick's observation (4) that nestlings of a late summer brood are abandoned when the autumn migratory drive begins. Man through his power of imagining the thoughts and feelings of others can keep his social behavior constant though the external stimuli and the internal rhythms both vary. This idea was expressed in an article I wrote for the Titchener Commemorative Volume, published in 1917, and the same article traced certain features of the course of development of ejective consciousness, which as it grows broadens in its space and time references and passes from the power of interpreting the emotions of others to the power of interpreting their ideas, and from the power of imagining that others think and feel as we do to the power of realizing that they think and feel differently from ourselves.

What I wish to add to these ideas which have already been published may be outlined as follows.

First, ejective consciousness explains certain features of the social and moral sentiments. Secondly, it is a necessary concept in explaining the difference between normal and abnormal suggestibility. Thirdly, it constitutes the difference between the religious and scientific views of the world. Fourthly, it is essential to the very definition of language and makes the difference between language and involuntary emotional expression. Fifthly, it is the essence of the creative impulse in art, and deeply involved in the enjoyment of art. And lastly, it is fundamental to our sense of the comic.

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The statement that our social sentiments and emotions depend on what we think is going on in other people's minds needs little discussion; its truth is obvious. We like people when we imagine that they share our own ideas and feelings; we like them intensely when we see a favorable image of our-selves floating about in their minds. Nothing arouses the fighting drive so strongly as the thought of undeserved contempt for us harbored in another mind, or more completely annihilates the self-exhibiting drive in us as the realization that we deserve the contempt we read in the mind of others. The important temperamental difference between a vain person and a conceited person is entirely dependent on a difference in what we may call the limen of ejective consciousness. Both are egocentric, but for the vain person the limen is low; he is always getting his feelings hurt and making ejective inferences as to the presence of insufficiently admiring reflections of himself in other minds. The conceited person, with a high threshold of ejective processes, is comfortably wrapped in a coating of imperviousness to all suggestions from the behavior of his fellow-beings that could indicate the presence in their minds of anything but a favorable image of himself. As for the moral sentiments, Adam Smith, the great author of The Wealth of Nations', gave an account of them that is psychologically sound: we disapprove of another's conduct when we fail to sympathize with the motives we read in his mind, and are depressed by our realization of the sufferings he is causing in the minds of his victims. We approve of it when we sympathize with his motives and with the happiness he causes. As for conscience, our approval or disapproval of ourselves, no one has given a better psycho-logical account of it than the same writer when he defined it as sympathy with the judgment of an imaginary impartial spectator of our own conduct. Speaking of the conscientious man, Smith said, "He has never dared to forget for one moment the judgment which the impartial spectator would pass upon his sentiments and conduct. He has never dared to suffer the man within the breast to be absent one moment from his attention. With the eyes of this great inmate he

( 398) has always been accustomed to regard whatever relates to himself"(8).

If any concept can be regarded as a foundation stone of social psychology it is suggestibility. Sidis's laws of normal and abnormal suggestibility, namely, that normal suggestibility varies inversely with the directness of the suggestion and abnormal suggestibility varies directly with the directness of the suggestion (7), can be explained only by the presence of ejective consciousness in the normally suggestible person and its absence in the abnormally suggestible person. Why do we in the normal state tend to resist a direct suggestion? Because when someone gives us a direct command we infer that in this individual's mind there exists the idea of us as inferior to himself. If we know ourselves to he his inferior, that is, if he has prestige, we may accept the suggestion. Otherwise he has to use indirect suggestion, making it appear that we thought of the suggested act ourselves, or a contrary suggestion, which we assert our superiority by resisting. Abnormal suggestibility, as in the hypnotic trance, when direct suggestions are accepted with-out resistance, occurs when through dissociation ejective consciousness is absent and we cannot think about what is in the suggester's mind. What is there about a psychological crowd that makes it so suggestible? Not dissociation, but a special form of ejective consciousness, the sense that everyone is thinking and feeling as we do at the moment. Under normal conditions we are always more or less aware of the criticism of others; this is a form of ejective consciousness that inhibits action and forces us to think, if we own anything to think with. In the crowd, when `the gang's all here' another type of ejective consciousness appears, in which our ideas and feelings are felt to be bigger than ourselves and our strength is as the strength of the gang. This type is invaluable to action, as when soldiers go into battle, but fatal to thought.

