Review of Social Psychology by Floyd Allport
Frederic L. Wells
Social Psychology. By FLOYD HENRY ALLPORT, associate professor of psychology, University of North Carolina. Houghton Mifflin Co. Pp. viii +453.
Of late years there has been some tendency to con-
( 441) -ceive psychology as concerned with the environmental adaptations of the organism as a whole. Among human beings, at least, a most important feature of the environment consists of other human beings. Adaptations in this sphere are readily conceived as social psychology, and thus the term becomes fairly synonymous with psychology itself. The present book, by one of the outstanding figures among the younger American psychologists, is substantially a general psychology as it would be written by a close student of psychology from the above angle. No general text has been produced in an academic setting, with which persons concerned in these applications of psychology are likely to find themselves in such immediate touch.
This is the book's conspicuous achievement. Much of human nature is here brought closer to systematic psychology than it has yet been. It does not follow from this that the author is primarily a systematist. His concern is for observation rather than formulation. The differences of behaviorism and mentalism mean hardly more to him than to the reviewer (p. 3). With regard to the instinct discussion he takes a practical view similar to one recently elaborated by Dun-lap (p. 80). His use of "prepotent" is distinctive and serviceable. Among the weightier passages of the book is also the paragraph which heads p. 410.
No one could cover Allport's ground without dealing with many matters unsettled, and the subjects of more or less intense disagreement. His colleagues are likely to disagree at various points, perhaps not more with him than with each other. In matters of this kind Allport adopts definite and not ill-considered teaching, discussing opposing views, as concerning the maturation of instincts, or tending to pass over them, as with regard to the emotions. For general teaching purposes, it would indeed be an ambitious matter to balance these issues extensively; the reference lists given are broad and well selected.
The reviewer finds himself in close accord with the essence of the book; but this perhaps creates the more necessity for noting points which it seems difficult to accept. It is also true that in the intellectual as well as the digestive sphere, it is disagreements that obtrude themselves more coercively upon the mind. Among such more apt starting points for discussion might he mentioned the primacy ascribed to the autonomic functions (e. g., p. 37) ; the discounting of the mechanism of sublimation (p. 75) ; the summary dismissal of inherent "resistance" in the behavior of modesty (p. 54). Psychologizing on the basis of "primitive" language is skating on thin ice (p. 191). And when, on p. 398, it is said that "contemporary sociologists are unanimous in their plea for the socialization of government, and for rendering its control positive and constructive rather than purely prohibitive," one wonders if there has not stirred into function the very mechanism deprecated on p. 309.
The content of the book is broad enough for an elementary course, and it may have been with this in mind that some of the first part was included. The material given on the nervous system, for example, is something which the student might more traditionally look for elsewhere and would probably meet in the regular introductory presentation. The book as a whole, however, is rather closely packed with detail for an introductory work. Allport's style is always elegant with-out being florid; but one questions how easy reading it will be to the undergraduate, or even to the cultivated non-technical reader. It seems a book to be studied rather than read, well adapted for teaching, out of which it presumably grew, but more so for relatively advanced students.
Of two points raising special questions in the mind of the reviewer, the first, mentioned above, concerns the emotions. Few will dispute the care and ingenuity with which the theory is constructed; but the foundation on which it rests-visceral reactions--is one that certain close students of the process have become reluctant to trust. One looks for some disposition of objections raised from more than one authoritative source. It is an open question if any theory of emotion based on autonomic (vegetative) response stands the test of contemporary experience.
The other point concerns introversion and extroversion, as Allport and some other Americans write it. The orthographic distinction made with extraversion (p. 117) seems a little factitious-the two forms are used side by side in psychology, much as are tactile and tactual. Their meanings, however, are still in a fluid state. The two words have been useful mainly from a certain picturesqueness, which drew attention to various interesting differences of reaction-type. The consideration would bear more emphasis that such concepts do not denote disparate groups, simply more or less recognizable degrees of reaction-type in particular settings. There has of late been a psychiatric trend away from the earlier meaning of introversion (emphasizing the passive component) which is represented in the volume. Extraversion, similarly, takes on more of the simply "allocentric" meaning, dispensing with the original significance of activity. These more recent distinctions suggest those made by James between the entrenched and the inclusive "me" ("Principles,"I, 312-313). The former reaction type would be symbolized in the remark attributed to Thackeray, "Madam, I don't read books, I write them." His followers also review them some-times.