Thirdly, ejective consciousness is contained in the very essence of religion; not that here as in the moral sentiments we sympathize with our fellow-beings, but that we sympathize with God. The attempts to define religion are endless. To

( 399) base a definition on the derivation of the word, that which binds us, or (to use the modern term) inhibits us, is to include under religion a heterogeneous collect ion of factors in human nature front Freudian complexes up. The best definition of religion in my opinion rests on the fact that there is a fundamental opposition between the religious and the scientific attitudes toward the world. The latter regards the world unejectively, as the expression of impersonal forces which can be understood but not ejectively interpreted. The religious attitude on the other hand regards the world as the expression of personal forces with which social relations may be maintained. It is a fascinating task for the social psychologist to trace the interplay of these opposite tendencies in man's attempts to control his environment through the ages. There are the rituals of sympathetic magic based on the genuinely scientific, because impersonal, principle that you can make a thing happen by imitating it; the only defect of this principle is that it doesn't happen to be true. The rituals which propitiate the gods display that rudimentary ejective consciousness which is expressed in fear. The rituals of the higher religions are addressed to gods made in the full image of man and therefore loved. How hard it is for man to take a consistently scientific or impersonal view of the universe is strikingly shown at the present time, when sound experimenters in physical science emerge from their laboratories and tell us that they find there consoling evidence at one and the same time of an Infinite Mind in the cosmic order and of man's free will in the unpredictable vagaries of electrons.

Fourthly, two great instruments of ejective consciousness are language and art. If to define religion as that attitude towards the universe which regards it as an expression of personal forces has at least the merit of being a clear conception, so the merit of clearness, and I believe also the merit of truth, attach to the definition of language as a system of sounds or movements used with the intention to produce states in other minds. This makes the presence of ejective consciousness differentiate language from the involuntary expressions of emotion, and also from sounds and movements used intentionally because animals have learned that they

( 400) produce certain behavior in others. Three degrees can be traced here. First, a dog or a man may howl from pain, involuntarily, because the preformed outlet of the excess energy set free in the emergency leads to the vocal organs. Secondly, a dog may howl in order to be let in, because his individual experience is that the door opens when he howls. The third grade is probably above the dog's intellectual level, though I am not too sure of this, but a neurotic human being may howl for the pleasure of imagining himself an object of at least momentary importance in the minds of his companions; he has the blessed gift of ejective consciousness and his howling is true language. The development of language of course bears everywhere indications that it is addressed not alone to the behavior of others but more directly to their thoughts and feelings. For example there is an interesting law of meaning change which is a conspicuous example of the combined influence of ejective consciousness, the self-exhibiting drive, and the law of affective conditioning. I refer to the tendency which the older philologists called the natural depravity of words; the tendency for a word with originally a virtuous meaning to lose it and take on a vicious meaning, as `lewd' originally meant `not clerical, lay,' and `pirate' originally meant `an enterprising person.' These changes involve, first and secondly, the self-exhibiting drive and ejective consciousness; and thirdly, the law of affective spread or transfer. Under the influence of the self-exhibiting drive, we wish to contemplate, with the aid of ejective consciousness, a favorable idea of ourselves in the mind of others. But experience has taught us that the process of affective conditioning will bring it about that if we mention improper things to our neighbors impropriety will attach itself to our own image in their minds. Therefore we call the improper thing by a harmless name and the harmless name in course of time acquires a bad character and must in its turn be avoided.

As for art, Him in his Origins of Art showed that the creative impulse is in its essence ejective; it is the desire of the artist, not so much to get material reward but rather to share his vision with other minds. "The work of art," Hirn says, "presents itself as the most effective means by which the

( 401) individual is enabled to convey to wider and wider circles of sympathizers an emotional state similar to that by which he is himself dominated" (5). The artist wants to make permanent this sharing by others of his vision, and hence he seeks a permanent material to embody the vision; if the material has to be perishable, fie may be consoled if great numbers of persons are reached in the short time of its duration. Into the enjoyment of art, as distinguished from its creation, ejective consciousness of course enters in many ways, ranging from the rudimentary ejective consciousness involved in empathy, when we project our own kinesthetic sensations into spatial design, think of a Gothic arch as soaring and sympathize with the discomfort of a top-heavy structure, to the abnormally complete ejective consciousness produced by a powerful drama, where our whole mind is filled with the emotions and thoughts which we ascribe to the characters, and we forget all our own affairs as we never do in real life. The difference between the plot novel and the psychological novel lies in the degree of ejective consciousness called forth in the reader; in the plot novel he uses only rudimentary interpretations, which lead to his regarding the hero and heroine merely as the representatives of virtue in distress, and withholding all sympathy from the villain. On the other hand, the test of a good psychological novel is that the reader enters sympathetically into the thoughts and feelings of every character in the book.

Finally, the comic is a field that belongs to social psychology, not merely because a good joke needs to be shared or because ridicule is a method of warfare, but because ejective consciousness is its very essence. The comic, of course, always involves incongruity, but it is the incongruities of human behavior and motives. It was Bergson, I think, who first pointed out that nothing is funny but people. "The comic," he says, "does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly human" (i);if we find animals or even inanimate objects funny, it is because we read human feelings into them. What differentiates the ejective consciousness that enters into the experience of the comic from full sympathetic interpretation of another mind, is that it is incomplete. When a

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pompous individual is disconcerted, if we could not read his mind and realize his exaggerated idea of his own importance we should not find him comic; if we completely read his mind and realized his feelings of humiliation we should not find him comic. "Laughter," said Hobbes (6), "is sudden glory." To my own way of thinking, it must have originated in the shouts sent after a defeated foe. Freud points out that the sense of humor is a mechanism for economizing sympathetic emotion (3). Surely its essence is a type of ejective consciousness that sees what fools these mortals be, but shuts its eyes to their shame and grief at their own folly.

These examples of the functioning of ejective consciousness, I hope, tend to show the inadequacy of a social psychology that would define social behavior in man as reaction to the behavior of his fellow-men, rather than reaction also to what he conceives to be the mental states of others. In none of these experiences—social, moral, and religious sentiments, suggestion, language, art, and the comic—are we reacting merely to what our fellow-men do, or even to what we expect them to do. If we know that we are contemptible in the eyes of another person whose opinion we respect, we are indignant or unhappy even though we know also that he will not harm us by word or act. Any creative thinker is made happy by finding that his work is approved by a competent critic even though no possible practical benefit may result to him. Insults lie not in words or acts but in what is seen to lie behind them in the mind. Not only as a man acts, but `as he thinketh in his heart,' so is he, and it is to his thought, even more than to his actions, that we adjust our behavior.


1. BERGSON, H., Le rire, 1920, 3 if. 

2..   CLIFFORD, W. K., On the nature of things in themselves, lectures and essays, 1879 274 ff.

3.  FREUD, S., Der Witz, 1905, 198 if. 

4.  HERRICK, F. H., Pop. Sci. Mo., 1910, 77, 83-90. 

5.  HIRN, Y., The origins of art, 1900, 85. 

6.  HORDES, T., Leviathan, 1651, Part 1, Chap. 6. 

7.  SIDIS, B., The psychology of suggestion, 1898, Chaps. 3, 8. 

8.  SMITH, A., The theory of moral sentiments, 1759, Part 3, Chap. 3. 

[MS. received April 9, 1932]


1 Address given by the honorary President at the meeting of the New York Branch of the American Psychological Association at Philadelphia, April 9, 1932

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